Today’s prompt seems more difficult, thankfully because I’ve had many more good sessions than bad. But looking back, no single session really jumps out at me as “the best.” I typically gauge the success of a session by the excitement and reaction by the players, which has been fairly level with only small spikes up or down lately.
If I go by that criteria, then possibly my best session was one of my Gen Con WFRP3 games. My friends were picking up lunch at the nearby Panera and overheard a group talking about their session run by a “girl who works on Star Wars.” My friends couldn’t help but chime in and ask if her name was Kat, and they immediately said yes, that was her, she ran an amazing session and can you please tell her for us? It was the first time anything like that ever happened to me and it’s an incredible compliment from people who started out as strangers at my game table.
There were a lot of variables that went into making that session great, but I’m going to try to remember them and separate them out as best I can.
Of the players, only one had played a lot of Warhammer Fantasy before, and that had been second edition, which is a very different game than third. He was thrilled to see the human fop available as an option, having played as one in the 1st edition Enemy Within campaign many many years ago. The other players had some very limited exposure to the game, but were also able to pick characters they enjoyed.
The scenario had an instant hook for the PCs via background cards, which helped linked them to the places and people in Averheim, including other Player Characters. More than just description, the cards framed the links as questions, which allowed for instant customization and a more intense personal investment. I wrote down the answers from each of them in secret and over the course of the scenario they were revealed, to the delight and consternation of the other players. One of the PCs knew the location of an item another PC had lost, another had a rivalry with one of the local wizard NPCs, while another PC had unsuccessfully proposed to one of the NPCs in the past.
One of my favorite parts of the session was just listening to the in-character banter that allowed the players to flesh out their characters and really bring them to life. With some improvisation on both our parts, we were able to transform mundane details into character development opportunities, including little props such as love potions and leftover casks of wine.
I adapted the adventure as written to balance action with role-playing opportunities in an alternating order. We began with a flashback to an investigative scene and then cut back to the present where the party had a social encounter with an NPC from one of the PC’s background. After that was another investigative scene that escalated into combat. They came back to town and were able to have more social interactions with the local population, where they were able to gather more clues about the strange happenings on the docks. Finally, we got to the climactic combat that felt like a battle dearly won, and ended on a denouement that both wrapped things up and raised more questions. I think that alternating social and skill-based encounters with combats really worked and allowed for the tension the rise, and fall, then rise even higher.
I was lucky to have such a cooperative group who didn’t exclude or steamroll any of the other players. There was a group of two or three players who had come together, in addition to two other players who had come separately, but by the end they really felt like one cohesive party. After I explained the rules once, they were happy to help each other remember what I had said so that I could focus on the stuff behind the screen.
It was my first session on the first day of the convention, so I was still feeling fresh and excited, as did the rest of the players. Having either the GM or any of the players tired or unfocused can really drag things down and take the air out of the game. It helped that everyone was excited to be able to play WFRP3, which can be hard to find groups for.
Looking at this list, it seems like the combination of player and GM investment, as well as a solid adventure to run with a variety of encounters and bonuses like handouts and maps, makes for a really smooth game. It also shows that there are three different ways for a session to go south, so each side of the game session triangle has to bring their best to the table. So if any of my players from this session read this, thank you for helping to make this session so fun and memorable for me as well.
What was your best GMing session and why? Link your answers in the comments below! You can find the rest of the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge prompts here. And stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on my favorite gamemastering reference books. Thanks again for reading!