Session Writing– Taking It One Step At A Time

This post was originally published a year ago, but at the behest of some of my fellow bloggers, I am bringing this post, and the two that followed it back over the course of this week.  Enjoy.

One of the core elements of Encoded Designs is the marriage of Productivity and Imagination. Writing session notes is one of the best examples of the blending of those elements. I have over the years tinkered with a lot of different ways to write my session notes. At first I only explored different media to on which to produce my notes such as journals, sketch books, word processing, wikis, etc. But about a year an a half ago, I started to apply some principles from my other passion, productivity, to the process to see if I could not come up with a better process for getting my notes written…..

Before I talk about the system I came up with let me talk about some needs that any system would have to address and some constraints that would need to be considered in any system that I created.

The Needs

  • The system needs to as simple as possible.
  • It needs to be flexible. (I need to be able to speed it up or slow it down, depending on what is going on in my life at the time.)
  • It needs to have some slack. (That is, it needs to be able to be delayed and postponed for a day or two in the cycle without things falling apart.)

The Constraints

  • I don’t have a lot of time on weeknights to work on RPGs. I have a career and a family that come before my gaming, so my time to work on RPGs is limited on weeknights.
  • I cannot work on a game all day on the weekends. Saturday is a time for house projects and spending time with my wife and son, so sitting on the computer writing all day is not going work.
  • My game night is Sunday night at 6pm, so everything has to be done before that time.
  • My group has three GMs, each who run a game in a three week rotation, so I am expected to run a game every three weeks.

Ok, with an understanding of what I needed and what I can and cannot do, I came up the following system:

Week 1– Relax: Sounds funny for a system to start by relaxing, but remember that week 1 starts just after I have run my session. So on week 1, I catch up on things that I have put off on week 3. This is important is for two reasons: first, is that it is good to take a step back from your game, let it sit, and focus on other tasks. This keeps you from burning out. Second, is from the “Getting Things Done (GTD)” philosophy: you cannot really sit and be creative when your mind is cluttered with to do’s and wants, that are not being taken care of. So on week 1 I try to do all those little pet projects and such to get them off of my lists and out of my head.

Week 2- Brainstorming: This week is when I first start to think about how the upcoming session is going to go. In a future post I will talk more about how I brainstorm, but for now the goal is to start to think of the scenes that are going to be key in the next game, and then to develop ideas for how to connect them. This week is pretty relaxed. I typically use just a Moleskine notebook and a pen to jot ideas. I can do that in front of the TV, between meetings at work, anywhere where I have a few minutes to myself. During this week, I still have plenty of time to work on other things at home, and sometimes I will engage my players in an e-mail scene about the upcoming game. My only goal for this week is that at the end of the week I have an outline of the upcoming session.

Week 3– Writing: This week is where all the real work is done. I have an outline of what I am writing, and I spend the rest of this week writing out the scenes, making up the stat blocks, drawing maps, and printing counters. I try to write every night, typically no more than one to one-and-a-half hours at a time. Again, from theGTD philosophy, one of the keys to being productive is to be at a high energy level, so I try to only write when my energy is at its peak. In my personal life after work I come home, have dinner, and then spend time with my family until about 8pm, when my son goes to bed. I try to write from 8pm to about 9pm, or a little after. Any later than that, and I find that while I can keep writing, I am not as mentally sharp or creative. So, I limit my writing to those high energy times. I like to finish my writing by Saturday night, and then on Sunday afternoon, I take one final look at my notes and edit them and make minor adjustments. Then Sunday night, I run my session.

So how does this system address my needs? First, the cycle is pretty simple, nothing too complex: relax, brainstorm, write. It is flexible, in that if for scheduling reasons, I need to run my game in a two week cycle, I can start brainstorming the first week and write the second. Finally, the system has a ton of slack in it. The first week is all slack. The second week is light work, and when I have been busy, I have packed my brainstorming into two nights or less. As for my writing week, it is not uncommon for me to miss a day or two of writing. I typically can make that up on a Friday night, or Saturday afternoon, when my son is napping. Worst case, and it has happened before, is that I have written up to Sunday afternoon.

So that is how I get my sessions written. It may sound like a lot of work, when written out, but in practice it turns out to be a lot of small steps rather than a few big steps. Where I am in life, I have a lot more smaller blocks of time free than I do larger ones, so this system fits best into my already busy life. Next week I will talk about some of the tools I currently use for producing my games each week.

So share with me your system for getting your sessions written…

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  1. Phil, I use a similar system to this. Although, I run on a 2 week schedule, and unfortunately my energy level after work is very low. So I often fail to get much writing done during the week at all, and end up cramming the plethora of outline info into game ready-ness the couple of hours before game play.
    Hopefully, when I get wrapped up with my home projects I’ll have more energy, and will be able to get my writing done during the week.

  2. Nice! My system isn’t as rigorous as this, but I follow a somewhat similar progression. I start out gathering lots of ideas, then collate that into a bird’s eye view of the campaign. Then I jab at particular interesting parts of the campaign, fleshing out locations, characters, etc.