Session Structure

I was reading Ars Magica 2nd edition recently, and came across the advice on structuring your sessions, including starting with a "wizard council" where the magi discuss a problem and decide what to do and who will deal with it.

While that sounds a bit too reactive to be a consistent way to start a session, it made me curious: how do people on here "typically" start and structure a session?

It's one of those things I rarely think about explicitly, but it can have a big impact on a game. And a lot more modern games have a very specific structure built in - Blades in the Dark comes to mind - but obviously they lack the openness of Ars. So as I approach the start of a new saga: how do other SGs generally approach this?

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As a old SG, that likes to have some form of planning/inspiration before going full impro, I tend to reverse the structure:

  • I start with the adventure/event that was decide the previous session and eventually resolve it - this part can span over several sessions.
  • Some seasons activities might occur if the previous part left enough time (otherwise, this part can happen offline, through email exchanges)
  • a new issue or an adventure initiated by players happens: the council gathers to discuss who/what/when/how things will be done and the session ends with the party ready to go on adventure.
  • The gaming session closes.

Wiith what was discussed, I have a week or so to frame and build upon what was decided, tweak encounters and events based on which PCs will participate.

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The three classic starts used in my regular sagas:

A redcap comes bringing news (occasionally reversed when the redcap doesn't arrive on time and everyone is concerned). This is made colourful by the ridiculous people selected to be redcaps (and to be fair, the two longest sagas I have been in had redcap companions played by me, which lowered the tone considerably)

A stranger comes to the gate with a problem - it's amazing how many people come to the nearest large castle every time there's news, or how many people know where the building close to the regio where the wizards live is.

The grogs are inconvenienced during their regular activities - maybe they are shopping at the market, or out in the fields, or collecting some herbs for the magi, and they experience something which they feel they must go back and tell the masters about.

In Ars, you need to pick the hangout boon for your covenant if you want your adventures to start down the tavern.

In terms of structure, every session contains : a recap of what happened last time (I will have forgotten the last half hour of play, no matter what)
What tonight will start with (whether it's a new scenario or continuing last weeks' adventure)
Some addressing the situation at hand
A reminiscence of how things were different in a previous edition
Some references to a comedy that at least two of the players have watched.
Hopefully, some actual progress to resolving the situation.
Me losing focus in the last half hour and having to be prompted to roll dice.

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Based on my experince as an Ars GM and player I suggest 3 different type of session as different layers of the game:

  1. Focused on small details - Adventure Session: This is the kind of session when you guide a classic adventure with structured time and close keeping of actions. Like fights, conversations w/ important NPC-s, dungeon exploration. PLAYING your character.

  2. Focused on larger picture - Wizard Council-like Session: IN GAME play but with handwaved time structure. You can have your council meetings, discuss certain IN Game Questions and using a loose track of time. Days, weeks or seasons can pass. GUIDING your character

  3. Focused on experince around the table - META Session: ABOUT Gaming Questions - Troupe-like discussions about how the game/story is shaped, what directions are interesting for the players, how should SG and Players together approche the game and the table. Discussion about pace, depth, using Alpha, Beta SGs, agreements about HouseRules, etc. We also discuss the question of appointments and regular gaming time.

For us the good mix is 75% First Type, 20% Second Type, 5% Third Type sessions.

When we start the session there is a short recap about the last session.

We are a group of 4:

  • one is the Alpha SG (Guiding the story)
  • one is the Beta SG (dedicated Rule Lawyer/Helper with the Magic System)
  • one is the Chronicler (Having detailed notes about every session)
  • one is a good friend with whom we like to play :slight_smile:
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In a game am in, we've had quite a few starts to an adventure. Some started as a redcap bringing news, some because a regular merchant failed to show up, with critical glass lab equipment. a letter, or a messenger, a vision granted to the soon-to-be-wife of one of the magi, going to a Tribunal.

If there's a messenger or a letter arriving, there there might be some council meeting to decide how to deal with it, but not always

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