Friday, January 29, 2016

What I like in other people's summaries

I write my own game summaries. I read a lot of other people's summaries, too.

I realized there are some things I like a lot in summaries.

- Omniscient GM perspective. I want to see this through the GM's eyes.

- After action reports (AARs). How did it go? What went wrong?

- Rules commentary and reflections on the rules. "ACKS does this." "In GURPS, we see PCs do a lot of this." "In D&D 5e, I noticed monsters do less X and more Y."

- Maps and pictures, if possible.

- A cast of characters at the beginning, so I can see who to look for. Games are like Russian novels, so please let me look up who they are before I confuse Ruslan Ivanovich Kotin with Ruslan Illych Kotin during actual play. Or, to go all Robert E. Howard, confuse Amlaric with Almaric or Amluric.

- Matter-of-fact summaries.

- Notes. I love end notes talking about the good and bad of play, decisions, rulings, etc.

There are things I don't, too.

- in-character writeups. Maybe entertaining for the other players, but "let me roleplay my guy for you" is right up there with "let me tell you about my character" for me. They're fun when you were one of the players, honestly, but I'm less interested in what Grondar thought of the session and more in what Grondar's player did.

- fiction. I don't want to read stories, but game summaries.

Just my opinions. Pretty much I seem to like the matter-of-fact GM-written AARs more than the punchy fiction approach. I learn a lot more from a GM reflection on a game than from stories about game, too. My own writing reflects these, I think.


  1. That's a great list. And indeed your write-ups meet your own standards. For the record, Felltower is one of maaaaaybe three out of the hundreds of campaign write-ups available online for which I've read the full archive.

    To spotlight the *reason* for my tastes - I'm reading AARs for inspiration, both within the game and in managing the table. A first-person account only satisfies the former criteria, where a third-person account satisfies both. Don't just tell me *what* happened, tell me *why it matters*.

    I would add one more criteria, and it's one Peter uses very well, and that's "preserve the mystery". If you tell me where every secret door is and what the PCs missed during a foray, there's no reason for me to keep coming back to find out what happens next.

    1. I'm glad my posts are that entertaining. I have to keep that mystery because my players read these.

  2. I've been putting the players and characters in the text, but I could them out into a list at the top easily enough. I'll start doing that next week and see how it feels.

    1. Cool.

      I really didn't mean this as a list of suggestions for changes. But it would help if I saw the list of characters each time. I can't always remember who was who, or which player runs which character.

  3. I very much agree with all this, and am pleased to see it written. I love reading good session reports, and so I'm always quite disappointed whenever I find one that looks fun in principle, but is actually written in a style that makes it hard to enjoy.

    When I find people writing up their campaigns as works of fiction, I almost never keep reading. ("It was a dark and stormy night. Three humans and an elf met in a Tavern. Their names were..." and so on.)

    I much prefer session reports done in a more casual, conversational style, focused on what actually happened at the table: i.e. reports about how *game night* went, not just reports about what the characters did and felt.

    I really like to be told:
    - the situation the GM presented
    - what s/he expected might happen
    - what each player in fact decided to do
    - the fun that ensued

    With fun added commentary on:

    - which parts were most exciting or boring for people at the table
    - how hilarious it was when Phillip rolled a critical failure
    - how Mary is saving up character points to buy a new advantage


    That's one of the reasons I read all the session reports here- so readable! They're like candy!

    1. Actually, that's a good point. Part of what I like is knowing how the game was - as a game, and how the session was to play.

  4. I've tended to take a slightly different approach from Peter's: as with Phil Masters's reports (see here for example), they serve as campaign notes for GM and players alike. I don't try to log detailed combat tactics unless they led to particularly good or bad results; rather I'm trying to make available answers to questions like "when was it we were talking with Jack Persons" and "did we remember to take the map from the necromancer".

    Players get to correct the writeups once they're posted. If they don't, the writeups become pravda for the campaign even if people remember things differently.

    It seems to work. They're not really intended for outside consumption, and so I don't blog them, but they're at my RPG site anyway.

    1. That's a lot of how I use my session write-ups: there's a fair bit of commentary, but I also use them as notes and reference. Like you said, it seems to work.

    2. Actually, my sessions logs are really written by me for myself and my gamers - it's how we track what we did, who they met, etc. I hew to the things I like in reports, but the primary goal isn't to entertain people who like logs like I do. They're so we have a mobile log for ourselves.

    3. I will say the Notes are mostly for other people. The main summary, though, is for our own records. We don't have any other game records besides my secret GM notes.

  5. Peter, could you recommend some good report blogs according to your criteria (I like them very much)?

    1. A few I read top to bottom, every time, include:



      The ones at Power Score (no PC list, but there are two of them):

      The Monteport reports:

      That's the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

      They don't all meet my criteria exactly, but they all hit enough of them. They also made me realize what I liked about the ones I like.

  6. So, say I'm changing up the format of my own session recaps - what sort of things would folks like to see most? Do you want to know actual die rolls for significant actions? What I felt as a GM went well? What? Now I'm curious because I tend to write game recaps as omniscient third person.

    1. Start in cinema res: Tell us who is there, where they are going, and what they are doing. And do it all in three sentences, max. Bonus points for bullet points.

      Die rolls add spice, and all that implies. You should sprinkle in a few here and there, but only when necessary. Peter does a great job generalizing dice rolls in a "Vryce had the hot hand on dice and it saved him in encounters X and Y," or a, "it should have killed him, but one bad roll meant only 3 damage this time. Ouch."

      Absolutely give what you went well, what you did right, what rulings you got wrong. But save the bulk of it for the end of the report. Pete gives great wrap-ups with XP and reminders for who got what and why. If something doesn't go as expected, tell us what you thought would happen and why it didn't. "They got hammered by that one kobold I thought they'd slaughter because they never charge up to him. But they easily killed the three giants that were supposed to a tough encounter by collapsing the building on their heads." That sort of thing.

      Think about it. You're actually writing a very specific kind of thing here. It's half story, half technical writing. Getting that balance right can be tough. You want enough narrative to move things forward, but you also want enough rule talk to keep the focus on the game aspect. Best thing to do is write what you want to read. Somebody out there wants the same thing you do, after all.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thank you very much for your replay, Warren. I've got a lot to think about. I'm thinking that treating my recaps like I currently am but adding technical detail in parentheticals here and there will help with a wrap up at the end to summarize thoughts. I need to think some more on this because my recaps are the lowest hits on my blog and I'd like that to change.

  7. Thanks for the pointers, even though they aren't.
    I responded in blog form, and will try some of your suggestions.

    Warren: I think I get it, but could you go into further detail on the potentially clashing "why it matters" vs "preserve the mystery"

    1. Oi! Archon! If you want to be included in the GURPSDay roundup of GURPS-related posts, drop me a line at and we can try and get you on the roster.

    2. Not ignoring you, Archon. Peter went into more detail in his follow-up post. Can't really argue or add to his points.


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