Session done, story told, dice are being put away. If you have finished your adventure, then you do the whole process again. WRONG! There are some things you should do after a game session, so the next session is even more better!
If your game was a one-off, such as a con, then just a simple Question to the players of what they thought is probably sufficient. I have never run a con game, but I have run single games on and off. In a convention situation, you might get lucky and have another GM of the same system offer tips and advice. On the other hand, folks might need to get to another game so their feedback may be limited. Either way, ask the question. Take whatever information they get and note it down. Hopefully you kept enough notes during your game to be able to point to rough spots or high spots that they point out. I will point out some ways of reviewing that info later, because it doesn’t matter much what kind of game the info came from when reviewing. The next thing to do is a self-assessment. The self-assessment is good for all games, but in a one-shot style, it is much more important. You do this to see what felt good and what didn’t. Why did or didn’t it? Is it something the players did, or something you did? Can you make the good things happen more often, and how can you fix the rough spots? When running a game for a regular, or semiregular group, the post game questions are more important, because even though you have played with them before, you always want to make sure that everyone is enjoying the game, and no one is making assumptions. So, what sort of questions, you question?
The obvious one is just like for one-shot groups: What did you think of the game? It is important that no one understand that no one is going to butt hurt if the answers are critical. The next question you should ask is for each player to choose at least one thing they liked and one they didn’t. A final important question is: What would you like to see in future games? Other questions you may ask depend on the type of players you have. You might ask you bestest players if there was enough for them to do, or your explorer players if the world is unfolding well enough for them. Don’t forget, that as a ref, you should be answering these questions as well. Probably with your players so that if needed, discussion can be had. (This is a piece that is often forgotten…the Ref owns the game as no other, but ALL the players tell the story. If the ref is not enjoying the game and just trying to keep it going for the players, then the game and the story’s told, suffer.)
What did you think of this game session?
Can you point out one thing you particularly liked and one that you didn’t like?
Is there anything you would like to see in upcoming games?
After asking these questions, encourage discussion. Keep a couple of things in mind, however. Strangers may either be brutal in their review, or completely ignore your queries. And friends may feel that if they criticize they will upset you. This discussion should be relatively brief and on point. You don’t want to spend more than half an hour on these three questions and their discussion. On the other hand, if there is a serious point to discuss, you don’t want to ignore it, but I’d recommend taking it off the table. The thing NEEDS to be discussed, but not after a (Hopefully) long and enjoyable game session. come back to it in another setting, or using any number of virtual chat tools, just do it on-line. But do it, if it is important!
Now, knowing gamers, they will not always be kind or constructive with the criticism. Accept that, and know that your friends (hopefully) are not going to spurn you because of a bad game, or because you asked them questions. Try to turn anything they say constructive. If you can get them to phrase it constructively, all the better! But what do you do, now that you have contemplated the game, and had this good post game discussion? I’m glad you asked, and the anser is simple: Digest it!
Take everything you have considered about what you felt good about, what you didn’t; what your players liked, and what they didn’t, and particularly what they want to see in future games. Frankly, if you can get them to tell you what they would like to see in games, you are lucky and need to run with that! If they want character based stories, examine carefully what you know about their characters, or ask them pointed questions about their character, and weave it into upcoming story lines. If they want more social type situations, reign in the combat heavy encounters, and bring out more non-violent stories (or vice versa). If they don’t have a good idea what they would like to see, fall back to what they liked. Did you like it as well? Then do more of that! If they liked it and you didn’t, why? Was it part of the rules you are not comfortable with? Is it unmanageable in your game system or particular GM style? Whatever it is, discuss that with the players as well, but, look for ways to fix what you didn’t like. If its game mechanics, run through a few practice scenarios using those mechanics. If you need to house rule part of it to make it work better for you, do that!
When reviewing any game, from a simple one shot type adventure, to a piece of a massive story arc, you can look to ways to improve your Ref skills. If you only have one style, (nothing wrong with it, but) you might look at ways to branch out. If you don’t get much feedback, and the unfortunate part is, that with strangers the feedback may be very cursory, and with friends, you may not get anything beyond, “yeah, good game,” it falls to you. If you are comfortable with it, ask those questions at the start of the game! That way they can keep them in the back of their head and maybe not things they think of during game! The biggest problem with this is, you are specifically asking your players to keep, at least partly, out of their characters head, so they can analyze on the totally tabletop or meta-game level. For most players this may not be effective. A bestest type character will usually easily do this as they often spend the least amount of time there anyway, just enjoying the action. While a thespian type would likely forget as they spend their time mostly in the head of their character.
However you game ends, and whether you get good feedback from your players, please critique yourself. Look for places to improve, places that just need polish and things that need altered. If you will be running the same adventure again, at another time, re-look at the story. Did it work well, or were there obvious problems with it. Sometimes these problems are just with the particular players, and sometimes they are with the plot itself, and yes, sometimes they are because of you, the Referee. Take each of these into account, and see if it needs modified as well! A few minutes reviewing at the end of a game, can do nothing but improve all of your future games.
Now that we have covered these last few weeks of running an adventure, I will take a bit of a usual break, and get back to the more general GM advice type articles. But please let me know if you need something explained further, discussed in more detail, or if you just want to jaw about your game! Love to hear it!
Keep rolling and have fun!