Running a Game Session


The key component to having people enjoy the game is keeping the characters and thus the players involved. Give the players plenty of opportunity to react to and interact with situations. At minimum, between each story section the characters should be given a chance to interact. They should come to terms, as a group, with the events so far.


This really is the heart of Role Playing Games. The characters interacting to create storylines of their own. Properly orchestrated a game with good character interaction can go for sessions without any new content as the characters build the world thru their actions.

Encouraging some competition between players can keep people involved and is pretty easy to encourage. There will always be a couple competitive players that if a score is kept will compete. Whether it is enemies defeated or turnips picked, it is a game and they will play to win.

The characters really should work cooperatively, towards the story's common goal. This requires the character to have some discussion.

Finally drama, always allow some room for it, but don't expect it many players find it dull or worse uncomfortable.

With the world

Interacting with the world makes the game fun. It makes the game world feel vast and real. Determining these results are your primary job as GM. It is often difficult to get players to interact with the world around them. The following tricks help.

  1. Make sure each character has at least one catch phrase. Then encourage players to use them, when the situation warrants.
  2. Roleplay a mundane activity in the character's life. Buying initial equipment can be fun, particularly if you craft an interesting shop keeper.
  3. The everything that is said at the table is said in game rule. Use this with extreme caution. it can become very frustrating in friendly games.

Things to Avoid

I want you to run a good game. So don't fail me. The players want to have a good time. Don't fail them. You have a story to tell. Don't fail your story. The following are some classic GM tricks. Don't use them. That's a little strong. Use them very cautiously. These tricks make controlling things easier for you, but they can break the illusion of a large flexible world for the players.

Deus Ex Machina

Many literary tricks work great in coming up with a story. This does not. If the player don't feel like they accomplished the victory or their action didn't matter why did they play. Sometimes, you make a mistake and Ultros, the universes most powerful Krell, may need to save the party from the ridiculous creature you pit them against. Just make sure they know Ultros just happen to be in the area and that they might not be so lucky next time or it may cost them. (See the section on cheating for an even better idea.) But, if it gets to the point where the players are just pawns scrambling to notify demigods about a battle that the character's have no influence in. That is bad.


You have a story. Your players always want to walk the other way. Heavy is the burden of the GM. Make it easier on yourself, encourage the players to be somewhat reasonable. But be careful not to make it so they only have one way to go. If players feel like they are being forced down a certain path they may not enjoy the game. Remember you have no limit to you imagination. don't make the player feel like they are in a linear video game.

Breaking Game Balance

You don't want things to be too tough. You don't want things to be too easy. You don't want to have a player that always shines. You don't want to have a player who never shines. The character level is a tool to help you here. Try to help character's keep level balance. Try to slightly error on the side of challenges being to easy. you can always increase the difficulty as it goes.

The One

This is sort of a combination of Deus ex Machina and Game Balance. The players don't want to all just be supporting the same one player who can actually win the battle, every session. That can be no fun. The even more don't want to do that for your NPC. If the party of high school students have to fight along side the minor deity it really is not going to be fun. If you have a player who has taken this kind of control, it can be fun to switch things up. Make what they do well a support activity for something another character does well. For example, the super fighter might need to just body guard the thief while he bypasses a security system to get access to the impenetrable safe. If the character is your NPC just stop. It might be time for a certain character to sacrifice himself so that the group can still complete the task, possibly without them. This can be quite stirring as the players probably wont expect you to kill your super awesome NPC.

Saying No

This is really hard. Try not to say no to a player if they ask if their character can perform a specific action. Try to just determine a difficulty and failure criteria. Provoking attacks of opportunity is pretty standard for any non standard action. Maybe it takes longer than a round to perform. Maybe just failure is life threatening. Don't be afraid to use Epic level DCs or massive penalties.


Surprisingly this one actually mostly gets a pass. Your the GM, you can't cheat. You are the undisputed god of this little universe feel free to flaunt those powers. Just say, "Rocks fall, everyone dies." Note the dinosaurs were terrible players. There you got that out of your system? Good. Now you don't want the players to know you cheat. because of pretty much all of the above reasons. So if it doesn't matter follow the rules. And more importantly, really spread out the cheating. Don't show favoritism, for a player or your carefully crafted monsters. Give the players some free re-rolls. If someone is having round after round of terrible rolls let cut them a break, and give them the old "I didn't see that re-roll". When you do this they might not look so closely when you decide to not have them one shot the boss in the opening attack. This is really key when the fights are a little to tough. Remember gambler's always think the dice are against them, when then lose. And your player's are no different. The dice are evil, certainly not the magnanimous GM who keeps giving us re-rolls. Now stop having your first level players fight 12th level opponents.


Start by setting the stage for the session.

The Actual Session

Here is a classic literary story arc. Like they teach in English class. Never thought you'd have to see this again.

  1. Exposition: the beginning of the story, establishment of setting and characters
  2. Conflict: the problem(s) faced by the characters
  3. Rising Action: events in the story leading up to the climax
  4. Climax: the culmination of events in the story, point of highest reader interest
  5. Falling Action: events leading to the solving of the story’s problems
  6. Resolution: how events and problems of the story are solved

The RPG story has a very similar flow, but with more flexibility for interaction.

  1. Background
  2. Hook
  3. Gate
  4. Finale
  5. Aftermath
  6. Reward


Start with a quick recap of how the last session ended. Try to prepare a couple line description. If you have a player keeping a log you can just have the player read back their last entry.

If this is the first session or start of a new storyline give them any important new background information. Prepared notes are nice, but more than a page is probably too much. When starting a new story line you have a little room for some fun. Maybe setup a key background item that will come in handy later. Even the most mundane item could be made key to the story later. You can also start in the middle of the action. Have the players come in with the characters already in a combat or other action situation. Then have an NPC fill them in as they go. A good example might be the characters are running for their lives from a unknown assailant, with an NPC ally. And the game starts with one of the characters asking "Who are you again and why are they chasing us?" My goal is always to try to avoid the you are all in a bar opening, but there are reasons it is a classic.

Try to give the players a couple options for first actions to prevent them from drowning in too many options. If you give them 2 options they will often take the third option, but if you just ask them what they want to do they will do nothing.


The characters need a motivation to take the course of action laid before them. This could simply be the awards of the experience. Adventurers are a strange lot. The motivation could be a crime is committed with a clue pointing them to the first gate. If the clue is a gate itself. Maybe there is some kind of MacGuffin that the characters need to acquire, and the first step is going to find who has it. Maybe the characters have it and they need to get it somewhere with out it falling into the wrong hands.

The opening hook will usually explain the Finale, but should at a minimum point to the first gate.


As the characters approach the goal they must overcome some small obstacles. The RPG staple here is combat, if the finale is a big boss the gates could just be waves of henchmen. but don't be afraid to throw a curve ball from time to time. Some kind of challenge of skill can be quite good. Maybe they need to run down a witness, get away from the zombie hoard with the clue, bypass a security system or maybe you want the players to solve a puzzle. Always try to have at least two solutions in mind when making the gates. Your player will probably come up with the third way, but it prevents making things too esoteric. Or you can tailor your gates to your players. so that the gates target your players area of expertise.

After the characters get thru the gate you need to advance them. What is next. The finale? Another gate? Maybe you reveal a twist. The clue was a red herring and the characters are back to square one. Or they just hit a dead end and have to turn back. The RPG convention is usually the next gate. Or better yet the hook for the next gate. As to the number of gates per story line I would go somewhere around the number of player's minus one so every one kind of gets a chance to solve something. Or just aim for like 3. These gates should generate a lot of IP for the characters as they will be overcoming challenges and that gets them IP. This is where the game is really played.


At last the characters can over come the last great challenge. This is usually the main battle, but it could be any significant challenge. The difficult of this task should really push the characters limits. This is arguably just the gate to the aftermath, but the intensity of the challenge should really punctuate the story for the players.


What are the results of getting past the finale. how have things changed. Maybe everything just wraps up neatly, every one getting what the deserved. Maybe there is a Twist and this wasn't the finale after all, but you won't know until next session. Or maybe in classic movie serial we end with the hook for next session. If you go for a twist or cliff hangar make sure you write it down so that you can pick it right back up next time.


The session is over. Give the player's something for their trouble. This is your chance to apply a little carrot and stick motivation for good play. Don't play favorites, but do reward good play.

These rewards also benefit you because they get the characters new ways to find the clues you leave in hooks. And different ways too overcome new gates. Try to enjoy the characters advancement.


Wrap up each session with any karma checks to raise or lower the karma of the character's. This is one of the few rules that punishes poor play. Don't be bashful applying it, but don't be abusive either. If someone keeps losing karma, make sure they understand what decisions they made that go against the stated ethos. Luck is a key part of this, so the dice can take some of the blame.


A quest should be worth about 3 months pay in cash, useful items or parts for crafting. A session should be worth about half. You can just have players get paid, particularly if the work for an organization. Or say everyone gets some percentage of their base pay. Or you can just pile it all up in a great big dragon horde and let the players decide if they should split it evenly or will the enchanter convince the grunt that he deserves a bigger share.

Alternative encounter type treasure table

If you want a more traditional treasure table, This section gives you a list by level of how much money a heroic character should have and the sell value of the treasure of the average encounter of that level. This is a quarter of the heroic wealth Level. Figure the average encounter has 1/2 the wealth, and it sells for half the value. Design note: This table assumes a Level N character will defeat 5 level N-1 characters to get to level N+1. This 5/4 accumulation gives a Table defined by Wealth=1000*1.75^Level.

Level Treasure PC Wealth
0 $250 $1,000
1 $440 $1,760
2 $770 $3,080
3 $1,350 $5,400
4 $2,350 $9,400
5 $4,100 $16,400
6 $7,200 $28,800
7 $12,500 $50,000
8 $22,000 $88,000
9 $38,500 $154,000
10 $67,500 $270,000
11 $120,000 $480,000
12 $200,000 $800,000
13 $360,000 $1,440,000
14 $635,000 $2,540,000
15 $1,100,000 $4,400,000
16 $1,950,000 $7,800,000
17 $3,400,000 $13,600,000
18 $6,000,000 $24,000,000
19 $10,000,000 $40,000,000
20 $18,000,000 $72,000,000

Alternative Random Items

If you want random items. Roll on the table below (2d6 - 5) times. Reduce treasure above by about half the list price of the random items, because the treasure table is sell value. Single use items such as ammunition, potions or scrolls should be treated as sets of about 20 are 1 item. Rather than having 1 $100,000 scroll be a medium item, 20 $5,000 scrolls might be more fitting.

2d6+level Item Type Value
1-8 Mundane $1-$6,000
9-17 Minor $6,000-$30,000
18-21 Medium $30,000-$200,000
22-31 Major $200,000-$1,200,000
32+ Epic $1,200,000+

Fame and Less Tangible Rewards

If the character's do something that deserves some fame or affection, A great way to represent that is reaction adjustments from certain people or groups. May be a +2 from everyone in the city they saved from the Dragon. Or +5 from the potential sacrifice they saved from those cultists. Or maybe they just saved a important keep sake from a fire. People will remember these things, but it cuts both ways. People will also remember that they killed that shop owner because they didn't like his prices.

Improvement Points

Every chapter/session/chunk or a quest should net about 5 IP. This is a quarter of a level. Maybe be a little more generous before level 3 or so. This way the players get a little more room to fill out there characters. You don't even have to wait for the end of the session. If the characters are going to have a little down time, consider giving them the IP now.

The following sections help you justify that 5 IP per session. Determine if you want to provide combat/challenge reward or story reward. Usually erring on the side of whichever is higher is a good guide line. Or give both. Or double one and half the other. I can't stop you, I'm just some text.

Combat/Challenge based IP

A commonly accepted method for accruing IP is thru overcome obstacles. Mostly vanquished enemies. If the party has beaten some baddies, or overcome some other level based threat use the difference from average party level to determine how much IP to divide between the players.

Level Diff IP Granted
-5 1
-4 1.5
-3 2
-2 3
-1 4
0 6
1 8
2 12
3 16
4 24
5 32
Class/Story based

Not every gaming session will result in an 2 hour battle with a host of angry spirits. Sometimes the players figure out it was the butler all along. And the butler, being sensible surrenders rather than fight a half dozen people bristling with armor and weapons. For these situations you should reward paying attention, doing useful things, righting down the name of that king with the scar, and of course not texting.

Ask your players some subset of these questions. If they give you an at all reasonable answer give them a point for each.

Team Points
Individual Points
Downtime based IP

This is the IP a character gets for not playing a game. If you want to show a huge chunk of time passed, but allow the characters to improve. Ask the players how their character spends the down time. Award them something like 6 IP per year of School, Research, Training. A character cannot gain more than 10 IP total in a year that they get downtime IP. If a student gets 2 IP due to invading goblins, and then the school year passes, they could accrue all 6 downtime IP for a total of 8 IP gained that year. If that student travel around solving mysteries, acquiring 25 IP, they would just have to live with that life experience to round out their abilities. If the student got 8 IP from saving a princess from the maze of fear, they could not get more than 2 downtime IP.

Also downtime IP should be very tightly focused on being spent on things related to the downtime activity chosen.

This could also be extended to cover making a character that starts much older. The GM may allow this, but ability scores, particularly physical ones should have pretty steep caps placed on them as the character ages. These rules also assume human characters. Some characters such as elves are longer lived, but are less focused in their studies and thus tend to accrue IP more slowly.

Some downtime activities may require a minimum time investment. Monasteries of the hidden path don't train pupils who are not going to be around for at least 15 years. Also remember time spent in school is time not spent earning money. In fact it often costs you. Expect to not get your full pay rate while not working. Of course if the character would be unemployed any way, hanging out at the library can't hurt.