Writing Good Session Reports
Getting the most out of your time and effort
By MARK WILSON
I’ve written dozens of session reports in my gaming career. Outside of gaming, though, I’ve been a writer for a significant portion of my career, and have written thousands of articles, blogs, and other stories, enough to fill dozens of full-length novels. So while I’m still finding my voice in session reports, I recognize good writing when I see it.
I’ve also seen session reports done poorly. So I don’t think there’s one right way to write them, but there are definitely bad ways.
Additionally, session reports can serve more purposes than many people realize. We’ll talk about some of those today as well.
Step I: Determine Your Audience and Intent
Who are you writing for? The answer may just be “myself.” And that’s fine, but if the answer is anyone else, consider their perspective. Is it your players, who already know the basics of the campaign? Is it strangers on the internet, who may not understand the mechanics and won’t know the particulars of your campaign world and plot? Or a discussion forum where the mechanics and setting are well-known? The answers to those questions will change what kind of details you need to include.
Second, what are you hoping to accomplish with the reports? Do you want them to read like an exciting adventure novel? Then you’ll want to structure it like one. Or is it merely to act as a reminder of events for you or your players? Then truncated bullet points may suffice, instead of a full narrative retelling.
Step II: Consider Formatting
Reading bad writing can be painful. But reading good writing that is horribly formatted is often just as painful.
I like to include some standardized information at the top of every (public) session report, clearly separated in the formatting. If it’s for an RPG, this information could include the title of the campaign, title and number of the session, the setting and RPG system we’re using, the names, classes and levels of the PCs, and a brief summary of what happened immediately prior to this session. At that point, anyone reading it has enough context to understand and enjoy the session report that follows the information.
In the report itself, utilizing paragraph breaks, bulleted or numbered lists, bold font, italics, and other formatting tools can aid a reader’s comprehension. Use each as applicable.
“Reading bad writing can be painful. But reading good writing that is horribly formatted is often just as painful.”
Step III: Determine Style
Is this a first-person account of your PC or avatar? Cool, but you’ll want to stick to that perspective. Is it an omniscient narrator with meta-knowledge of the events? Will you mention out-of-character moments? Will you include paraphrased dialogue or simply describe events in a more abstract manner?
There are no right or wrong answers to those questions. But determining answers is important in order to maintain consistency of tone and style.
Step IV: Reflection
This is a consideration I’m offering up, because it gets to the heart of why I personally write session reports. At the end of most reports, I include a section where I simply reflect on my experience (as player or the person running a game), and what, if anything, I learned from it. Some of the most insightful learning I’ve done in D&D has been during these reports. For many, simply talking through (or rather, writing through) their experience is enough to realize what they might have done differently, which allows them to adapt to future scenarios more easily.
So I’d consider adding this section as an addendum to your reports. I think the insights you gain from it will be pleasantly surprising.
Starting next week, I’m going to be posting session reports that I’ve written, covering the entirety of my Curse of Strahd campaign as a player. They’re far from perfect, but they attempt to incorporate the advice above. They helped me immensely as I progressed as a DM and player. I hope you enjoy them!