How to write about your session
Several people mentioned that they’d like to hear my thoughts on how to talk about their game sessions online. I’ve had pretty good luck talking about my game sessions. It’s not easy! So let me warn you about that up front. You’ll fail a lot, but you won’t even know it because folks are generally polite. Think about what your goals are: better conversations, self-improvement, bragging, pluses, social cred, relationship building, therapy. They’re all legit.
Know Your Audience
Who exactly are you talking to when you write up your AP? If you’re keeping notes for yourself (which is a great idea) then you’re the audience; anyone else who happens along and likes what you have to say is gravy. That’s not what I do, and since folks are asking me to tear down my methods let’s just get that out of the way.
My audience is imaginary me, fifteen years ago. I think a lot of trad-rooted players in my life (atoms and bits) are in a similar place. They’re fans of different games than me, but they’re walking a similar path. That’s who I write for. I’m not actually writing for myself but for those players and GMs.
More broadly, I’m writing for roleplayers with an active interest in self-improvement. I bring a hyper-critical eye to my play that probably most people don’t. I speculate that most GMs are satisfied with where they’re at, and most players don’t really think about what they do as a particular craft. And that’s absolutely fine. But for those who want to improve, I’m sharing my war stories. That requires honesty about your fuck-ups. It also requires a level of introspection/navel-gazing that borders on narcissistic. (Borders?)
Welcome to high school! Your first writing assignment goal is to identify your thesis.
What salient points do you want to get across? I usually focus on a specific thing that the session brought to mind: an observation about gaming in general, or about a particular dynamic at your specific table, or something about the human condition – no really! If I’ve got several points I want to hit, the very first thing I’ll do is list them out, just words, then backfill and try to connect the ideas. For example I might think through my last The One Ring session and quickly doodle down:
* Player who wants to beat the system
* What are incentives for winning?
* Incentives other than winning?
* Are Tolkien characters incentivized or are they just following along where the writer points them?
* Is avoiding Shadow an actual incentive? For everyone?
You can probably see the beginnings of one of my posts just from those bullets. Well, that’s how I do it. I start with freeform bullets, start looking for connections, then start filling in. (Yeah, I’ll probably write that post at some point.)
Facts about your game’s storyline are not interesting to anyone but the participants; roleplaying is not a spectator sport. There are some detail-oriented APs out there that are inspiring, but I guarantee they don’t inspire through blow-by-blow recounting. The reader needs to relate to what they’re reading.
This is where you need to stake out your Opinions (capital O, it’s important). Those might be contentious, or they might just be wrong. Whatever, doesn’t matter. You need an editorial viewpoint here: I think playing within a license has this effect on players’ decisions (oh yeah, when I played Doctor Who I saw the same thing!); I think my ongoing games burn out because my players stop doing emotional labor at the table (oh yeah, I haven’t checked in with my players for a while!); I think roll-under sucks the joy out of play (oh yeah, nobody in my group likes that either). I think, I think, I think.
Find the experiences you’ve had you think others can relate to, and talk about that.
But you need to establish context, right? So look at those relatable themes you want to hit and think through the bare minimum you need to talk about that. Don’t be like that funny dude in Ant-Man who can’t explain his caper.
So: use the broad outline of your session as an illustration of your theses, your salient points. Did your last session of Dresden Files make you think about how the session doesn’t really reflect what’s in the books? Talk about that, not the details of the session. The details are boring. Are you finding it really hard to get characters pulled together in Urban Shadows? Use the at-the-table experience, not the in-the-fiction details, to illustrate that point.
This is more related to my personal goals in writing about my gaming, but I think it matters: learn about RPGs. That means playing more than what you’re used to, playing stuff outside your comfort zone, really learning about the scope of gaming. Stretch. If you think you’ll reach a place where your experience will become unrelatable, you’re wrong. Stretch forever.
The reason you want to do this is to increase your relatability (above), therefore expand your audience (also above). If you only know how to talk about a particular sliver of gaming – D&D-style or metaplot-splatbook style or Fate or freeform or whatever – anyone who lies outside your points of reference won’t have anything to hook into. That of course means it’s on you to relate your experiences back out in a variety of ways.
This means not only keeping it short, but keeping it information-dense. For practice, try this:
1) Write your thing the way you want, following my audience, structure and relatability ideas above.
2) Cut it in half, still keeping your audience, structure and relatability in mind.
Believe it or not, this is the method I used on this very piece. For my bigger pieces, I absolutely draft in Word, let it percolate a while, then start cutting, and then post.
Like I said in the intro, it’s not easy work. If you want easy likes/pluses/upvotes, post funny gifs. I also have many decades of professional writing experience (games, feature writing, marketing, etc.), and I don’t want to downplay that. But I’m convinced the vast majority of AP writing out there would be improved by taking into account:
Go forth and be awesome.