#56: Tale of Two Sessions

I. Dear Reader,

This week, I’m excited to talk to you about the finale of my short Girl by Moonlight series. We only had three sessions of play and I want to talk about how radically different the last two felt.

This is all wrapped up in the fact that I don’t really do “prep” anymore. There are some big caveats to that statement but it’s basically true. And I do this mainly because I’m trying to break the habit of the GM driving or being “responsible” for play.

So when our second session rolls around, I show up with no plans - no “mission” for the group. But we started with downtime actions and as one player was doing some snooping around, she asked me one of her Gather Information questions: “Who here can help me?”. I improvise an answer, telling them about a prisoner who’s being trapped here and bam, we’ve got our mission.

Halfway through the mission, they save the prisoner and, in a response to a partial success, I reveal that there are dozens of other prisoners here. It’s a neat twist! Just as they’re getting away, the players realize that, “oh no! there’s so much more to do! we’re way over our heads”. By the end, it was almost a narratively perfect session. As one player put it, it felt written.

Okay, so the third session is the finale. Again, I have no prep. The players are talking about saving the other prisoners but also, they want something more because it’s the finale. We talk about how we want the kind of mission where you “succeed” within the first five minutes or so - but then things escalate wildly off the charts. Like Avengers Endgame where they kill Thanos in the first 10 minutes. Spoilers, I guess! So we made an engagement roll and we cut straight to the moment where they freed the prisoners.

Then, we spent the rest of the session escalating wildly from that point. We got stuck in a time paradox that threatened to break the universe. And this was a really messy process. I didn’t have a neat twist. I had maybe half a twist. But the players provided the other half and we talked our way through a metaphysics-defying ending. Our finale definitely didn’t feel written. It felt extremely messy and cobbled together. (Totally unlike the endings of many professionally written TV shows, I whisper.)

One of the questions I’ve been asking myself a lot is “What separates a good session from a bad one for me?”. And whatever the answer is, I’m happy to report that it’s definitely not about whether it felt perfectly constructed by some master artificer.

Yours satisfactorily,


II. Listen of the Week

  • The Six Cultures of Play, one of my favourite RPG blogposts, is now available as a podcast through Blogs on Tape. It’s an expert breakdown of the various playstyles such as trad or OSR.

  • Jay Dragon was on the Draw Your Dice podcast this week and had lots of excellent things to say about design and publishing. It’s generally a lovely interview but I especially enjoyed the bits about designing for emergent play and teeth.

  • Matt Colville, game designer and youtuber extraordinaire, has commissioned a series of videos introducing people to new RPGs. He has a huge platform so this is great to see! The first episode is about a game called Asunder.

III. Links of the Week



  • StorySynth has added the ability to make games that use hexflowers as a mechanic. I’m a huge fan of the platform and I love all these new features being added.

  • Role, the more indie-focused VTT, has made their beta completely free!

  • The Golden Cobra 2021 challenge is live! A great chance to design your first larp if you want to!

  • In a strange week, both Blades in the Dark and Exalted announced that they might become TV shows at some point.

IV. Small Ads

All links in the newsletter are completely based on my own interest. But to help support my work, this section contains sponsored links and advertisements. If you’d like your products to appear here, read the submission form.

  • Make your TRPG more accessible: turn your text file into a simple and functional ebook in less than an hour. No particular knowledge required, just follow the step-by-step guide of Ebook Express!

  • Thank you to everyone who backed Ex Libris RPG! We truly appreciate your support!

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Hello, dear readers. This newsletter is written by me, Thomas Manuel. I’m half-man, half-beast, half-journalist, half-game designer.

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