So you just finished running three, four, maybe more hours of D&D or Vampire: the Masquerade or Monster of the Week. Whatever it was.
You’re tired. And yet somehow, you feel energized and more focused than you did the entire week.
So the question is, What should you do next?
Should you note everything that happened during the session? Should you reach out to the players for aftercare? Or should you decompress?
In today’s post, I will show you the six most important steps to take right after you finish your game session. And I’m going to break them down for you step by step.
Game Master Checklist: 6 Things to Do After You’ve Just Finished Running a Game Session
Many rookie dungeon masters think that quick notes are enough.
But you know game mastering requires much more than that. Specifically, you need to make your job easier for the next session.
Step #1. Debrief with the Players (5-10 minutes)
Your first order of business is to do a quick debrief with the players. The best way to do that is to ask for feedback, what they enjoyed, and if they have any suggestions for improvement. This is also called Stars and Wishes.
Average game masters only ask for feedback on occasion (hey, I’m mostly average myself in this way, so no disrespect!) and hope that will get them results. Smart game masters ask for feedback at the end of every session.
The best way to do that is to ask for feedback, what they enjoyed, and if they have any suggestions for improvement. This is also called Stars and Wishes.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how to use Stars and Wishes after a game session:
Set the stage:
Let your players know that you would like to gather their feedback on the session using the “Stars and Wishes” technique. Explain that stars represent positive aspects, while wishes indicate areas they would like to see improved or things they hope for in future sessions.
Start with stars:
Begin by asking each player to share one or more stars—specific moments, aspects, or elements they enjoyed during the session. This can include exciting encounters, memorable NPCs, clever puzzles, immersive descriptions, or effective storytelling. Encourage them to provide details and examples to enrich the feedback.
Move to wishes:
Once stars have been discussed, transition to wishes. Invite players to share aspects they would like to see improved or things they hope to experience in future sessions. This can include suggestions for pacing, character development, exploration, combat encounters, or specific elements they would like to explore further.
At my table for D&D in a Castle in 2021, after the second-to-last session of the week, we asked for Stars and Wishes from the group. (I had forgotten to do it after any of the other sessions.) The players all loved the roleplay opportunities and freedoms they had in game choices. Their most prominent wish was the chance to make a difference in the lives of the NPCs. This gave me direction that night for planning their last day of gaming for the next day.
Step #2. Reflect on the Session (10 Minutes)
Taking a moment to reflect on how the session went from your perspective is a great activity to focus on after finishing a session.
Consider what worked well and what could be improved. Reflecting on your own performance as a game master can help you refine your skills and make adjustments for future sessions.
So how do you reflect on a game session?
Decompress a bit:
Give yourself a chance to take a break from the immediate experience to allow your mind to relax and gain some distance from the events.
Review your personal session notes:
If you took notes during the session, review them while the events are still fresh in your mind. Pay attention to significant moments, player interactions, key decisions, and any surprises that occurred.
Analyze player engagement:
Reflect on the level of engagement and enjoyment you observed from the players Consider how engaged they were during different parts of the session, whether there were moments of excitement or disinterest, and what factors may have contributed to these reactions.
Evaluate your pacing:
Assess the pacing of the session. Consider if the narrative progressed at an appropriate pace, whether there were lulls or moments that felt rushed. Think about whether there were opportunities for players to explore and make meaningful choices, or if the session felt too directed.
Self-assess your performance:
Consider how well you facilitated the session, managed the flow of the game, and maintained a balance between player agency and narrative direction.
Remember that self-reflection is meant to be a constructive exercise, not an opportunity for self-criticism. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that improvement is a continuous process. Embrace the lessons learned from each session and use them as stepping stones for growth.
Step #3. Review Notes and Update Campaign Materials (10 Minutes)
If you want to level up as a professional dungeon master, you have to get your systems in place for good note taking and material management. The best way to do that is choose a note keeping method that works well for you and your learning style. But you also have to keep this process simple and accessible so you don’t overwhelm yourself.
Now, many dungeon masters like to do a quick note dump, but you shouldn’t do that.
Because you’re shooting yourself in the foot for later. Inconsistent or disorganized note-taking can lead to confusion and inconsistencies in your campaign materials. It can stress you out and ruin the enjoyment of the game for you.
Instead, Make sure your notes are detailed enough to remind you of important plot points, NPC motivations, and player choices. Use a consistent format and keep your notes well-organized for easy reference. This will keep you consistent and reduce the likelihood of gamemaster burnout.
Google Drive is a great way to organize your notes and campaign materials, such as maps, artwork, and handouts. I have a folder for my artwork, one for handouts, and another for docs with notes and backstory write-ups.
Digital Note-Taking Apps
Digital note-taking apps offer convenience, organization, and the ability to search and access your notes easily. Some popular options include Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep, and Apple Notes. These apps often provide features like tags, folders, synchronization across devices, and multimedia support (such as attaching images or audio recordings).
Campaign Management Software
Campaign management software is obviously specially designed for game masters to manage their campaigns and notes. These tools often offer features like world-building templates, integrated calendars, player tracking, and the ability to share campaign information with players. Our favorite right now is Alchemy RPG.
Wiki platforms can be useful for organizing and linking interconnected information about your campaign world. They allow you to create a web of articles or pages for different aspects of your game, including characters, locations, lore, and pilot threads. Wikis offer cross-referencing capabilities and provide a comprehensive resource for your campaign. My favorite Wiki platform is World Anvil.
Mind-mapping software can help you visually organize your thoughts and connections. These tools are useful for brainstorming session ideas, plotting storylines, or mapping relationships between characters and locations.
Spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets can be used to organize various aspects of your game, including character sheets, encounter tracking, loot tables, or initiative orders. They provide a structured format for data management and calculations.
When in doubt, make a private Discord channel to keep track of your notes. You could even make the channel a forum channel to organize different sections of your note-taking in one spot. It’s a super simple setup and if you’re already running your games in Discord, then it’s extra easy.
Pen and Paper
Pen and paper is always an option. It’s traditional but still entirely reliable and flexible. It allows for quick jotting of ideas, sketching maps, and making annotations during gameplay. It’s portable, doesn’t require any special equipment, and no WI-FI!
Step #4. Prepare for the Next Session (15 Minutes)
Speaking of reflecting on our session, let’s talk about preparing for the next one.
Reflecting on your session and reviewing your notes and updating campaign materials makes it a heck of a lot easier to prepare for the next session, helps you stay organized, and it ensures that you’re not stressing out!
So set 15 minutes aside to prepare for the next session. 15 minutes is literally all it takes. That’s it.
To whip through a quick prep for the next session:
Finish reviewing your notes and identify the main objectives. What are the party’s primary goals for the next part of the story? What needs to be accomplished?
Prepare key NPCs that will be involved in the next session. How will they interact with the players and what information can they provide towards their main objective?
Outline the key encounters or scenes. Use the O.N.C.E. encounter writing method to help you plan out important encounters and scenes. Will they be social, exploration, or combat encounters? (If applicable to the TTRPG you’re running.) Make sure to outline key points and relevant stat blocks or mechanics.
Prepare any visual aids or handouts. You’ve just finished organizing them from this session, right? What will you need going forward?
K.I.S.S. – Keep It Super Simple. Jot only the essentials and avoid overcomplicating things. Remember, this quick prep isn’t supposed to take more than 15 minutes.
Step #5. Communicate With Your Players (5 minutes)
Another great way to level up as an organized game master is by communicating well with your players.
Just send a follow-up message or email to your players to thank them for the session and provide any necessary information or reminders.
Then, include details about the next session’s date, time, and any specific preparations or expectations you might have for them.
Pro Tip: The key with this step is to keep this simple. You don’t need to do all the things like sending out a newsletter or player survey and feedback form. Those aren’t “every session” tasks. We’re Keeping It Super Simple with this step as well. Simply send out a group chat, toss it into the post-session debrief (see step 1), or toss a note in your dedicated game website or forum space (like Discord)!
Step #6. Engage in Personal Game Master Development
This activity is one of the most overlooked, but also one of the most important (which is why I saved it for last).
If you don’t analyze your performance and push yourself forward, how will you know what’s working and become the best professional dungeon master you can be?
Consider reading or watching resources related to game mastering or storytelling techniques. Engaging in personal development can help you improve your skills and bring new ideas to your sessions. You can explore RPG blogs, watch actual play sessions, or read books on game mastering techniques.