Andrew’s Guide to Play Reports

Want to write play reports that are useful and interesting? Here are my suggestions.

Subheadings. Group information so about every full screen of text you’ve got a subheading. This breaks the information up into manageable chunks when reading, diminishing the “text wall” effect, and also helps you find things you’re looking for later.

Targeted Information. The main reason I do play reports is because I want to be able to refer to what happened, when I’m planning and running later sessions. Choose information with this in mind. Whole conversations and strings of events can be reduced to a couple sentences. Fights can be summarized and glossed over, unless it is going to matter who shot who and which character stabbed how many orcs. Focus on NPCs and their information, any promises made or broken, background information that you might need to re-use parts of the situation as they crop up later, and outcomes of scenes. Pay special attention to the stuff you improvised and won’t remember in a day or two.

A play report can balance the needs of the players (who want to see how cool their characters look, and get NPC names and events and commitments straight, comparing to their table notes) and the GM (who needs canon and precedent sorted out for future planning and reference, and may be advertising the game.)

Battles tend towards very short play reports, where you aim for memorable moments and battle outcomes. The longest reports tend to come from investigations where there are many clues and NPCs the players or GM may wish to revisit.

Quick, Dirty, Active. Use strong verbs and keep descriptions short. You want the reader to get a painting of how a scene felt in just a few sentences. It’s fine to go a little “purple” or melodramatic in describing things. Hit descriptions fast and move on; it’s a summary, not fiction.

Provoke Jealousy. I hope people who read my play reports think “I want to play in that game!” To that end, don’t insult players or characters in the play report. Portray PCs in the most positive light you can. Condensing the game to a crisp summary can make it look fast and taut and fun–ideally, it was. Jamming flavor into your verbs and keeping the story jumping along can inflect the memory of players and the perception of readers.

Past Tense. Pick a tense before you start writing, and stick to it. I recommend past tense. Only step beyond that intentionally; an NPC may control the docks, so you want to say “Jack controls the docks” instead of “Jack controlled the docks,” but make sure it is a choice and not an oversight every time you step out of past tense.

Links. Link to the previous session when you do a play report. If you do a number of them, make a page on your blog, or some other location, where you can put the series and link to each play report. Make it easy to browse through them. Maybe use Obsidian Portal if you don’t have a blog.

I hope that helps you write up your play reports! While I have been doing play reports for many years, all the write-ups I’ve done since 2012 are linked here.

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