How To Do an RPG Session Recap

Unless you have an impeccable memory, you’re probably not going to remember every detail in the last session of your RPG campaign. Especially if you have a significant amount of time between sessions. Thankfully, we don’t have to rely solely on our memories of sessions past, we can do a pre-session recap!

A recap means to restate an event while providing a summary of said event. Think of a recap as a highlight reel. We’re refreshing the audience’s memories by quickly going over the important stuff that happened last in the story.

Personally, I’ve found recaps to be an extremely useful tool, particularly as my group has been missing games a bit more frequently as of late due to summer activities and real-life responsibilities. They remind everyone of what they were doing so that they can decide what they will do this session quicker.

Recaps are cliff notes, they’re not short stories. Try to condense them as much as possible. Some sessions will be more productive than others, though, so use your judgment on the length of your recaps.

Tales from the Yawning Portal Cover Art
Tell me a story… Credit: WotC.

What’s in a Recap?

A great recap will include essential information from the last session. Basically, anything the party accomplished that’s notable.

This could include important foes slain, information gained, or what treasures they found. Just a couple or a few events that were the highlight of the session in your eyes.

Be sure to keep the focus on the players, though. They’ll be more likely to remember what happened the last session if you focus on what they did or found. And that’s the point of a recap, to kickstart their memories and begin immersing them in the game again.

People, Places, and Objects

Try to include specific people, places, or objects of importance when you’re doing your recap. Think of what or who is important to the party in the context of the event that you’re highlighting.

This could be the person that gave them the quest, or the villain they’re trying to track down. Basically, anyone or any group of people the party needs to be reminded of, especially if they will probably be relevant in the session that you’re about to play.

Linking each highlight to a specific person, place, organization, object, etc. will help the players remember who they are and what happened. It will also clue them in on the fact that whoever or whatever it is you mentioned is important.

Highlight Information That Will Be Relevant This Session

I kind of alluded to this in the last section, but you’ll gain bonus points if you try and tailor your recap to information that will be pertinent for the players in the session they’re about to dive into.

Killing the big boss is a great pat on the back to remind the players of that epic fight they had. However, reminding them about the boss’ shady accomplice that slipped away during the fight is more important. Find a way to include both!

A recap should remind the players of where they were and where they are going.

Write it Down After the Game

The sooner you write down your recap, the better it will be. Well, maybe not immediately after the session, but give yourself a few hours or a day to think about the session and come up with a few bullet points for the session to work off of.

I like to do this in the form of a summary in my game’s Discord channel. I’ll jot down some notes and include any EXP they earned or treasure they gained as well. This way my players can read everything at their leisure and get a reminder to level their characters before the next session.

The cool part about doing a summary in this fashion for me is that I can work off of the summary to do a quick recap or I can focus my recap on information that will probably be pertinent for this current session since my players already read the summary.

Shadow of the Demon Lord session recap
Pour one out for Jimmy. The party’s only ally.

This is honestly an area of improvement for me personally. I’ve been known to slack on writing my session summaries. I have gotten better with my Shadow of the Demon Lord game (featured in the screenshot above), though, thanks to my more organized note taking/campaign planning setup.

Recap Before You Begin The Next Session

Recaps are great icebreakers. Even though I write a session summary in Discord, I still do a verbal recap before we jump into the next session. I tend to assume that not everyone will read my summaries, or that they do so after I post them and then forget about them after a couple of days. Either way, a recap helps!

Generally, the recap will be similar to the summary, but I’ll sometimes highlight or resurface details from past sessions that will probably be relevant in this current session.

For example, mention some details of a previous quest that is vaguely linked to the one the party is in the middle of. This might just seem like a cool factoid or reference to the players, but you know all of the details that interconnect between these two quests and why it’s important that the party is reminded of this connection.

Also, a recap is a great way to transition the players from pre-session chatter and into the game. Think of it as a chance to slowly immerse them back into the game rather than just toss them right into the game where they’ll backtrack and struggle to remember what happened last time.

Player Recaps

One suggestion I’ve heard people do that I love the idea of is to have the players do the recap. It doesn’t have to be the same player every time, but it’s anyone but the GM that was present at the last session.

Player recaps have two major benefits in my eyes. The first is that it’s less work for the GM to have to take care of. I mean, recaps aren’t tough to write by any means, but having someone else do them will probably save you a few minutes each session.

A celestial about to be sacrificed
Recaps ensure that everyone is reminded of their plans before the session begins. Credit: WotC.

The second benefit is that you get to learn what the players emphasize and what they remember. This is a very rare glimpse into how your players absorb information that will seriously benefit you.

For example, the player doing the recap focuses on one specific part of the previous session. However, to you, this was just a minor conversation and your prep doesn’t account for this. Well, for starters, good luck! But you’ve also learned how much value your group places on certain interactions.

You can also throw in some additional bits of information at the end of the player’s recap if you feel they might have missed something.

Personally, I’ve never enforced this technique for any of my campaigns. Sometimes I’ll have a player take over generally out of anticipation which is always nice. Regardless, it’s one I’ve been meaning to try for quite some time. I’ll probably bring it up during our next campaign’s session 0.

Conclusions

It’s rough going into a new session when it may have been a week, a month, or even longer between games. No one can remember every relevant detail of the last session. Especially if you’ve been playing the campaign for a long time, everything just blends together!

Recaps are an effective way to ensure that your players are retaining important and relevant information for your game. Spend a couple of minutes before you begin playing to recap the previous session and I guarantee you’ll have fewer confused players than ever.

You can even use recaps as a way to foreshadow events that may happen during the current session you’re about to play. Just drop a few big names the players haven’t heard in a while and they’ll be instantly clued-in that shit’s about to go down.

Whatever you do, you or your players should use recaps, session summaries, or both! They’re great tools to better immerse yourselves in the game as well as keep your memories fresh so you can jump right into the next session.

If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!

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