The following is a sample outline to help newer A/SHs plan for a typical session in Vaxia's somewhat unique format.
While each session is unique, a typical 5-hour session often falls into a familiar pattern most of the time:
- The hook
- Characters to the action
- First encounter
- Boss encounter
The hook is the thing that gets PCs interested in joining into whatever is going on. It's the smell of smoke that draws them to a burning building, the sound of a scream in a graveyard at night, the all-call on the station for a planetside mission or the realization that their coinpurses have been snatched.
Typically, the hook is the second narrative in a session. Many A/SHs lead with a scene-setting narrative to let PCs post and describe where they are and what they're doing before things get moving. It also works as a form of attendance so that the A/SH knows not only which players are coming, but with which characters, to help them plan on the fly for things like encounters and challenges later in the session.
Shorter sessions can quickly save an hour by skipping right to the action with the opening narrative and letting the PCs get straight to the action with their first post.
Characters to the Action
Once the hook is set, the next hour is focused on getting characters to the site where the action takes place and giving them a more complete run-down on the situation that they're helping resolve.
It's the difference between simply smelling smoke and seeing the building in flames, hearing that there are people inside and seeing that the flames are starting to catch a neighboring building. It lays out the challenges for the characters so that they can go where their skills are best fit and start to have an impact on the landscape.
Sometimes, the action comes to the characters (an out-of-control carriage racing down the Royal Road, for instance), but the function is the same: when the danger gets close enough, characters get the rough size and shape of it so that they can start to react to it in more concrete terms than the generic 'hook' that gave them a preview of it earlier.
1-2 hours into the session is a good time for the first encounter. This can be combat, traps, tense negotiations, a chase - some form of action and dice-rolling that most or all of the PCs can engage in. It's been largely talking, text and AWA rolls up till now in most sessions - to stretch that out much longer will start to lose some players by this point, so include some form of action that gives folks a chance to succeed at something measurable and exciting.
In a 4-5 hour session, there isn't really much time for a break between the first encounter and the 'final' or 'boss' encounter. Often, they'll be the same thing, with the 'boss' simply joining the combat already in progress, or the biggest challenge appearing before the smaller ones have been completely dealt with.
Longer sessions can include planning, investigation or questioning between the first and final encounters, but in a 4-5 hour session, espect to have to move immediately from one to the other. Don't rely on having time to slowly re-hook or guide PCs from the first encounter to the final one - it may put you well over your expected time for the session.
It's very valuable to provide 30 minutes to an hour for wrap-up after the last of the action is resolved. Since there isn't much time between the encounters to explain why what's happening is happening (how the fire started, what spooked the horses in the runaway carriage, or why these bandits were holding someone hostage), now is the time to do exactly that.
Beating the big bad isn't nearly as satisfying until you know who they were and why they were doing what they were doing. Try not to skip or truncate this step if you can - which means plan for it in advance when you decide how long your session is going to take.
The vague outline above will cover a surprisingly high number of session types, but it's definitely not a requirement, just a baseline to help newcomers know what to expect. As you run more sessions, you'll learn what you can expect from your own ruling and posting speed and the sort of plots you like to run, so don't let this limit you if you find your own format differs from this outline.