How a D&D Gaming Session is like a Business Meeting

So yeah…meetings. You’ve likely been in them in some form or another. Maybe you’ve even led a few (or more than a few). 

If they’re done well, meetings can be productive. But you don’t often think of them as being “fun.” I mean it’s possible to have fun in meetings, but it’s not usually the primary goal. Although sometimes you can get lucky and they have snacks.

I want my players to have fun each session, but I’d also like to keep things organized to help ensure everyone is engaged and we spend time efficiently to maximize fun and effective storytelling. Maybe there are some things we can learn from the structure of meetings that can apply to running a gaming session. 

Meeting Agenda vs. Session Structure

Taking too much time doing one thing, when that time would be better spent on something else can make for a bad experience. That’s where leveraging a meeting’s format can actually be beneficial.

Effective meetings usually have an agenda, and at its basic level, that agenda usually has a timeframe, a list of activities, and identifies who is responsible for those activity. I think a D&D gaming session can work in a similar way, and providing an example may be the best way to communicate this. So, I’d like to go over how I structure a typical gaming session.

Let’s dive in deeper on each one of these. I’ll provide an overview of each segment, then show how I put them all together to structure my game session.

Session Introduction

As the DM, I’m responsible for introducing the session. I like to cover the basics of who, what, when, where, why, and howThis means, I have to explain who else is present and what is currently happening. Set the stage by explaining what’s happening to the players and anyone else who is around the players. I also need to review when it’s all happening. “When” could mean a bunch of different things – the year, the season, the time day, whatever is important for players to know before starting. I provide the location to introduce or remind the players where everything is going on, why they are there doing what they’re doing, and how they got in this situation.

The description of who, what, when, where, why, and how can follow any format you’d like. They just need to be included in the introduction to get everyone on the same page. Again, this happens first, and it shouldn’t take more than about 2-5 minutes or so.

Player Debrief & Planning

This segment is something I do in each session, but when it happens may vary depending on the type of session I’m running. Sometimes this segment happens immediately after the intro, and other times it happens during the first Encounter Response. I’ll explain more about this in the Scheduling section.

But what is Player Debrief & Planning? In short, this is an opportunity for the players to discuss their thoughts on what’s happening and their plans for what they are going to do next.

As the DM, it’s my job to prompt and facilitate the discussion, but it’s the players’ responsibility to actually discuss and come to a conclusion.

This can be done “in character” or “out of character” depending on the preferences of the group. But the takeaway is that the players should know what they are planning to do next, and the DM should understand the plan before moving forward.

1st Encounter

The first encounter is where the things really start to pick up. This could be a combat encounter, a social encounter, exploration, or some type of skill challenge. As long as it’s an active encounter, it needs to have a reserved spot in the structure of the game.

Who’s responsible for this? Everyone at the table. As a DM, I should have prepared the encounter ahead of time, or prepped enough to run one on the fly. But it’s also the players’ job to be actively engaged in the encounter until it comes to a resolution.

1st Encounter Response

Most experienced DMs and players understand what an Encounter is. It’s sort of the backbone of D&D. But the Encounter Response is a practice I put into place for my own campaigns. Other DMs may do something similar – I mean…it’s not rocket carpentry. But let me give you a quick overview of how I handle this.

In short, as the DM it’s my job to prompt some type of response from the players regarding the following questions:

  1. What is the emotional reaction of the heroes?
  2. What do the heroes think of the encounter and plan to do next?
  3. What is the final choice of the heroes?

I try not to make this as straightforward as just asking all three of these questions verbatim, and I prompt discussion between the players whenever possible. Sometimes even calling for an ability check may be useful to help the PCs realize something. 

Depending on the circumstances, history, arcana, religion, and even insight checks can be very useful during encounter responses. Providing a small bit of information to prompt player discussion may bring you closer to answering all encounter response three questions organically. 

By the way, if NPC antagonists were also involved (and they are still alive and around), as a DM, I need to answer those questions from their point of view. This isn’t revealed to the players, I just need to make note of it for my own knowledge. It will be very important for planning future encounters.

Short Break

Everyone will need a break, so I plan for it ahead of time. I try to let the group know an approximate time that a break may happen, but I also let them know it may be adjusted depending on the game. 

The one thing that should stay the same is the duration. I try to keep breaks to 10-15 minutes maximum.

By the way, I have a free digital download of a Campaign Planning Guide. It breaks down the Encounter/Response methodology a little further, and shows how it all fits in with the overall plan for the campaign. If you’re interested, sign up for our mailing list and download your free copy.

Ok…back from our short break and on to the next encounter.

Additional Encounters & Responses

The following Encounter should flow from the previous response. This helps keep a logical flow and makes it more likely that the game (and the story) is progressing in a way that makes sense to everyone.

Quick note. Some of you may be thinking, “Isn’t there other stuff going on in the game besides Encounters and Encounter Responses?”  Yup, you’re right. There can be skill checks, discussion between characters, interactions with shopkeepers, and a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t quite fit as an Encounter or Response. 

I call this type of activity “Transition Scenes.” They are an important part of the game too, but they are a little more fluid and can be flexible ways of enhancing the story or keeping things moving.

At the end of the day, they’re the story elements that fill in the spaces between encounters, so you can use them with a great deal of flexibility. Just make sure that the time spent on transitions adds value for you, your players, and the story you’re telling.

So, the Encounter-Response process repeats until the game session is ready to conclude. However, it doesn’t mean that the conclusion of the session necessarily means a nicely wrapped up encounter…

Session Conclusion

There are two options for the session conclusion: the final Encounter Response or a cliffhanger. First, I could end right after the last Encounter Response. This lets the players plan their next steps so I know how to prepare for the next session.

Alternatively, you could end in an exciting cliff-hanger. Stop the game right before calling for initiative, or right as a social encounter or skill challenge is about to start. This leaves a great opportunity for a “James Bond” opening for the next session. You’ll be able to begin with the action, engaging the players from the start.

Choose the option based on the way the session played out, optimizes the fun, and builds excitement for the next session. In either case, it’s the DM’s job to recap the session, and state where we will pick up for the next session.

Planning the Session

Based on the segments we just reviewed, I have two basic formatting options for my game. Keep in mind that this is based on a 2.5 hour-ish session. I think most gaming sessions go for an average of 4 hours (don’t quote me on that), so keep in mind that I’m planning a shorter session and adjust as needed.

The reality is all of my players are all working adults with limited time to play. They have a ton of other responsibilities, and we opt for shorter weekly sessions to make time for the game and ensure we can fit everything into our schedule.

Let’s take a look at Option A:

In this hypothetical example, I begin with the Introduction phase at about 1pm when my session is planned to start. This shouldn’t take me more than about 5 minutes, so I follow it with the PC Debrief and Planning phase.

Then, we move right into the first Encounter – in this case a social encounter with Guild Master Thule. I estimate that this may take around 45 minutes or so – depending on how the encounter turns out. I may have to change things on the fly.

We always follow an encounter with a Response, but I make a few notes to make sure I really want to get an idea of how the player characters feel after that encounter.

If we’re on track, we’ll have our Short Break at 2:15, and if we stick to our break time, we’ll be ready for our next Encounter at 2:30. This will be a Combat Encounter – and it will be with either Thule’s guild stooges, or the town guard – depending on how things went with the previous encounter. We follow the encounter with a Response, and I’ll Conclude at 3:45ish – making sure I have a good handle on where the PCs are going from here.

D&D Session Structure (Option B)

Option B is the famous “James Bond” opening. This is the structure when we can start with the action. This is most often used when we ended the previous session with a cliff-hanger, but there are some creative ways to use this even on your first session of a campaign.


The major change here is the omission of the PC Planning at the start, and jumping right into the first Encounter. The rest of the structure follows pretty closely, but I do plan for more time in the first Encounter for the inevitable adjustments and player chat that may come up.


This structure also gives me the option of ending on a cliffhanger again – which can be very useful in keeping a great pace in the campaign. Just note that not all cliffhangers are combat related. Cliffhangers can be skill challenges or even straight up social encounters.

Don’t Fear the Structure

In the end, don’t be afraid to leverage all of those meetings you’ve been in for another purpose. Borrow and adjust the format to keep your gaming session exciting for everyone at the table.