355 Assigning Players Homework

Being recorded Monday, August 16, TWENTY TWENTY ONNNNNNE!!

As GMs we often complain when the players “don’t read the handout” but how much homework should we expect the players to actually do? As a player, how much homework are we actually willing to do?

What do we mean by “homework” anyway? Provide an answer and then see if it changes as we discuss.


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There are only a few things I feel should be required homework from a player.

  1. Know your characters “intent” for the upcoming session.

—Given the events experienced in the last session and where you anticipate the next session to go, have your character’s attitude and assumptions ready to go. These may change during the session or be fueled further.

  1. Focus on an ability or skill your character has or an item in your possession and “own it”.

—I don’t expect everyone to know the rules for every aspect of the game, I do encourage the players to embrace something about their character to understand it and use it in game terms. If done a little each session they build up an arsenal of options for their character’s actions that they will understand.

  1. Remember how much fun the last session was and how much fun the next one will be.

—Look forward to the next session. Not all of them are the best. But remember why we love getting together and the potential for epic memorable moments.

That’s about it. I’m not very demanding when it comes to my players. I just really like hanging out with everyone and we all end up having a good time regardless of my performance or their gaming prowess.

Feelin Good about Hangin Out Together


The only homework I ever assign is totally optional: writing a short session report to share with the other players, for a bit of XP. That way there’s an incentive to take notes and remember what happened, instead of forgetting it all by the next session. There’s not always any takers, but sometimes one or two people will take a stab at it.


That was a critical part of a Dark Heresy game I ran. People could add to an NPC roster, session summaries, and their own character blurb. Out of 10 people who played maybe 3 contributed to it regularly, and were half-a-level ahead by the last leg of the campaign


I’ve only really run campaign style games, so I think a backstory makes sense to build out your character. I ask each player to give me something about their character’s history. Some are into it, some aren’t. I don’t force it. If you want to just show up and play, that’s cool. If they take the time to write up a backstory, then I need to bring it into the game. I have one PC in Icewind Dale with a crazy background about her mother coming north from Chult to set up a Yuan-ti temple. She hasn’t come across it yet, but she’ll be hearing some crazy drums (a la Temple of Doom) when she gets close to a path to the underdark.

I also like to roll for trinkets. I ask the players to think about how they got that trinket and how they can use it in a game. It almost always gets forgotten, but I try to bring it in somewhere and see if they bite. I’ve been able to bring a trinket in a couple of times, but nothing major yet. It’s just another crumb to build that backstory.

Outside of PC development, I do have a couple other homework items. I found music was great for ambience, but it was too much for me to handle while DMing. I asked the players if anyone wanted to do it. One guy was all over it and brought music every week. The other group … crickets.

I also ask the group for a recap each week. I refuse to give it. I’ll sit and deliberately say nothing until someone fills in the blanks. After a while someone gives some details. It’s usually the same guy each week, but not always. Sometimes others will chime in with “don’t forget that we met that guy and did that thing.”

I recently added a “Player Only” chat room in Discord. I promised not to go in there. They can plot all they want between games. I’ve heard that it sees a lot of activity when the week ends on a cliffhanger. One of the players loved it and used it to discuss strategy while waiting for the next session.

I have one player that loves to optimize characters. If anyone has a question about what to choose for the next level, I suggest they send that player a note. He gets fired up about what spells or feats they should choose and how it’ll help fill in a hole for the party.

Different people are fired up by different things. It’s about finding that thing that excites each player and see how you can tap into that energy.

I should mention that most of this is “toss shit at the wall and see what sticks.”


Brett, don’t let Sean fool you! He demanded a full on thesis statement for our latest Forbidden Lands game which required I develop a genealogy going back 5 generations describing the trials and tribulations of my dwarven clan during the 300 year blood mist!

It was the most demanding essay I’ve had to research and write since university!

I’m still waiting for the official grade on the paper.

All kidding aside, this “homework” has provided a lot of benefit to the new campaign. It’s provided initial insights and motivations into the character which helped determine how I’ve roleplayed some of our initial encounters.

I think Sean may have used some of that info to develop the starting quests for each of us in the group?

Now that we’re rolling, it’ll be interesting to see how Sean incorporates our “homework” answers into the campaign and to what degree. Speaking for myself, if it becomes a significant part of the game, great. If not, no big deal. Sometimes just the motivations are enough to push the game at the table in interesting directions. So long as the way I play those motivations don’t become a hinderance or distraction to the group, it’s all good.

Ultimately, the story told at the table, and the fun had by all, is the most important part of the game.


In regards to homework, I don’t know where I fall on it. However, Eric’s idea of sending players an email that says what they learned and ask them if they have questions about is a great idea! The more I’ve thought about it the more I like it. It clears up misinterpretations and engages the players. That’s a clean win win. I just thought I’d send a tip-of-the-hat for that great idea! Also, thank you guys for doing this show, it has brought me hundreds of hours of entertainment!


Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this myself and I’m not sure if I give out anything close to homework but that may be because I don’t prep very much myself. At least nothing documented and even then I don’t spend an awful lot of time mentally plotting anything out because I enjoy winging it throughout the session.

What I’ve come up with is a solution that can only be described as what the kids call “weak” or “lame” or whatever else they say. My son would probably call me a “noob” and I’d like to thank YouTube and my lazy pandemic parenting for that. I like to think I don’t give out homework; I prefer to have players feel inspired to interact with the game and reward players who submit extracurricular assignments.

Like I said, weak. But I think part of why I’m so quick to distance myself from the word “homework” is the negative connotation it spews to many people. Homework feels forced upon people, as I see it, and I’m not particularly interested in trying to force my way into their brains when I can get further with candy. It’s why I like to encourage all players to interact with all elements of the game. (Except for the rules - those are mine!! Nah, just kidding. Could you imagine?) Whatever approach fits their comfort level, from vague ideas about how their character is connected to the bank heist to players speaking 100% in character, my role at the table is to get the players to fire up their imaginations and experience the benefits of interacting with the game at the table. Then they may be more inclined to keep that ball rolling away from the table with Discord chats about campfire talk after the last dungeon or journal entries and that kind of stuff.

The trick, however, is avoiding any collisions or concerns from players who aren’t as eager to do homework or more detailed interacting than others. In the past, I’ve used Session Zero to state that those players who contribute ideas, backstory, and interact with the various elements of the game will discover more roleplaying opportunities and the main villain will likely have stronger connections to their characters than others. BUT that means others will be challenged via game mechanics and anyone who doesn’t feel as comfortable or keen to do so will therefore start at higher levels or have faster opportunities to kick some extra ass than the roleplayers. “Every bard with a winning smile and an impressive backstory needs a well-armed bodyguard.” In other words, the roleplayers will get to do their thing and the rest will be working with the stunt team more. I’ll provide opponents tailored to test them out in a fight but also ensure their enemy isn’t immune to all their strengths.

So I don’t give out homework but I’ll definitely eat the apple left on my desk as I tell the class those who spoil the teacher will get advanced copies of the test. All others are hamburger wrapped in spells and plate mail for my monsters to eat but they’ll get customized treasure and better gear.

… this post was recorded in Episode 359

I don’t assign “homework” - I reward between session contributions to the campaign.

During the podcast, this was frowned on a bit - because of people supposedly getting “less spotlight” or FOMO or something…

I do a LOT of “homework” for my group (what, with detailed custom 3d terrain, a custom soundtrack mix, updating a photo-rich story blog of every session, along with all the usual prep-on-steroids of initiative tents and printed monster stat blocks…)

In exchange, I ask them to take session photos, keep notes, narrate the “last time in our campaign” summary from those notes, and help build/teardown terrain, etc.

In exchange, for each thing, I give them one of my Fudge -1/+1 tokens for use during the session:

Come early & help setup? Token. Stay later/teardown? Token (next week), read notes? Token… There’s always something you can do to help the campaign…


But, what makes the Token approach particularly special (and not suffer from the presumed “too much spotlight” problem) is that the tokens are most often used on someone else’s roll:

DM: The Dragon makes his saving throw, but only by 2.
Mage: I only have one -1 token!
Rogue: I’ve got you covered! (passing a second - 1 token to DM)
DM: (Taking both tokens) The Dragon fails his saving throw and is stunned! Next attack is at advantage!

The more you contribute to the group outside of the session, the more benefits the group receives - it builds party cooperation and cohesion to reward individual contributions with sharable benefits.

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I really like this. I’ve toyed with similar ideas, but I might institute you can ONLY use tokens on other PCs… I’m curious how that would play out.

I’m curious as well, but beware shifting from the idea of “voluntary gifting/sharing” to creating obligation-to-share. Those are very different models, and would likely manifest different behaviors. Some might say that compelled sharing is burdensome/less fun.

I don’t disagree.
I would also add there is probably a different feeling between “we had these things and now we have to share them” and “we’re trying a new add on that is made for sharing.”