There’s a moment that comes in every Role Playing Game, once you’ve got players so used to behaviour that they stop needing to be asked for it, and they start offering it up, and that moment, for any DM in any RPG, is gold. This moment comes in Fate because a player can gain a Fate Point (the game’s mechanical currency, think of it like Inspiration) by having the GM offer a compel (narrative complication) against a player’s aspect (personality trait). “Your phone rings, you can see it’s Sally No-Shoes, probably with a favour. It’s a shame you’re In Bed With The Mob. [GM holds out a Fate Point for the player to accept or reject] Do you answer the call?”
The moment comes in Fate when you say “you leave the bar, not sure where to start looking-” and a player cuts you off saying “My phone rings! It’s Sally No-Shoes, and I bet she’s up to no good!” And then they thrust out their meaty paw with a big fat grin and you sit back and smile: Your little PC has grown up, and is throwing themself in the mud for you. Bless ‘em.
Requested, Reinforced, Offered
These are the stages of Incentivised Behaviour: Requested, Reinforced, Offered. Requested is “Hey mate, aren’t you five intelligence? What if instead of catching the Duke in that lie, you instead let it slip? [holds out a Cookie Point in payment]”. Reinforced is “The Duke is lying! I caught him! Oh…[eyeing the Cookie Point you’ve just picked up or the pile you've got on the table], I’m only five Intelligence. I’ll let that go.” Offered is “The Duke is lying, sure, but I’m five intelligence. I’m going to push the conversation on, blissfully unaware [Holds out hand for their payment].” The biggest change is the order: Requested has desired behaviour, command, then reward; Reinforced has command, desired behaviour, then reward; and finally Offered has desired behaviour, reward, and the command is absent, because your PC is all grow’d up.
Fluency in language is ability to quickly and accurately interpret language, well fluency in behaviour is the ability to quickly and accurately interpret what the DM wants. Being alright with a language is like being alright with behaviour: you can do it sometimes, but not perfectly. Sometimes the tone is wrong, sometimes you're too early, sometimes you’re too late. The only way to develop fluency is to consistently reward players when they perform the desired behaviour in the Reinforcement stage. Think of it from a PC’s perspective: If you don’t reinforce their offered complications, they get confused. Did they do it wrong? Are you not rewarding it any more? Now they have a complication, and they didn’t get any Cookie Points, double suck! Well that’s embarrassing, it’s probably better if they just never volunteer this stuff again. When you want it, you’ll ask for it (and now you’re right back at Requested).
The End-of-Session Signal
The End-of-Session Signal is your sign to your players that they can relax. That the rewards for new behaviour have stopped. That they shouldn’t expect any more Cookie Points, and in exchange you’re not expecting any more self-complications. It means that you don’t have to worry about missing an opportunity in the Reinforcement stage, because you’ve indicated that Cookie Points Time is over, and you’ll indicate at the start of next session when it starts again.
End-of-Session signals are especially necessary when you end a session on an emotionally high- or low-note, a cliffhanger. "With the Disloyal Duke’s knife above the sleeping Prince’s body and his hands come down aaaaaand we’ll find out next week." That tension is there, it’s a rubber band, and if you’re playing it right, it’s tugging at the emotional chords of all of your players. You can’t just leave it there, with all that tension something has to give. An end-of-session signal gives players the authority to let the rubber band bounce back a little, back to a position from which you can easily pick it back up and stretch it back to the full extent of the drama, and that’s a hell of a lot better than having it snap.
Tools to Take Away
Implementing the End-of-Session signal can be done in several ways. It could be a song you play every week (like the closing theme of a serial TV show), it could be a ritual action (Ten Candles plays a recording made by the PCs at the start of the session), it could be a phrase (“Fade to black. Roll credits.”), or it could be a mechanical action (adding XP, selecting MVP, distributing Artha). In fact, it could be all three. There’s a podcast that I enjoy, NPC Cast, who finish with “you may now add 1000xp to your character sheet.” But notice something about all of them? They’re positive. It is critical that the End-of-Session signal is enjoyed by players. If you make it negative, you’re stacking two negative feelings on top of each other: The end of play, and the end of rewards. Instead you want this to be exciting, desired, even something to strive for! You want players to work toward this all session and then be stoked when it arrives! You want this big emotional mix “Oh man, the session is over, that sucks, but at least we got our cool XP, or our end-of-session Artha, or we got to sing along with our sweet team theme song.”
For D&D implementation, you’ve really got two options baked into the system: XP or Inspiration. You’re not giving Session XP, there are no participation trophies in RPGs, your players have to feel like they’ve earned their Cookie Points. Instead, keep a tally of the xp players are earning throughout the session, don’t drop it in every fight, just keep your tally and finish your session with “You each earn 1200xp.” It does some great things: “earn” suggests reward. They’re not “taking” or “getting” XP. They’re not marking it, or noting it, they’ve earned it. Drawn from the blood of their enemies. Secondly, imagine throwing that in as your End-of-Session signal?! “The Left-handed Bastard Duke raises his hands to cast a deep spell at you, the winds pick up around him, the sun flees behind storm clouds, the world trembles at the power he wields! You each earn 1200xp.” Or we can use Inspiration “The wolves close in around you, mist leaking from their blooded muzzles. The pack signals out your squishy bard and the weakest prey for his sharp canines. He lunges. You each earn your Inspiration Token”. Similarly, Fate uses the term Refresh (to mean going back up to your base amount of Cookie Points if you’re under it) and places the Refresh phase at the start of the session. What if we just move it to the end? “You each earn Fate Points up to your Refresh.” There’s an End-of-Session signal to really tell your players that whatever is happening with the Left-Handed Duke next week is going to be huge, and they’re going to have all these Cookie Points to use against it, how exciting. It’s a shame we can’t keep playing right now.
Regardless of what phrase and reward you use, keep it sharp, keep it positive, and keep it consistent. For a signal to be a signal, players need to know why they're getting it, and what it means. They need to know the narrative- and the mechanical implications behind what you’re saying, and that only happens through repetition. They need to feel excited that they’re getting their Cookie Points, and a little excited-yet-sad-yet-excited that the game is over for the week. Sharp, positive, consistent.
You each earn Cookie Points up to your Refresh.