Monday, April 20, 2015

Relax and Go With It

I had a non-playing session on Saturday.  That is to say, the players showed up, we set up the tables and got out our characters to start running . . . and then we didn't.

No one made a conscious decision not to run.  I have learned from experience to let the players chatter away for awhile, wait for them to settle down from their lives and the need to share recent experiences, then calmly start the campaign with a few chosen words.  On Saturday, however, the words did not encourage the players to start playing . . . so I let it go for another fifteen minutes and tried again.  And another fifteen minutes and another.

Until finally, by 8:30, an hour and a half after our usual start time, I threw in the towel.

This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened.  It does occasionally - and the important thing is to not fight it, not feel guilty about it, not think of it as a sign that your campaign is on the skids.  Fact is, these people are friends.  Sometimes, friendship trumps role-play.

After many years of experience, I've gained a feel for when this sort of thing happens.  There can be a number of factors.  The game could reach a level of tension where the players just aren't quite ready to take the next step.  By coincidence, there could be a lot of things that have gone on in their lives and they have to talk about it.  Or, as in the case the other day, one player was out sick (as he is disabled, this is a serious thing) and the other was screwed by a commitment he could not ignore.  And the rest of the players felt they'd be cheating the two others by continuing the campaign from where we'd left off.

So they didn't have the heart to continue.  Nor was I prepared to make them.

I don't doubt that this has happened to a lot of readers.  If it has, say so, because this is the kind of thing that DMs get deeply introspective about, feeling sure that it's a sign their campaigns are failing.  Some DMs feel they have to get tyrannical when this happens, or they feel that a missed opportunity is proof that the campaign is dying.

Truth is, though the DM is the captain of the ship, tyranny will accomplish only so much.  After a certain point, the crew needs shore leave.  We give them shore leave because when they come back, they will be readier, they will be more focused, they will be stronger.

Now and then, letting the players chatter away for four or five hours, instead of playing, let's them work out details, it lets them bond, it encourages them to feel comfortable and natural in the space where they play.  Moreover, the time afterwards, as they think about having not run, will encourage them to be bright, sunny and chipper when the next game starts.

Granted, two or three sessions in a row like this would suggest there was a problem.  But I find that this happening once in a score of sessions is a good thing.

Better that we go with it and enjoy ourselves.  The campaign won't spoil.


  1. This is a great post! Too often, other gaming resources focus solely on the plot or mechanics of the game. You are taking time out to say "Players are also people and sometimes people need to socialize." You also point out: 1) This can be handled like adults: there's no need for either side to feel shame or recrimination if it happens.

  2. I've never had players talk so long that we didn't run at all, but I'm comfortable with letting the chat draw out until everyone's ready to play.

  3. @ Tao:

    Yes, this has happened to me. Yes, I took it as a sign that the campaign was dying or the players didn't care or whatnot and was incredibly frustrated by the circumstance. However, taking a step back I can see this has happened, on occasion, with many groups and many games over the years. A hiccup, really, in the scheme of things...after all, the players come back again the next week.

    I suppose for me (selfishly) I have so little opportunity to play/run that when such an occurrence occurs, I'm not very easy going about the human needs at play. *I* get worked up inside and feel slighted, even if I don't express my outrage to the players.

    I do recognize this is MY problem. *sigh*

  4. Just this last week, after I've finally recovered from my surgery, we finally got together for the first time in over a month. I was still not at 100%, so I let the players chat and talk about the last month. That went on for over two hours. We finally got started, but petered out after a single combat. Wasn't anything wrong, I was just too winded to keep talking (chest tubes suck), so we packed it in and just BS'd for a while before calling it a night.

    Sometimes I think it is necessary, especially as we get older and only see each other on game night.

  5. It's happened in my campaign several times, and I never felt particularly negative about it. Usually it's because more than one player fails to show up, but sometimes it's just because we get carried away by the pre-game conversation.

    Some of the players in my campaign spend a lot of time working, taking care of their children and so on, and don't do much socialising of any kind outside of D&D. Sometimes we just talk, and on occasion we've ended up playing poker instead, but we were always right back on track the following session, at no detriment to the game.

  6. When this happens to my game its generally coming from me as opposed to the players. We show up to play and I just don't have it in me to run. We don't play that often and at least half of the group is visibly disappointed when I tell them I'm not up for it. I've found that in these cases its also a good idea to go with it, however bad you feel about it.


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