Have you ever looked at the calendar and realized that you’re supposed to run a game in the near future and you just aren’t “feeling it?” Do you cancel the session or press on?
I find this happening more and more as I get older and, conversely, I play less and less. Both are related phenomena; being a “mature gamer” with a family, work, and other activities filling my social schedule, not only do I have less time to set aside and game but I’m also thinking about the game less often. While I enjoy being a Game Master I sometimes find myself doing something that would’ve been unthinkable a decade ago – I often go more than a week without thinking about my ongoing campaign at all!
So what should I do when that malaise extends to the edge of the next session? Cancelling a game seems the obvious choice, but it isn’t so easy when you only play about once every other week as it is (and, while Friday is our night I have a regular commitment on the second Friday of each month, so punting a session sometimes means pushing it to three weeks later). It’s hard to maintain enthusiasm, especially when Real Life is also cancelling sessions on you. Because of this I hate to cancel a session even when I’m not feeling it.
I also don’t want to tank a good campaign just because of this malaise. All too often in the past I let my boredom kill otherwise good campaigns when all I really needed was just a recharging of the batteries to press forward. That was okay back when I had a lot of time to create a new campaign that excited me and my players; now it makes more sense to try and keep something that’s been working moving forward.
What I’ve been doing lately when I feel like this is to walk in with a “short session mentality.” I look at my notes and try to create one goal for the players to overcome that session. It could be the introduction of a new NPC, defeating a particularly deadly foe, or uncovering a key element of the plot. The session ends when that goal is accomplished, no matter how much session time is left on the clock.
With goal in mind, I can relax when I walk into the session. I generally ask my players what they’re up to; if there’s anything they want to accomplish, etc. This kills a little time (and sometimes far more than I’d thought) before launching into my goal for the evening.
The good thing about having a goal, and one that the players can feel is an accomplishment, is that they are more forgiving of a session ending early. For them it’s obvious that you’ve run out of notes or just don’t feel like launching into the next part of the adventure with so little time left. Of course, if I am feeling up to it, I will throw in an extra scene to set things up.
Usually, I find that this is enough to recharge the battery and move forward, in no small part due to the continued excitement of my players. It’s also much more satisfying to me to move things along, even in a small way, rather than cancel a session and hope that I’m up for it next time.
So how about you? What do you do if you just aren’t feeling it? Do you cancel the session or do you have your own techniques to help you move through it and run a game anyway? Have you ever regretted running a session when you knew you weren’t feeling it going in?