Dealing With Disappointing Sessions

Fellow DMs: how do you know when to call off a session? I don’t mean, like, because something came up or some players told you they couldn’t make it. I mean, how do you gauge if you’re just not mentally ready to run a game?

I feel like I used to know the answer to this. In the old days, I was always ecstatic to run stuff; if there was a night when I wasn’t feeling up to it, it was easy to identify. These days… I’m having a hard time knowing when not to play.

I’ve run four sessions of my current campaign, as of last night. For all but the first, I’ve come really close to calling off at the last minute because I wasn’t sure I had it in me to run stuff (yeah, my mental health has not been great lately). However, usually, by the end of the session, I feel a lot better—the campaign has been going well, and spending time with friends and getting back in the DMing groove improves my mood.

Last night was different.

Instead of re-energizing me, last night’s session really brought me down. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of fun to hang out with my friends, but I felt really self-conscious about the way I was running things.

I’d been feeling a little bit stressed throughout the day, and by the time the session rolled around, I was a bit worn out. It was also our first session back after a hiatus of a few weeks. Those two things combined in the worst way; I found myself unable to remember how certain NPCs talked, for instance.

What resulted was a sloppy session where I did a lot more joking around and goofing off than actually, you know, running the game. The important NPC the group has been trying to save for a few sessions got reduced to a flat caricature, and I ended up delivering a bunch of exposition in ridiculous ham-fisted dialogue. The whole thing was a mess.

It’s my own fault—I realized Tuesday night that my Wednesday was going to be packed; I had time to reschedule. But like I said, it was our first session back after a break and I didn’t want to disappoint people. Plus, as session time drew nearer, I was shutting down that “cancel the game” voice by reminding myself that usually, when I want to cancel a game, everything gets way better and it cheers me up. Except this time it didn’t.

I want to emphasize that my players were great; they weren’t the problem at all. I was just disappointed in myself for handling things poorly.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I guess I just wanted to vent a little; I never think of myself as an awesome DM, but I at least think I’m usually better than I was last night. I know everyone has an off session now and again—but this is my first one after being away from the game for a while. It hit me a little harder than I was expecting it to.

One thought on “Dealing With Disappointing Sessions

  1. For me, if I’m feeling like I’d call into work for a mental health day, I’ll call off the session. In our group, sometimes one of us will ask to play a board game or Jackbox games in place of a TTRPG session, if we are too preoccupied to role play. The wellness and friendships at the table are always more important than the session, this includes the DM/GM too.

    Like

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