The Morning After

Everyone has a “morning after” once in awhile. You know what I mean. Things were said and done that were regrettable the previous night, feelings were hurt, new experiences happened, and confusion runs rampant through the mind. Perhaps it was your first time, perhaps you weren’t prepared for some things that were asked of you, or perhaps you just didn’t know how to handle unexpected circumstances. Maybe there were too many mistakes, maybe the climax happened either too quickly or not at all, and maybe furniture got broken. I promise, it’s happened to all of us.

It’s happened to all GMs.

How do you come back from a bad night at the gaming table? What if all the “tips” and “advice” you’ve always been given about, “Keep Rules Discussions for After the Game,” “Make Sure your In-Character Arguments are Firmly In-Character,” etcetera just simply don’t work one night? How do you continue on from that point?

The last time things got personal at the gaming table for me was probably about three years ago. It was a relatively new group, though I knew all the players beforehand. Somehow during the course of the session, a discrepancy came up in a ruling. I thought a particular check should be handled one way, and I went ahead and handled the check in that way. As a result, a character died. A few rounds later, the player – whom I will refer to as Bob for the rest of this story – confronted me about the ruling there at the game table, believing he had found an error I had made in the ruling, and he wanted to retcon all the actions of the previous three rounds. I put the game on pause for a couple minutes and listened to Bob’s thoughts, but decided that first, he was misinterpreting the rule, and second, the retcon would disturb the flow of the game just too much to go through with it.

He made several snide comments over the course of the rest of the night, and when his character was resurrected, he came up with a very-obviously metagame excuse to leave the party and continue his adventuring elsewhere. The game broke down at this point and everyone left the table upset. Bob went outside to smoke, and then we noticed his car pulling down the road, with him leaving without saying goodbye, and the other players and I stayed around to discuss the events. We quite frankly were not sure if he would even come back.

The next morning, I literally woke up with a pit in my stomach. I had slept on everything and come to the decision that maybe I should have just let Bob have his way to avoid this kind of situation. I decided I would call him and apologize (even though I knew I was just apologizing so as to smooth the ickiness between us), but when I discussed this with another player, he told me I should just leave things be and let Bob come back and we could all discuss it before the next session.

Well, he didn’t show up at the next session, and didn’t answer emails for the next few weeks. We continued on, and then one of the other players told me about three weeks later that Bob had joined up in some sort of public group at a local gaming store, and had decided not to play with us anymore.

I’ve always wondered if I should have called him that morning after and apologized, even though I and the rest of the players fully believe that Bob overreacted, and things could have been settled in a more rational way. Tell me some of your “Morning After” stories, let me know that everyone gets that weird feeling when the gaming doesn’t go very well.


10 thoughts on “The Morning After

  1. To be honest, you agonized over this whole situation far more than I would have. Gaming is a hobby, a release from the pressures of real life, and if Bob doesn’t want to participate in that, then he can show himself the door.

    His character died and he responded by acting like a baby. This behavior is the anathema to my perception of gaming. Anything that adds drama or stress to the group’s overall enjoyment is a cancer that should be quickly excised.

    I mean, is Bob your friend or a fellow gamer? Or both? If he’s a friend, then I could see making the case for apologizing and inviting him back to the table. If he’s a fellow gamer who you don’t interact with outside the game, then he should know that he’s bound by the same social contract as the rest of you guys when he sits down at that table.

    In summary: I don’t think you behaved improperly at all. I would have politely disinvited him from the group; in fact, my group has voluntarily done this before.

  2. I think I’m with PatrickWR on this. It would certainly be worth apologizing to a friend, whether or not that induced him to come back to the table, just because no game rule is worth a friendship. Even acting like a baby in the heat of the moment isn’t something that should be allowed to cause a serious strain. Haven’t we all got friends that we don’t argue certain subjects with (religion, politics, season seven of Buffy) because the discussion gets too heated?

    But if the guy wasn’t a friend, as his subsequent behavior seems to indicate, then no great loss. If you were punctilious, you might apologize if you concluded you were wrong about the ruling, but that would be for the form of it and not because you wanted him back at your table.

  3. Well, the guy was more of an acquaintance than a friend, so I’m not really feeling like, several years later, I’m missing out on a grand friendship. And I must admit, the game continued on, a new player eventually replaced Bob, and the game ended well many months later.

    It is, though, one of those things that nowadays, I try to resolve, instead of leaving on the table for several weeks as I did back when this happened.

  4. Honestly, I’ve generally never experienced what you did. I’m sorry you went through something like that.

    However, I agree with Joshua and Patrick. I think apologizing to a friend is one thing, but just a guy you game with? Frankly, if the group thinks he over reacted, then he probably did and your group will be better without him.

    The drama needs to be in game, not out of game.

  5. Surprisingly, this happens WAY too often in my campaigns at home. I play with a group that simply cannot get through a single game without arguing. Whether it’s about alignments, how a situation is handled, a character death, a rules ruling, or anything else. It can make me pull my hair out!

    So, I sympathize. Players like these can sometimes be reasoned with, but some players just don’t realize that the DM is always acting in the best interest of the game and of the party. This guy seems like no great loss, but it’s good to talk things like this out with the player as well as the rest of the group to see what went wrong and how everyone can improve upon it in the future.

  6. I don’t think you had to choose between apologizing or doing nothing. You could have called, said you were sorry that he was upset (very different than apologizing for your actions!), and talked with him about it. Often, folks just need to talk about their frustrations to get them out, and sometimes really how silly those frustrations were.

    That said, his behavior was rather childish. I don’t think you need to beat yourself up over this.

  7. Bob was sulking, frankly, and acted poorly. I would have called if he was a close friend, but mostly to ask him why he was acting like that.

    I know that sick feeling though, it means you really care about your game and the enjoyment of your players, which is a really good thing. It’s good you didn’t retcon too much, though. I’ve had DM’s do that, and even though my character benefited personally, I didn’t enjoy it, and it killed the campaign.

  8. @Storyteller – If you were to take a guess, what do you think would be the cause of this “always” happening at your gaming table?

    @Brent – That’s very true. A third option certainly was available to me, though for some reason, I didn’t see it that day (many years ago). Hindsight and 20/20 and all that, eh?

    @Wickedmuph – I really did (and do) care about the game, and I hated that anyone felt cheated or stiffed in any way. He may have acted immaturely, but it still stuck with me because it was “my” game (I know it’s everyone’s game, what I mean is that I set the game up for this campaign), and I guess in some way, I felt responsible for everyone at the table’s fun, amusement, levity, and enriching experience.

  9. Needless to say, I do not feel bad about it to this day, but I always think through things after any sort of argument, in hopes to stave off these experiences in the future!

    Thanks for all the responses!

  10. Two of the players are brothers and naturally get on each other’s nerves. The other two are father and son. The son plays because the father does and is never REALLY into it, while the father has played since the dark ages and can only really have fun if he’s playing something so “out-there” that it cannot reasonably fit into any party dynamic.

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