Perhaps this only happens to us, but every once in a while, a session ends on a weird note, and you’re left in a bit of a funk afterwards.
But, based on comments I see on Twitter with relative frequency, I know we’re not alone.
Many DMs face feeling weird or bad after a session ends. You’ve put yourself in a vulnerable spot, and perhaps something went differently than how you expected or you didn’t get the player response you were looking for.
And while post-D&D-off-ness is something I see DMs talking about, it can happen to players, too. Maybe you kept rolling terribly, or you look back on an RP situation that didn’t go so well and figured out the perfect thing you should have said after the fact.
This post covers some ideas and strategies for what to do when a duet D&D session ends poorly. We’ll look into what might have happened, who feels off, and what to do to fix it.
To set some parameters really quickly, we’re not covering what to do after a TPK or something else really dramatic like that. We do have some advice for avoiding TPKs that you can read here.
We also have an entire post on avoiding interpersonal conflict during combat, so, while we do cover that to some extent below, be sure to check it out also if that’s where your problems are originating.
Finally, as we primarily focus on one-on-one gaming here, this post is not going to get into strategies for inter-player conflict or “problem players” in group games. However, I hope that some of the strategies covered below can help those situations also.
So, your session’s ended on a sour note.
First things first, take a moment to breathe and reflect. Try to avoid slamming your materials about as you pack up the room in frustration to ensure the other party knows you’re mad.
Of course it’s upsetting when something that’s meant to be fun and a way for you and your partner to spend enjoyable time together ends in something besides joyous awe at how incredible the session was.
But, in most cases, waiting a few minutes till you’ve had a chance gather your thoughts and your partner’s been able to do the same will help you both figure things out.
As we often observe, one of the best parts about playing one-on-one can also cast a unique light on the problems about this style of play: there’s just the two of you.
Very likely, you’re playing with someone who’s important to you and who you’re close to. This immediately amplifies the stakes of hurt feelings or insecurity stemming from your D&D session because, in most cases, your playing partner is someone you see and speak to often.
Maybe conflict doesn’t bother you very much and you’re here because it does bother your partner but, for most of us, discord between ourselves and a loved one creates stress and anxiety.
Finding an Origin Point
So, looking back on the session, where did things start to feel off?
Based on our experience, (so of course there are exceptions!) lots of combat-induced conflict comes about through either a lack of trust or overwhelm with the number of choices, such as when your character’s gained a new ability or you’ve started running multiple characters during combat.
It can also happen if a combat situation has been confusing due to a miscommunication. The player didn’t fully understand the combat setup or what might go wrong with making a particular choice which led to an unfortunate decision or a failed plan.
Did one or both of you internalize the miscommunication?
Maybe the dice were against you and nothing you tried succeeded.
As much as possible, try to pause after these frustrating combats. Once a level of resolution has been reached, take a break, and then talk about it.
If one or both of you is new to gameplay, make sure the options and rules are clear, and ret-con as much as you’d like. It’s D&D—nothing’s set in stone!
I know I just suggested it but, just in case, remember to take breaks, especially when the tension is high. Stress for your character’s safety, well-being, and happiness can easily spill over to perceived interpersonal stress if not outright conflict between the two of you as well. Grab a snack, walk around, and then come back to the game.
Regardless of your collective experience level, pause the combat and make sure the environment and situation are clear before proceeding.
Returning to trust: DMs, especially, it’s really important that the player can see that you’re rooting for them and for their character. Of course you want the interesting combat you’ve set up to be challenging, but that trust between the two of you is key to both parties enjoying high stakes in-game.
This is what happened to us the other day that inspired the writing of this post. My character for our Curse of Strahd game, Briseras, runs on the angrier side of the emotional spectrum. Plus, it’s a darker, grimmer game.
From my perspective, we stopped abruptly and at a moment when Briseras was upset at both of her traveling companions, one in particular. She felt angry and rejected after trying to help one of them and being refused, and she was ready to set out into the mists alone.
I like to get really immersed in our RP, so I’m deep inside Briseras’s psyche at this moment. Tears are threatening, my throat is tight because we’re mad, and then Jonathan says, “Let’s pick up there next time.”
There are fun cliffhangers and not-so-fun cliffhangers, and this felt like the latter.
I also felt like I’d done something wrong, like I had made a weird choice over the course of our gameplay that resulted in us having to stop quite suddenly.
What was actually happening
For me, the irritation my character felt was stuck because she wasn’t getting to interact with anyone else, so I didn’t have anywhere for it to go.
One manifestation of that was me thinking I’d done something wrong and feeling bad about that.
My weird reaction, understandably, made Jonathan think the session hadn’t gone well, or that I was upset with him, and then we’re in that terrible cycle that, I’m guessing, is somewhat familiar to you.
It took at least 15 minutes for me to sort through things for Briseras. Then, I talked through how mad she was and why with Jonathan so he could understand where I was coming from and what she’s thinking about for our next session.
We try to be conscious of how our misunderstandings affect our characters’ communication. Tybalt and Jorgan, her companions, would have been able to see how upset Briseras was more clearly than Jonathan could perceive from me in that moment, so we were able to start our next session there and find resolution.
I covered most of this in the example above but, just to give it its own space, an abrupt ending can lead to things feeling off after the session.
DMs, this is a great place for you to take a moment and clarify for the player why things ended before it seemed like they would. If they threw you a curve-ball, remind them that it’s ok for that to happen, but you need time to prep.
Players, keep in mind that lots of DMs feel unsure at the close of sessions, even if everything went great. Tell them how much you enjoyed it, and talk about some of your favorite parts. Which NPC really stood out, and what surprised you?
Maybe there’s not one particular moment where things started to feel weird but now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, they do.
The techniques listed earlier will still help:
- Take a break
- Acknowledge that there’s an issue
- Talk about what went well in the session and what you’re excited about happening next
- Then, once you’re both feeling better, see if you can figure out what happened or where you started feeling off. Ideally, even if not after this session, a pattern will emerge
You likely both know one another’s preferred methods for dealing with conflict, so give that priority here as well. And make sure you’re separating out how your characters are feeling from how the two of you are feeling.
One of my favorite gifs of Matt Mercer is him shooting Ashley Johnson a wink to make sure she was alright in a heated session.
I would never want to tell you to lean out of an intense RP moment if that’s fun to you, but you’ll be able to tell that it’s fun for the other person too or, just in case, you can take a moment right after to remind them that you are engaged but you aren’t upset with them.
We were really surprised when we first started playing that something that was meant to be fun could cause conflict or stress between us. Of course that’s not ideal, but I hope that knowing it happens to other people is a small comfort at least.
D&D, or any RPG, whether in a group or one-on-one, is a time-intensive activity. And with engagement, comes vulnerability, which is going to at least sometimes result in stress.
But it can also result in beautiful and fascinating stories and deeper connection with those you care about, so that’s what I’ll leave you with for now.
Check-in for your table
Is having a session end poorly something you’ve experienced? How do you handle it? Please let us know in the comments below!
If you haven’t yet, we’d love for you to take a look at our newest adventure, There’s Snow Place Like Home,* here just in time for the holidays!
This is a really fun adventure for all levels of D&D experience! It makes for a great side-adventure off of your usual duet campaign or you can even play it with a new group or new player for the season!
We’re hoping this might give you and a loved one a chance to try out one-on-one play if you haven’t already or give you an easy way to share D&D with loved ones this winter!
If you like what you’re reading, please consider supporting the blog by purchasing our adventures and supplements in our shop or on DMsGuild or sponsoring us on Patreon. We’d also love for you to follow us on Twitter and Instagram. We appreciate you so much! Thank you for reading. – Beth and Jonathan
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