As much as all of us would like to deny it, or not have it be a thing, the outside world has a tendency of creeping into our gaming sessions and affecting our game tables. Maybe it's someone stressed out about work, a big exam, or just the results of a sporting event that they're particularly invested in. Maybe someone just got some bad news: a death in the family, a break up, or they failed an important test. Whatever the case, it sucks when it happens. Today, I want to talk about some things you can do to keep the game time at least somewhat relaxing.
Recognize It May Not Be The Best Option
The first thing to do, especially if you're the person who is under stress, is to recognize that being at the gaming table may not be the best option in the world for you. If you're already down in the dumps maybe you don't want the added stress of saving a fantasy world, or dealing with night terrors, that the game table is going to thrust you into. Heck, maybe you just don't want to expose yourself to the people at the table. I'll be the first to admit that while I genuinely like and am friends with everyone who sits at my game table, there are moods where I don't want to be dealing with them. Your gaming group will understand if you need a night off and away, so be upfront and tell them. Life sucks, I don't feel much like gaming and need to get my head on straight. That's all there is to it.
If you aren't the stressed person but know someone in your group is going through a tough time, it may be worth asking them. Especially if you're the GM. Offer/suggest that they take the night to do something else. Give them a chance to unwind. Or, suggest or do one of the following:
Do Something Else...
There is no rule that says game night has to be game every night. Maybe, especially if someone isn't in a mood or state to play properly, you can do something else. There are tons of board games out there with the same vibe as RPGs, there are also movies, video games, and just hanging out and chatting - provided your group is friends. Granted, if you choose to do something else some people may not show - lives have a tendency of getting in the way - but it can still be a good way to still get social time without having to worry about managing your stress and the fate of a world or whatever is going on in your game at the time.
Keep The Session Light
I don't necessarily mean short, but if you can try to keep the session from getting too heavy, serious, or tense. Especially if the person in question is dealing with bad stress. A light session can still be productive, but it is also relaxing and can be a good way for the person to destress. Maybe expand upon the PC's shopping trip a bit with some fun and light-hearted adventure thrown in, or extend out the down time so the players can focus on some other things for a little. Done sparingly it isn't too detrimental to the game's flow itself and the benefits received from it can be absolutely amazing.
What else do you do to help when real world stress gets into the game? It can be hard to keep it away, so I'm curious how the rest of you de-frag and get your head ready for game time.