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  • Collect Shells for Castles, Dump Sweets for Points, and Wait to Collect Just the Right Cards

    by W. Eric Martin

    • German publisher Zoch Verlag has announced three titles for release in October 2021, with Strand Unter qualifying as its big-box game with a physical element to gameplay.

    This 45-minute game for 2-4 players is the first published design from Christian Raczek, and here's the introductory pitch from the publisher:
    Strand Unter is a three-dimensional family game in which everyone places their castles in the sand so that they are close to the water, while trying to stay out of the way of the tide.

    Plenty of shells can be found in the ankle-deep sand trenches, and those who collect enough of them in competition with their fellow players can build a total of four sand castles. These castles differ in size, value, and required building material. In the end, the best castles are those that escape the approaching tide by a hair's breadth...

    Okay, that description doesn't give you a lot to go on, but this image suggests a lot of the elements of gameplay:

    • Designer Nicko Böhnke is debuting three games in 2021: a pair of memory-based storytelling games from HUCH! — Fabula Rasa: Crime and Fabula Rasa: Seemannsgarn — and Kings & Creatures from Zoch, also due out in October 2021.

    Here's an overview of this 2-6 player card game:
    Kings & Creatures is a set-collection game in which you take what you want to get what others need.

    All players help themselves to a heroic selection of great cards to create valuable collections — but only those who combine courageous taking with clever waiting will get hold of the most fabulous heroes. Access to grandiose cards is given only to those who choose modest cards...but those who want only to preserve their future chances with clever restraint may discover that the true heroes have long been elsewhere.

    • Oh, wait, turns out that Zoch Verlag has two big box games with physical elements on its late 2021 release schedule! Kipp mir Saures is a 2-4 player game from first-time designer Emmanuel Albisser, and Google translate is suggesting that "Kipp mir saures" means "Kill me sour", yet "kipp" also means "tilt", which is far more relevant to the following description, so perhaps "Tilt sours for me" or even the Def Leppard inspired "Pour some sours on me" — except that the "sours" in question here are sour-flavored candies, so the original Def Leppard song would work even better here, and I'm sure that Zoch has reached out to the band to consider licensing opportunities.

    In any case, here's a summary of what's going on:
    In Kipp mir Saures, three tubes are filled with dice in a tactically clever way until they dump out sweets.

    In a spectacular three-dimensional rack, flavor, shape, and pack tubes are waiting to be filled with dice cubes. Once the weight of the cubes causes the tubes to tip, all the cubes tumble out. At these moments, players may grab new treats, fit candy on their cards, and pack what they've collected. The tactically clever thing to do is to use the different weights and colors of the dice in such a way that the tastiest treats arrive in their own packages.

    And once again here's a highly suggestible component shot to bring the previous description to life:

    • Wait a second — three titles? Hasn't Zoch released four titles every six months consistently for years? Perhaps something else is in the pipeline waiting for just the right moment to be announced... Read more »
  • VideoCandice's Gen Con 2021 Round-Up/Discoveries: Part 1

    by Candice Harris

    Gen Con 2021 was an awesome experience for me, although I'm sure my feet would disagree after clocking in 14,000+ steps on day one alone. It was wonderful to reconnect, hang, and play games with Eric, Beth, and Lincoln, plus I had an amazing time wandering around checking out new games.

    • The PSC Games booth was my first stop on day one. I had the opportunity to play a quick (tense!) game of Paolo Mori's Caesar!: Seize Rome in 20 Minutes!. As a fan of Mori's 2019 release, Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes, I was curious to see what he cooked up with the follow-up, and Caesar! did not disappoint.

    The overall gameplay and setting differ from Blitzkrieg!, but they scratch the same itch in terms of being quick-playing, two-player games with tough decisions and tension driven by a solid chit-pull system.

    In Blitzkrieg!, placing your chits on particular spaces on the different World War II theater tracks allows you to activate special abilities, whereas in Caesar!, you trigger special abilities by closing off regions on the map, similar to completing a box in the Dots and Boxes game many people have probably played as a child.

    When a region is closed off, whoever has the highest influence value gets to place one of their control tokens in it. The interesting thing here is that closing the region off and gaining the special ability is independent from taking control of the region, and the goal of the game is place all of your influence control markers out before your opponent. However, the special abilities are very helpful, so there's a balance of knowing when to close something to snag a special ability versus trying to take control of the region, but ultimately it's ideal to do both if you can manage it. Rarely is that possible, though, so it makes for interesting choices.

    There are a few other fresh new twists in Caesar! that makes it stand apart from Blitzkrieg!, but I dig both of these games. They did not have copies of Caesar! at Gen Con, but I was able to pre-order it (targeted for shipping in November 2021), and I'm looking forward to playing it more.

    • I briefly checked out Kombo Klash, a new tactical, tile-laying and combo-scoring game for 2-4 players from designer "Nero" Ondrej Sova and Hub Games, the publishing company behind Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr and Adventure Mart.

    Waggle Dance is Bright Eye Games' new version of Mike Nudd's worker bees, dice worker-placement game for 1-4 players that's all about making more honey than your opponents, with this design having been originally released by Grublin Games Publishing in 2014.

    • Shannon from Chip Theory Games gave me a gameplay rundown of burncycle, a co-operative, puzzly infiltration game in which 1-4 players command a team of robots using "creative action sequencing" to take down evil, human-run corporations. After checking it out in person, I'm pumped to get burncycle on my table and play it. Even though the components and art weren't final, I was still impressed, as always, with the component quality from Chip Theory Games.

    Art and components not finalized
    After I was already buzzing with curiosity and interest for burncycle, Shannon threw me another exciting bone (pun intended). Chip Theory Games is crowdfunding Too Many Bones: Unbreakable, a new standalone expansion for Too Many Bones in Q4 2021.

    Unbreakable launches on Gamefound on October 19, 2021 as the final release in the Too Many Bones series, including at least two new Gearlocks, new encounters and baddies pack, a whole new narrative, and more.

    Grand Gamers Guild had a variety of new releases to share, starting with Richard Yaner's Gorinto, an interesting, Japanese, elemental, abstract strategy game for 1-4 players with scoring goals that vary each game.

    For another take on the elements, Mythalix from designers Julian Gaine and Kyri Karaiskakis is an area control, battle game in which 2-4 players each command a mythical god with their own unique powers and abilities.

    While I didn't get to play it, I did chat briefly with Marc Specter, owner of Grand Gamers Guild, about The Artemis Odyssey, a sequel to The Artemis Project and a reimplementation of Ad Astra from designers Bruno Faidutti and Serge Laget that is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter (KS link) for a targeted 2022 release.

    • I stopped by the Cephalofair Games booth to introduce myself to Isaac Childres, who I had met digitally at Gen Con Online 2020 when he gave an overview of his 2020 hit, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. I happened to catch some players deeply engaged in a demo game of Frosthaven with the coolest custom Talisman Sabre Terrain 3D landscaping. It was very impressive and immersive thematically.

    Box coverconcept art• Eric and I met up with Jim Felli, creator of Cosmic Frog, at the Devious Weasel Games booth to play Felli's upcoming 2022 release The Mirroring of Mary King, a two-player game in which one person is a mortal contemporary woman named Mary King (Eric) and the other player is the ghost of Mary's long dead ancestor, a 17th century Scottish merchant burgess of the same name (me).

    The goal of the game is to get the central tableau cards, representing an image of Mary, switched completely to your respective side (mortal or ghost), so we took turns playing control cards and special action cards to manipulate the state of Mary to our own advantage. I've conveniently included a photo of when I, the ghost player, had a moment in the lead before Eric played his cards right and ended up victorious in the end.

    Prototype components
    There was an interesting tug-of-war feeling throughout the game, and I noticed that you have to carefully think through the implications of what you do each turn to avoid leaving opportunities open for your opponent. I had some very thinky moments as I was constantly trying to put myself in good leading position while also defending myself from any of Eric's mortal antics. I appreciated that the rules were fairly easy to digest, but the decisions were often challenging.

    From my experiences with his games, Jim Felli is a master at creating unique games, with the uniqueness coming from a combo of the theme and the gameplay mechanisms as they relate to the theme. The Mirroring of Mary King continues with this trend, and I'm looking forward to checking out the finished version in 2022.

    •. At Smirk & Dagger Games, I checked out a demo of its upcoming 2022 release The Spill from Andy Kim, at the tail end of its Kickstarter campaign (KS link). In The Spill, 1-4 players work together to contain an oil spill — black dice dropped through a custom randomizer tower — and save the sea life.

    Prototype components
    Meanwhile, at sister company Smirk & Laughter Games, I had a great time working co-operatively with brave strangers to struggle through the puzzly, horror-themed tile-placement game The Night Cage from designers Christopher Ryan Chan, Chris McMahon, Rosswell Saunders.

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    - Newest Items

  • Bad Kansas City: Haunt of the Pendergeist
    Publisher: Nerd Glows On

    A dense urban fantasy hex-crawl through a macabre version of 1930s Kansas City - the Haunt of the Pendergeist! Featuring 130+ encounters with gangsters, sorcerers, heroin dealers, demons, and much more. Rage against the Pendergeist Machine, start a jazz band, rob a bank, find the lost treasure of Jesse James, go toe-to-toe with notorious gangsters, exorcise the ghost of Valentino, or solve numerous mysteries. Includes tables of background material for the ease of Referees and players. For use with traditional fantasy rules or any edition of dungeon-style games.

    Bad Kansas City: Haunt of the PendergeistPrice: $7.99 Read more »
  • Template: Rebirth/Undying (Super-Powered by M&M)
    Publisher: LPJ Design

    Many superheroes have a surprising ability to return from the dead. For those who find no eternal rest, only a momentary respite in the grave, return to the world of the living good as new. Often, their return from the dead can bring tears of joy along with the perplexity and bewilderment of their friends, allies, loved ones and foes. Other times, in settings where superhero’s returning from death is a commonplace thing, resurrection and rebirth is a standard affair of daily life!

    Template: Rebirth/Undying (Super-Powered by M&M)Price: $1.99 Read more »

    Gnome Stew

  • Losing Focus

    A few weeks ago, I tweeted this…

    I was not prepared for the number of people who also said that they were having concentration issues since the pandemic started. 

    Before I posted that, I realized that I had been having trouble reading a rule book for a game that I was about to run, an activity that I have done hundreds of times in the four decades I have been gaming. It wasn’t just reading, I was having trouble staying focused when I was GMing and my games were very loose, with a lot of chatter, and not a lot of progress. 

    Pandemic Focus Issues

    To be clear, what I am talking about is not the “brain fog” that people who get covid-19 experience, that is a neurological issue that occurs because of a viral infection. 

    What I am talking about is an inability to concentrate for those of us who are living in the middle of a pandemic, not sick, but having experienced the increased stress of trying to stay healthy, care for loved ones, keep working, tutor kids through virtual school, etc. This is not viral but rather psychological.

    To be clear, I am no clinician, and I don’t have any official sources. There are plenty of articles about pandemic concentration if you search Google, and with all the responses to my tweet, I am not alone on this. 

    That all said, I am having a serious inability to properly focus, due to the stresses of the pandemic. What does that have to do at all with gaming, and how does any of this become GMing advice? 

    Hold on. I got you. I would not be posting this here if I couldn’t answer both of those.

    Concentration in RPGs

    RPG’s require a great deal of concentration, over a number of areas. I am going to do this from a GM perspective because we are on the Stew, but know that most of this applies to players as well. 

    Away From the Table

    Let’s start with things that are outside of the gaming session, where a lack of concentration could impact your gaming.

    • Reading Rules – For sure, learning a new game, getting down how a new system works, requires concentration. A lack of concentration may make it hard to finish reading a ruleset or retain any of the rules. In more severe bouts, it may make reading impossible. 
    • Being Creative – Focus and creativity go hand in hand. When one is disrupted the other suffers. Problems in concentration are going to impact your ability to brainstorm ideas for your game, be it the plot for a new story or some environmental challenges for your big combat scene.
    • Session Prep – Session prep is work, and work requires concentration. If you are having trouble concentrating you are going to have problems getting your session prepped, and that may result in the process taking longer, impacting other things you have going on, or worse, it being so bad that you can’t get your game prepped and have to cancel. 

    At the Table 

    If that list was not bad enough, concentration issues are going to affect your running of the game as well. 

    • Shared Narrative Space – RPGs exist in the collective consciousness of the players of the game. The reason they work is through the creation of a shared narrative space, where each of us is imagining approximately the same thing. It is through this shared narrative space that we as gamers can take our actions without colliding with each other (honestly, I need to do a whole article about this concept). Nevertheless, maintaining shared narrative space requires concentration. If you are having issues with concentration you are going to start having problems with understanding where everyone is in the room, what actions they are taking, etc., which will lead to having to re-explain things, incorrect actions taken, re-do’s, etc. 
    • Table Control – As a GM, sometimes it is our responsibility (though not sole responsibility) to keep the table focused and progressing through the story. When your focus is diminished the game can drift into table chatter, side conversations, jokes, YouTube videos, etc. 
    • Creativity – Turns out you also have to be creative at the table as well, more so when you are running in a more ad-lib (read: improv) style. Concentration issues during a session can mess with your ability to come up with a cool scene idea based on things that are unfolding in the game, it may keep you in your comfort zone using your go-to tropes, etc. 

    All of this is to say that I think I made my first point, that concentration issues are going to impact your game somewhere. 

    Ways to Combat Focus Issues

    You also don’t want to stop GMing because the positive benefits of GMing to your mental health are important for your continued survival during this pandemic. I am with you. Me too.

    Ok, so you are having some focus issues, me too. You also don’t want to stop GMing because the positive benefits of GMing to your mental health are important for your continued survival during this pandemic. I am with you. Me too. 

    So, until a time when the stresses of your life lower, how do you function with diminished concentration? I have a few ideas.

    • Be kind to yourself – First thing, you cannot beat yourself up over this. We are living in extraordinary times and we are doing what we can. Getting angry at yourself for this is not going to improve things. Accept that right now your concentration is not what it use to be. 
    • Stick to Familiar Systems – If you are having trouble reading new rules, it might be a good idea to run games you are familiar with. Take that pressure off of yourself, and run things that you know. Also, games you are familiar with, especially the ones that you really enjoy, are going to have a higher chance of producing those good brain feelings when you run them, and that is what we are looking for.
    • Use Published Adventures – If your concentration issues are impacting your ability to prep a session, try running a published adventure. It is going to require some reading and prep, but often not as much as reading a rulebook or prepping a whole game from scratch. 
    • Use some published adventure seeds – If you don’t want to go the fully published route, or the game you are playing does not have published adventures, then consider a GM aid that will give you the adventure seed that you can prep or ad-lib into a full adventure. I would be remiss not to mention Eureka: 501 Plots To Inspire Game Masters (DTRPG Link).
    • Use a Focus Prompt to keep the table focused – Turns out that I have had table control/focus issues before. A few years ago (cough…cough…ten years) I wrote an article about using a symbol on the table to indicate that the table should be focused. Mine is a 75mm d6 (read about it here).
    • Ask for help in keeping the table focused – The GM is not the only person who can help keep a table focused. Enlist the other players. Tell them you are having focus issues, and ask them to help you stay focused as well as keep the table settled.
    • Find something inspiring – I have found, for me, that being inspired about something has given me bursts of more focus. That may mean switching games, it may mean a new adventure path, etc. 

    Your Mileage Will Vary

    How we deal with stress affects everyone differently. You might be fine reading- in fact, it may be one of your pandemic coping mechanisms – but your focus at the table may be impaired. It could be that you are fine at the table but can’t focus between games. Or it may be that everything is somewhat degraded but nothing is impossible, just harder. Or it could be that you can’t get a game together. 

    This is to say that not everything I listed as potential issues may apply to you, and not every solution I presented may be applicable. You are going to need to do some introspection and figure out where you are and then look for ways to address those needs. 

    For me, reading has been the hardest thing. This makes me sad because I love reading gamebooks and other fiction. Right now, I can’t sit and read, or at least not for any appreciable time. I am, however, able to get my prep done for my games. My games are somewhat productive, but I do have bouts where I lose control of the table; sometimes I get it back, and sometimes I don’t. 

    I Think Things Will Get Better

    I don’t really know. Historically, pandemics don’t last forever, and at some point, there is a reasonable chance that we will reach a post-pandemic world where some of the stresses we have experienced for the past 18 months will be gone again, and when that happens things will be better for our concentration. It is a nice thing to wish for.

    In the here and now, we can make incremental progress. We can adapt and find ways to keep gaming. Not to trivialize things, but in 40 years of gaming, my life has changed a number of times (school, marriages, children, careers) and I have always found a way to game, because of how important gaming is to my well-being. The same holds true here. We can adapt and find ways to keep gaming. We just need to be kind to ourselves, recognize the change, and then find a way to stay at the table and keep gaming. 

    I know I am going to, and I hope that you are as well. Good luck. 

    Have you had concentration problems since the pandemic started? Where is it affecting your gaming? Have you found ways to cope or are you still working at it?

    Read more »
  • Side Quests For The Fun Of It

    Arrow on Tree

    A popular (and very wise) piece of advice in storytelling and running an RPG is to make sure all of your storylines, plot hooks, and side elements support the main story arc or campaign arc that is currently underway. I totally agree with this advice, but I wanted to point out that sometimes a side quest can be relaxing for the players. This is especially true if the players are aware that a poor decision that impacts the story of the side quest won’t negatively alter the campaign story arc. There are several factors that I’ve come up with on ways a side quest “just for the fun of it” can be beneficial to the flow of your game.

    Downtime Alternative

    If there is downtime in your game (either as an official mechanic or just a lax period between adventures), this would be a good time to have a side quest pop up. If the PCs don’t have any plans for the downtime that you’ll disrupt, then pull out a side quest that you may have laying around and run them through it. It’ll allow the game time to pass, but without the boring narrator voice saying, “two weeks later” and then picking up where the group left off.

    Change the Focus

    If your game is one of court intrigue, political plots, deep character interactions, or pulling on the threads of family ties, maybe you can change the narrative a bit with a dungeon crawl. Of course, you’ll need a sweet hook to convince the star-crossed lovers to venture into a dungeon, but that should be easy enough to come up with since you’ll know the characters and their motivations by this point in the campaign.

    On the flip side, if your game is all about dungeon crawling, have the PCs receive an invite to the duke’s next ball. If they’re high enough level, they’ve certainly gained some sort of fame or reputation, and might be a “set piece” that the duke wants to include at the ball just so people have something to talk about (or someone to talk to) other than fellow nobles. Dropping your uncouth barbarian or aloof wizard into this scenario can lead to some great role playing opportunities. It might also lead to gaining a patron that will boost the PCs to greater heights.


    If you’ve found a cool magical effect, monster, environment, or setting that you want to tinker with just for a short bit, then a side quest might be the way to go. You can mix ‘n’ match these experimental elements or rules into your game as part of the side quest and have some fun with them.

    Have a Blast

    Has it been a while since your group just cranked out some damage in the nearby goblin caves? Maybe the troglodytes in the nearby swamp are getting uppity and dangerous and need to be put in their place. Perhaps the cloud giant king has been throwing his trash (or chamber pots) overboard from his cloud city into the lands below and someone needs to diplomatically fly up to have a meet ‘n’ greet with him.

    Whatever the nature of the side quest, make it fun. Don’t over challenge the PCs. That’s not the point of a “for the fun of it” side quest. (Next article, I’ll talk about more “serious” side quests that matter to the campaign.) This should, in theory, be something that is easy for them to work through. It’ll give them a sense of accomplishment, especially if they are stymied on progress in the main campaign story arc.

    Boosting Character Power

    If the next Big Campaign Thing you have planned is more potent than the PCs can handle at the moment, you can send them on a side quest (or two). That will allow them to soak up those precious experience points, gain some much-needed gold, and maybe acquire a few new spells or magic items. I’ve done this quite a bit where the campaign dictates that the next story arc be more difficult than I’d like for the PCs. Yes, you can always adjust the power levels down for the Big Bad and the minions, but if that doesn’t ring true to the story you’re telling, you’ll need some side quests in hand.


    Have you ever run a side quest just for the fun of it? How did that work out? Hopefully, it wasn’t a Total Party Kill (try real hard to avoid that on a side quest), but it should have also provided some challenges. This way the players would have felt like they earned whatever rewards were gained.

    Read more »

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  • Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous - Review @ GiN
    GiN checked out Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous: Wrath of the Righteous is an Epic and Incredible RPG Epic role-playing games don’t come out very often. When they do, those who enjoy the kind of deep role-playing that keeps players up way past their bedtimes celebrate their good fortune.... Read more »
  • Diablo 2 - Review @ PC Gamer
    PC Gamer published their orignal Diablo 2 review again: Diablo 2 (2000) review It's a whole new Baal-game... To mark the launch of Diablo 2: Resurrected, we're publishing our original review of Diablo 2. This review ran in PC Gamer UK issue 86 in September 2000.... Read more »

    Sly Flourish

  • Thinking Through the Eyes of our Villains

    New to Sly Flourish? Start Here!

    Few preparation activities are as useful as thinking through the eyes of our villains. Instead of planning out a long campaign that may never happen the way we think or building a huge campaign world the details of which never hit our table; thinking through the eyes of our villains tells us how the world acts and reacts to the actions of the characters.

    To engage in this bit of magic, wherever and whenever we find ourselves with some extra time on our hands, we need simply gaze into the sky and say "what is this villain doing right now?"

    Asking ourselves what our villains are doing right now gives us an idea how the game evolves based on the current character-driven situation. We may have multiple villains, each with their own goals, motivations, backgrounds, and steps to achieve their goals. If we're following the idea of "fronts" from Dungeon World we might have three villains each with their own goal and steps. These steps act as a countdown clock to their final destination, each step visible to the characters to show them the progress.

    Pool Table D&D

    We can think of this style of gameplay sort of like a pool table. Each ball on the table is a character or NPC. Each has its own background, goal, and potential actions. We then throw the balls of the characters into all of the others and they go crashing around, each following their motivations and directions, banging into others or dropping into pockets in ways we could never have expected. We set the stage, let the characters crash into it, and describe the results.

    Example: Strahd von Zarovich

    We can use one of the most popular D&D villains as an example — Strahd von Zarovich from Curse of Strahd. In the beginning of the adventure, Strahd is happy to terrorize Barovia, seek out Ireena, and draw the characters into his domain for a bit of fun and respite from the mundane world in which he is trapped. As the characters grow in power, he becomes more curious about them, eventually inviting them to dinner at Ravenloft. Later, however, he may become fearful of the characters and their power, sending in his legions to thwart them or setting up unwinnable situations to bring them back to the negotiating table. As the actions of the characters evolve in Ravenloft, so too does Strahd's reactions. How does Strahd feel about the characters right now and what does he do about it?

    Breaking Away from "What Will Happen"

    One of the most common DM mistakes is assuming the story is going to go a certain way. Maybe you have a good guess but you have five creative brains on the other side of the table who may take the story into entirely new directions.

    Far more useful than trying to plan out a campaign or build out a huge world is to prepare to improvise. Internalizing the backgrounds, motivations, behaviors, and actions of the villains prepares you to improvise as the characters go in directions you never expected.

    Next time you find yourself itching to prepare your game, ask yourself what the villains in the world are doing right now and watch the world come alive for you and your players.

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    Article copyright 2021 by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish.

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  • Recovering From a Bad Game

    New to Sly Flourish? Start Here!

    Not all D&D games go well. Games can go wrong for many reasons and often each reason needs its own approach to get past it. Today, however, we're going to offer some general advice for handling the situation when a game goes bad.

    For some research on this topic I took to Twitter and asked people how they recovered from bad games. You can see the Twitter thread here. The thread contains some good suggestions and I have a few suggestions of my own. These aren't a universal cure but they might help us aim in the right direction when we need a boost after a bad game.

    For a deeper look into this topic, watch my episode of the [DM's Deep Dive with Dr. Megan Connell]. Dr. Connell has some fantastic advice on how to get past bad games.

    The rest of this article offers suggestions from the Twitter thread, my conversation with Dr. Connell, and some thoughts of my own.

    Relax and Get some Distance

    When a game goes sideways it's easy to get wound up into it. We might feel like our favorite hobby, potentially a big part of our lives, is completely falling apart. It's hard to recognize that this is a small bump in a long road of great stories shared with our friends and family.

    Take a deep breath. Take a few of them. Whatever happened to cause your bad game, take a break.

    It's almost never a good idea to try to solve the situation while you're still in the clutch of heated emotions unless you have to. If a game went bad, don't try to fix it right away. Give it a day or so. Get your thoughts together. Get past the initial emotionally charged moment. Give yourself time. Take a break and spend some time on another hobby. Take a walk. Anything helping you get out of the center of the emotionally charged situation can help.

    Obviously, if a situation requires an immediate response, take that response. Violations of safety tools, for example, require quick intervention. If you can, take a step back and get your thoughts together.

    Look at it Analytically

    Once you've gotten some distance, take time to look at the problem analytically. What went wrong? What were the precursors? Once you're not in the middle of the situation you can get a better perspective of the problem. Maybe it wasn't as big as you thought it was. Maybe the problem you thought you had was actually caused by something else. Did you make a mistake? If so, don't try to avoid it. Understand it. Study the situation, your reaction, your feelings, and the reaction and feelings of your players after you've taken a step back. This helps you better understand what happened and what you might do to fix it.

    Talk To Your Players

    Once you've gotten some distance and looked at the problem from the outside, talk openly with your players. This might work in a group or it might work better in a one-on-one conversation. As much as we feel comfortable with texting and email to discuss things like this; face to face is often a better way to approach the conversations. It isn't always comfortable but we get a lot more information in a face-to-face conversation than we do in email or texts.

    If you made a mistake, admit it. Talk about it. Don't get defensive. These are your friends we're talking about. It's much easier to get past situations like this if all the cards are on the table.

    If our problem was tied to one of our players, talking to that player alone in a non-judgmental way can help. Focus the conversation on the situation and the outcome. Don't make it personal. What outcome would you like? How can the situation be better?

    If it wasn't a problem with one of the players, maybe the problem was with the game itself. Maybe your players seemed bored or frustrated. This might be better as a group conversation. What went wrong? What previous games did they enjoy? What would they like to see more of? These last two are my favorite questions to ask at the end of any game. What did they love and what do they want more of? These questions work just as well for "bad" games as they do for good ones. Instead of focusing on the features of games that went bad, steer the conversation either to the areas the players enjoyed or previous games that seemed to work.

    Talk to your players and really listen to what they have to say. Don't just wait for your turn to talk. Maybe a character died in a particularly gruesome way (I'm looking at you, obsidian coffin in Tomb of the Nine Gods). What would have been a better way to handle that situation? Your players may have better ideas about how to handle it than you do. Listen to them and find out.

    Get Back in the Saddle

    Once we've dealt with the immediacy of the issue and hopefully corrected our course, it's time to get back to the table. Keep the next game simple, focusing on the things that make D&D games great. Keep the storyline straight forward. Read up on the characters. Come up with a strong start to the next game. Plan out some interesting locations and some fun scenes that take place there. Throw a few fun monsters at them. Getting back to the basics helps us remember what makes this game so great to begin with.

    The bad game we had will seem a lot less bad once we run a few good games after it.

    Sometimes It's Best to Move On

    Depending on the problem that came up, a hard solution might be to step away. Whether it's burning out on DMing or the wrong personalities at the table, sometimes the best solution is a clean break. This is hopefully a last resort saved only for extreme circumstances. If this happens, it's time to get back to square one and start building a new great D&D group so we can get back to the joy of our game.

    Continuing to Share Our Tales of High Adventure

    Bad games happen. We don't like them and, given that we're dealing with six personalities around our table, our games can get complicated and emotions can run high. These aren't easy situations to deal with. People problems are always hard to deal with. Hopefully we can get past it by taking a step back, taking a deep breath, thinking about the problems analytically, addressing the problems and solutions with our friends, and getting back behind the screen. Above all, our goal is to have fun sharing tales of high adventures with our friends and loved ones. If we can hang onto that, there are few problems we can't surmount as we share our tales of high adventure.

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    Article copyright 2021 by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish.

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