How To Edit Your Sessions When Your Players Have Real Life Levels of Exhaustion – 5e

If one or more of your players are parents of newborns, work on the graveyard shift, or have issues sleeping, then you may need to edit your session to cater to your sleepy friend’s needs.

Today, we will remind you that Dungeons and Dragons is meant to be a fun game about role-playing, interacting with magic, and hanging out with your friends. If you cannot achieve everything you wanted in a session because someone fell asleep, it’s not the end of the world. 

In fact, it might be the perfect excuse for more world-building.

Yawning Is Not A Sign Of Boredom

If you see a player opening their mouth for a big fat yawn, try not to be disheartened. There could be a myriad of reasons for why they are feeling tired, but that doesn’t mean they are bored with your game.

It also isn’t necessarily a sign that the session should stop there. Although your players might be tired, this could be a continuous state of being for them. Hanging out with their friends could be a genuine reason for why they want to push through their tired feelings instead of going to sleep.

If you haven’t spoken to the player/s in question yet, ask them how they want to play these games. I have a couple of suggestions that you can discuss with them, but the first one should be about open communication. 

Remind your friend, in private, that they can ask to leave the session early if they are worried about falling asleep. That way, when a yawn comes, you know that your buddy will come to you if they need a break. Otherwise, you can carry on.

Checking in on your friends as the session goes on will also help you feel the vibe of the party. Make this a normal part of your games, so it doesn’t feel awkward or forced. You could do this by having a bathroom break every couple of hours and asking everyone how they are feeling.

Ready Yourself For Unexpected Stops

Following this same thought process, if a player randomly asks for the session to stop because they need to go to sleep, don’t try and force them into playing for another 30 minutes because “they are really close to a good stopping point.” Instead, listen to your friends and recognize their needs. They could have been trying to tell you to stop for a while and only just developed the courage to say something.

Either way, you should be ready to stop the game when your players need it, instead of waiting at a particular location. Prepare your sessions with this in mind.

Sometimes, a player may ask you to pause a game instead of stopping it. This could be because their baby has just started crying, and they need a feed, or something else has come up. In these moments, the players could need a 30-minute break to get their child back to sleep. 

Knowing your players’ needs, you should prepare to pause your game again. Maybe encourage the others to roleplay amongst themselves, or have a backup idea in place as you wait for your friend to come back. Either way, you should be prepared for these breaks and ready to be helpful to your buddies.

If Your Players Fall Asleep

As you read this, you might be thinking, “But what about the other players? We shouldn’t all have to stop for one person.” And that is a valid point. 

If everyone involved (including your sleepy friend) would rather the game continue while they rest, then you could use these moments to include some worldbuilding magic.

This is what I did for my friends whose newborn children often made two party members fall asleep at the table; I included strange sleep magic that infected the people at random.

The Slumber has always existed. It is in every history book and in every memory. Every creature on this plane has experienced The Slumber at least once. It exists in the air and cannot be stopped, but do not fear as you will awaken again. At least, that’s true if your body is protected.

If you notice a player has fallen asleep at the table or needs to run off to look after their children, you can make the player infected by The Slumber. They flop to the floor without taking damage and cannot be awakened by magical or mundane means. The PC only wakes up once the player has returned.

This can create interesting dynamics for the other people at the table. If the party were in town shopping, they might need to pay for a room in a tavern. If they were traveling through a dangerous area, the players might need to roll for deception, so crooked NPCs don’t notice the Slumbering PC. And if the party were in the middle of a dungeon, they’ll have to decide if they should hide the Slumbered or take them along.

Again you might be reading this and thinking, “but you shouldn’t punish the player for looking after their child.” Or instead, your mind could have gone the other way, thinking, “the other players shouldn’t be punished and forced into looking after The Slumbered.” And again, that is valid.

This concept of The Slumber should only be used if everyone at your table agrees. If the idea doesn’t work at your table, you could tweak it to fit better. Maybe instead of;

At least, that’s true if your body is protected.

The next part says;

It exists in the air and cannot be stopped, but do not fear as you will awaken again. To anyone watching, they’ll notice you fade. Only a glimmer will shine where you once were. 

It could be minutes, days, or years before your next return, but it will only feel like seconds have passed. 

In this version of The Slumber, the body of the PC has been removed from the area. This means that the remaining players won’t have to worry about hiding a Slumbered body, and the exhausted player won’t feel cheated into a character death while they were away.

This, of course, is just an idea. You can use it in your campaign or be inspired to do your own version of The Slumber, where your players who can’t always be present can often be taken out of the story, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes.

Keep The Plot Simple

If your players are able to stay awake and present during your games or not, they will likely be drained from their daily activities. This means that focusing on quests or making notes on long winding plotlines could be super difficult.

If your other players are willing to do all the notetaking and keep on top of this part of the game, then keeping the plot simple shouldn’t be a worry. However, if most of your players are finding it hard to focus, then it might be more helpful to only have one or two plot lines going at the same time.

If that’s the case, I suggest having an overarching plotline and a session-by-session plotline. For example, this could mean your party’s overarching plotline is finding the Demi-Lich who plans to steal every soul in town, but while they search for the items to make the perfect weapon, they only follow one other small plotline. This could be to do with a player’s backstory or something in the area which gives them a break from the main plot. It shouldn’t last long and could be connected to the main storyline. 

If you give your exhausted players too many bread crumbs to follow, they will start forgetting what their goal is. This will end with you being frustrated and hurt as they ignore obvious clues to a quest from months ago. Or the players could feel lost and stupid as they wrack their heads trying to remember something out of their reach.

To stop any of these upsets, it would be easier to limit the number of background storylines and instead focus their attention on the main plot and a single subplot that fits in with the session.

You might think that even this subplot will be too much for your players, so use your knowledge of their ability to concentrate and reduce your content to fit that level.

Allow Your Games To Be Fluid

The idea of making your games fluid goes back to the concept of readying yourself for unexpected stops. What I mean is don’t be focused on fitting everything into a session. If your players end up taking 5 breaks, this will push your session back, and that’s okay. 

If you don’t let them have these breaks, then they will end up getting frustrated, grumpy, or fall asleep. Instead, you have to accept the fact that your players might not reach that really cool ending you had in your head. Instead, save it for the next session so you don’t push your friend’s mental ability.

Allowing your games to be fluid might feel like going against the classic novel idea of slow rising adventure, the climax of discovery, and the epic battle, but remember that even when we read a novel, we allow ourselves to take breaks.

Your story will be just as loved and just as appreciated, even if it is broken up into smaller pieces.

If you are playing a one-shot, however, you may need to plan a smaller session than normal and add in a lot of time for breaks. This is to allow your game to be fluid and go with the player’s flow. 

If it turns out the PCs finished the game earlier than expected, then you can use your saved time to chat about the game and talk about the cool things the characters did.

Help The Community

If you have any additional ideas to help DMs cater to players who are exhausted, add them to the comment section below! 


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