Back in college, Laurel and her friends once spent an entire spring break gaming for a week straight. They ordered pizza, drank Red Bull, passed out from exhaustion, then got up and gamed some more. They kept right on rolling dice until classes started back up the following Monday. To hear her tell it, those days were like living in an extremely geeky Valhalla. Sadly, now that we’re adults, those days are gone for good.

People get stressed out, burned out, or simply flake out. But like we’ve said before, that doesn’t mean they’re jerks. Gamers are real people with real lives, and schedules don’t always intersect with game night. But here’s the important thing: Real world conflict is no reason to cancel the adventure.

Here’s an example. Suppose you ended last session with, “You kick open to door, see the gleam of gold, and feel the sudden rise in temperature as the dragon begins to breathe. Roll initiative…for next time.” Now I like a cliffhanger as much as the next evil GM, and there’s no denying that the frustrated cries of players’ unslaked bloodlust can be uniquely gratifying. But if only two of five PCs are able to show up for the next session, you’ve left yourself with nowhere to go but cancelling and rescheduling, right? Well not so fast. Let’s not break out those waffles of shame just yet.

Maybe that dragon the players thought they glimpsed last time is just a stone statue with a fireball trap. There’s nothing that says you can’t fudge the map and put the real hoard room a few chambers deeper. You could also go high concept, and actually start the evening by “killing” your players with dragon fire. They’ll spend the session clawing their way back out of the underworld, hobnobbing with other failed dragon slayers and gathering valuable intel on how not to fight wyrms. Next session they’ll rejoin the land of the living. Or maybe you thought ahead a little and set up some Rosencrantz and Guildenstern action. Why not have a session on standby, prepped and ready for two or three of your players to take on the roles of NPCs (e.g. the Wizard’s apprentice and the Paladin’s squire) for some “meanwhile, back in town” shenanigans?

My point is this. With a little imagination and a little tap dancing, you can keep from ever cancelling game night again. For my money, that’s worth some time and prep work.