What Do You Do When Your D&D Game Is Cancelled?

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on December 13, 2010

Every once in a blue moon something happens and your regular game is cancelled. The reasons are various, ranging from illness, family obligations, exams, a hectic schedule at work or the fact that some of your group is at GenCon. No matter the cause it leaves those available with nothing to do on game night. But that doesn’t mean that you need to cancel game night all together.

As gamers, we are a versatile bunch with a wide range of interests and hobbies beyond D&D. Surely the loss of one or two players from your gaming table doesn’t mean that the rest of the group has to give up their one night a week where they indulge their inner geek. For me the weekly D&D game is the reason a great group of friends gather around the table and enjoy one another’s company. Just because a few guys can’t make it doesn’t mean that the rest of the group should cancel and miss the opportunity for friends to connect.

Here are some of the alternative idea’s that the Dungeon’s Master team defaults to when the main game is cancelled for whatever reason.

The Backup Game

Our group is fortunate in that we have several veteran DMs at the table. There is invariably someone who has an idea for an adventure that they can run when we have less than a full party. Whether it is a one-off Dungeon Delve or perhaps a permanent campaign that is only run on off nights, the backup game is a great alternative. Currently we are defaulting to Dark Sun as our backup game and it’s working out fairly well. We are learning quickly that the harsh world of Athas is even more difficult when your party has only three members.


Illuminati is a great card game from Steve Jackson Games. The players represent different factions of Illuminati seeking to rule the world. The relationship tree that each player develops by the end of the game always impresses me. I just love seeing Organized Crime owning Christmas or the PTA owning the Drug Companies. A very memorable game that will keep the table engaged.


Yet again another game from Steve Jackson Games, Munchkin provides a night of great entertainment as you seek to advance to level 10. My favourite card from the game is the infamous “You must fight the Gazebo alone.” If your game is cancelled and you want to laugh hard while you roll dice and level up Munchkin is the game for you.

Both Munchkin and Illuminati make great, reasonably-priced gifts to give to your gaming group should you partake in a gift exchange.

Board Games

Most gamers are just looking for a reason to roll dice. What better way than with a board game. Classics like Monopoly or Risk combine dice rolling with some basic strategy and are suitable for all ages so you can fill up the empty seats at your table with other family members or even people who wouldn’t normally be interested in playing D&D. If you’re just looking to roll lots of dice, don’t overlook Yahtzee. Board games are an excellent backup that are sure to provide you with an evening of satisfying entertainment.

The Movies

When all else fails you can always watch a movie. Whether you stay at home and watch a DVD on your home theater or you headto the local theater to see the latest Harry Potter film, the movies are a tried and true way to have a fun evening with friends. While D&D might be the reason to get together, some times it’s great to just sit back and watch a great flick.

What does your group do when you’re faced with cancelling your regular game? We’d wantto know what kind of alternative activities fill the void for your gaming group.

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1 Lahrs December 13, 2010 at 9:36 am

We cancel the session if even one person is not going to be able to make it since we are very story based. Fortunately, it does not happen often, but usually we play games. Last time we had an epic marathon session of Zombies!, and I think Munchkin is on deck for the next day off.

2 Lahrs December 13, 2010 at 9:37 am

Forgot to add, I bought the Gamma World box set when it came out, but we haven’t played the included module yet, so we may give that a try sometime soon as well.

3 Craig December 13, 2010 at 10:27 am

Descent: Journeys in the Dark is our go to ‘we need a way to spend 4 hours.’

Plus, it comes really close to scratching that D&D itch.

4 Dave December 13, 2010 at 10:56 am

In the past we have used the Battlestar Galactica board game on nights where our game didn’t go ahead. Highly recommended, it is very easy to get involved in and before you know it you are accusing each other of being dirty stinking Cylons.

5 Alton December 13, 2010 at 10:59 am

Well since I am a remote player, when D&D is cancelled I stay home and spend the night watching movies with my wife, or I will get online with my buddy and play some Guitar Hero!!

6 Ragnarok December 13, 2010 at 12:18 pm

My group needs to do something like this.
We have a rule that if one person has to miss we keep going but if two we cancel the game.

There should be no reason we can’g get together and socialize around a different format.

7 Joseph December 13, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Ours is a sandbox style game, and there’s usually a waiting list to get in, so it’s usually not an issue. We’ve only had to cancel once, and that is because of an illness. Basically, if the DM and one other player can make it, there’s a game.

8 Sunyaku December 13, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Settlers of Cataan is our default backup. Although our gaming group is separated by a significant distance– half in one area and the other half nearly two hours away… so if there is a cancellation, we generally don’t travel. We usually have to schedule “play dates” 3 to 4 weeks in advance. Fortunately, cancellations have been rare.

9 Dyson Logos December 13, 2010 at 4:00 pm

One of two things – either I pull out a 1PG RPG from Deep7 for a one-shot with random chargen (there are a bunch of these – we end up playing the espionage, fantasy, and pirates ones the most, but play them all), or another player pulls out Lacuna Part 1 and we play that.

10 Milo December 13, 2010 at 7:24 pm

I find my party’s favorite activity in an off night is to test the mettle of their characters. Sometimes I’ll have little arenas or tests prepared or we’ll all sit down and make one together and throw our characters into a consiquence free environment to see what they are truly capable of without the fear of death. It’s always really fun.

11 Chris Walker-bush December 14, 2010 at 7:43 am

Getting drunk seemed to be quite a popular option amongst my gaming group. That or some Magic the Gathering.

12 Wimwick December 14, 2010 at 9:32 am

@ Everyone
It seems that most groups have an alternate game that they can default to which is great. It just reinforces that the relationships and the people we play with are just as important as the game itself.

13 MJ Harnish December 15, 2010 at 1:23 am

With one player missing, we often play flashback scenes, or side scenes if where we last left off permits it, which the group loves for filling in details or developing secondary stories.

With more than one player missing, we typically play Fiasco, A Penny for My Thoughts, My Life with Master, or a board game (Last Night on Earth and Small World are our current favorites).

14 Thorynn December 15, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Another great dice-based board game is Farkle. Its like Yahtzee meets press your luck. Very addictive and easy to pick up!

15 Sharron Clemons December 21, 2010 at 3:35 pm

I find my party’s favorite activity in an off night is to test the mettle of their characters. Sometimes I’ll have little arenas or tests prepared or we’ll all sit down and make one together and throw our characters into a consiquence free environment to see what they are truly capable of without the fear of death. It’s always really fun.

16 underthepale December 23, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Depends on if I or my second in command gets to pick: If it’s him, we play Red Dragon Inn. If it’s me, we play Dominion. Neither one is cheap (ESPECIALLY Dominion, ow…) but if you’ve got people with gaming in their blood, both are worth it.

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