Decompression is important – not only does it play a substantial role in addressing “Bleed”, it is also an opportunity for facilitators to source feedback and improve the experience of their games.
Bleed, originally a "Live Action Roleplay" (LARP) term, is when the thoughts, actions, and emotions of a character affect their player outside of the game and vice versa. Immersion and bleed generally comes in a pair, and as someone takes on the role of their character, it may be difficult to separate in-character and out-of-character emotions, especially if something particularly dramatic happens and/or if someone is strongly invested in a character, the story, the game, etcetera. Not all bleed is bad, but we can help players be aware of when they're experiencing bleed and what they can do about it by taking the time to discuss it.
Every player and table is different: what draws them to the game and what they choose to invest into the game might vary per person. Not everyone is going to find it necessary or appealing to work on a mood board together or have time to fill out a feedback form after every session, so it's important to adjust to what works best for your group. Some groups want to disperse after the in-character session is over, so having a light activity, such a group-wide check-in as simple as asking "What did you enjoy most during our game?" might be more reasonable. Or, perhaps after a particularly emotional or lore-heavy session, you might end it five minutes earlier than usual to make time to debrief.
Decompression can come in many forms and for some tables, it might just come naturally - for example, something as casual as commenting on what happened during the session or talking about a particular moment you found compelling is decompression. This helps players build that distinction of in- and out-of-character emotions by putting distance between them.
Here are some forms of decompression that you could incorporate into the beginning or end of your sessions, during a break, in the group chat, after a session, etcetera:
I personally believe Session Zeros are absolutely crucial for establishing expectations. They provide the opportunity for a facilitator to lay out what sessions will look like, what topics are/are not okay to introduce into the game, what kind of characters and story to expect, and how sessions will be structured. It's okay to discuss what types of decompression the group might be most interested in and possibly change methods throughout the campaign if they aren't working, to talk about how long they might want decompression to be, etcetera.
Decompression does not have to be a weighty thing that takes up a large chunk of time, it can be as simple as asking how everyone is doing, what they're looking forward to, what they didn't like about the session, positive and negative aspects of their characters, etcetera. Initiating a conversation about the session that the table just experienced is a way to debrief what happened and gives the facilitator an opportunity to review where improvements could be made, what parts of the game that the players are most interested in, and what to avoid in the future. Players who give feedback and see it being taken into account, possibly implemented, are naturally going to become more excited and invested for what is to come.
Title The Episode
This is a fun, easy way to get a table to talk and think about what happened in a light activity that shouldn't take too much time: ask the table, "If our game were a TV show, what would the title of this episode be?"
Stars & Wishes
Affirmations can be powerful and can encourage players to improve or focus on different aspects of their characters or gameplay. Going around the table and offering a chance to talk about a Star (a highlighted scene or moment of the session) gives them a chance to talk about what they liked as a player. Going around the table and asking for Wishes (something they would like to see in the future or would want to change) also provides ideas for a facilitator. I think it's important to remind players that Stars and Wishes don't need to be comprehensive and it's okay if they can't think of one. If Stars and Wishes become a regular part of your sessions, it may become easier for your players to offer them.
Though incredibly useful, in my experience it is difficult to ask players to make time to fill out a form, especially since it can be a time-consuming activity. Keeping forms short and sweet is ideal and allows facilitators to offer anonymous solutions (such as Google Forms, where you can turn off collection of email addresses). This might encourage players to share what they might not otherwise - some might feel guilt or unwanted pressure when sharing critical or negative feedback. I would advise using forms occasionally or sparingly because most people don't want homework.
Starting a Pinterest board is a way to get your players involved in processing what happened and sharing what they might want incorporated in future sessions. Pinterest is a strong tool for this where you could set up different categories, such as inspiration for NPCs, Pets, Magic Items, Artifacts, Locations, etcetera, that your table could add images to at their leisure. You could create a handout in your virtual tabletop that can be edited by the entire party, such as a Quest Log, Loot Log, Journals, or Session Notes, as a group activity that could start a conversation out-of-character on what to do in-character. Another great activity could be collaboration of a vibes playlist on Spotify.
Memes are silly and memorable - it's easy to find meme generators with an internet search - and it only takes a few minutes to make one. Creating a space where your players can upload or paste them, such as a Google Drive or document, allows them to revisit the collaborative collection in the future. Inviting players to make them, or making some yourself, could be the inspiration for recurring themes or NPCs that a facilitator could incorporate into their games.
As a facilitator, it makes a difference to invite your players to do something - your table will look to you for structure and to set expectations. Not everyone is going to assume their game master wants feedback or wants to spend time debriefing and it's up to the person running the show to make space for it and incorporate it. I hope these ideas strengthen the stories and bonds between you and your players, and give you another tool to help you run a great table.