One of the biggest challenges I have repeatedly come across is the one I face tonight: what do you do when 3 out 7 players doesn’t show for the session?
In the deep past, I would have cancelled the session or insisted we play something else and come back to the main game another time.
These days, when one of the players is missing my strategy has been to “ghost” that character – they simply disappear from the narrative for the session. They don’t get interacted with, the players have no access to their abilities or skills, and they are invisible to everyone in the game World. This works fine for the odd session most of the time.
Last session, one of the players almost didn’t make it and his character was set up to have a key interaction with one of the important NPCs. It was expected to be a linchpin scene and promised to give that player’s character a key role in the narrative. As it turned out, they made it on the end… but I was seriously stressed by the possibility of them not being there.
Common wisdom is that, for a linchpin moment like that, you need to give the rest of the party a side-quest and get back to the main action when the linchpin character turns up again. I always feel like that sucks because it drains the significance from the moment. I did seriously consider holding the scene and dealing with the in-game consequences of the no-show because that would treat the narrative seriously. Thankfully, that problem went away.
But what to do tonight? Four out of seven players are about to head off into a very dangerous quest that probably includes heavy combat without three characters: their toughest fighter, the mage, and the second toughest warrior.
If I “ghost” them then the party is literally reduced in power and effectiveness. I know I can’t properly run three characters as NPCs, not really. Plus the regular players don’t like running multiple characters. I’m not even sure we have the up-to-date character sheets of the others.
Tonight, I am going to ask the players how they would like to handle it. I am going to be clear about my limitations and say no to running three PCs as NPCs but I am otherwise open to suggestions.
So… what would you do? What’s your solution to this kind of conundrum?
I begin to get a little miffed if a player makes a habit of missing game sessions, and will speak to them privately. I’ve even blogged about the importance of keeping commitments. OTOH I’ve had players notify me of serious issues that have sprung up, and I’m perfectly understanding in those cases.
If the majority of players is there, I run the game. If the majority is missing, I cancel the session (possibly doing something else).
When players don’t attend, their characters are still present. I hated it when, back in the 80’s, one of my fellow players used to drift away from the table to do other things during game night. The DM would just “ghost” her as you do, then she’d come back after the battle and get an equal share of the treasure. Hated that. Hate.
If we have dangerous or complicated situations on the plate for that evening, I will have other players run the characters. Otherwise I’ll run them myself, but they won’t be doing much. They sure can die though. I don’t pull punches.
If I have a script with a key event that centers on a player who doesn’t show, I may do a quick re-write and use someone else. I may delay the event. Or I may have the event happen anyway, damn the consequences. Depends on my mood and the reason the player didn’t show (and their track record).
Bottom line is, keep your commitments. We have a responsibility to others who have kept their commitments. Don’t let their scarce opportunities for relaxation and catharsis get trashed because someone else is inconsiderate.
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I would say to do as you intended, ask the others what they want to do. If you can’t run them as NPCs then don’t. If the other players don’t like running them that’s fine, but then those players are choosing to have a weakened party. I mean you have the option to scale the combat encounter but I know not everyone likes that. So maybe they just have to be clever about it instead.
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The guys chose to continue. I didn’t scale the situation because it turned out they are ok with that “old school” way of gaming. It was liberating and turned out to be fun.
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