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Geddy2112
2015-06-10, 09:40 AM
Hello Playground,

For my session last night, two players were unable to make it, both had to cancel on short notice for legitimate reasons. Another player was joining, and so long as more than half of the players are attending, I do not call sessions. I was able to scale the combats very easily and the party handled all of the challenges without issue. The major problem was dealing with the two absent player's characters. The party was at the start of a dungeon crawl in a remote area. They have been traveling with a caravan, the leader being a decently powerful wizard I put here mainly to handle metagame problems. A quick scry, teleport and explanation of events X, Y and Z and the two party members were gone. Certainly a little more fiat that I liked, but it was the best solution I had on 2 hours notice.

Now I had planned the dungeon to run in a single session but we ran out of time and the party is just short of the boss. Now I can scry/teleport the new PC's back in, but they will be at full X/day resources, HP etc. I can scale them to the rest of the party and make them down half, and the party is considering a rest anyways. However, this all feels a bit fiat and ham fisted, which I try to avoid. I refuse to play another players character; I don't want to take away their tactical or roleplaying choices away from them. For the same reasons, I don't allow players to play other PC's unless they both agree beforehand that they can.

So my questions for you are
1. How many players can be absent before you call a session?
2. If a player does miss(and you still are having the session) how do you deal with their character? Everything from a session spent in a safe city to the most dangerous grimdark dungeon crawl.
3. How do you deal with "tag along" characters where you have an absent PC still with the party, or if you take them away, how?

My table usually plays pathfinder/3.5 but I am open to any solution from any system. This problem affects every ttRPG so any advice is greatly appreciated.

Note: I do not have a consistent problem with PC absences, this is the first one in a long time and both players had very good reasons they could not attend. So we don't need to go into a discussion on what to do about players with poor attendance, but what to do when players are absent.

Mark Hall
2015-06-10, 11:13 AM
If several people can't make it, we might still get together, just play something else (one of my groups has what we play dependent entirely on who can make it, since we meet so infrequently). But if they miss and we can't write them out, they go sort of out of focus... they're not vulnerable, but they're not useful, either.

Demidos
2015-06-10, 12:36 PM
Two thoughts --

Option 1:Your two players who were teleported away to deal with another problem? They should've been the ones who were AT the session, not those who weren't. It might be a bit harder because you have to scrap a good part of your prep work, but it means the players wont miss the main plot advancement. The players who stay back have to keep the caravan safe and clear out the goblins protecting the dungeon mouth.

Then you grab some random encounter from the MM, mash it with a different encounter, then run that.
For example -- Firespitting Ankhegs have attacked an allied caravan holed up in a small fort, and have already set half the camp on fire. They seem to be acting erratically however, often freezing in place for several seconds, or dodging INTO attacks. They all came out of one enormous hole in the ground. The PCs have to hold off the ankhegs and defeat the evil enchanter who is controlling them from underground.

You can even weave it into the main plot later, or make it part of a new plot! The enchanter works for the dungeon boss, who is sponsoring raiders to equip his troops with better stuff, or is part of a new cabal that has been emerging who call themselves the Beast Tamers.

That took about 5 minutes to come up with, and can easily be statted out (The ankheg's spitting acid ability is refluffed to fire, and the evil enchanter is simply a reskinned mind-flayer).

Option #2 You know that lethal assassin minion who loves to toy with his prey? He used a special kind of drow poison that renders you ability damaged and unconscious for exactly one hour instead of asleep, and hit the missing PCs in the surprise round. The party then has to tote them around, protect them, and gets them back at the climactic finale, except they are ability damaged and still sluggish from the poison. Balanced to taste.

Maglubiyet
2015-06-10, 01:45 PM
Usually we'll do a separate side adventure if too many people are missing or play something else. The stock explanation is that the missing players' characters are laid up with food poisoning for a couple of days. If they're in a settled area then they might just be taking care of business.

The other PC's take the opportunity to explore the town or nearby ruins. They either continue an existing thread or get wrapped up in a new one.

Madeiner
2015-06-10, 02:05 PM
I deal with this on a weekly basis, since i have a player who leaves 1 hour before the session ends.

I usually find some reason why he's not there, in world. The reason must make sense, but even if it's not exactly the best thing to do at the moment, the players and everyone else just agrees to gloss over it.

If we are in the middle of the dungeon for example, i can have that character say he needs to make sure nothing comes from behind while the rest of the party explores further. Or that the trap they just passed does not suddenly spring back to life, entrapping the PC. Any reason is okay, as long as it's credible enough.

If it happens in combat, i can have him knocked out of the fight from a "fake" stunning attack. Or, again, he suddenly hears something creeping from behind and goes make sure it never reaches them.
Or, if the encounter has to be rebalanced mid-fight, he engages a couple of monsters and they are all removed from the tactical fight; that fight takes place in the background. The PC is victorious if the rest of the party is.

Seltsamuel
2015-06-10, 02:31 PM
I ask the playerin question for reasons why the character isnīt here. As a DM I have a lot to do outside of managing explanations why Bob the Fighter isnīt here for Quest XYZ.
I often plan my sessions to end in a place where character exchange is possible or explainable but it doesnīt work all the time.

Ruslan
2015-06-10, 02:37 PM
I always keep a high-level one-shot prepared (with premade characters). If enough players are absent that the regular campaign cannot continue, those who did show up get to draw characters out of a hat and kick ass with high-level chars for one night.

Alex12
2015-06-10, 02:39 PM
At or before the beginning of every campaign, all party members are infected with a rare, mysterious, and incurable disease known as evaporating flu, a disease that only affects adventurers. This disease is almost completely asymptomatic, with the only effect that it unpredictably causes those afflicted to evaporate and later be reconstituted near other people with the disease. Absolutely nobody finds this in any way unusual due to a powerful spell cast by an ancient wizard.

daremetoidareyo
2015-06-10, 04:07 PM
Techniques always differ. Sometimes, as DM, I just make the absent PCs NPCs for the time, depending on the plot intensity. Other times, they come down with illness.

Depending on backstories, I sometimes take the players that are left and do a prequel with that crew, and the XP is released to the players present post-retroactively. The crappy thing about a prequel is that I can't really kill a PC. And theoretically if I do, I then have to have them mindswitched into a clone, a la X-men.

In some crews, those that have well developed metagame obfuscation, I have (once or twice) given them the opposing bad guy NPCs and have them go after their goals. The PCs actually love this, because they accidentally mess things up all the time and their PCs will encounter these strange clues as to what the bad guys are doing. Maybe the local innkeeper has to clean up broken glass from a daring escape of the baddies or in one case the bad guy wound up with the perfect loot for a PC (randomly determined of course) and they can't wait to catch them and kill them for it.

I have a strict rule against killing the PCs of absent players. That is the one constant approach that I have taken.

Karl Aegis
2015-06-10, 05:23 PM
Somebody has to run supplies between the caravan and the dungeon-delving party. You're in foreign territory, so the guys that would normally do that have to be sentries for the surface supply-gathering parties. The burden falls on the two missing party members to deliver supplies to the party and carry loot back to the caravan. When you're near the end of the dungeon, the party builds a camp and waits for the remaining party members to join up with them for a hot meal before finishing the last stretch of dungeon. The party continues to the boss with whoever shows up net session and there is no bizarre teleportation.

If your caravan is not running supplies to the dungeon-delving party they are selfish and do not even care about the party. I would be suspicious of the caravan murderhoboing the party as soon as they bring all the loot up and stealing their stuff.

Jay R
2015-06-10, 05:46 PM
I have several solutions I've used over the years.

Sometimes the party has a low-grade virus, and anybody who is current sick (i.e., absent players) can walk with the party but can't fight, cast spells, or use abilities, and they just seek cover during combat.

I have occasionally given players a choice:
a. If you choose somebody to run your character, and he or she runs the same risks of death, loss of items, or other hazards, then the PC is active during the game, with a full share in xps.
b. I you aren't willing to share in the risks when you aren't playing, then the character will not be hurt, but will not gain experience either.

Last weekend , in a game I'm currently playing, one of our healers and our most powerful caster were both absent. The game went on without them, but we didn't get very far.

Theodred theOld
2015-06-11, 01:40 PM
I've run into this problem many times and I have to echo the prequel thing although I prefer to use new characters rather than existing pc's to avoid any nasty paradox issues. It affords me an opportunity to involve the attending players in the back story of our world in an interactive way rather than just providing narrative. Ever wonder how that dwarven city came to be floating 1000ft in the air, tethered in place by a giant chain? Let's go back to the day it happened and find out. How did that monastic order come into possession of that all powerful mcguffin? Let's go on a quest to deliver it to them. So on and so on.

Ettina
2015-06-11, 11:17 PM
Techniques always differ. Sometimes, as DM, I just make the absent PCs NPCs for the time, depending on the plot intensity. Other times, they come down with illness.

Depending on backstories, I sometimes take the players that are left and do a prequel with that crew, and the XP is released to the players present post-retroactively. The crappy thing about a prequel is that I can't really kill a PC. And theoretically if I do, I then have to have them mindswitched into a clone, a la X-men.

In some crews, those that have well developed metagame obfuscation, I have (once or twice) given them the opposing bad guy NPCs and have them go after their goals. The PCs actually love this, because they accidentally mess things up all the time and their PCs will encounter these strange clues as to what the bad guys are doing. Maybe the local innkeeper has to clean up broken glass from a daring escape of the baddies or in one case the bad guy wound up with the perfect loot for a PC (randomly determined of course) and they can't wait to catch them and kill them for it.

I have a strict rule against killing the PCs of absent players. That is the one constant approach that I have taken.

Oh, we have got to try that sometime! Except knowing my group, the opposing NPCs might very well be good guys.

Angelmaker
2015-06-11, 11:31 PM
Options. Some have already been mentioned.

1) just ignore them.

You will get odd jokes at times, but it works.

2) assign them tasks that make it believable that they are still there.

Guard duty, cutting off reinforcements, anything really. Can even help in dramatic storytelling as you describe the absent player(s) holding a narrow passage. Does not break immersion. My favourite method.

3) fiat them away.

Does not work in all campaigns. You need to explain the higher powers/side mission/whatever and why it is more important than what they are currently doing or why the higher power does not deal with the problem itself

4) side missions.

Works usually only between dungeons/tasks, but even during a dungeon they can find an ancient, dusty mirror or a hidden section of the dungeon that an earthquake/sunder attack revealed.

Not recommended options: xp withhold.

The game itself should be the reward. If people only show up tho the game because you are handing out xp, then you got bigger problems than just a few missing players.

Kane0
2015-06-12, 02:10 AM
1. How many players can be absent before you call a session?

2. If a player does miss(and you still are having the session) how do you deal with their character? Everything from a session spent in a safe city to the most dangerous grimdark dungeon crawl.
3. How do you deal with "tag along" characters where you have an absent PC still with the party, or if you take them away, how?


1. I will call a game if half cant make it or if only 3-4 can. This can mean 2 players down in some games, 4-5 down in others

2. They take a back seat. They will return to a 'safer' location to occupy thenselves, drive the cart, tend to the minions, colaborate with allies, etc.

3. Tag alongs will usually be ignored or hadwaved. Only in the event of a TPK or split the party event do things get really wierd here.
Characters that temporarily leave will do so under their own power, or be called by an NPC. Absolute worst case scenario they are temporarily turned to stone and thrown in a portable hole or something.

Xyk
2015-06-12, 02:25 AM
I deal with this frequently, (me and all my players are service industry), and we have gotten pretty good at making up excuses a. This past week, my group had just finished busting a fellow gang-member out of a courthouse (after failing to negotiate his release), and the group all met up at the monk's house (the usual meeting place) before we had to end the session.

Next session, the rogue/warlock couldn't play, so we decided he had retroactively decided to lay low instead of joining the others (he was somewhat paranoid all ready) on his own, using his Master of Many Faces (or whatever the disguise self invocation is called) and was wandering around the city disguised as different people. For the next session we plan to have him enter at an opportune moment, disguised as a street produce vendor.

Sometimes it's okay to bend canon a little, to maintain the flow. I've even been known to just wave my hand and say "he's been here the whole time, sort of standing in the background" and leaving it at that.

EDIT: also other question:
I need at least three players and one DM for a session. Any less than that feels weird. If it's a six-man party, three players showing up would probably be some sort of one-shot side-adventure, which may still have story consequences.

Geddy2112
2015-06-12, 10:10 AM
Great replies everyone! I will add these into my DM toolbox.

Seto
2015-06-12, 10:33 AM
I have five players. I call off the session if three or more cannot make it. (But I'm working on getting duo one-shot sidequests ready in case there're only two players and we really want to play).

Absent players happen a lot, and I generally just make their characters tagalong NPCs for the session. They're there, but they're safe from anything happening to them, and in return they don't help in combat (there's no in-game rationale and everyone is fine with that). They might help with an occasional skill check (if the Ranger's player isn't there and the party needs a tracker, for example) or I might make them utter a character-appropriate line.
They still get XP (well, I ditched XP altogether, but I mean they don't get penalized).

Exceptions : - if any one PC is plot-critical for a particular session (for example they're fighting in a tournament's last stage, or they are supposed to get rezzed, or they're meeting their long-estranged father), I'll make sure they personally are available before scheduling the session.
- If we have reasonable, easy in-game explanations for a PC's absence, might as well take them instead of having them tag along.

denthor
2015-06-12, 10:59 AM
We use the "vapor bag" In the vapor bag you are along for the ride no exp no way of writing scrolls or upgrading character.

If there is a total party kill you die new game or new characters for same game.

you can request updates on what happened from characters and dm

You are there but not visible for attacks or spell targets.

PrincessCupcake
2015-06-13, 07:53 PM
I cancel a game whenever a party has half the players or less planning to show up. If it is canceled at the last minute, I run some kind of one shot for anyone who shows or just hang out with players and help anyone who is struggling with the system/houserules/technology/etc.

As for how to handle players who aren't there, I like to give the player a choice:

-come up with a list of tasks that your character wants to do, or a thing they need to take care of.

-accept whatever character and situation appropriate method I end up using to explain your lack of involvement. I've used everything from "The cleric must spend some time in meditation/prayer but offers to create some potions" to "You ended up on the receiving end of a faerie dragon's breath weapon" to explain absences of characters. Making an actual table for this as I go. I will share if anyone is interested.

-make an agreement to have your character run by another player while you are gone.

Honestly, most of my players choose one of the first two.

JNAProductions
2015-06-13, 07:54 PM
I'm curious about this table.

JAL_1138
2015-06-13, 08:12 PM
The character stares vacantly into the middle distance when with the party.

When dealing with NPCs, they're out tending the wagons, setting up the rooms the party is to stay in, buying provisions, or "investigating" other NPCs or circumstances. They may come back with a bit of info that the others would have found out eventually, to save time.

When dungeon delving, they're bringing up the rear (will reduce chance of wandering monsters, too), explaining why they also pick up XP, but at a reduced rate because they have no chance of dying, unlike the party. They'll go hire shanghai gather replacement mercenaries murderhobos party members in event of a TPK for the ones who showed up. If party members are down but not dead, they'll help take them back to safety.

PrincessCupcake
2015-06-15, 04:05 AM
I'm curious about this table.

I'm still gathering outcomes from my pile of handwritten notes, but here are the unfinished tables. (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1N2P3R1hMcK8aYsCHv6qK1vJJLBQpnukUDMlju0XrJMU/edit?usp=sharing)
several of these are fantasy specific due to my groups primarily being interested in that type of thing. I'll definitely pile together all the ones that come from non-fantasy games as well.

bulbaquil
2015-06-15, 05:20 AM
They just... aren't there. No explanation required. Immersion and verisimilitude are broken. (That said, if there happens to be a reasonably logical/in-character reason for a character's absence in a particular situation, we can go with it). For the most part, my groups use milestone leveling, so XP isn't a factor. (Those of us who actually still track XP generally do it as group XP rather than individual.)

Sacrieur
2015-06-15, 07:48 AM
Excused absences all result in the character pretty much just vanishing completely and then mysteriously reappearing like nothing happened. If this is unavoidable then I or someone they delegate take over.

Unexcused absences result in the characters not vanishing. They're mindless drones.

Elena_NightWish
2015-06-15, 04:38 PM
In the case of the campaign I'm currently in, if someone can't make it then we are spirited into miniatures that someone is responsible for picking up and bringing with us....
A few weeks ago we forgot to pickup our mini'd cohorts and they had a side quest they had to do to catch up to us...