Playing tabletop RPGs is a great hobby for us, but most of us live busy lives. Running an adventure our group may be hard to maintain as weeks and sessions go by, running a campaign maybe even harder. Even if it is for a few hours a week, sometimes our group cannot find a suitable day to play, there is always one player who cannot make it every two or three weeks. In this article, I’ll write about how to handle a missing pc
As a game master, fitting a missing player to the story can be challenging sometimes even a great pain if the person informs the group at the last minute. But no worries, there are many things we can do to handle a missing player character.
MAKE THE PC AN NPC
One of the quickest ways we can handle a missing player is to make the player’s character an NPC. That way, the character can tag along with the party. So we won’t need to worry if the character’s absence will ruin our carefully crafted encounter or storyline.
Of course, making the character an NPC is going to load some additional burden on our shoulders. We will need to have the player’s character sheet close by and make its moves on the encounter. Of course, doing so is not quite different from handling all those NPCs in our game and enemies in our encounters. The player’s character is just another sort of stat block like the monsters after all.
Moreover, we probably should make the character act and decide in ways that fit the role-playing of that player. If the grumpy dwarf fighter is quite agreeable all of a sudden, it may take the inertia off from the game and our party’s atmosphere. It is a good practice in any game to analyze our players’ characters and understand their role-playing elements. It would especially help in a situation like this. Making the PC an NPC is my favorite option when a player is missing. I believe that I am able to make the role-playing of a missing character adequately, and so the missing player can dive right into the story when he or she is back the next session.
One thing we should be careful, however, is not to let the character that is now an NPC lead the group or solve puzzles and challenges of the session. Even if the player’s character may actually be the leader of the group or the clever one who solves most of the problems, this is suitable when the character is actually being played by its player. When we as a game master do these things with the player’s character, it will probably feel like we are carrying the players forward without giving them any opportunity for challenging and rewarding themselves.
IGNORE THE PC
Another thing we can do to handle a missing player is just to ignore the player character for that session. This would let us not to worry about the actions and impact of that character for the time being. We can just make slight modifications in our encounters and story lines so that the character missing from the party will not result as the party burdening themselves with harder challenges than what they would normally face.
Of course, we can also choose to keep our planned events and challenges the same and make the party face the hardships of them. We can do so if we feel that the party would need such a session to shake themselves alert, or we want the players to understand the importance of them being together and thus talk to the missing player that such an absence hinders the party and should not be done.
When we are ignoring a player character, we can do two things. The character may tell the party that it has another thing to do and thus cannot join the group for the next quest or adventure. Or, we can inform the players that the character won’t be present before the session begins and everyone takes this statement as is. I sometimes do this as my group is used to be enough to take some things for granted.
MAKE THE ABSENCE A QUEST
One of the things a friend and colleague of mine likes to do when a player is missing is to make a side quest out of the situation. In the last Twitch session, he was running the Svilland campaign, one of our friends was missing. He just informed the rest of the group that the bedroll of the character was empty when they woke up the next morning, and the party had to solve the mystery behind their friend’s absence.
This can also be a useful tool if we want to come up with additions to our scenario. Perhaps our main quest was too linear and the players need a break? Such a situation is a great chance to provide them a side quest.
We should note that if we do so, we are coming up with an addition to our scenario. When the player comes back the next session, we may need to play a prologue with that player or tell that player what happened from the absent character’s point of view. If the character needs to be rescued, the player may not be able to play for the first couple of hours of the next session, waiting to be rescued by the party.
KEEPING THE MISSING CHARACTER UP WITH THE PARTY
An important thing to think about when a player character is missing is how much of the rewards and developments should that character obtain compared to the party. As the rewards and developments come with the hard work of the present players, it may be fair to not provide the missing player character anything at all for that session.
On the other hand, we may choose to provide the character with the XP and items the party obtained in order to keep the character up with the power level of the party. This may especially be the case for games like D&D, where although we can set encounter’s monsters according to XP levels, a gap in a character’s level may result in a monster too tough for that character to handle. The game is still not balanced if a monster is within the CR of the party but can one-hit or two-hits a character.
In the system and setting I have been developing, I don’t work with levels and thus balancing the game works differently. Thus, I am able to not worry about the character’s strength in encounters too much. Still, making and playing tabletop RPG games is what we do for a living. And when a player is missing in a session, he or she often has an important reason to be so. So I usually provide half of the XP earned per character to that missing player’s character.
KEEPING A MISSING PLAYER’S CHARACTER ALIVE
A player character can be hurt, fall unconscious, or even die in a tabletop role-playing game. Such a situation is considered sad normality in our hobby. Yet, it is acceptable if the player of the character is in charge when the character takes a downfall.
If a character faints or dies when its player is missing, the death is not actually resulted by the player and it is quite unfair. Unless, of course, we have a very good reason to let it happen, such as punishing an always-missing player or forcing the player to change an unfit character or a similar motive.
Under normal circumstances, we should try to avoid killing a player character unless there is no chance that the party will survive. If the party is defeated and the character died as well, it may be counted as a natural consequence, but if the character died where others survived, it is not fair as the player did not have the chance to save the character out of the situation.
In order to avoid such a case, we can take the attention away from the player character in the encounter. Perhaps monsters should focus on other characters first or most heavily, before focusing on the missing player’s character. To balance the situation, we can also make the character not use its full force in an encounter and be more supportive rather than aggressive.
I know this sounds like illogical from the game’s perspective. I mean, a clever monster would try to take the wizard (whose player is missing) first in order to get rid of a physically weak but spellfully strong opponent. If our players can handle to make sacrifices to keep inertia and flavor of the game strong, we can choose not to pay attention to this subject. After all, if the wizard is possibly a primary target, it is good for the game to make it so in order to keep its atmosphere.
WHAT ARE YOUR METHODS FOR HANDLING MISSING PCS?
These are the methods I use and the things I keep in mind when I run my games. I hope they will be useful to you as well. If you are running adventures and campaigns for a while now, you have probably used some of these things already. What about you? Please feel free to comment to this article about situations you have been in with missing players or perhaps as a missing player yourself. You can also share this article with your friends to see what they think about it.
This article written by Ekin Toppanoglu. He is the lead game designer in Dream Realm Storytellers.