View Full Version : How to deal with intermittent player's PCs...

09-12-2010, 02:11 PM
I have played and run games for nearly 20 years. In any long-term campaign there is always someone who has a scheduling conflict, or a death in the family, or something that prevents them from being at the table for a session or a few. When this happens, how do you deal with their PC? Do you run them as an NPC? If so, how do you account for the change in personality within the game? If you have a gaming group with 1 or 2 DMNPCs along and another person wants to sit-in or even join in, how do the players deal with an old NPC with a new attitude?

In the past, as a player, I have had a DM who would run a PC as an NPC and do a faithful job of playing them. I've also had DMs be total jerks about DM-run PC's and killed them off "Whoops, sorry, you weren't here". As a DM, I have run games where the PCs were in the Outer Planes a la Planescape and occasionally a glowing point of light would sail in and slam into that PC, transporting them away in response to a summon spell on the Prime Material Plane: that neatly explains why Nerbo the gnomish psionicist is not here this session.

Now, I am about to run a 4 player group and my wife would love to take a fifth seat to play, but we have a 2 month old who requires one or both of us periodically. So we have been trying to figure out how to let her play with the understanding that sometimes she won't be available. Here is her idea: she makes a PC with multiple personality disorder (4) and every morning she rolls a d4 to determine which one is dominant; one of the personalities would be the NPC run by me, the other 3 would be her. I think it's extraordinarily clever. Then I had this thought: what about an Ettin PC with intermittent narcolepsy, basically one head is always asleep: the right would be hers, the left mine. She laughed but liked it.

What about you folks? What's your take?

09-12-2010, 07:16 PM
We use two options. The first is one of the players takes the missing character to play. We all realize that real life occurs and the player does his best with two characters. This only works if the group has been together for awhile. The second is that I as the dm take the character and play it. That doesnt work as well in my opinion. I think its better that the characters are there even if the players aren't. Special case characters like the one above makes it particularly difficult and maybe should not be done if you cant make every game.

09-12-2010, 10:50 PM
Very often I end the game in a safe spot. So the character are in a town or such. It's rare for us to stop in the foyer of the big bad guy, for example. This makes it simple for the character of the missing player to just hang out in town or otherwise not adventure. Often we will work this into the game, where the character is waiting in line or doing something.

If they 'need' the character of the missing player, the most common thing I do is simply take over the character. And to explain the different character is simple, they just get possessed or controlled by something in game. Often this can be done the good way, where the character 'give up' their body for the ghost, spirit or whatever to use them as a mouthpiece for a while. This fits into the story well.

Richard Littles
09-12-2010, 11:35 PM
I don't play or run D&D, but how I handle PCs where the player isn't there is that I make them into something akin to furniture. They're there, but they don't impact the session in any way.

09-13-2010, 03:10 PM
Generally, unless there is an Uber need for them to be active.
They are backgrounded to thumb-sucking automaton for the night.

Case in point.
Star Wars game, 2 of the last 3 sessions one of our players was in Texas or unavailable to play.
While flying they were clumsy and one of the droids boinked their head leaving them in their cabin.
If in port, they stayed with the ship and 'guarded' it. It worked for us as the ship weapons number in a way not everyone got control of one, and it gives us an automatic non-droid guard for the ship.

In D&D, we've always just had them following along doing nothing, not speaking. Maybe the horrors of adventure caught up to them for a bit. We try not to have any major battles while someone is away if we can help it. That's where it helps to have a backup monty haul campaign for when folks don't show to, if you are at an important junction in the plotline.

09-13-2010, 05:35 PM
One of the more creative solutions I've seen is the "Alien Abductee" advanced class for d20 Modern. (Sadly, RPGNow no longer carries it. Stock art issue? Company went under?) If a player misses or is egregiously late to two or more sessions, his character gets the first level of this class. Whenever the player his absent, the PC has been abducted by aliens; when the player returns, he awakens "in some embarrassing condition" with no memory of what happened to him. He can spend experience to progress as an Alien Abductee, gaining feats like Alien Weapon Proficiency and Lightning Reflexes due to suppressed memories and general paranoia. At 10th level, he gains a +4 bonus at fighting whatever species his abductors belong to (more motivation than skill, perhaps).

While I don't know if I would use this myself ... oh, who am I kidding? I'd love to use this, at least in a game bizarre enough that alien abduction would fit right in.

More seriously, though, the two solutions I've seen most often are a) the PC's eyes glaze over and he becomes an unusually cooperative NPC under the GM's direction, or b) if the last session ended at a convenient stopping point the PC is off on "other business". In a few cases, I've seen a GM retcon a PC into a party that he wasn't part of last session to accommodate a late or previously absent player.

09-13-2010, 11:18 PM
Ruri - do yourself a favor and write a missing PC excuse into your plot/campaign.

E.g. The lord of the land might call upon a hero, intermittently, to serve a task besides adventuring.
E.g. The PCs, as predestined holy heroes, are sometimes summoned to Mount Supmylo to amuse the good gods.
E.g. (Hell, if you're flexible with Summoning) a darn Summoner found the PCs phone number again.

Or just magic item it: the party's Bag-o-Holding-Everything sometimes needs a PC to guide it (usually it's free-floating). When guiding the bag, the PC must wear it over his head, putting everything but the PC's feet into a pocket dimension.