What To Do With Missing Players? – D&D Advice
So, one of the common issues when people are trying to play D&D is scheduling, scheduling is just really hard for everyone because, well, people have busy lives. Now some of this is something as you become older, if you’re playing D&D in high school, schedule was probably a bit more free. But for those of us who are into careers and out of college, have girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, kids, and everything else that takes up time while growing up, scheduling can be an issue. So the question is, what do you do if everyone can’t make it?
This can be tricky for several reasons. You might be in the middle of a quest in a dungeon or a battle. The story might be focused on that character for a moment. You might have a smaller group.
But don’t worry there are some options as to what you can do. We’ll start with the simplest, just send that character off to do it’s own thing. If you’re in town, they are going to shop to resupply or rations for everything for the day while people are out adventuring, they are going to the temple of their deity to pray for the day, they are volunteering with the city guard because someone fell sick, just leave them out of what you have planned, send them off somewhere, and just make sure at the end of your session you end up back in town, and now they are set to join everyone again.
Next, if you want, you, as the DM, play that character or you pass them off to someone else to control. The downside of this is that as the DM it’s more for you to keep track of, or for another player to keep track of. Generally the reason for doing this would be, you’re in battle or in a position where it doesn’t make sense for that character to disappear. Basically, that character then drops into the background, you don’t role play or make decisions for that character, they are just there for combat and because you can’t make them disappear easily. Handing it off to another player makes the most sense because there might be a perceived bias of the DM running a character to aid in battle. I would go with this rule of thumb, if you have experienced players, hand it off, if you don’t, run them for combat as the DM.
You can also make something happen to that PC, magical sleep for the session. If you’re in a dungeon, and you don’t want to advance the main storyline too much, kidnap that PC, give the players a “safe” spot to rest, and just have that PC disappear, get knocked out, dragged away by some goblins or whatever is level appropriate and then to deal with. Make it a side quest of some sort. And with some of my other suggestions, unless what the players is doing is time sensitive in world, make it a side quest, spend a whole session searching for Timmy (he’s down a well), and have the players deal with goblins who might have kidnapped him and then workshop how to get Timmy out of the well, do something goofy or weird or different than what you’d normally do as a way to try out new things when someone is gone and you don’t want to advance the story that much, and maybe something surprising will come out of it.
This is probably for a more experienced group, but you can take the B-Team approach, you know about the A-Team, but is there another group out there? If there is, or if there would be some interesting people that the players could meat and interact with, or even a rival adventuring group, something, let the players play those characters in a one shot. More work for the DM here, but roll up new characters for the players at a given level, hand them out, and let the players just have fun doing what will probably be a completely different and less serious quest. If you want, drop in some information or some Easter eggs about something that the player characters, the main party, would want to find out, so that the players know, but their characters might not, or if you do it subtly it will come back at some point in time.
I’m sure there are more creative ways as well, but another thing to consider is just cancelling the session. This can suck, especially if it’s the last second. When I’d consider cancelling a session it’s because I’m missing a large enough percentage of the group. We’re adding a 4th player to the Tower of the Gods campaign, so in that case, if two people are missing we’d cancel, but before that, if one person has been missing we’ve cancelled because going from a dynamic of three players to two is greater than from four players to three. And don’t feel like you have to cancel the night completely. The one shot option basically always works, because you can do a completely random one shot if you want, even if you don’t tie it to the world, or you could play a board game, try a different RPG system, or video games, whatever your group does outside of D&D.
I would say that the last option is really about the last one that you want to do. I try and keep our game on a schedule, so theoretically players can let me know ahead of time if they can or can’t make it. But how do you handle this situation, how do you play your game if a player can’t make it for a session?