Readers of my game reports may notice that characters come and go from session to session.
Players in my group can’t make every session. We play anyway. My general rule is that if two players can make it, we play. I have a set time every week that I run a game unless I am unable.
The game is for the players.
I play tabletop role-playing games because I like creating, I like the experience, the social interaction, and the mental challenge. The game is for me and my players to have a good time.
The game is not for the characters to have a story. It is for the players to play. We don’t worry too much about the continuity of which PC was where and what they were doing if someone can’t show up this week. We go ahead and play.
What is important to us is that we were able to spend time with our friends doing something we enjoy doing together.
It is nice if we have that continuity and there have been certain circumstances where we did need everyone to show up. The last few months of the Kaladonia campaign was like that. It was especially a problem if the party didn’t have their wizard.
How does that work?
Regular readers know that I’m not telling the PC’s story, I’m creating situations for them to interact with. Because I don’t have the events of the game pre-scripted, from a narrative point of view, it doesn’t matter who is there that week.
If we were playing Hamlet and Hamlet is missing, then we can’t play that game. Since that’s not what I’m doing, it’s fine if Hamlet has to take his kid to summer camp that week.
Our current campaign has been rather casual. Most of the group have had situations where regular gaming wasn’t possible. If we only played when everyone could make it, gaming would be rare. Once or twice a month if we were lucky. By not sweating the absence of a player, those of us who can game that week get to play.
I do have some suggestions if you want to start running your games this way.
Make something up.
We’re happy to get to play so we don’t care that the week to week roster of dungeon delvers changes and it doesn’t make sense that so and so stays back at camp when his friends are hauling in all that treasure. Most of the time we just hand wave it and start playing. We’ll decide that the character is meditating by a pond, hanging out in town and will catch up later, or reading a tome they found in the last session.
Whatever, it doesn’t matter. Just move on so the people who are there can get rolling.
In the current campaign, the party is mostly engaged in exploring a large dungeon. Some sessions the party is traveling back to one of the local trading posts, which is an adventure of its own. Whichever kind of session it is, the party tends to end up in town or at their camp in the ruins. If you can create adventures where players aren’t pausing in the middle of an exploration or battle, this works out great. Each session ends at a natural resting point.
Different characters same setting.
Back in the Kaladonia game, I tried a little experiment. The players created characters who were in a different area of the campaign. If the main campaign had to be put on hold until we had everyone, we would play those characters. It was an interesting side line and I got to run an adventure I had been wanting to try. It was never the main interest of the players but we got to play and it was fun.
I think if you had a setting with a lot going on, it would be an interesting experiment to have the little side adventures with different characters who were involved in some other part of a major event. It would be tricky to pull off. You could create what screenwriters call, dramatic irony. The players would know something their characters don’t. That could cause metagaming problems or it could provide some greater understanding of the setting for your players.
I do tell stories with my games, it just isn’t the PC’s stories. It’s the stories that create the context of the situation the player’s find themselves in. The back story of the adventure which I reveal as micro-exposition and clues scattered throughout the scenario. A second set of characters involved in a different part of the campaign could be one way to give players more context for the setting. You could even do this in different points in time. It could be the far past or future.
A Stable of Characters
The players in Gary’s Greyhawk setting had multiple characters. I’ve offered this to my players in the past but no one has taken me up on it yet. I think the key here is having a campaign like West Marches or a megadungeon. The setting needs to provide a lot of different adventuring opportunities that are player driven.
Certain characters will be better suited to certain challenges so the player decides that they will take their wizard into play that week rather than the fighter. I haven’t had any success with this but I think it could work if you set your campaign up for it.
This is particularly valuable when you get into high level games with domain play. In the Kaladonia campaign, weeks and sometimes months of game time would pass in a session. Sometimes when our wizard player couldn’t play, his character would spend time doing research or working on a ritual. This is where that KEEPING TRACK OF TIME issue comes up.
There are lots of activities that a player character can be doing while their friends are out adventuring. This is a nice option. The character is profitably engaged in some activity so at least the in game time isn’t wasted and the player gets some benefit even thought they couldn’t play that week. Here are some activities they might be involved in.
- Training to level up (AD&D made this a requirement)
- Making scrolls, or potions
- Researching spells
- Reading magical manuals such as a tome of golem construction
- Training or recruiting troops
- Overseeing construction of a keep
- Boring daily functions of lord/lady of the realm (judging minor disputes)
Give it a try.
Obligations and responsibilities often get in the way of gaming. If you insist on having everyone in the group at the table each and every session, it is likely you will have irregular and possibly rare gaming sessions. Try making your campaign less dependent on having a specific group of characters every time and be more open to PC’s coming and going when they can. I think you will find that you get more gaming in and it is as fun and interesting.