These opponents no DM has the power to control.....Often past the assembly and maintenance of a campaign a singular challenge common to all "worlds" exists.... The Absent Player.
Often past the assembly and maintenance of a campaign a singular challenge common to all "worlds" exists.... The Absent Player.
These formidable "opponents" to the campaign world exist primarily as three distinct “entity” types.
SPIRITS> The dedicated player that just had something come up.
GHOSTS> Good players, but through the real world constraints can't game regularly.
BLINK DOGS> With all their good intentions (alignment LG) they often just "pop in, sometimes create mayhem, and pop out".
And like their MM counterparts they provide different challenges.
THE SPIRT player> Dedicated, often defined piece of the campaign world, but now unseen force.
THE GHOST player>When there, is “solid” when not is only a “mirage” of her former self.
And Lastly, THE BLINK DOG player> Erratic, now you see me, now you don’t. This player type is the most challenging to deal with. They are there for a session or two, then not for one or need to "leave early or arrive late". All of which would make you wonder if there is a bit of chaos in that LG somewhere. :wink:
For the player & DM, How does one replace one of them? For a session? For Longer?
First, let’s talk campaign. Depending on how you structure your campaign can affect how you address these challenges.
One method, let’s call it SAFEHAVEN, is to have each day’s play to end with the PCs somewhere safe and secure. This allowance would have other party members can catch up with the group and those (players) who aren’t there can safely leave.
Pros: This solves the immediate problem – Barely
Cons: The campaign can simply become a string of singular games if disrupted by non-attendance. It can be difficult ending each day’s play at an exchange point.
In order to end at SAFEHAVEN, the DM has to be certain that any combat will be complete before the end of the day’s play. The implication of that statement is easier said than accomplished. It means that there will be non-combat action filling out the day’s play – which, no matter how interesting, doesn’t carry the adrenalin boost that combat does. What’s more, the amount of this non-combat play will be variable and somewhat unpredictable – some days there will be lots of time to fill, and other days everything will be a mad scramble to the finishing line. Worse still, simply being in non-combat mode doesn’t automatically produce an exchange point. The challenge is, you need the days’ action to wrap up with everyone “safe in their beds” – either in an inn, a hostel, a campsite, or whatever seems a reasonable cross road should one of the players need to not be present for the next “encounter”.
The next “campaign structure” possibility is the BACKPLOT. This solution can be further improved by requiring each player to provide a list of reasons for their character to wander off in the middle of an adventure and come back later, for the DM to choose between.
These could include:
- General- “being locked up in the town cells for being drunk and disorderly”
- Personally Significant- “Investigating a possible clue to the identity of my sibling’s murderer” or “Trying to buy a grimoire containing ‘Bigby’s Unnatural Blandishment’ ” (or some other made-up spell that will never actually be found), Guild duties, Clan obligations.
- Campaign Insignificant-“Went to scout out the defenses of Dorakka but was almost caught and spent a couple of days in hiding”
- Campaign Significant- “Infiltrated a meeting of a death-cult dedicating to reviving a forgotten god” or “Attended a secret peace accord between rival elements”. These are events that the DM may want to have happen in the background, so he has to provide these. But they have the side-benefit of using the player as a vehicle for blocks of narrative text about events in the game without making them narration.
Pros: This is an answer that solves the immediate problem – somewhat. It can provide a vehicle for background events that keep the campaign background dynamic instead of static, can provide a vehicle for character development.
Cons:The flexibility evades most of the problems listed under the default “Safe Haven”, but at a price: Plausibility is negatively impacted.
Another more widely employed “structure” is the SIDETREK. The DM develops sub plots, quests, commitments, red herrings, and obstacles congruent with the “big picture”. While all of these exist in the DM’s arsenal for campaign development, the part I want to focus on is how they are employed with the Spirit, Ghost, & Blink Dog.
Such Sidetrek’s around Spirits / Ghosts / Blink Dogs could include:
A summoning spell gone awry has teleported missing PC away, and the party must figure out where.
The PC has been “falsely (or not)” accused and arrested of some crime and the party must determine the true nature of the crime to prove their innocence and obtain their release.
The missing PC has been kidnapped and held for ransom.
Perhaps the local guild or clergy has “recruited” her as leverage to motivate the PCs to do some task that when complete will restore the missing PC to the party.
The “Dark Bayne Curse” has rendered the missing PC with a malady immobilizing him and requires the party to seek aid or solution.
The “Connected Dream” all present members have a “quest or task to overcome” that simply takes place while they dream. Could have no connection to the tasks at hand or could be campaign driven “insight”. The task may or may not be complete dependent on how long the missing PCs are unavailable. No need to complete as they simply awoke.
While Campaign architecture is not the only element to combat these foes, the DM can imbue other Creatures against spirits, ghosts, and blink dogs by “summoning his own monsters”.
Some could include:
The Zombie- The DM runs the missing player’s character as an NPC when they aren’t there. For this to be a reasonable approach, the player must have sufficiently developed the personality of the character that the DM can reasonably justify his decisions concerning the character’s behavior. Guidelines provided by PC as to thoughts and motivations would certainly be helpful.
Pros:It solves the problem completely, and dodges most of the pitfalls that the earlier solutions are prey to. The DM normally accepts responsibility for the long-term satisfaction of the players and well-being of their characters anyway, and always has to keep in mind what an NPC does and doesn’t know, so this is in perfect keeping with his normal purview. If it doesn’t happen regularly.
Cons: Three times the work for the DM and every other aspect of the campaign can suffer as a result, especially with inexperienced DMs. Some players have difficulty accepting the decisions made in their absence.
The Borg- A less-commonly espoused solution that works hand-in-hand with a heavily-episodic style is what I describe as “The PC Collective”. This is in which all the characters – and several more – are in a pool of talent owned collectively by the party of players. Each time that the game reaches an exchange point, any player can choose to send the character that he has been playing back to the pool and draw out a different member of the pool; adventures become operations by teams of specialists, hand-picked by the players in order to achieve their immediate goals.
Pros: broad character choices, not dependent on any one player to be present.
Cons: Players get attached to certain PCs. Separating player knowledge from character knowledge – something some players are good at, and some are not.
The Fahr- The DM can evoke “early retirement”, the missing PC departed in the night to return home. Or was summoned by the powers and transformed thus making this an opportunity for “new” NPC / “shadow PC” known as “The Fahr” (come out of retirement aka Brett Fahr).
The “Fahr” comes and goes similar to an avatar but without divine power. It can be helpful when present, but is sometimes unreliable (such as during contract negotiations). No One knows the exact length of “the Fahr”’s stay. It is simply best to make do with the time you have.
Pros: Like the Zombie, It solves the problem completely, and dodges most of the pitfalls that the earlier solutions are prey to.
Cons: Three times the work for the DM and every other aspect of the campaign can suffer as a result, especially with inexperienced DMs. At some point the Fahr levels may not coincide with those of the PC, and nature’s natural order may then ultimately solve the problem.
Interweave Episodic mini-adventures alongside a Primary Campaign with stronger continuity.
- Each player should generate a Primary and a Secondary character. In an existing campaign, the existing characters can be considered the Primaries.
- The DM builds SAFEHAVENS, BACKPLOTS,& SIDETREK into the primary campaign where PCs can come and go, as described previously.
- At each exchange point, if the players whose characters are currently engaged in the primary campaign are not present, the players who are in attendance get out their secondary characters and the DM runs a BACKPLOT / SIDETREK miniadventure for them.
- If there are any primary characters who aren’t currently tied up in the main adventure because they departed at the last exchange point, they can participate in the side adventure, but if they do so, they can’t rejoin the main adventure until the next exchange point is reached. Thus preserving the calendar time line as well.
- The down side is two fold. The Time line becomes tedious to maintain and progress in the main campaign slows because screen time is being split, and the side campaign can become more important than the story that’s supposed to occupy centre stage.
Whatever the approach that you adopt, be sure that your players all know about it and what it entails. If they don’t accept the solution, it won’t work. Be very careful not to single anyone out as being “to blame” when you discuss the challenge of the problem.
This is a way to have your campaign cake and eat it, too.
It is my hope that these thoughts and meanderings help you to combat these denizens we all face.
With Dark Wishes to the forces that oppose……
The Dark Lord Galen