The Inquisitor has been on vacation for the last few weeks, and instead of leaving your hearts and minds barren, I thought I’d pop in and toss some food for thought your way. How do you deal with your players and GMs when they go on vacation?
It’s a fact of life. People go away or need a hiatus every once and a while, and we’re faced with that difficult question: do we press on without them? And if we do, what does that mean for your story?
As far as I have gathered in my years of gaming, there are a couple of ways to approach this problem, depending on what you care about most:
We Care About the Story
If you care about the verisimilitude of the story, you have a tough road ahead of you. The simplest solution is probably to not play at all, but what should we do if we do decide to press onward? Characters that are absent are almost always going to have to be NPC’d or played by another character, which isn’t necessarily a nightmare scenario, but you do lose the actual behavior and mannerisms of a the original player’s intent. I’ve seen this scenario go bad numerous times, where the vacationing player returns and surveys the scene, only to remark, “Hey! That’s not what Sir Boddrick would have done!”
Of course it isn’t. We play complex characters with complex motivations, sometimes secret to each other, sometimes simply not yet revealed. It’s just a tall order to ask a fellow player or the GM to play your dude or dudette while you’re gone.
So we often end up resorting to the other option: the plot device.
You’re familiar with this. Zebulon the Haberdasher is kidnapped (for two sessions) by the evil Count Dragomir and the team has to save him, or somesuch. We invent a potentially random and often side-focused plot to account for the character’s absence. Sometimes we can be particularly deft, and we can work it into the overall plot if the story is designed as such, but I think most of us probably design stories with the hope that all characters involved will be present for most of the sessions. This choice is tricky, but probably the neatest if you want to maintain the narrative flow of your game.
We Don’t Care About the Story so Much
In one of my games back in the day, we had a character who ran a frozen yogurt stand as his non-adventuring profession. Whenever he missed a session, or whenever another character from the party was missing, we always said they were “minding the frozen yogurt stand”. Over the years that has morphed into the shorthand “Out for Fro-Yo” or “Fro-Yo-ing”. It’s universally understood in my playgroup that the character is still “there” but also “not there.”
For all purposes during the session, the character is not present, but for all historical purposes, they are treated as though they were present. They can’t actually say anything to the Duke (because the player is absent) but they return with full knowledge of the meeting and the Duke remembers that character being present.
Is it a fudge? Ab-so-lutely. But it’s neat, and it’s a hand-wave that we use to make a rather frequent occurrence (we are all adults with relationships, jobs, and families, after all) less of a headache.
This isn’t, and wasn’t meant to be groundbreaking stuff. How do you handle players missing a session or two? How do you recap your players when they inevitably get back? Or do you end up just skipping the session and rescheduling when everyone’s in town or more available?
Photo Credit: Flickr user Kenzoka. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
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