Missing Players: an idea

Homebrew and House Rules

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Rulebook Subscriber

One problem that sometimes comes up for my home game is how to handle missing players. Does their character just disappear for the session or do they get run as an npc and risk death when they aren’t there?

One of my home game groups heavily insists that they want the character there to be played by a different player. It can be disruptive and take extra time as they try to scrutinize the notes and abilities of the missing character and there is always the risk they will get killed when they aren’t even there.

My idea: what if I had the character be run as a minion? Each round one of the players could give them a command by taking an action to give the NPC two actions.

This way they could access healing or buffs without just running them as an extra character in most cases.

As a GM I would generally ask them to be careful not to put them at excessive risk but that hasn’t been a problem with my group. I might even just have them be knocked out if they go to zero HP.

What do you think? Terrible idea, or something worth trying?

Not looking for arguments for why they should just disappear. It is my preference but the group insists we handle it this way for reasons.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Rulebook Subscriber

Thinking on this further I see no reason not to allow them their full 3 actions. My hope is that it means they are there to disable a trap or channel to heal if needed but mostly aren’t a factor unless they are really needed.

If the character is there but less effective it's basically a punishment. The character has a greater chance of dying by not being run by someone familiar with all the abilities, and if you literally reduce their actions they're effectively 2/3 as powerful. Which means the rest of the party is more apt to die, if you throw challenges at them as though they we're still at full power.

The second thought is that not being able to play is its own punishment. Barring someone who chronically never shows up, life gets in the way. As an adult who has things going on, sometimes despite what I would prefer to do, I can't make it to gaming.

Recently I decided to give up 1 of my biweekly games to focus more on other areas of my life. While I love playing, it's something I needed to do. In the same way, sometime I need to miss a session of gameplay.

In our home game, we run them as sudo minions. By that I mean we never take them into combat, but if their character would normally perform a vital skill, like the rogue disabling a trap we have them do that. We don't have them in combat because we don't want bad choices, or luck to kill them off. On the other hand not having them there to fill in the skill gap can be horrible too.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Rulebook Subscriber

Sucks this got moved to Homebrew. I probably should have posted it in Advice really.

Hitchhiker: that’s why I am thinking of allowing them to be activated in combat by taking an action might help (and having them always go straight to unconscious when they drop). I imagine most of the time players would choose to use their own action but once in a while they can get help if they need it.

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

In situations where I can't story the character out for the session, when GMing I run them in combat like the player normally would, but don't allow them contribute out of combat unless someone else in the party is unable to perform a task.

Currently, I am running a game where missing players are just background crew on the ship. In another game, the character is off on cult business and I let the player RP something out via DMs. Only my 3rd game has them played by me.

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber

In our group, this happens a lot. But we never "take along" the missing PC, we always assign them behind-the-scenes activities, like repairing the ship while we venture inland, gathering information in town while we explore the secret temple, that sort of thing.

You mustn't kill a player's character while he isn't even present. That would be the equivalent of the DM saying "rocks fall, everybody dies."

My group more or less does the same thing as Wheldrake's. If you don't show up, your character is off doing something else. We usually use it as a story hook when the come back.

More relevant to the OP question might be what we do with the GM's character.
We have rotating GM duties.

When you GM, you choose what your character is doing. They can be of somewhere else, or tgey can be present.

If they are present, they never participate in combat directly. They can help with exploration tasks (usually without making rolls even). And when encounters start they often draw off some of the enemies while the rest of there party gets to fight as normal.

One thing we like to do is roll initiative for tge absent character and on their turn describe what they are doing in the background of the combat. We use that as an opportunity for comedy, drama, or story hooks.

Anyway, for us the most important thing is that a character never dies if the player isn't around.

Oh, one last thing that I have done is having a one-shot on the side for any players that miss out. That actually worked out pretty well because it gave the group some more opportunity to role play as the players recounted what happened to each other when they were separated.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Rulebook Subscriber

I agree with all of your positions on this but I have a couple of uncompromising old school gamers in my group who are very vocal on keeping all characters present even when the player is away.

I hate running the extra NPC. My players mostly hate running the extra character.

In that context, what are the pitfalls of what I propose?

- take an action to give the npc 3 actions once per round
- character is immune to death and dying and go straight to unconscious when brought to zero.

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
The ShadowShackleton wrote:
I hate running the extra NPC. My players mostly hate running the extra character.

It seems silly to keep doing something if everyone involved hates it. This is a hobby, not a job.

Perhaps your uncompromising old school gamers can compromise. You are the one doing all the work. Old school gamers especially should be appreciative of this. If they are not, this is either ignorance at best, or arrogance / entitlement / insensitivity at worst. I can understand new people not yet understanding how much work it is to Step Up and DM, but not older gamers. I'd go so far as to say they should actually be asking you "How can I help you run this game?" and volunteer to assist you in Holding Down the table.

(rant over)

As the DM of our group, this is what we do. If the player isn't there, the character isn't there. Period. Next session, we do one of three things (in descending order of "Compromising the Narrative"):

1) They suddenly appear on the scene in an in-world explicable and plausible way.
2) They suddenly appear on the scene in an in-world explicable but implausible way.
3) They suddenly appear on the scene in an in-world inexplicable way. We hand-waive the the "how" because Narrative Consistency is second priority to Table Fun.

This is a Zero Stress activity. In fact, we actually consider it a Fun Little Challenge to figure out exactly how this happens in the least Narrative Consistency Breaking way as possible. If not, we simply roll with the punches. Everyone coordinating their schedule for Precious Hours of Gaming is Honored and Respected in our group, and Fun > Everything Else.


One of the worst risks you can take is having to explain to someone who couldn't make it that "Sorry but [character] died while you were away" UNLESS everyone at the table is cool with taking this risk BEFORE it could happen. Which, I am hoping your old school gamer table-mates are willing to ride with if their Narrative Consistency Needs are so friggin' high.

The ShadowShackleton wrote:

In that context, what are the pitfalls of what I propose?

- take an action to give the npc 3 actions once per round

It's much more effective to use your third action to give a PC ally three actions than to make a third attack or whatever, so anyone who wants to win battles will be doing this most of the time. This means that whoever agrees to have the character as a minion will basically (a) Have to run an extra character (which you say they don't want to), and (b) Will lose one-third of their own PC's combat actions.

Possible pitfall 1: no-one is willing to do that.

Possible pitfall 2: someone reluctantly agrees to take on a minion PC then refuses to give up their own actions; as a result the minion PCs just stand there uselessly, a tough battle becomes deadly, all the PCs of players who turned up die, and all the other PCs are unconscious.

The ShadowShackleton wrote:

I have a couple of uncompromising old school gamers in my group who are very vocal on keeping all characters present even when the player is away.

My players mostly hate running the extra character.

The players who insist on keeping all characters present should have to run the extra characters, even if they hate doing so. If they're unable or unwilling, then no-one runs them ("Oh no, he has been struck down by a mysterious curse and gone into a trance!") and you quietly reduce the threat level of encounters.

I wholey agree.
If your old-schoolers are going to be that obstinate, then they should suffer to taking on the task.

There is a point at which comprimise is no longer viable and you have to do one thing or the other and move on.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Rulebook Subscriber

Thanks to everyone who has posted. I was not looking for advice on how to handle my players. It is more complex than I have described and I am trying to accommodate people’s preferences in a more limited way. If I can’t do that smoothly in a way that improves things I will of course just remove the extra character when people aren’t present.

My goal was to see if there is a way to compromise and give them what they think they want without the disadvantages of having to make them run an extra character all of the time in combat.

Mostly what they find upsetting is the issue generated by a character missing who has a key skill or ability that they need at that moment, such as facing a lock they can’t open when the rogue is off on holidays, or missing the cleric when they all are diseased.

Let me rephrase the question:

If you HAD NO CHOICE but to keep a character in the party as an NPC, would you do as I have proposed and make them run like a minion and why?

If this results in players only using that npc when they really NEED to, I would consider that a win.

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I'll bite.
The party cultivates a stable of NPCs like a Rogue or a Cleric - kind of like how PFS uses Iconics - and run that character instead.


But no choice is no choice right?
Ok, better idea:

Have each of your players create a new section on their character sheet called "Tactical Auto-pilot" wherein they describe any general considerations to running the character in their absence. Such as "Always searches for traps during exploration mode" or "Prepares X more daily healing spells" or "Avoids frontline and shoots bow during encounter mode" or whatnot. It can be as minimal or extensive as the player likes. I'll totally take "Play them as they usually act".

Everyone must do this.

Then, when that player is absent, the table collectively runs that character according to their Tactical Auto-pilot. This involves, at the least, two people. One to lead the discussion on "What does Kate do?" and another to roll the dice and report results. As for giving Kate the Minion trait, simply let the table vote on that, and you break the tie if you have to.


Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Rulebook Subscriber

Thanks Rainzax. That’s very helpful advice and if we go this route I think it would make things smoother.

As for the minion trait, an option would be that I will run it according to the tactical plans but if they want to change that plan they need to take an action to do so.

Sovereign Court

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Rulebook Subscriber

And I was not poo-pooing all the folks who are rightly saying it is a ridiculous demand. Sometimes players are irrationally stuck with an idea of how the game should work so looking for options to ease them out of it.

In this case the player who most insists on this is the host, so there is extra motivation to try to find some middle ground!

For one campaign, I had NPCs that met the group and later became 'addable'for adventures, much like KOTOR and Mass Effect where you built the group you wanted.

Some NPCs were chosen for utility, others for personality too. Having them along did affect experience given out as well.

I long ago gave up trying to make story reasons for why PCs weren't there, or worrying about how they 'caught up'to the group. Just play. We're all in our 40s with families. Trying to shoehorn the story angle in isn't worth it.

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