How do you explain PC absences when a player has to miss a session?


I've seen a lot of ways to handle this mess. The in-universe justification (a sudden stomach bug). The handwave (he's just over there, not participating). The cancelled session.

How does your group handle it? Do you employ a mix of strategies, or do you tend to favor some particular option?

Comic for illustrative purposes.

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Group size

If it brings it down to a group of 1 or 2 and what I had planned really needs more than that then we swap to a one-shot or an out of order side quest.

Mid quest

Then someone might pilot them for combats only, I will RP them in case they have a skill or something that the party could benefit from them.

In town

They stay in the tavern and if the party has to leave for a quest then they will have to "catch up". Ride in on horse the next time they arrive.

It really does come down to circumstances

The group I play with has employed a mix of tactics for this... general rule of thumb though has been unless more than 2 players are absent, the session will continue as planned... exception of course being made for if the absentee is vital to the current point in the story, then session is delayed until they can return.

When we do co tonite without them however... it is primarily handwaved as “they are there, just quiet” but depending on the character in question different scenarios to explain their absence may be devised... often rather cliche scenarios though... the cleric volunteering at the local church, the rogue “doing rogue things”, the Druid communing with nature, or the Bard doing who knows what...

On rare occasion the DM will attempt to RP the absent character but this is a very rare occurrence at our table as our DMs prefer not to guess at what your character might do in any given circumstance... if you give them some specific directions for how their character might act for the upcoming session they might be more willing... though even then it is still very rare...

The Exchange

This might help you with an in game explanation on why a PC would suddenly be "unavailable" for a duration of adventure... The advantage of this one is it even works to pull a PC right out of the middle of a fight...

The PC has "Family Obligations", and has one or more Friends/Family/Employer/Religious Organization/Government Agency who has priority on them. At some future time, the PC may be "Called" using a

Bracelet of Friends:

Aura strong conjuration; CL 15th

Slot wrists; Price 19,000 gp; Weight —


This silver charm bracelet has four charms upon it when created. The owner may designate one person known to him to be keyed to each charm. (This designation takes a standard action, but once done it lasts forever or until changed.) When a charm is grasped and the name of the keyed individual is spoken, that person is called to the spot (a standard action) along with his gear, as long as the owner and the called person are on the same plane. The keyed individual knows who is calling, and the bracelet of friends only functions on willing travelers. Once a charm is activated, it disappears. Charms separated from the bracelet are worthless. A bracelet found with fewer than four charms is worth 25% less for each missing charm

and is not available until the Family Crisis/Government Intervention/Religious Obligation is completed.

Judge:"Dude - it's your Mom calling. You gotta go..."
PC: "Sorry guys! I'll be back as soon as I can! Meantime, don't forget to..."pop!

We have fun with it. They can be hiding in someone’s pocket, cowering in the corner, or even doing unspeakable sexual actions with the party’s horses.

Whoa! Hackey KSAC, I've never gotten THAT fun with it, but our group follows the same idea. One thing we did was for a habitual last minute canceller we had his PC run as an NPC that said "yes" to any request the PCs asked of him, short of giving up his possessions or knowingly destroying himself. His PC had Profession: Chef and always carried spices and a portable cauldron so...

1. The party had him make a delicious bass to get them out of an encounter with some trolls

2. He was tasked with using all of his spells to enhance a stew for an entire game session (no XP for the character that session, player came back to no spells avail for the first few encounters of the following session)

3. The PC filled his Handy Haversack with every monster the PCs considered "edible"

Along with these, with the exception of the time he wasted all his spells this PC was directed on several occasions to fight how the other PCs wanted him to. This PC generally hoarded all his spells (Oracle) only using them on himself or his Animal Companion but during his absences the party was ALWAYS buffed.

The player has since left our gaming group.

If a player can't make it then their character(s) get played by another player as a player controlled NPC. The GM steps in if necessary if the character is played out of character (doesn't happen in practice).

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Scar of Destiny is an in/metagame artifact that basically goes, "They were never there," until they come back next session and it goes, "They were never gone."

It's the biggest hand waive you can do, but it's worked for us.

If the player entrusts his character sheet to someone, then they get played. If the player didn't, then the character is following the party, but mysteriously not interacting unless we need an item we all know he has.

We favor not leaving a game in a situation where we can't pick up without a missing PC. This is easy in West Marches or other "session = self-contained unit" games, but some other campaigns require planning for this. (Especially Adventure Paths--Strange Aeons would be particularly difficult around Book 4 and on.)

If a situation occurs where we must adjourn a game at a critical point with no reasonable means of explaining away a PC, we either have someone else play that PC (if everybody consents, including the absent player) or we simply don't return to the table until everyone is available.

The excuse always depends on what is going on at the moment. Our current game is the World's Largest Dungeon, and since there are certain restrictions, I have had to get quite creative for missing PCs. I roll with a group of 8 knowing that we are lucky to have more than 4 at the table in any given week. Everyone knows it is a hand wave cause the player is gone, but it is fun coming up with new and inventive ways for "wandering off". If we have less than 4 we cancel the session, cause it gets hard (they struggle with a good mix of six).

In other games, when players change from week to week, a supporting organization "requests" their appearance by swapping out the missing this week PC for the now attending PC with magic. Works for any situation if you need it. Almost everything detail wise flows with the PC's profession and background. In any case, I rarely allow missing player's PCs to function in their absence. When I do, it is usually because someone had to leave early and we were in the middle of something, especially if their skill set is needed.

We have a second game run by one of the players for the weeks where not everyone can make it. The second game is using some fun whacky rules (elephant in the room feat tax rules as well as some others), and is very episodic, usually ending the session with everyone back in town.

This week however I likely won't make it to the game - I'm sick =( - but it's been a while since we played the main game, so everyone wants to play it anyway. The plan is for me to skype in, but if I'm not up to it then my character will be guarding a prisoner that we captured at the end of the last session. This isn't something we could always do, but it works well in the current circumstances.

For my group it depends on the player as well as where we left off last session. Lately we've been wrapping the character in bubble wrap to protect them.

I have 5 people plus myself. My general rule on that is if 1 person is gone, then we still play, but if 2+ are gone, we cancel, and then anyone who still wants to show up can, and we play The Strange, HeroQuest, or some other game.

So if we only have 1 person gone, then they're off at the market or otherwise having some in-character free time from the group and doing downtime stuff, whatever is appropriate for their character's aspirations/goals. One PC is making his own cult-like religion, two PCs are twin sister Witch characters and they're managing their Coven and otherwise plotting world domination, etc.

What PC absence?

As for minimum number of players in attendance, this varies depending on the game. Usually one missing player is acceptable, but sometimes it's nice for everyone to be present, usually for important IC decisions.

"Huh, you thought that you were the only Party that <x> works with? Got fingers in a lot of pies, that one." All of my P.C.s have "Secondary Parties" that they may have been called out to help (or wrangle). My main one is a crotchety healer that I play out in-game as helping(?) N.P.C.s at the end of the day whilst others wind down in inns, which has kind of set the tone now for missing Characters to have gotten stuck dealing with other business "off screen".

If it is unexpectedly down to only a couple of P.C.s left, then I go with a Secondary Party side-story, which enables character development outside of the more Combat/work-focused main game. Heck, if it was enjoyable but unfinished in a session, the Secondary Party N.P.C.s are jaegered by everyone, which is a nice way of letting Players in on things without their P.C.s ever knowing. Sometimes this stops curious Players having their P.C.s uncharacteristically poking around trying to find out everything about a Character in-game. Sometimes.

Most of the time its not awknowledged. They're backgroudn NPCs for a bit.
in combat either 'not there' or botted depending on the person

We used to make up stories for one was missing, cancelled or rescheduled whole sessions.

Now? Pfft, we just play on. It doesn't matter that much. It's just still a game. We just get together and roll.

Back in second edition, a group I played with had a disease called "blue funk" which caused adventurers to become insubstantial blue shapes that followed the party around. Eventually it was discovered that items could be tossed into the mist and they would be incorporated into it. Eventually that stopped working, as everything was being tossed into the mist for later.
When running my own campaigns, I usually try to end games on notes of being done with at least the current combat, so that if one of the players can't make it to the next game, the character won't be a disappear in the middle of combat. I've run n.W.o.D. games where characters ended up getting stuck with "the Living Web" as an email virus, that caused them to spend inordinate amounts of time researching the stupidest of information on Wikipedia. In D20 systems, I've used the "blue funk" sickness in on campaign, I've also had characters thrown in jail, get teleported out to find a cat stuck in a treant (thanks Milo), or something loosely based off the real life reason why they are not able to show.
If more than half of the group can't make it, I generally try to run the others through something else, to give them a benefit for showing up or cancel. Especially if I am driving an hour to get there.

I've used "Drop Ghouls" a couple of times. If a player is missing halfway through a dungeon, a bunch of ghouls (or similar) will land on the party and unerringly paralyse or otherwise incapacitate the offending PC. Then he miraculously recovers as soon as the player turns up.

Otherwise, the player might hand the PC over to the GM or another player (with instructions), or the PC is absent as appropriate.

Rauðúlfur wrote:

Back in second edition, a group I played with had a disease called "blue funk" which caused adventurers to become insubstantial blue shapes that followed the party around. Eventually it was discovered that items could be tossed into the mist and they would be incorporated into it. Eventually that stopped working, as everything was being tossed into the mist for later.

That's the problem right there. You try to invent an excuse as an in-universe justification. But you didn't want an in-universe justification. You just wanted a plot device to explain away the problem. It winds up feeling unnatural no matter which way you play it. :/

I guess you could opt for a "west marches" style, where it's always assumed that the current expedition ends at the end of each session and the party tromps back to town.

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