Hey everyone! I have a fairly system agnostic GM question for y’all.

Hey everyone! I have a fairly system agnostic GM question for y’all.

Hey everyone! I have a fairly system agnostic GM question for y’all.

When a player can’t make it to a game night, how does it effect the progression of your story arcs? A guy in our group is often busy with work and personal life, and tends to miss about 1/3rd of our game sessions. Up til now I’ve been pushing through regardless of whether he shows up, but as the campaign goes on I feel the urge to hold back on major story beats, or try and suggest that the crew take on “side missions” to save the big main event scores for when everyone is at the table.

Is this a common approach? How do you deal with absences at your table?

10 thoughts on “Hey everyone! I have a fairly system agnostic GM question for y’all.”

  1. In my experience it depends heavily on the game system, the particular setup of the PCs, and the play style of the group. In most of our games at home, a player being out usually means the game is postponed.

    That being said, Blades as a system lends itself very well to working around this, with its focus on the Crew as a whole in addition to individual PCs. It’s easy to just say, “well Three Finger Joe is just off doing something else for the boss tonight. We’ll do the job without him.”

  2. This is mostly a discussion to have with your players, but that’s not to say folks here can’t help you frame that discussion.

    The thing I would stress is: be realistic. Does your group need to hold back on important story moments until that player is around for everyone to enjoy themselves?

    I tend to run games in a pretty loose way. Characters drop in and out and often not by dying, plot arcs rise and fall out of central focus, and so forth. I can’t keep Big Plot Stuff out of a session because it’s the session itself that decides what Big Plot Stuff means to me. In my games, the main plot is as the main plot does; whatever the main plot is in my head and my prep? That sometimes barely even turns up as a side-plot during play! For me, then, holding back on the big stuff only makes sense if we have very specific unfinished business or were specifically planning to address something related to a character.

    I think a useful framing is less “do I need to save this stuff for player X” and more “do we need to save player X for this stuff.” Does the stuff you want to do with the other players and with the story as a whole need that player and their character? Ok, so then don’t do that this session. Not would they like to be there or would they be sorry they missed it or how “main plot” is this plot beat. Even the main plot can focus in on a sub-section of the cast sometimes. It has to in larger games–when you run a game with 5+ players, it doesn’t matter if they all show, they aren’t all going to be absolutely essential to all of the plot-scale happenings no matter how essential they are to their specific scenes!

  3. Thanks for the input!

    Unfortunately, delaying games if someone can’t make it isn’t possible for this group because a couple of the players, including myself, have very busy lives and we’d rather not wait 4-6 weeks between sessions. We’ve all agreed to a two week schedule, and we only postpone games if 2 or more players can’t make it.

    And to be clear, I’m not suggesting that the group not get themselves into trouble when they’re short a player. Just to avoid carrying out some of the bigger scores that they have talked about as a group so no one misses out.

    I think my solution for tonight’s game will be to feed them some threads for scores that will make their bigger goals clearer or easier to achieve. Something they’ve been neglecting is the claims grid on their crew sheet, so that’s probably a good starting point.

  4. This isn’t advice but I wanted to say that Invisible Sun (a FANTASTIC game of surreal fantasy by Monte Cook Games) has player absence (or leaving in the middle of a session) explained in-game and it’s pretty cool! For those unfamiliar with Invisible Sun, the world we live in…here on Earth in 2018…is a Lie…it’s a Shadow of the Truth of existence known as the Actuality. Your characters have recently escaped from Shadow but…at any time…even in the middle of an action…can fall back into the Lie!

    Imagine a PC’s picking the lock to a door the group can go through to escape a swarm of roachgoblins (a thing in the setting). The others are desperately fending off the disgusting creatures when all of the sudden one of those fighting asks, “How’s it going back there…aww, shit…”. I dunno, I just love that mechanic.

  5. Ben Liepis I remember Cook hyping this concept and I was extremely unimpressed. Cook’s innovative solution for players not being there is … just hand-waving them not being there. Anyone can do this in any system. It’s not a feature of Invisible Sun. You have to work a little harder to come up with the fictional reasoning in most games, but that’s down to them not being set in a sort of inter-dimensional dreamscape not down to the mechanics.

  6. Yeah, that’s a very setting specific solution. A couple years ago I was running a Doom inspired D&D campaign for a fluctuating group of 8-10 players, and it was pretty easy to come up with fun and interesting explanations for so-and-so’s mysterious absence from last session’s jaunt through Hell. But when you have a super tight group of 4 criminals struggling for power over the streets of Duskwall, there’s only so many times you can chalk it up to their vice, or messing with some arcane experiment (the player in question play a Whisper), or being questioned by Bluecoats, without having to get overly creative and accidentally imposing too much.

    But that wasn’t really my question lol. The problem of having to explain narratively why a character is absent is a whole other can of worms! With the dynamic of my current group and in consideration of the player agency encouraged in BitD, the reasoning behind a character’s absence in the fiction is something I discuss at the table during the next session with flashbacks. It actually works pretty well.

  7. If a session breaks in the middle of something important (mid-level action on a Score), and an involved Player checks out, then it’s resolved through a Luck roll based on standard luck factors next session.

    After that immediate situation the Player/PC is involved in is resolved, the PC just becomes a part of the “background”. Maybe they’re there, maybe not, but they could be. Possible fodder for fictional positioning, but not capable of making or contributing to any Actions/die rolls.

    If the session break happens not at a critical moment, then the PC just doesn’t go on the next Score or whatever. If it’s anticipated that they may come back next session/mid-Score, they can be backgrounded as described above for whatever portion the Player is absent.

    This system is designed, in many ways, for ease of drop-in/drop-out Players/PCs.

  8. Firndeloth Dinsule, you may not like it, which is perfectly, but I don’t feel it’s just hand-waving. A lot of the game isn’t super-inovative in pieces, it’s how it’s all put together. What’s a joy is Blades has given me so much inspiration for IS. I love when games do that.

    John Scott, yep, not advice. I just thought it was really cool. 😁

    As far as Blades goes, I’ve simply had an absence explained by them having other shit to do. The more impactful the absence, the more serious the fictional diversion. It’s actually made for some pretty awesome moments.

    A lot of the “Why?” will flow naturally from the fiction and I often had the absent PC do DTAs that reflected said “Why?”. At times the choice was made for them by way of overindulgence or being severely hurt.

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