No, I’m not Ron. No, we’re not switching days, at least not when I’m ready and prepared on Sunday night. Being able to switch blog days is one of the marriage perks. If you’re looking for Ron (and really, who wouldn’t be?) you missed him. Go back to Monday. And if you weren’t looking for me, why the heck not?
It is an issue every gaming group has had to address. Regardless of dedication, sooner or later even the most hardcore player is bound to decide he’d rather go zip-lining through the jungles of South America then make Friday’s session. Or maybe her Mom is visiting from Tucson and missing the weekly game night is a necessary sacrifice. Life happens, and regardless of what fills it, everybody has one. So what do you do when life gets in the way of gaming?
When I decided I wanted to tackle one of the greatest questions in roleplaying in this week’s blog post, I thought it would be an open and shut case. Personally, I’m a story purest. A good RPG adventure, though presented by the GM, is actually written by the players. Each character, and by extension each player, is a vital part of the plot. Since I don’t believe handing a well crafted, intricately designed, character off to another player could ever do a story justice, the story cannot truly be told without all players present. Easy-peesy. Right?
Apparently not. When I ran my topic by Ron he immediately started throwing wrenches at it, in true Ron fashion. As usual, he had some pretty decent points. We play these games for fun. So why should 4 (or so) other people all stop having fun because one person decided the gall bladder just HAD to go? Shouldn’t the player in question have the right to say whether or not he wants the game to stop and wait while he helps his father through emergency surgery? What if there is a story-related reason why that character is missing? Is it OK then? I’ve been in games where players knew they would be missing sessions and created characters with background related reasons for occasionally dropping off the map. Heck, Ron and I even created two characters that shared a single physical presence in space and time so we’d have an excuse to switch off being the player. What makes that situation different?
I started thinking back to previous groups I’ve been involved with and how we handled the issue. The majority simply took the week off when someone was not available. Players who expected frequent absences would often drop out entirely; straightforward, but in hindsight decidedly lacking in creativity. I played in a few groups who had pre-designated alternate games to play when someone wasn’t going to be around. One group held a board game night. One group ran one-shot story games on off nights (like InSpectres, Primetime Adventures, or Fiasco). At one point, Ron and I actually started a Spirit of the Century game in which we had every single one of our roleplaying friends make characters (now THAT was a character making session, lemme just tell ya!). On nights when someone wasn’t available to play in our usual game, or if we were ever just bored, we could drag out our Centurions and run a one shot.
At the end of the day, I think the answer lies in social contracts. My friend Jess Hartley brought this up at a Game Master’s Conference once and she was dead on correct. The social health and prosperity of a group hinges heavily on a series of previously agreed upon items. One of these is whether or not continuing the game sans a player or two is acceptable. If the group agrees to soldier on regardless of player availability then the decision has been made. Not addressing the topic, however, and making such decisions on the fly can lead to hurt feelings. I’ve seen this end groups and that is rarely a good thing.
So I put this issue out on the blog or forum (see Justin, I DO know the forums exist!) table. What does your group do when there is a player missing?