When Everyone Can’t Make It To Game Night

Don’t cancel your RPG game. Look to these options for saving game night

There’s not a gaming group in the world that has managed perfect attendance. A bold statement, sure.

Prove me wrong. I welcome it.

Moving on… player absences happen. Life gets in the way with illness, work, unforeseen scheduling conflicts, alien abduction, etc. Usually, if it’s only one or two players, a campaign can continue without too much hassle. Beyond that, however, player absences can potentially ruin game night.

What can you do?

Don’t send the faithful players who bothered to show up home. Game night can be saved with these suggestions…

Double-Up the Character Sheets

This suggestion requires trust among the players — especially the absent ones. Ask the missing players if they will allow their characters to be controlled by another player for the night. Players and/or the GM can feel free to set some limitations such as:

  • Only controlling the player during combat — otherwise just assuming the character is present, but silent or acting passively.
  • Only spending in-game money on absolute and immediate necessities for the game.
  • Not playing the character against established typical behavior.
  • No self-sacrificing or, at least, no absurd heroics.
  • Don’t be a dick.

In exchange, the GM can award players who are present and taking on an additional character with extra experience points or other rewards that might have gone to the absent player. Mind you, I wouldn’t leave the absent players totally high and dry. They are still risking their characters. My recommendation is to give them half the rewards for defeated enemies or other cooperative-effort challenges and give the other half to the present players.

One-Shots with New Characters

I can’t think of a single player who, despite loving their current character, doesn’t have a character concept waiting in the wings.

A good GM should have one or two one-shots among their notes — ones suitable for a small, low-level party. If such is the case, maybe take a break from the current campaign and allow the present players to roll up new characters to take for a spin.

As a bonus, any experience points and treasure (magical or not) can be retained by that player character for their entry into a later campaign should the opportunity present itself. (This is also a good way to have a backup character ready to rock should the main campaign character meet a sudden and messy end.)

It Was All a Dream…Or Was It?

This is an alternate take on the One-Shot example mentioned above should your players either not have the time or inclination to roll up new characters.

Many times when a gaming session comes to a close, the party finds itself in a camping or lodging situation where they can get some rest, sleep, or similar recovery time. If you’re finding yourself too short of players on the next game night, it’s okay to let them sleep — for the most part.

Perhaps, however, certain members of the party are visited by a “supernatural being” in their sleep or resting-state who gathers them together into another setting for an important task or mission. Now you can pull out that one-shot you’ve had on hand to run the players through without having to roll up any new player characters.

But what about treasure? What about injury or death?

For the latter, the player characters could wake up with some psychic damage. More likely, they can heal up before waking up. Death is another story, however. That should be as real a risk as it would be for any other game. When everyone else wakes up and finds poor Boris didn’t make it through the night, the GM can either play it all weird and horror-story by describing the very real wounds that have appeared on Boris’s corpse… or the GM could just present it as a mystery and treat the cause of death as a puzzle to solve. In either case, it’s time for Boris’s player to roll up a new character.

As for the question of treasure, the “supernatural being” could leave behind a very real bag of gold or other loot through some means of magic. Or the GM could tell the player about the strange feeling they have upon waking to investigate behind that curtain, or under the rug, or hidden behind a wall. They search and find treasure that parallels what they might have gained in the dream adventure.

It’s a fun way to get a new sword.

Regarding experience points and leveling up… the details are up to the GM. Experience points should be accrued, of course. Fair is fair. Gaining a level may have to wait until there is an opportunity for “real world” downtime in a town or city, or wherever the GM has leveling up opportunities available.

Game Night Is Saved!

When half the party is MIA, it doesn’t have to mean canceling game night. You could even pull off some of these suggestions with just one player present. Be flexible.

Have fun! Your missing players will hear about it, and I wager they will not be missing game night nearly as often in the future.


Writer specializing in tech, business, parenting, pop culture, and gaming. Visit wordsbyjohn.net for more info and rates. Twitter: @WordsByJohn2

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