Players aren’t the only ones who miss the occasional game session. Every once in a while the GM gets called into work at the last moment, or his wife (or the GM herself!) goes into labor early… there are numerous reasons why a GM might have to miss a particular session.
So with a missing GM, you’re going to have to cancel the game for tonight, right?
Not necessarily. Here’s a list of ideas for your group to try the next time your GM gets hit over the head with Real Life™:
- Run a “pick up” game. Designate someone else as GM for the night and choose another game system for a one-shot. You’ll want something with very quick character creation so you can actually get in some play time. Tales from the Floating Vagabond is a good game system for this.
- Have an alternate campaign. The GM for a D&D game I’m currently playing in has had more than his share of Real Life™ recently. Consequently, one of the other players has started up a dungeon crawl game we play when our regular game can’t meet. In some games, you can actually set up a situation where PCs can come and go, depending on who’s available to play any particular time. Everway can be good for this, as can any town or city adventure.
- Play a board game. Or computer game. Or whatever.
- Have a brain-storming session. Get as many of the PCs as available and sit down to discuss your current in-game situation and make plans for the future. My players tend to do this spontaneously… when we’re out to dinner, before/after a movie, at non-gaming parties…. They’ll do it even if I’m standing right there!.
- Have a movie night.
- Run a “It coulda happened…” session. My players did this once when I was called into work unexpectedly. They chose someone to be the GM and, based on what they knew of the game already, ran a session of my game without me. Everybody knew that the events of this session wouldn’t “count” — i.e. nothing that happened during this game session really occurred in game. The players loved it and I was insanely jealous that I didn’t get to play that session.
- Have a back-up GM. I took this page out of Ars Magica and its “troupe-style” play. That is, the every player is both GM and PC, with the GMing duties rotating around the group. Each person is responsible for their own section of the world or game. For example, each person is in charge of a different country and takes over as GM when the group enters “their” country. This option is one you really can’t do “spur of the moment” — the game has to be set up this way from the beginning. If the regularly scheduled GM can’t make it, another GM takes over for that session.
- Run a “day in the life of” session. Pick some very minor characters from the game, such as Bernie the Shopkeeper and his wife Ethyl, their two kids, a couple of their cousins, etc. Or the members of a local sports team, a group of masons, the employees of a business… you get the picture. Run a session that showcases their daily lives.
What does your group do when the GM can’t show? What new roleplaying twists have you experimented with and how did they turn out?
I’ve said it before — everyone has situations that come up where they have to miss a session or two, sometimes at the last minute. After all, real-life issues have to take precidence over game ones. But as a GM, what do you do when Liza the Ranger gets called into work at the last minute?
In my experience, I’ve found you’ve got several options:
- Have the GM run the character. This is the most commonly used solution I’ve seen. It’s generally fair, as long as the GM doesn’t take the opportunity to run the character they way he would like to see it run, rather than the way the player does. This option works better in games that are heavily action-oriented, rather than role-playing oriented.
- Have another player run the character. Use this only when the absent player agrees to it. I’ve seen too many sessions have to be “rerun” because the returning player doesn’t like the way her character was played in her absence. Sometimes the missing player will ask a specific player to play her character for her — this is generally a good solution.
- The character is absent too. This is the solution I choose whenever possible. All of my players are adults with multiple real-life demands. I try to set up my games so that the characters can “step out” for a session to attend to personal matters from time to time. If a PC needs to attend to something alone, I try to have the player do this on a day they can’t be at the game. Before the next game session, I try to touch base with the missing player so we can work out (at least briefly) what his character as doing during the absence. Sometimes, though, you just can’t take this option — like when your PCs are in the middle of a dungeon.
- The character is present, but “out of commission”. The character could be drugged, knocked unconscious, engaged in a psionic battle, trapped (mentally) in an alternate dimension…there’s a wide range of possibilities. Again, only use this one with the player’s permission. This can be a good alternative to number 3, above. I tend to take this option if a player starts missing games or showing up late on a regular basis, especially if they do it without giving a reason.
- Run a “what if” or “it’s all a dream” game session. This can be a lot of fun, if all the players present understand that what happens in this game session will not be part of the “official” game. My players have even done this when I couldn’t be there. Another player takes over the role of GM and runs my game for me, based on what they think is going on.
- Conduct a series of “one-on-ones”. Take each player who can make it aside for awhile and run a one-on-one session with them. The session could be something the PC’s been wanting to do for a while or could be a scene from the PC’s past. I’ll occasionally do this when I’ve got less than half my players, but people still want to play. Players not currently involved with me generally shoot the breeze with each other (frequently in character), play card or board games, etc.
- Take the opportunity to run a “one-shot”. I’ll frequently toss a convention scenario I’m working on or other such short adventure with pre-gen characters in my game bag and use that if I’ve got too many “no shows” but the rest of the players want to play something.
- Run a henchmen one-shot. Have everyone play one of their assistants, henchmen, ghouls, hired hands, bodyguards, etc. in a one-shot scenario.
It’s helpful to have a set policy about what to do with missing players’ characters. Do you run if one or more player is missing? How many players have to be missing before you cancel the game? Discuss this with your players when you first begin the campaign and settle on a basic guideline you all can live with. Generally, I’ll run if I have at least half my players. If I have less than half, we’ll either cancel that session or do #5, 6, 7, or 8 above.
The important thing is for the GM and players to come to a mutually-agreeable solution. Try to set a policy and stick to it as much as possible. That way, it’s fair for everyone and your players will know what to expect when real-life encroaches and they just can’t be there.