GMs are used to the ultimate futility of trying to plan for in-game player actions. This is a topic I’ve written about several times. Last week, however, I was reminded that players can be just as unpredictable out of the game.
We were scheduled to play out the final game of what was originally supposed to be a one-shot of Houses of the Blooded. When Charlie tried to text Bryan to find out why he hadn’t joined in remotely, he got a response I can’t print here without triggering language filters all over the internet. It turned out that he’d had such a crappy, hectic couple of days, he’d completely forgotten about the game, and was now out of town, unable to join us.
Games are constantly contending with the real lives of everybody in the group. These issues are bound to pop up sometimes. When they do, however, you’re faced with the task of figuring out what to play.
Playing Through the Pain
One option, of course, is to play the intended game without the missing player. This is likely what we would have done, if it hadn’t been the finale. There are lots of options for handling a missing player in a game, which Bryan has covered previously.
The Pinch Hitter
Matt’s Pathfinder game originally started out as a backup for when somebody couldn’t make it to a scheduled game. He tended to focus it more on exploration, so having a group that changed between sessions wouldn’t be quite so detrimental. If you’ve got frequent absences, it might be worthwhile to start a backup game.
A Pickup Game
Another possibility is to play a game that requires less preparation. This is already mostly true of the aforementioned Houses of the Blooded. What we’ve found isn’t quick about that game, however, is character creation, which is exactly what you don’t want in a pickup game. This could be rectified with a selection of pre-gen characters, or a random character generator.
Other options in this camp would be an old-school game like Swords and Wizardry, which just don’t have many character options. There’s also Gamma World, in which everything is pretty much randomized. Spirit of the Century bills itself as a pickup game too, but I haven’t had the chance to play it yet, so I can’t comment on its effectiveness.
In a Pickle
We chose to go with a pickup game option. As it happened, Charlie still had all his materials from our first, disastrous run through the Fourthcore module Crucible of the Gods. For the uninitiated, this variant turns Fourth Edition D&D into almost a board game with its focus on puzzles, traps, and high PC body counts.
Using the pregenerated characters that come with the module, we were probably playing within twenty minutes of choosing the game, most of which was spent printing off characters, and re-reading the background information. I’m usually more of a story-focused gamer, but, taking the game for what it was, I had fun. Sometimes it’s nice to have a change of pace, even if yours is the first character to die… again.
When such interruptions are inevitable, it’s wise to have a backup plan. Even if you’re the missing player, it’s a relief to know that your scheduling issues won’t spoil everybody else’s fun. Next time, we can hopefully resume our regularly scheduled program.