Player Absences

My good friend Jeff asked me the other day how I deal with character absences. The first thing that came to mind was, “Why does Jeff want to deal with character abstinence? Does he really care if the characters don’t want to have sex?”

I quickly realized my error.

My answer is simple: I don’t game minus a player, ever, and I’ve held this stance since 2002. For me, any great story is worth waiting one more week so everyone can be there to enjoy it.

On average, I try to game twice a month. Occasionally, two or three weeks will go by where we don’t game, but then suddenly everyone’s free for a few weeks in a row; during those weeks, we make up for lost time. In other words, a skipped week will eventually get made up down the road.

Another way to looks at it is, what if Frodo’s player had missed a session in the middle of The Lord of the Rings? And then just popped right back into the story somewhere down the line? It would be weird and disorienting. The group would then have to catch up Frodo’s player by describing what he missed. Have you ever been that guy? The one where everyone’s trying to describe something amazing to you and they’re tripping over their own words because they can’t quite convey using human speech just how astounding it was? Suddenly the other players jump in, also beside themselves with excitement at how cool the session was, wildly gesticulating and frothing at the mouth, all while you sit there, feebly trying to construct what they’re saying into some semblance of an image. It’s like a group of people trying to explain an inside joke.

I guess you just had to be there. Literally.

At the beginning, when you’re still trying to get a group off the ground, cancellations can be discouraging. Instead of brushing the whole day off as a loss, continue minus the missing gamer in some other way. Run a delve with the remaining players, enjoy some board games, or watch Firefly and bond. You could even use the time to go out and do something different, such as bowling, miniature golf, or karaoke. Half of D&D is making social connections. The more you all get to know each other, the less likely players will be to cancel games in the future (emergencies notwithstanding).

Once a group has some history, getting together to play D&D will be as much about the D&D as it is getting together to hang out with close friends.

Trust me: the game—and the story—can wait a week.