Monday, August 07, 2017

When the Players Don't Show Up

I saw a post on quora asking how to handle when players don't show up for your games... here's my reply...

That’s a continuous challenge, isn’t it? I have a couple of thoughts. First you need to figure out why people aren’t showing up. Is it just random life-stuff among busy people? Or could it be your game is just not drawing them in, and they’re too nice to say so? If the latter then you need to up your GM Level and start providing a better game. And that, of course, can be a challenge when you’re not sure what you’re doing that could be improved. And often players themselves don’t know the answer to that either. So, as a rule of them, keep games tight, action oriented, and don’t let the players get bogged down in tiresome conversations about “what should we do”… always be ready to throw them into the action again, and keep things exciting for the players. Even a TPK is better than an evening spent debating about Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3.

One of the problems I’ve had along the way was a rule I concocted years ago that I thought seemed reasonable, but turned out to be not-so-great. If a player didn’t show, then my rule was that their character would go kind of inert. They’d be there, they’d fight if necessary, but they would not initiate actions, or offer useful advice, or demand their due, or make crazy things happen, even if their player would. This was because I felt that if I did so as GM I might play their character “wrong” (ie, they’d conclude that they’d never have played it that way), and if the character died in the process they’d be upset. So the safe bet was to follow my rule.

However, after a awhile I realized that this was a crap rule. The result was that whenever players didn’t show up they characters would go limp, and the story would drag, the players at the table might flounder around feeling demoralized and confused about stuff that the missing character knows but they don't remember, ... and so it would as often as not turn into a cesspool of “what should we do?”

So, I have a new rule, and it’s much cooler. If you don’t make the game then I play your character the way I think he or she Should be played. Mwahaah!  All the zest and creativity I can put into it, I will do! I will put a minor shield of protection around the character, but not enough to save them from the Fate of the Fumble, nor will I have them hold back on what’s on their mind. Sometimes they even turn out to be more awesome than ever because some players themselves hold back for various reasons (fear of losing them being the most common). However the player usually plays the Character - I’ll play it that way to the hilt. The games are much more fun that way, and I can actually use the non-player-present characters to spice things up and add an element of “OMG!” to the game that might not even be there if they did show up. So if you don’t show, you take the risk your character will do something kinda crazy, and maybe even get killed. So… it’s a good idea to show up. And lots more fun for everyone when you do. :) That’s my new style. It’s much better this way, believe me.

Of course, like everything else, this new rule has to be taken with a grain of salt... or rather it should be applied within reason, like a good spice in the right season. While I think it's much better than my former rule, it carries the risk that I might over do it. So while that's my new approach, I also try to keep it from becoming too much of "a thing".  But when the time is right and I think the missing Player Character should stand up and do something - well, by golly, they do!  And that's how I roll.  :)
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