View Full Version : Playing with a partial group

2013-07-31, 12:35 PM
As a bit of a background, I have been running games for well over a decade off and on. Most of this has been D&D, from 2E all the way to 4E which is what I'm playing now. During my games that have lasted several years, the group has pretty much always remained constant. There hasn't been any adding or removing players, and when one person has dropped it has pretty much been the death of the group.

That being said, it's been nearly a year since I've run a game and am about to start anew. My main goal for this group is to be able to run when just one person can't make it. I've never done this before and so am looking for some advice. I think I could manage adding someone or dealing with someone leaving, but playing with a partial group, especially mid-dungeon is something that I am having a bit of an issue with.

Thanks in advance!

2013-07-31, 12:44 PM
You could always go for a more "paleolithic" type scenario:

Have a few "regenerating" areas for adventures - megadungeons or the like. The players make multiple characters if necessary. Each game, you decide what to do based on who makes it and who doesn't.

This is pretty much how a number of famous campaign worlds (Hi, Forgotten Realms!) started. It's a different *style* of game than many are used to, but it does have the advantage of stability in the face of a changing or inconsistent group of players. I've known campaigns in this style that have lasted 20+ years.

2013-07-31, 01:11 PM
For what I'm expecting that seems like overkill. Most of the time everyone will be there, otherwise I will get to experience someone not being in the game rather quickly. I think coming up with something else to do might not be a bad idea, but I still would like to know what other people have done when everyone isn't there. I'm capable of toning down the difficulty of a combat for 4 people instead of 5, so I'm not worried in that regard, just having trouble coming up with an in game explanation... I'm leaning somewhat towards just ignoring it if a convenient excuse isn't immediately available, but I'd prefer something else if at all possible. As I've never really done this before, I'm just curious...

2013-07-31, 01:56 PM
Well, before a campaign starts, you need to establish with the players when it is and is not acceptable to hold a game session if some people are missing. It depends mostly on the size of the group.

All games I've been in haven't been canceled if only one (non-GM) player is absent. Two missing might be a case for cancelling but not always. Three or more missing means there won't be a game.

Basically, you need to remember two things:

1) The missing person has a life outside of the game.

2) The other players still look forward to a game.

As for what to do with the character of a missing player? There are some options:

- Just ignore it. S/he's there but at the same time isn't. Not the best solution.
- The GM or one of the players plays the character. Remember to ask if this is ok. Just don't kill the character or inflict serious harm. This is tricky.
- Ask the player to come up with something the character does while s/he's away from the party (both in- and out-game). Good solution but sometimes it wouldn't make sense for the character to go separate ways.

EDIT: oh, and:

- Kidnap the character. The kidnappers are those guys you are currently fighting. Convenient, eh?

2013-07-31, 02:08 PM
If you really just want to keep the same "thread" going, then, just do it. Come up with some excuse for why that particular party isn't there. If they absolutely must be there, basically turn them into an extra and minimize their interactions, and they're conveniently checking on the horses when combat erupts.

Most players are cool with even a handwavy explanation about such things. Sometimes reality intrudes on the game. So be it.

Kol Korran
2013-08-01, 02:53 AM
We faced the same problem in an old group. What we did was this:
- we try and play with all players. If we can't then we play without one player. Under no situation can two consecutive meetings have a player missing. (So it can be one session with a player missing, but the next with full cast) this is done so two players won't lose touch too much.
- each player makes a "summed up character" with the basic stats, options and such. This char sheet is kept by the DM. One player uses this to play the character in it's most basic functional manner. Basically the character doesn't contribute in decisions and plot progress, but gives it's basic contribution to the game mechanically. In case the absent player wants, he can give extra directions to the controlling player before hand.
The point is not to replace the player, but to keep the character basic and easy to play.
- if you can manage it, have the character be absent for a good in game reason. This however requires both a good leaving and returning points. this is a rare occasion, but it often suggests lots of opportunities.
- don't plan your campaign around a specific number of players, or specific characters, unless you know the players are sure to be there for the long haul.

This worked well for us.

2013-08-01, 03:18 AM
I've had this happen a lot with the most recent game I've been running and honestly its greatly enhanced the game and made it much better than it would have otherwise been. Admittedly we are doing a Harry Potter RPG so there are some differences from the traditional role playing game. Some things I've learned in the process:

Make sure each player has some personal plot going on, no matter how small. I almost screwed this up having only two plots for three characters but it worked out in the end. They don't have to be large plots, one of them was a player protecting his in game girlfriend from attacks. Another's was pranking people. The final one was that his father had been shot and was probably being poisoned in a hospital. The key thing about this is for one character to be carrying a plot, but with room for other characters to help them out. This can carry a session if the main plot needs everyone.
If the main plot requires some kind of information gathering or even a non-critical combat encounter(example: your attacking a thieves guild as the main plot. If not everyone's there for the big attack you could have a session about gathering information about the guild and hurting their operations), then not everyone needs to be there. Adding these things into sessions allows you to dial up or down how long something takes and lets you delay big things until everyone is there while keeping the people there interested.
Stay in contact with everyone. Communication is key here so that players who miss stuff know what they have to catch up on. They can also tell you whatever small things their character is doing during the sessions they miss.
Do one shots. The most recent session I ran had the two players there playing Aurors and investigating a terrorist group. The session worked well and the players had fun, and what they did will have an impact on the main game. If a session where everyone needs to be there is coming up and not everyone can make it, plan a one shot. If your characters are fighting an Evil Wizard in his lair who has been trying to take over a kingdom, maybe while they are fighting the wizard he sends minions to attack the king and the players play Royal Guards who fight off the minions. Failure would mean the king is dead, while perhaps success gives them some information about the wizard they did not have.
The most important lesson here I think is be flexible and be prepared to run side stories. It will encourage your players to role play and if not everyone can make it you can still run a fun game for the players arriving. I'm sure there are some games this does not work for(the traditional dungeon crawl to dungeon crawl is a prime example), but even then you can probably work something out.