As our hosts talked about today, we as GMs sometimes have to write new characters into or out of the story. Sometimes this is because the plot demands it, and sometimes this is because there are factors outside the game that affect who is able to attend the session. We might be bringing a new player in or sending off a player who is already in the game. If the later, then we will eventually have to reintegrate them, and there are a few extra subtleties with how to effectively do so.
If it was a planned absence, such as a player letting you know they'll be away on vacation, you will have time to plan for how to send them off and how to bring them back in. As mentioned on today's show, perhaps they are turned to stone and the party has to find a way to reverse the effect. This is perfectly fine, but be careful when using a hook like this, because there are some hidden dangers. For example, what would happen if the group failed to find a way to reverse it? What if the player comes back before they succeed in doing so? Will the player remain petrified, or will you simply handwave them back to full mobility? Either course of action has its problems. If you let the player sit there, that isn't really fun for them. If you return them to normal without effort, it raises questions about why the attempt to save the character was needed, and somewhat compromises the integrity of the story and lessens the impact of consequences. In light of this, have contingencies, and be willing to improvise. You should try to introduce, exit, and reintroduce characters organically whenever possible, and you should be prepared to force something if need be.
If the absence is unplanned, you should go into it with eyes open. Improvisation is key, but you shouldn't jump to gun to go with the first solution that comes to mind. To do so could easily write yourself into a corner. For example, I've had players drop out of my campaigns due to real life taking a toll on their schedule. My first thought is usually to have their characters die a heroic death in combat, and then move the story forward. This makes sense from a dramatic standpoint. If a character has to leave the story, they might as well make an impactful exit. But what if the player's schedule suddenly frees up again? Now their character is dead, and it's significantly harder to write that back into a story. Not impossible, since someone can always pull a Gandalf, but it's probably better if I just avoid killing the character "off-screen" in the first place. This is similar to my early advice for planned absence. There are so many moving parts that you need to be ready to improvise, but when you know that you're going to be improvising without the constraints of a fixed schedule or the guarantee of anything permanent, you should try to exercise some forethought to create an exit that allows for a smoother reintroduction without closing off any options.
Also, be prepared with an explanation as to what was going on with the character and why they left and were able to rejoin the party. You should work with the player to decide what the character was doing in their absence, why it took precedence over the adventure, and why and how they were able to come back. If the absence is significant, you should also be prepared to explain other aspects of the game via their absence, such as how they manged to keep on the same power level as the rest of the party despite not enduring the same encounters.
Lastly, don't be afraid to use the absence and reintegration to further the game. If the character left to go find a rare magic item, have the character bring that back to use as a plot element for the story. Or if they made some friends and enemies during their time off screen, maybe have those characters make an in-game appearance. Absences are often inconvenient, so if you can spin it to gain some benefit from it, all the better. Just try to keep the game moving forward. If you lose a player, it isn't the end of the world. As long as there are players willing to play, the game goes on.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.