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General How do you explain PC absences when a player has to miss a session?

On experience, I base it on the character, not the player, so it's the PCs presence that determines XP. And while it has almost never come up, my group would like to keep the whole party with the same XP total, so I'm probably going to say that as long as the party has the chance to get back together and "share what they learned" and we aren't dealing with large amounts of XP, I can probably keep everyone on the XP without breaking my immersion.

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Handwave it as well. Maybe next session I'll let the player work in where they were last time and how they show up this time, but generally the default is that they just weren't there and are there now. I don't want to spend the extra time at a session working them back into the adventure. I've known GMs that do that, but too often it involves the rest of the table that showed up last time just stuck sitting around while everything happens with the person who didn't, until they somehow meet up again. I can think of a time where we spent an hour doing nothing but watching while the one PC played through the explanation of why they weren't there last time.


Its a mixed bag.
Generally I avoid situations where they leave a PC behind only to have him magically appear next session.
If the players send my his character sheet , either me or one of the players can control him for a session. And occasionally there is some handwaving.

Well for my Raven Queen Patron PC, she has to "attend" conference summons with the Raven Queen every now and then for business purposes/meetings at the office.(said player absences)

My one bud and I also had a character once that was basically a "Planeswalker" whose planar jumping abilities would randomly fritz at moments he had no control over. So at the end of sessions/during absences, said character would bamf out of the setting.

the Jester

Generally, we handwave it. Maybe the character is sick, or scouting ahead, or guarding the camp, or watching the mounts, or having a really long poop. It doesn't matter- he or she is not available for the moment, but is assumed to be 'there' in the background.


I generally try to find an excuse to have the PC separate. If there's no plausible way, Auto-Pilot, and if there's a significant choice to be made, I generally make it provisional, then ask the player later.


Victoria Rules
The player may be absent but the character is still with the party and will be played as such, usually with its actions kinda determined by committee and one player handing any dice rolling that may be needed.

The character earns xp as it otherwise would, is subject to the same risks as it otherwise would be, etc.

If the absent player has left any specific instructions those are followed where practical, provided they agree with the character's established patterns. (thus if the player of a normally brave and daring combat-first character instructed that his character would hang back and not get involved in combat, eyebrows would go up; but we rarely if ever see anything like that)

Character sheets stay with the DM between sessions for just this reason: so the game can be played even if someone can't make it.


Handwave. The character is suddenly a tertiary silent persona hanging in the background. We don't use XPs. We split the treasure with him because if a different player is not there another week we do the same for him.

Sometimes, if the absentee agrees another players runs his character as if he was there but doesn't take any chances or make meaningful decisions.


We hand wave it.

The PC is not there. They are doing something else related to their character.

If we cancelled the game when someone wasn't able to show up we'd never play. Our group is DM + 5 players. My ideal game is 4 players. The extra player is there so we still have a good game if someone can't make it.

We ignore it. The PC is phased out. They exist. They're in the party. They're with the party. But they're treated like they don't exist and don't interact with anybody unless they were last in possession of the MacGuffin or some other critical item that the party needs.

People are going to be absent. At my age, usually because somebody's family needs them and that takes precedence. The story is cool, but the game needs to accommodate the lives of the people playing it. Ain't nobody got time for anything else.

I've even added a new character to a campaign in this way because where the PCs were would have meant the new player had to sit there and do nothing. [The PCs were on a "plane" whose whole schtick was that it was totally devoid of life and the PCs were the first to get there since mortal creatures came to exist. The PCs had the only "key" in existence, and only the key was capable of keeping mortals alive there longer than about a minute.]

I just said, "You know how sometimes one of you guys isn't around for a session or two?"

"Sure," one of them replied.

"Well, just treat <new guy> like he rolled up a PC at the first session and has been out of town ever since. His character has been adventuring with you all along and has always been there."

I ended up being really glad I did that because the party got stuck and on the "plane" for like two months.

As for XP, every PC has the same amount. I don't care if a player (and there character) is only there for half the adventure. I've played in games when each PC gets different experience based upon if they are their (and even what skill checks they succeed at!) and even though 5E is very forgiving, it sucks to be a level or 3 behind the highest level character.

It makes you feel like a second class character/player. Their is no reason, in my group, to punish players who can't make a game. Missing the game is punishment enough.

As for XP, every PC has the same amount.
Missing the game is punishment enough.
Definitely. I also don't want to encourage people to do things they shouldn't. Individual awards just encourage competitive play, and it's supposed to be a cooperative game.

The reason I never want to tell anyone is that I just don't want to deal with thinking about the PCs being different levels. It's just one more thing to think about during encounter planning. It only makes it a smidge more difficult, but I'd still rather not bother.

Li Shenron

I've seen a lot of ways to handle this mess. The in-universe justification (a sudden stomach bug). The handwave (he's just over there, not participating). The cancelled session.

How does your group handle it? Do you employ a mix of strategies, or do you tend to favor some particular option?
I always use the "fade to the background" option. The PC is still there but is on one of those days when they don't have much to say or good ideas to bring forward. If the party needs something that the PC specifically have or can do, such as a key healing spell, the DM can assume the PC contributes with that.


Hobbit on Quest
It's pretty much fade to background for us too. The PC with the absent player just kind of hangs out, makes no decisions, interacts with no one - unless there's something about them absolutely crucial to a situation. For those circumstances, we will trot them up to the front for the group's need then send them back to the background.


In our last campaign when we were traveling together, we had a rock that magically drew in absent players' PCs and popped them back out when the player(s) returned. Other characters carried it around. That way they didn't know what happened and appeared wherever the others ended up.

In our new Eberron campaign, we are pretty localized so PCs can go off and do their own thing and return pretty easily. However, we are about to enter an Inception type scenario (illithid's sending them to get an atropin from the Temple of the 9 Gods inside an NPC's head). When a player misses, their PC dies in the dream. If death happens in the dream, the PC can't go back in as themselves; there are other avatar's (lower leveled) they can use to re-enter the dream.


J.C. Denton probably
I generally just handwave it away, because every other solution which I've implemented just leads to a reduction in immersion, enjoyment, and general fun. Having to explain the absent player's in-game predicament destroys immersion faster than not explaining it ever will, IME.


One time when I missed the first half of a hard fight, my character announced her return with "I took care of the guys who were trying to sneak up behind ... Oh you kept a few of yours for me!"
Another player who was playing a Wild Magic Sorcerer "got tangled up inside his own Rope Trick spell" for the session he had to miss.


Mostly just say the character is off doing a downtime activity. However, there is the one character that routinely gets a pitchfork wedding for getting the innkeeper's daughter pregnant.

PC is present, but handling other aspects of the adventure (combat= off screen enemies, social = hunting down red herring clues, exploration = covering the rear). If the campaign is location based (e.g. Baldur's Gate), then the PC is off handling other thing unless it's mid-adventure.

If we are in town/safe spot, they decide to stay behind for some reason and will catch up later. Otherwise, they come along, but they don't actually partake in any of the action, nor do they gain loot or XP.

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