Last post was concerned with the primary ‘play’ or ‘not play’ decision surrounding player absences. Once you’ve decided to play, you need a strategy.
The simplest adjustment is to simply remove the character with ‘a puff of logic’ (Thank you John Love for the term). One session he’s there, the next he isn’t.
There are a few things to keep in mind when losing a character for the short or long term especially in D&D 4th edition. What was once a challenging fight could become a party killer, if you’ve lost the group’s only defender (the ‘tank’ to you World of Warcraft players) or leader (aka ‘healer’). If you lose a striker, the encounter will probably take longer, and without a controller, all of those minions may be overwhelming. The dungeon master should also check the encounters for level appropriateness and review the advice in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for managing a group who is missing a role.
In addition to the mechanical challenges, the sudden absence of a teammate can create immersion killing plot holes. Story oriented players will particularly notice this. Spending a few moments creating an explanation can help, but really, there’s rarely a point to putting lipstick on that pig. It’s best to keep explanations simple and brief and to move on quickly.
In my group, we also made a practice of using ‘Spock mode’ to handle absences. Do you remember the Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain”? Come now, sure you do: Mr. Spock had his brain stolen and for much of the episode his body was remotely controlled by another player…er, crew member. In gaming terms, ‘Spock mode’ is when someone takes over the character sheet for the missing player. This way the group retains its firepower and skills, but in general, no major decisions are made and no extraordinary risks are taken.
Our problem with this approach spawned from the complexity of 4th edition character sheets. They easily grow to five pages after a few levels and each power has a different nuance. Some of us actively dislike running other characters; even the ones who enjoy the challenge took longer for each turn as they shuffled through the powers and sorted dice.
We needed a new plan. Check back on Sunday 1/3/10 for the third and final installment of Player Absences where I discuss “Clone mode.”