My L5R game is going on hiatus for a bit (a planned, scheduled break) and a friend will be taking over and running his Star Wars game during the session. The only problem with this is that one of the players has recently become unavailable during the normal game time and had to step down from the game. We handled this in the L5R game, but Star Wars was on hiatus which means we'll be dealing with it fresh in the coming session. Today I want to talk about that.
The Normal Hitch
In most games I've been in, a player leaving the game is a weird thing. It almost ends up like the person didn't exist in the game world, aside from a few old anecdotes about an old adventuring buddy who did some silly things. However, as far as the world - and how the world impacts the players - all the side-plot, personal quest, and other related stuff just seems to go away.
I mean, sure, you were adventuring with the Crown Prince of Alexandria, but now Sarah has left the game. Next time you go through Alexandria it doesn't matter that you are/were friends with royalty. You have no ins, the NPCs treat you no differently, and it's like that never happened. Also, those enemies the group has been fighting? The ones coming after Sarah's PC? That stops. Even if the GM doesn't do it, the PCs often will. After all, Sarah's not there, so Alexandria is just another place now.
It's weird and strange and can feel awkward. Then again though, what is the GM supposed to do? Keep hitting the group with a side plot that hinged on a PC that no longer is at the table? And yes, I'm aware of the irony of calling it a side plot after Monday's post.
And Then There's Hawk
In the last game this friend - the Star Wars GM - ran we were playing a home brewed Halo game. The group started as a unit of Spartan IIIs going through various missions. Hilariously, one of the players moved during a break in the game and the GM had to explain the absence. He used an in world method, the PC had been moved to a different unit for black bag operations.
The problem is, unlike in most games, the PCs didn't just forget. The Spartan IIIs had grown up together. They were a family. We spent a lot of time in the game trying to find out what happened to 'Hawk' and where he was. We spent so much time that when the game worked down to its conclusion, it went off the rails the GM had planned. The PCs didn't trust their own side. Why? Because the officers on "their" side had taken their brother away. Sot he PCs went rogue, and went off to find their brother.
The game was a lot of fun, but the GM - I think - was definitely baffled at just how much impact a PC leaving the game had on his story when the other PCs refused to just accept the reality that said PC could no longer be around.
Somewhere in the middle is a healthy balance. When someone leaves the game you don't want the world to just forget that PC and act like they never existed. It invalidates too much of the game history. At the same time, you don't want a PC leaving to also turn the game on its heels as the PCs go off after their lost friend who is only lost because the player is no longer available.
Finding this balance point takes effort as the GM, preparation, and also discussion with the PCs. It can be best to have conversations with the players with the closest connections to the now missing PC to see how it might impact their character. Characters tied too closely together may need to be swapped out, or at least get some special care to help move them from being a character built to work off another - now absent - character and into one that can stand on their own.
In short, it can be done, but it takes work and it takes maintenance work even after the break happens.
I also don't recommend killing the PC that is going missing. One, it feels a little cheap. More importantly at two, what do you do if the Player becomes available again? Better to have the PC around and doing stuff - even if on their own - so they can be re-integrated later.