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Inheriting a Game that You Played In – What To Do With Your Character?

Last Friday I took over the GM’s seat in a game that I have been playing in. I have notes from the previous GM, plenty of plot hooks to pick up on as well as new ones of my own design, I am familiar with the PCs and their backgrounds, and I was probably in about as good a position as a person can be to take over the GM’s role in an existing game. Yet I did have one pesky problem – my PC.

My PC survived the last GM’s adventure and now I had to separate him from the rest of the party in a way that would be believable and that would also lead to his eventual return at a level comparable to the rest of the party. You see, we have a rule that when a GM returns to the role of being a player that their PC is allowed back into the group at the lowest level that the party members have obtained and that the PC has gained a magic item somehow.

I did not want to introduce a GMPC to the campaign, and I do not have the time to play him in a separate solo game run by someone else. That is why I had my PC arrested and thrown in jail. He is a cleric, and an elder priest of his temple took offense to how he handled himself during the last adventure, insulted my PC, and then insulted someone close to my PC. So I had my PC punch the elder priest in front of their superiors. Not a good career move, but it was an excellent moment of role playing in the game.

So I threw my own PC into jail to get him out of the group’s way. I mean, how perfect a solution is that? For one, everyone immediately understood why he can’t go on the next adventure. Plus I now have an unexpected side plot to run because the players want their characters to be a part of the defense in my PC’s trial. No matter how the trial goes my PC will be sent on a quest of some sort to redeem himself which will explain how he rejoins the party at approximately the same level.

Now like all good GM made plans I expect this one to survive contact with the players for about ten seconds. Complications will come up, but is that not part of the fun of being a GM? Just in case though I have an idea of how I can splinter this event into different in game events. A plot against the party where my PC’s arrest is just the first step in the process. A quest for the party to clear my PC’s name. It all depends on what the players think will be fun.

Who else has a similar situation? How do you handle it? What tricks do you have for removing your PC from the party when it is your turn to sit behind the screen? Are there similar situations that you have encountered even if it did not involve a PC of your own?

Until next time remember that the GM is a player too! Have fun with it!

17 Comments (Open | Close)

17 Comments To "Inheriting a Game that You Played In – What To Do With Your Character?"

#1 Comment By MAK On March 18, 2009 @ 4:00 am

Our group uses 3 rotating GM’s, so this comes up often, and usually the excuse for absence is something simple, along the lines of “having a side quest somewhere else”. Character absence is not really a problem, since the group is 9 strong when all are present, and that very seldom happens… These side-quests also help to explain where the character got the “GM reward magic-item, as we use that system as well.

There have been some more memorable fade-outs when unexpected game events offer the perfect excuse, and also gives other characters or even the entire group a suitable hook for next adventures: a recent example would be my character whose soul happened to get stuck in Shadowfell conveniently for the session I was GM’ing. As an added bonus, the group had to ask help from a shady organization to get the soul back to the body and will now have to pay back that debt, which nicely ties in to the next adventure.

Going slightly off-topic here, but does anyone else have experience of regular GM rotation? We are going as far as scripting the plot for the next adventures as a GM-team, commenting each other on encounter planning, and synchronizing treasure offerings. I have never had as much fun planning sessions…


#2 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On March 18, 2009 @ 7:12 am

That’s a bold and awesome move, Patrick. I’m afraid I’d probably have gone with “Telas disappears, leaving a vague note about some kind of family emergency…” (Seriously, who leaves their trusted friends and companions without at least telling them what’s going on?)

#3 Comment By Lucidshifter On March 18, 2009 @ 7:18 am

Sounds like you have a good solution already worked out. When I have player lapses, as I do now, I will allow the player to come back in with his/her old character at the current level of the parties lowest level character. So far as a character I can no longer run, I would just “file” the character away much as you have.

Well played.

#4 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On March 18, 2009 @ 7:37 am

I can’t take full credit for this but I can’t remember where I got it from (heck, it could’ve been from here or Treasure Tables!).

In a typical (read “D&D”) fantasy game, you can have a servant of the PC’s god show up (or simply pluck him from the party) because the god needs the PC for a separate mission. This removes the PC from the party and gives her an excuse to get XP (and maybe a magic item upgrade) while she’s gone.

When the PC returns (presumably when another GM rotates in), then she has a story to tell. Or does she? Maybe the PC can’t remember everything that happened to her, which leads to new plot threads…

#5 Comment By KBKarma On March 18, 2009 @ 9:08 am

[1] – My 4th Ed group has the exact same situation for the exact same reason. At one point, there were 12 PCs. It’s thinned now. It’s only ten. Our GMs rotate every time we move on to the next module. Thus, one PC turned up briefly for Keep, before the player began GMming Keep. Then, our Paladin went off-screen, going to do some knight-errantry or something, while the Warlock reappeared, having gone off on a side-quest to gain mystic powers. Then, our new second Warlock went off so his player could GM Pyramid, and the Paladin reappeared.

The benefit of doing this is that, as in the case of the second Warlock, if the player wants to change characters, he can kill off his old one off-screen, and the new guy can waltz right in.

Only problem? Due to the fact that there are nine of us at most, we tend to butcher most encounters. The first GM tried increasing the number of monsters, with no effect, leading to 100 zombies getting slaughtered by a party of six, sans Fighter but including two fire-specialised Wizards. The second tended to soup-up encounters (since we were three levels higher than the minimum, this wasn’t too hard). The third uses some terrifically lucky dice (in the last session, he rolled SIX CRITS on me. Oh, and a 19.), but otherwise does nothing (we’re the perfect level at last, having two or three more encounters left, and levelling up after the next one).

#6 Comment By Scott Martin On March 18, 2009 @ 9:53 am

My college group had rotating GMs for a couple of years of campaign. Basically, each of us would run a short series of sessions (something like 3-9), with our PC participating but falling into the background. Though spectacular exits of the PC during the first session GMing was also common.

Our campaign was a very plane hopping thing, beginning on a desert world, fleeing on a spell jamming ship, landing in Faerun, and eventually getting sucked into Ravenloft. Often we’d move to the next world after only one or two GMs had run in the current setting. (And no, there wasn’t much of an overall plot, though each story arc was usually strong and coherent.)

#7 Comment By tman On March 18, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

Wow – that’s a great idea. I’ve never come up with an idea nearly that good.

I had to write myself out of the campaign once, but permanently, as we were changing DMs for good. My character faded and returned to her knightly order in a far away town. I then had some email updates about the bad guys sending assassins to kill the party and my old character was the first one they found. So, she died a messy ignoble death in order to up the tension for the rest of the party.


#8 Comment By MAK On March 18, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

@KBKARMA: Out of topic again, but we have run into the same scaling issue of 4E. Not using published material helps a bit, as well as collaborative design of the encounters. Especially solo monsters are tricky to adjust for a bigger party…

As mentioned, switching or adjusting characters is an additional benefit of writing them into trouble. After starting a new campaign with 4E, the first levels have brought out how a certain class or race plays out and some changes have been done… My warlock character coming out of his coma as a swordmage was the most radical change – this worked surprisingly well plot-wise, as well as planting a lot of new adventure seeds.

#9 Comment By xero On March 18, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

I had a similar problem recently when my group finished H1 and I took over DMing. The withdrawing DM and I knew this in advance, so we started throwing in false plot hooks early on that would give my character a compelling reason to leave the group (on good terms) and go off on a personal quest of his own, but that wouldn’t also draw the other players in. With a wink and a nod, everyone else went along with it, and thus my character was completely out of play temporarily, without burning any bridges or straining suspension of disbelief.

#10 Comment By sealer04tx On March 18, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

I had this come up recently with my 4th Ed group, so I had the PC defeated in single combat (and then taken prisoner into the Underdark) by an extremely powerful (level+10) enemy. I wanted to introduce the main villain for the next campaign arc, so to make him terrifying, I rolled my attacks and damage in front of the players so they could do the math and see how hard he was hitting. When he took down the PC in two swings (1 action point used), they felt the fear. He was able to walk away from ongoing combat, carrying the fallen PC, and the rest of the party couldn’t touch him.

#11 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 18, 2009 @ 9:20 pm

Great comments everyone! I especially like the idea of an NPC beating the crap out of the to-be-shelved PC. Nice one!

#12 Comment By Lucidshifter On March 19, 2009 @ 4:24 am

@SEALER04TX: Very good idea. I like it and might just use that myself soon.

#13 Comment By Taellosse On March 20, 2009 @ 9:10 pm

In my last game, one of my players needed to leave the game for a few months but intended to come back, so I had to engineer something similar. I concocted a scheme by which I faked his character’s death and had him kidnapped–by accident, as the real target of the abduction was the GMPC already in the party. It forced me to step up the timetable of some revelations about that particular NPC once the PC returned, but it worked out fairly neatly. He maintained parity with the rest of the group because he had to engineer his own escape–the rest of the group thought he was dead, after all.

#14 Comment By fink On March 22, 2009 @ 5:54 pm

I had a similar situation, the DM bailed out on a game just before the big finalie. There was no chance he would return thus I felt it safe to have my PC bow out without ever considering him returning as a PC.

When I took on the game, the PC’s decided to leave the city to its fate and sailed out of town. After a single session at sea with my PC they fought a rival pirate and captured his ship and encountered bad weather, I put the party to the question of where and what to do next (I offered them many hooks via the boat captain). The party decided to head to back to the mainland to explore rumors of a hobgoblin army amassing nearby.

When they got onto shore, my own PC settled his account with the party, took his share of the loot and with some funds aquired through nefarious means in the prior city, purchased the newly captured pirate vessel. The PC I had been playing had an ulterior motive for being in the city to begin with, and this allowed me to play out this plot line sans the party but allow my former PC to advance in level. There was never any concern that the PC would return as a PC, but this gave me flexibility to explain any levels he might have gained if they encounter him as an NPC later on.

#15 Comment By Xtiangames On March 24, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

My group does rotating GMs every 4-8 sessions. Typically, the GM will give their character some side mission to work on. For example, our last adventure had the party meet up with some allies and their army to surround a tower and distract the tower defenders while the PCs infiltrated the tower to recover the McGuffin. So the GM’s PC, who had a lot of military training, volunteered to help organize the army’s maneuvers.

I am the GM in the current adventure. The party got some plot hooks from a fevered servant of the goddess of fate. While the party went to follow the hooks, my character (a worshiper of the goddess) volunteered to stay behind to care for the sick priest and forward any new prophecies or insights. On-demand deus ex machina, wutwut!

#16 Comment By BryanB On March 24, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

I found these responses interesting because in twenty-eight years of gaming fun, I have never inherited a game that I played in. I wonder if I am in the minority here. 🙂

#17 Comment By Meat Shield On March 25, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

[2] – Hey Christian, hows it going? 🙂

Anyway, when I take over for DMing from Xtian in a couple weeks, my character will be taking a break to find himself. He was dead for a bit there, then got better (long story), but ever since has been somewhat uncaring about real world issues and has only been concerned with having a good time, drinking himself silly, and flirting with every woman he sees. But he has come to realise that with a war on, the heavens in conflict, death and demons walking around unchallenged on the earth, that he has to become the hero he was before he died.

Now, in real life, my RPing has slipped, and I fell into the cheap and easy of taking his previous traits of carousing and making them the only thing there is to him (he is part satyr after all). Now I have thought about it and have brought my RPing back to snuff, but I like the idea of him having to take a retreat to find himself after his death experience. And, conveniently, I am the next DM. So he would have to sit anyway.