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Waiting for the New Character: How Long is too Long?

How long is it okay to make a player wait to rejoin the game after losing a character?

As I peruse RPG forums or read articles, I’m struck by the number of times I’ve come across some variant of this scenario:

Rob Roleplayer finally gets to play in Mr. Legendary GM’s totally awesome campaign. Much fun was had by all and Rob Roleplayer remembers, with fondness, his character imprisoned for several sessions until the other PCs finally got around to rescuing him.

Several sessions? Really? I’d have a mutiny on my hands if I made someone sit out that long! At the very least I’d have to bring a PC in from the Adventurer’s Temp Agency so the affected player had someone to play in the meantime.

(Granted, most of these stories happen in a nostalgic college setting, where there was probably a lot going on around the game to keep the sidelined player happy, but still…)

As a GM, I always try to get new PCs in ASAP, usually within the same session or the next. It’s never occurred to me to make a player show up to a game with the possibility of not getting to play. If I thought the character was going to be out of commission for some time, I would allow the player to bring in another character, with the option of choosing one or the other when the initial character is made available again.

So today I throw the question out to all you GMs reading this: have you ever sidelined a player for more than a session without allowing the player to bring in a substitute for the duration (assuming the player is at the game – sidelining PCs because a player can’t make it is different)? If so, how did your players handle it? Would you do it again? What do you consider a fair period of sidelining?


18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "Waiting for the New Character: How Long is too Long?"

#1 Comment By schlake On October 6, 2011 @ 1:41 am

I typically tell my players to have a new character ready to go at each game, just in case. In my current Sunday night campaign, I told them they should probably have two characters ready to go.

#2 Comment By schlake On October 6, 2011 @ 1:45 am

[1] – I guess what I mean to say it, they show right up as soon as they are ready. Last week the monk plummeted out of the sky in front of the party, and when they turned, ran, and hid they hid right next to the replacement rogue. It even solved the problem of the hello-who-are-you since the all fought side by side since they all fought side by side against the swarming hordes of spiders.

#3 Comment By Redcrow On October 6, 2011 @ 2:37 am

I try to get players back into the game ASAP if something happens to their character. Sometimes this may involve playing the part of an NPC for a time until their own character can be rescued, or if their character dies they can stat up and personalize the NPC and make it their new character.

If their character dies and they want to create a totally new character I try hard to bring that character into the fold quickly without being too hamfisted about it.

I remember once playing in a Shadowrun game in which my Street Sam character was sidelined during the first half-hour or so of the game and I had no input for the remainder of the 6 hour session. I would never subject a player to that.

#4 Comment By Nevynxxx On October 6, 2011 @ 5:31 am

I’ve had a play by post player that had to wait a few months while the others got out of the dungeon they were in to join…… That was odd 🙂

#5 Comment By Mutak On October 6, 2011 @ 7:56 am

If they died near the start of a session, i might try to get them in during the same session, but i prefer to give them some time to consider what they want to play and how they’re going to fit into the party. Generally, as close to the start of next session as possible, even if the intro is just “A approaches and asks to join you in your travels – safety in numbers!” If a smoother intro will be easy to accomplish, of course i’d go for that, but fun comes first and meeting scenes between PCs are usually awkward and boring.

If they want their friends to get them rezzed, they wait as long as it takes and play minor npcs in the meantime, while i try to make it as easy as is reasonable for that to happen. I’ll replace some treasure with a convenient scroll, or have a wandering cleric just happen to be visiting the nearby town if necessary, but they’re still going to have to pay the price somehow.

#6 Comment By Mutak On October 6, 2011 @ 7:59 am

[2] – That should be “A (insert identifier) approaches…”

#7 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On October 6, 2011 @ 8:45 am

@Mutak – “You seem trustworthy. Would you care to join us in our noble quest?” 🙂

#8 Comment By Svafa On October 6, 2011 @ 8:50 am

I usually have a few extra characters on hand for any extra players who show up (we tend to have a lot of one-off players). So, should something happen to a PC, I let them grab one of the extras and keep going.

Normally these characters are relegated to NPCs if they’re not being played. I like setting up a base camp for the PCs outside whatever dungeon the PCs are exploring. It gives an easy way to bring new characters into the action and gives a fallback point for recuperating.

#9 Comment By BishopOfBattle On October 6, 2011 @ 11:15 am

I can’t imagine not allowing a player to play just because their character died / was captured / whatever in the last session. If they’re planning on not being able to attend for a few sessions, sure, it makes sense for the character to get captured and for the players to rescue them right about the time the player returns; but showing up to be told you won’t be able to play or even being told not to show up until your character is rescued would kill half the fun of roleplaying (getting to play *together*).

I haven’t directly encountered this problem much, the only variation being a one off side mission where one player went off to explore a personal investigation. While he ended up interacting with another band of characters, it didn’t make sense for him to be dragging along the rest of his party. At the beginning of the session, I handed the other players in the party new character sheets with a short page describing their character. It let them try out new characters they either hadn’t gotten to try or wouldn’t have normally tried. They could also take more risks and generally get a little crazier since it wasn’t their “mains”.

#10 Comment By black campbell On October 6, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

“Adventurer’s Temp Agency” — I am so stealing this phrase.

#11 Comment By black campbell On October 6, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

Normally, if a character dies, we try to hook them up with a temp or a new character within a session. Ordinarily, characters seem to survive in my campaigns — they get get folded, spindled, mutilated, but rarely do we get death…

When it’s happened, it’s either a luck of the draw (like the guy that biffed 5 save throws for his flamed-out aircraft in a row…then did the same on his ejection. That’s fate talkin’…), something that was appropriate (you’ve been captured, tortured, and the other players botched the “quiet” rescue…blam!), or it’s been story appropriate.

Probably the highest attrition rate was in our Star Trek campaign I ran…we started doing character pools during that. You’d have a few characters that were appropriate for different missions. Lose one, swap out. Battlestar Galactica also had very high attrition rates, but that was setting appropriate — again, multiple characters to cover different missions. Lose one, swap out.

#12 Comment By recursive.faults On October 6, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

I have people in that situation help me run monsters. They get to still be engaged in what’s going on, and in the down time or more RP intensive areas they can create their new character. Soon as it’s ready, we find a way to get them in.

When my friends and I play, we play for 7- 9 hours. Sitting out one session or the majority of one is a big deal, so it’s really important to me to keep them engaged and get them in as soon as I can.

#13 Comment By Volcarthe On October 6, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

In my group we have the running (mostly joking) line of “So, my other character is back at the bar…” whenever we get into a situation that may be deadly.

We try to never sideline anyone if it’s not their fault.

#14 Comment By Sektor On October 7, 2011 @ 2:19 am

Coincidentally, one of the player characters in the campaign I run (Pathfinder D&D) died in a recent session. Luckily that happened near the end, so he didn’t have to sit out much. He used that time to decide whether he would be resurrected or start a new character.

By the end of the session and a few emails back and forth afterwards, he decided to be resurrected and accept all the penalties that come with it. Instead of waiting idly for his party members to gather the money and find a cleric, he opted to run a single session himself that was centered on getting his character back to life. All the while, I happily handed him the GM chair and played along with one of my own characters.

It was a nice intermezzo, that didn’t feel artificial and still got everyone involved.

#15 Comment By Eric Wilde On October 8, 2011 @ 1:19 am

We always get somebody in the game immediately. Even when the party splits up, usually unoccupied players pick up a two-bit character for the scene (at their option.) If the two-bit character turns into a fun character for the player, they keep them in their stable of two-three readily available characters for the campaign.

This was how Baron Hitchen came to be. The cousin of Sir Rhys of Boxbourne, he was destined to be the manor’s retainer until he ran that Saxon chieftain through with his spear tip trying to defend Boxbourne Manor in a raid (critical hit for the two-bit character.) Hired by Earl Hertford as a lesser cavalrymen, he impressed King Uther by being the lucky soldier who ran Duke Gorlois through with his sword just as Prince Madoc fell from the Duke’s own blade. Thus came Baron Hitchen, peer of the realm and first man to bow to young Arthur as he drew the sword from the stone.

I f’n love Pendragon!

#16 Comment By Eric Wilde On October 8, 2011 @ 1:21 am

I should add, most frequently people don’t even write down the stats of their new character unless its a character they planned as backup before hand. The stats are determined in play. So character death really is immediately followed by reintroducing the player to a (planned or unplanned) character.

#17 Comment By rabalias On October 8, 2011 @ 7:18 am

I’m totally with the OP on this. If a character was ready to roll I’d try not to even make the player sit out a session. Having said that, I use fate points and such to try and ensure that payer character death is pretty rare, so there isn’t usually a back-up character ready to roll (there doesn’t need to be). When death does occur though, they’re always back in the next session.

#18 Comment By Eric Wilde On October 8, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

One more thing to add that may be different for our group than most — player character death is a common occurrence. Incapacitation is an even more common occurrence. For example, a couple sessions ago one player’s primary character died and backup character went unconscious. He picked up another player’s backup character until the scene (a desperate land battle against the combined armies of three Saxon kingdoms) was over and his unconscious character could be stirred to wakefulness.