Dear DovahQueen – Handling Long-Term Absences

Sometimes we have a group-member leave for an extended period of time. That vacancy isn’t always so easy to resolve. Today we look at a group that just doesn’t have room to pick up and keep and new player.

Dear DovahQueen: My table has experienced a loss of a player simply due to outside forces temporarily, and he has all intent to return to us. In the meantime we have a GM PC who fulfills a lacking role I believe we need between a barbarian, pyrokineticist, alchemist, and investigator (thank you healing GM PCs!!). My problem is that we have other players who continue to request that their friends “sit in” or who have friends that are “looking for group” and want to add new players to fill in for our missing warpriest, permanently.

How can the GM and his more concerned player convey that the table is rather full right now and we shouldn’t add more people unexpectedly?—aesome


Dear A.E. Somebody: Not having to deal with “sticky” social situations is probably one of the reasons that we gravitate towards our tabletop games in the first place. We all have a great time slaying maidens and saving dragons, but nobody is having a good time when you have to confront Robert from HR about his body odor problem. In game, it’s no big deal to give someone news (or an order) that they don’t wanna hear, but in real life, it totally blows. Sure, some folks are sadists who get off on that kind of stuff, but for the rest of us, we typically just have to grin and bear it. Despite, I think you’ve got a few options to make this suck a bit less, and all of them are better aided by just being super upfront about why you’re trying to make these decisions.

For starters, I noticed you specifically used the word “permanently.” Does that mean that non-permanent guest-characters are possible? And since you said both “players” and “friends,” I’m assuming that you’ve got quite a few folks trying to join the group.  If the former GM’s absence is going to be semi-short-term, a compromise might be your best bet. See if the acting GM is willing to allow new players in a rotating “guest” slot and make it abundantly clear to all involved that these are not meant to be recurring characters or players. Having a guest rotation could be a lot of fun. I really enjoyed how it worked for Harmon Quest and Roll for Combat, and my own group has done it on occasion with whole groups of player-NPCs. One of my favorites was when I had a group of four friends write up an anti-party to throw against my heroes in one session.

If your former and future GM is going to be away for an extended period of time, you may not be able to use guest PCs. As your pool of guests grows low, folks who’ve played more than once may start wondering why they can’t just stick around. From the sounds of things, some of their friends already at the table might be thinking some of the same things. If this is the case, I need you to confirm a few things. Still assuming that a non-permanent player might be ok, consider seeing if the acting GM would be ok with one new addition while they’re running. Unless I’m misunderstanding, seems like the problem isn’t what happens now so much as what happens when F&F GM comes back. Try this on for size next time you’re all gathered: “Hey guys, a number of you expressed interest in having one of your friends replace the warpriest while Steve is away. (I’m assuming the first GM’s name is Steve.) Once Steve gets back, he’s not gonna want an extra player at the table so here’s what I was thinking. You guys talk amongst yourselves and discuss which one of your friends you’d like to bring to the party while we have a temporary GM, but you then are in charge of making sure this friend knows they have to go when Steve gets back.  And you need to make sure it’s someone our acting-GM is ok with.” If the current and temporary GM is ok with it, this could be a good compromise too. You’ll just have to stress that you’re not gonna be the one whose job it is to make sure they hit the road when Steve returns.

If I *am* misunderstanding, and even having a temporary player simply isn’t an option, that’s ok too. As with most things in life, communication is key. It’s hard to just clickity-clack on a keyboard and impart communication advice, but I think I can give you a few pointers. Clearly and respectfully discuss with the group why they can’t be inviting folks to the table. Take your the time, prior, to plan out the way you wanna word your case. Make sure to be polite yet firm the entire time. I think that most disagreements are the cause of misunderstandings and not feeling respected; clearly explain your reasoning, but also make it obvious that you’re listening to them too. Try this: “No, I get that; it would totally be awesome to have them play with us, but what would we be telling them when Steve comes back?” I *think* that they’ll give you one of three answers. A) They’ll tell you something we hadn’t thought about and you’ll be able to have a discussion. B) They’ll understand and agree. Or C) They’ll say “F*** Steve” in which case you’re dealing with an aHole and you have a different problem on your hands altogether.

In taking the time to reach out, you’ve already invested time and thought into resolving this matter amicably. Take a bit more time to think over some of the options and dedicate yourself to a plan. As long as you know what you wanna say and how to say it going in, you’re gonna be fine…

…unless you’re dealing with an aHole. In that case, write me back and I’ll tell you how to dump them next time.





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Loren Sieg

Loren has been writing and playing in tabletop RPGs for over 15 years. As both a GM and player, she pours heart and soul into producing new content and helping shape the way tabletops are experienced. She's worked with companies including Paizo Inc., Legendary Games, Swords for Hire, and Encounter Table Publishing to publish material for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Dear DovahQueen began early in 2016, and Loren has been helping GMs and players fully realize their stories and game concepts ever since. When she's not knee-deep in characters sheets and critical hits, she can likely be found studying Biology at Indiana University and/or doing research on different types of marine life.