How to handle missing players

It’s game night. Everything feels good. You’re ready to roll.

Except there’s one problem: Somebody didn’t show up.

So what do you do now? Nobody wants to cancel game night, especially considering how hard it can be to schedule one in the first place. (Man, adult life is tough sometimes, right?)

You could cancel the game or keep playing. You have a lot of options. Let us help you figure it out.

Ignore the missing player and just keep playing. You could just play the session without that one person and ignore the fact that their character seemed to disappear for a time. If you’re in a story-heavy game, that can be hard to do but it’s almost always the easiest option.

Within the game world, give the character something else to do. As the GM, you can decide the missing player’s character had something else to do. Make up whatever you want, but it’s extra fun to think up something they really could be doing. Bonus points if you check in with the player later and have them roleplay and roll dice to see how their side quest turned out.

Let somebody else run the character. This is a touchy one. Some players would be happy their characters continued to be in the game. Others would be upset if someone so much as touched their character sheets. It’s up to the players, but is a good option for keeping the game going if someone’s missing.

Keep an on-call player or two. We all have friends who love to play but either can’t make it to a regular session or are simply busy with another game. Keep them as an on-call player to help round out the table by playing a character (a new one or a friendly NPC always works well) when someone else can’t make it.

Don’t punish the missing player. Welcome them back to the table when they’re able to make it. Make sure you, the GM, fill them in or designate another player to relay the last session’s events. If they’d like, the player could also explain where their character was during the last session.

Adjust the frequency. Are game nights happening too often for some players to make it consistently? Are they so infrequent that they no longer feel important? It might be time to change up the schedule to make it more accomodating for everyone.

Consider taking the game to a new location. If you play online, it might be more fun for some players to play at a physical table. If you play at one person’s house every week, maybe you should move things to a neutral spot like a game store.

Most of all, just keep the game going. Find another time. Play short-handed. Do whatever you have to do keep the game alive.

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Q&A: 'Dragons & Things' GM James Rodehaver talks about his new adventure series for Dungeon Crate

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Every month in Dungeon Crate, there’s an adventure.

We’re excited that three crates will include a trilogy of adventures from our friend James Rodehaver, the GM for the RPG stream “Dragons and Things,” created a new trilogy for Dungeon Crate.

“The Phoenix Initiative” is a trilogy of adventures centered around the eccentric artificer Anders Von Horning. It includes “The Mystery of the Mechanized Manor,” May’s upcoming “Friends in Low Places” and June’s adventure, “Rescue the Dead.”

We caught up with Jim to talk about his ideas for the trilogy, Dragons and Things and how much fun he’s had writing The Phoenix Initiative.

Dungeon Crate: Where'd you derive the idea for this trilogy?

James Rodehaver: This idea started with Anders Von Horning. I'm not really a huge steampunk guy, but for tabletop games I really like the alchemist and artificer types for villains. I love the idea of mad science fused with magic being a driving force behind the adventure. I was also listening to a podcast about the Winchester Mansion and that particular story fascinated me. I really wanted to do an adventure set in that type of old-timey, eccentric millionaire's mansion. From there, the rest of the Von Hornings started to take shape, and I knew that I wanted to give them that backbiting, petty, greedy flair, really set them against each other with the PCs acting as these disposable pawns in their eyes.

DC: Did you have fun writing it?

JR: I had a lot of fun writing this series. I was originally approached to write just a single installment, but once I got to the end of that first adventure, “The Mystery of the Mechanized Manor,” my mind just kept going. I was thinking of what I'd throw at my players next if I were running this adventure, and so I wrote it out and asked Wayne if he wanted to print a trilogy. Luckily, he said yes, and so I got to keep writing. If I'm being honest, I could keep rolling with this Von Horning arc for many more months. I kind of hope that someday I get to revisit it.

DC: Has any of your “Dragons and Things” experience translated to these adventures?

JR: “Dragons and Things” influences a lot of what I do with gaming now in the sense that it has been going for three years now and I've grown a lot as a GM because of that. My players, like a lot of players, always keep me on my toes, and they taught me to write a great structure for an adventure but leave room for their choices. That's why the trilogy features a lot of different victory conditions and different rewards based on what the players choose to do. I didn't want to make any one victory condition a clearly better choice than the others, and I really tried to balance the rewards for each so that the players could have a unique experience without feeling cheated. It's something I've had to learn to do at my own table because I got tired of running into those "what if the players just blow all this up?" roadblocks that we all run into.

DC: Without giving too much away, what happens in the final adventure?

JR: The final adventure is a little sad in my opinion. We finally get to see the Von Hornings for what they are, and we get to understand the consequences of Anders Von Horning's megalomania. They are a really messed up family, and even though I kind of hate them, I also pity them for what they became.

DC: How'd you bring the adventures together? Did you have an overarching story in mind?

JR: I didn't originally have much beyond the first installment planned out until I got to the end of it. Once I'd written it and submitted it, the following two installments came to me right away. I knew I wanted to pursue Anders' story, and I knew how his project, The Phoenix Initiative, had ultimately unfolded. From that point it was just connecting the dots.

DC: Any advice for GMs running your adventures?  

JR: I think the key to running my adventures is to run them your way. When I'm writing, I start to get very hung up on different ways the PCs can solve a situation, or how an NPC might react to a myriad of choices the PCs make. Unfortunately, I have a word limit. This means that I know my writing doesn't cover all the crazy possibilities a party of adventurers or a crafty GM can bring to the table. While I'm very proud of the story that came out of this, and I hope GMs enjoy it enough to want to run it, I also know that there are so many other ways these adventures can be played. I would encourage GMs to view these adventures as a framework to build their own story with their players.

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Keep up with everything we’re doing. Find and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and watch us play games on Twitch. Listen to our free DnD5e and Dungeon Crate podcasts. You can also score some sweet loot if you check out our online store.

How to use every item in April's Dungeon Crate

Dungeon Crate has done it again.

Another box is filled with wondrous items, a menagerie of monstrous miniatures and arcane artifacts that’ll dazzle at the game table. The best part: Dungeon Crate delivers it all straight to your door.

You could play a pretty good game of Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder with just the items in this month’s box.

Let’s dig into this month’s crate filled with tabletop treasures, shall we?

“The Mystery of Mechanized Manor”

Exclusive to Dungeon Crate, this adventure from Dragons and Things’ “evil” GM Jim Rodehaver is a blast. Uh, literally. (Things explode. Just, y’know, roll to defuse. What could go wrong?) Something is amiss at the manor of a strange, hermetic artificer. What’s he building down in that shop? It’s up to a party of clever adventurers (maybe that’s you!) to figure it out.

Iron Golem miniature

Paint it like a regular old iron golem. (Grey paint will do.) Paint it like Iron Man. (Crimson and gold!) Paint her pink! (You know you want to!) You can make this little baddie from Reaper Miniatures into whatever you want with a little creativity and some mini paints.

Wall of Ice

This thing is cool. If you’re a wizard, use it when you cast, y’know, the wall of ice spell. If you’re a DM, use it to show off spell effects. If you’re anyone else, use it for whatever. This little plastic wall of frost from Reaper looks amazing no matter what you’re using it for.

Bestiary cards

Here at Dungeon Crate, we’ve made a lot of monsters. Every adventure we’ve created for years has included new monsters. This month’s box is no different, and these glossy finish cards are great as a DM reference (stats!) and to show to your players (amazing art from Dungeon Doodles!) You can also mark them up — track hit points, make notes, etc. — with wet or dry erase markers.

Flight stand

Make your miniatures soar. From the Lords of Adventure and Wargames, these acrylic stands offer 5-foot and 10-foot heights in case your character has prepared fly or rides a dragon or somehow is suspended in the air.

Invisibility token

When the thief hides, the wizard casts greater invisibility or someone just straight-up vanishes — accidental and purposeful teleportations are a part of D&D, folks — mark their place with this handy token from Lords of Adventure and Wargames. It’ll help.

Speckled d20

This is a hefty die. From Chessex, this 34mm speckled “golden recon” die will command respect at the table. Especially if you roll 20s with it. It feels good in your hand, and it looks pretty, too.

Dice Bag

It feels so good. This large bag from Metallic Dice Games will fit a lot of dice. The soft and silky bag is a full 6 x 8 inches, and it closes with a drawstring. Use it for your whole collection or maybe for that one special set of dice that deserves its own bag. You know the one.

Digital Crate

As always, there’s even more stuff online. If you’re a subscriber, be sure to check your e-mail to get the digital crate code!

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Keep up with everything we’re doing. Find and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and watch us play games on Twitch. Listen to our free DnD5e and Dungeon Crate podcasts. You can also score some sweet loot if you check out our online store.

How to run a sandbox game in D&D

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In our last blog, we talked about building a sandbox-style world for your Dungeons & Dragons games.

Now, we’ll talk about running those games.

Whether you built your own world or are running a published adventure — D&D 5e has some sandbox adventures including Curse of Strahd, Out of the Abyss, and Princes of the Apocalypse — these tips will help keep your open-world game going.

Give them something to do. A true sandbox sets players in a world and lets them, well, do whatever they want. That’s why it’s called a sandbox. There are no rules, structure, or plotline. But a game without a quest or a story is pretty boring. The best sandbox adventures have an open world with a grand plot or long-term aim. So, set the scene with some sort of quest, adventure, or encounter that pulls the adventurers into the overarching story.

Provide information. Open-world games can die quickly if the players feel lost or don’t know what to do next. Keep them plied with information about other places, new quests to undertake, or NPCs that need their help. Pull them into the next part of the story.

Introduce hooks. A good sandbox world is a connected world, so new adventure hooks should be popping up naturally. But make sure to dangle a few hooks in front of them whenever possible. When they’re done with the current adventure, they’ll be pulled toward the next one.

Use your NPCs. Non-player characters can serve all sorts of functions in any kind of game, but they’re most important in a sandbox game. They provide information, hand out quests, and can be there to guide players when they get stuck. Even after you’ve provided plenty of hints, sometimes players still can’t figure out their next step. That’s when an NPC shows up at the tavern and whispers some inside information, pushing them to the next place.

Keep in mind what could come next. Since they’re open worlds, these kinds of adventures tend to be able to go in any direction. Do your best to anticipate what the players could do next, so you’re prepared with a different dungeon or encounter if directions switch.

Remember it’s OK to break from the game for a second. If your players do something totally out of left field, pause the game to address them. “Hey, you guys can go into this cave or you can go to the town, but I honestly don’t have the cave prepared right now. It’s fine if you decide to do that, but we’ll have to break now and pick back up there at the next session.” They should be cool with it.

Tie the characters’ backgrounds into the game, if you can. The open nature of this kind of game lets you build elements of the player characters’ backstories into the game, which will lead to more investment in the plot and more excitement, too.

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Keep up with everything we’re doing. Find and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and watch us play games on Twitch. Listen to our free DnD5e and Dungeon Crate podcasts. You can also score some sweet loot if you check out our online store.