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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