This post was originally published as How to Manage No Shows, but fits quite nicely into the RPG Problem Child series:

I’ve been gaming for 30+ years and one thing you can be sure of:  people will not show up.  Sometimes it’s because they’re just not that interested, sometimes it’s a group dynamics thing…and sometimes (or often) life just gets in the way.  People graduate from high school or college and get jobs.  Jobs that have weird hours are the worst — if the player’s on a night shift, or works in the filnm industry…  They get or have a boy/girlfriend, or get married and now the significant other/spouse is dictating their time.  They have a kid — the ultimate time sink.

It’s rough for gamemasters to deal with people not showing.  Sometimes it’s just a nuisance, sometimes it feels like rejection.  The more work you put into the game, the more likely you are to be peeved with people dropping out for a week here, two weeks there, a couple of months at a time.  Remember, most of the time, it’s nothing personal.  If it is, dump the player.  It’s better to lose a player than to have personality conflicts at the table.  It’s fine for players to be at each other’s throats…not for the players to be.

There’s a few options you have to deal with no-shows, depending on why they’re happening.  If it’s because a friend or gamer is uninterested or busy with other things they’d rather do, simply back burner their character and press on with the understanding the invitation is always open, but they shouldn’t feel pressure to show up.

This can be difficult in campaigns that are more than a dungeon crawl.  Especially if you’ve worked them into the plot line and have to extricate them from the  main storylines.  It’s annoying when you’ve crafted an action or other scene that plays to their strengths — especially if it’s an important scene and no one else has the skills needed.

Now, say you’ve got that player off the main roster — you can give them the henchman, aide, native guide, character that is often in the background, but not necessary to plotlines to take over when they are present.  Another thing we like to do, if it’s just for a session every once in a while is let another player run the character.  It’s fun for the player, often, to give his/her spin on the character.  Or the GM simply bumps him/her into an NPC position and plays the character (often, I have other players roll for the various checks, but I run the character…)

Never just off a character because the player’s not showing up.  They will not appreciate it.  And you might lose a player permanently.

Some examples:  I had a player that worked in the film industry — he was either working all the time for three to ten weeks, or he’s dead broke.  Either way, about four months out of the year, he can’t afford to make it to the game, since he commutes an hour to get here.  No problem:  his characters were very important, but not in a position that they couldn’t be the force off stage (like ship commander, say), or the guy that goes missing in the jungle, only to reappear at a crucial moment in Hollow Earth Expedition.

Another was having trouble at home and needed to get out of the group for a few months.  No problem: we switched to another game until he came back, then picked up where we left off.  (I tend to rotate campaigns to keep things fresh, anyway.)

One player went to Scotland for a year:  her character was badly injured and has been in rehab therapy, only just getting better in the last played adventure.  She’ll be ready to go in a few weeks, when her player returns.

The best advice I can give:  never burn your bridges.  You never know if someone will hove back into your life a couple of decades later (as has happened with a few people), whether your girlfriend or boyfriend will dump them and they’ll be back, or if they get a schedule change.

Foremost, don’t just chose gamers…chose gamers that are friends.  Do things outside of gaming together when you can.  Friends last…and they usually show up. People there to “just game” are there for as long as the game is meeting their entertainment needs.

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