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How do you deal with missing players?

So this weekend a couple of our party can't make it, but the rest of us still want to play. Our DM is concious that we're approaching the climax of the campaign, so is keen to postpone. So what could we do instead so that we still get to meet and roll some dice?

Are there small campaigns that we could complete in an afternoon? Either D&D4 suitable for aparty of 6 L1/2 peeps, or something that can be learnt, started, enjoyed and wrapped up in an afternoon.

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Without editing the question it still can be answered by "every short adventure ever" and becomes a list question, so I can't yet in good conscience vote to reopen. –  mxyzplk May 21 '11 at 13:03
    
@Andrew, from the chat, @Mxy notes: "Possibly good edit, unclear if scope of the q should be roleplaying session oriented or whether "we get together and play Monopoly that night and reminisce about the campaign" qualifies - original Q implied RP but edit makesit more general, which is fine as long as it's fine with the OP" I hope this and my edit help you refine the question. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 21 '11 at 14:08
    
Is this question specific to D&D 4e, or would you welcome non-system-specific answers? If so, consider using a tag like [system-agnostic] and just mentioning in the body of the question that you're playing D&D 4e and answerers should keep that in mind. –  SevenSidedDie May 22 '11 at 0:52
    
@BrianBallsunStanton - I think you've fundamentally changed the question. The original question, as I read it in the edit history, appeared to be along the lines of "What tabletop RPG related time-fillers can we use to maintain a regular meeting schedule while our regular campaign is on hiatus? The OP, to me, seemed to be deliberately trying to avoid any progression at all in the primary campaign, since they're so close to climax. –  Iszi May 26 '11 at 8:38
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I have to agree, unless the OP bothers to come back I may well close this. –  mxyzplk May 26 '11 at 12:21
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closed as not a real question by mxyzplk Jun 3 '11 at 12:52

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

3 Answers

Work on individual character's stories, or the campaign's history.

When people know that the main game isn't working, but you don't want to lose momentum, make sure you're supporting the "energy" (mental investment) that players have with the game. To this light, the remaining players have some options.

Option 1: A game of microscope

Play a game of microscope (trivially learnable in 15-20 minutes) to detail some aspect of history of the campaign world. While near-history is probably out, It's worth looking at some topic that has an immediate bearing on the plot. To this end, establish that the facts learned from microscope have been repeated in a bard's tale, and may or may not be true in the game. What's important is that the work produced is one of the accepted histories of the time, and so generally contains more fact than fiction. With this proviso, the GM can simply become another player. Worst case is that you spend an amusing game playing what-if with thoughts towards your world. You maintain some focus and have an enjoyable evening. Best case, you give the GM lots of new ideas and trivial facts to work into future encounters and have a much richer world and history to play with.

Option 2: Flashbacks for character backstory

Either using 4e or some minimal system (like minimus), play out a character's backstory. Again, using the "this is how a bard would have told it." or "this is generally what the [local area] thinks that happened." you can explore a character's past life and thereby enrich the world.

Option 3: Ensigns on the enterprise

Looking at this very recent post on the "Guest GM" experience, Gnome Stew suggests how to make a guest campaign in the guts of the main one. Roughly speaking, have a guest GM run a game based on the lives of some underlings of the primary characters. The game will be much lower level and should follow the events of the primary story, but from a different (and lower-level) perspective. Again, you maintain focus and enrich the primary world through these actions.

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You did not dissapoint. I am now tempted to purchase Microscope since it looks awesome. –  Cthos May 27 '11 at 21:35
    
I fully recommend it :) –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 28 '11 at 2:53
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There are a couple of things you can do to continue playing, this actually happens to my group on a semi-regular basis. Typically we'll just do a side game, unrelated to the main game so as to not confuse plot lines, but it usually happens in a totally different game system (So, for example we normally play Pathfinder, but on off weeks we'll play a game of Smallville that we keep aside for these occasions).

If you're interested in playing a side-game in D&D 4th, I might suggest that you roll up some new characters and give a Dungeon Delve (links to a wizards.com product page) a try. WotC provides a book with quick delves of differing levels you can run through with very little preparation on the part of anyone involved.

I think the DMG also has rules for making quick dungeons on the fly if necessary (though that's more of a burden on your GM).

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Create a small, single session adventure where the reward for succeeding is the hook for the climax. The hook for the next module should DEFINATELY be introduced and clear by the end of the module so that it is known to all participants when they leave the table.

The players come across a lead that believe will unravel the great mystery, or test knowledge that they have already obtained in a careful fashion. They could even be introduced to what seems like an irrelevant diversion but really, the whole module is a mouth-watering opening act to the climax.

The objective here as a DM is to take the available players and get them frothing with excitement, which will then transfer to the absent players who will be excited to come back. Rather than build up investment for the great climax during your final module, you build it up before and let them stew on it with great anticipation over the coming days/weeks.

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