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TL;DR:

How, as a player, can I prevent another player from derailing an encounter that started while his character was on autopilot because the player wasn't there?

Longer story:

I am a player in a D&D 5e campaign. We try to play every week, but life happens and we are professional working adults.

We started a quest where we had to procure the McGuffin from the bad guy. Adam was present for that piece of the quest. We got to the dungeon and were doing all of the things. We had many encounters and solved them and fun was had. We took a break after because of professional work people stuff.

The next week we are missing Adam. We put his character on autopilot and end up fighting the boss. We do so much stuff, but it takes a long time so we take a break. It is a logical stopping point in a multi-form boss fight.

Next time we meet up, Adam is there. We are trying to set up because there is more boss fight. Adam starts getting pissy because he doesn't get to talk to minions in the fight or the boss. He is not a "talking" character, but he is new to tabletop RPGs coming from video games.

How can I, as a player, keep Adam from slowing down an established encounter with his trying to effect the situation via talking, negotiating, etc especially when I, and others, have already stabbed the boss a lot? His character is solidly on our side, so disagreement would not have happened.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a related piece of advice: I would not recommend ending a session in the middle of an encounter, even it is long. Doing so tends to ruin the tension that has built up, and disrupt the flow of the encounter. Players will come back next week having forgotten which spells they have already used, what their strategy was, or what happened before. If your sessions aren't long enough, then I suggest planning shorter fights rather than breaking up combats across two sessions. You should aim to finish each session either before or after a major decision point, not during one. \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Apr 6 '18 at 20:28
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You can't do much as a player

Unfortunately, as a player there's not a whole lot you can do. This falls solidly on the DM's shoulders.

This is up to the DM to adjudicate

As a DM, what you do at this point is just handle the narration exactly fairly, without any bias for or against the player. This would look something like this:

"I try to convince [big boss nasty] not to fight."

"Okay, roll persuasion"

(Player rolls anything lower than a 35)

"Well, you and your friends have already stabbed him 23 times. He's not open to negotiation at this point. He sneers at you scornfully and says 'you die next for your insolence, worm.' What else are you doing on your turn?"

It's worth noting that we don't want to prevent the player from trying to negotiate. Instead, we want to allow him to act however he wants on his turn and adjudicate the results appropriately. He's more than welcome to try to talk the big badnasty out of fighting, but based on recent history (i.e. your party stabbing him 23 times) he's unlikely to listen.

Hold a post-mortem

After this session, I would absolutely recommend that you and your party hold a post-mortem. Honestly discuss how you want to handle the situation when someone isn't able to play. Make sure that everyone has the correct expectation - that their character isn't able to act when they aren't there, and that the group won't be rewinding time to retcon things for players that have to miss sessions.

You may also want to look into alternative methods of handling missing players. For example, in the past I've had success with having another player assume the character (if the original character requested it) and roleplay as well as they can. This gets easier as you've been playing together longer and know eachother's characters, but does require a lot of trust. You can also send the player text updates at key moments and give them a brief moment to do something even though they're not at the table.

At the end of the day, though, everyone needs to be on the same page so this doesn't turn into a big problem again in the future.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I figured this would be the answer since I have been gaming for a while, but I really hoped this would not be the case. \$\endgroup\$ – Jake Feb 18 '18 at 9:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ The DM shouldn't even allow the player to roll persuasion. The boss is so unlikely to want to negotiate at that point that rolling is just a waste of time. I would say that immediately allowing the player to negotiate is actually reducing player agency. The DM should first warn the player that the action cannot succeed. This should be obvious to the character, so it should be made obvious to the player, so that they can make an informed decision. If they still want to go ahead with the entirely pointless action, after you have asked them if they are sure, then you narrate the consequences. \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Apr 6 '18 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ladifas that's a personal choice of DM style. I'd agree that it needs to be obvious to that player. However, I still let my players roll on nigh-impossible tasks. There are varying degrees of failure, and the difference between a 0 and a 20+ might be the difference between giving the boss pause and angering him to attack even harder. Additionally, it's possible the player in question is a high-level Bard. I'd say getting the boss to stop and negotiate is "nearly impossible", which is DC of around 30 - possibly within reach. Nothing is hurt by letting players roll. \$\endgroup\$ – Dacromir Apr 7 '18 at 23:07
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If your group is anything like ours, characters of absent players are considered to be dealing with their own enemies in combat, it's just all off-stage. So even his character would clearly see fresh blood on his own weapons or would know he had just been slinging cantrips.

As a player, I think it's perfectly acceptable to inform the other player that what he's doing is kind of nonsense and that diplomacy has already failed, because I would assume that the returning player had simply failed to grasp the retelling of events. "No, you don't understand. We're in combat and there's no turning back. This room is littered with the dead and we're the ones that killed them. About six seconds ago. In full view of this guy who was their leader. Those veins on the side of his head are there because he's angry. At us."

If I were the DM, I'd probably tell the player that his character knows that's probably impossible. If he persisted, I'd let the player do what he wants and have the villain respond appropriately:

Ha ha ha! Fools! So you know you are beaten and wish to parley? Very well, cowards. You have invaded my home, stolen my property, and slain my friends and allies. Here are my terms: Drop your weapons now and I shall grant you the favor of a quick and painless death! There shall be no quarter!

Unless the player was saying something like, "We'll give you the information you want," I would not let the player roll a Diplomacy check.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just a quick note: There's no such thing as a "Diplomacy check" in 5e. It'd probably be a Persuasion check. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 7 '18 at 7:21
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It's tough with missed sessions and new players. In a game that I am running with Curse of Strahd, we have two players who are inconsistent, instead of having to figure out what to do, we decided to just play another game, home brewed this time, instead of having myself, the DM, figure out what happened with those two characters, and now whenever they can make it, we just play Curse of Strahd. That's probably an extreme example when you have one person missing and I'm assuming a home brewed campaign.

There are a few different things that you can do when someone misses and their character isn't around.

  1. You can put them on auto-pilot like you did, however, with this player, doesn't seem like the best scenario
  2. You can have them in the background, give them something interesting to do that finishes the second that they are back in the game magically. Sure, they won't be able to talk to the minions or try and get the big bad to step down, but now haven't had the decision made for them in battle
  3. Finish up the scene that you're on, and then introduce the character back into the game. Yeah, probably makes sense that they would have been there for the battle, but maybe they are patrolling to keep anyone from sneaking up on you, so aren't on auto-pilot, and when this scene is done, they can join back in. That way they don't feel like they've missed out on something.

The last two are pretty similar, the downside to #3 is that a player is sitting around for potentially a solid chunk of time.

  1. Talk, as a group, and determine that if someone is missing, you will end after a big scene or before a scene, not in the middle. That way no one is confused about what is going on. Cliffhangers are great, but when someone is missing, everyone in the bar and going out from there after a big battle, is often a good spot to start back from.

Now, if it's a situation where the player didn't feel like they fully knew what was going on, pick someone in the group or pass it around, to recap, ideally dramatically, what had happened in the previous session for the people who missed. Maybe with that it'll make it feel like to the player(s) who missed that they are still more involved as compared to jumping back into the middle of something.

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Your best chance was to loop him in via email or the like.

If you email the absent player (or use slack, facebook chat, a dedicated forum, or any similar networking tool) a brief minutes of the game, they can respond before the next session. If they have any major concerns, the DM may be able to "retcon" a few small changes, or at least explain why their proposed change in action doesn't change the current circumstance. At the very least, their input can be resolved before this kind of situation happens in the first place.

What it sounds like he's most upset about is a perceived lack of agency on his part. Sure, it's life and sometimes this happens, but people sometimes (I think "often") play games specifically to have that kind of agency we have to give up in real life. Looping absent players in on events (when you expect them to return) is basic courteous nod in this direction.

At this point, your solution will have to focus on repairing that loss of agency and/or reconciling the player with the fact that it happened. This can't efficiently be done during a game session, and your fellow players should (usually) trump their characters -- not the other way around. Accept a derailed session as the cost of the error and be more pro-active in the future.

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