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I had a player message me a few hours before our 5e session, "Hey I'm quitting the group, would it be too much of a hassle to kill off my character tonight?" I said that's fine, thinking I would fudge some combat rolls near the end of the night to kill the character. I was under the impression that he would play one last session; we waited for him to arrive later that evening. but after a while and a text message, I realised he wasn't coming at all.

I panicked and did the unimaginative "Bob falls over unconscious on the ground".

The party were just after entering a dungeon which they will take a number of sessions to complete. We have since had two sessions with the remaining party of four level 3 characters, dragging Bob around doing their best to RP why their comrade is catatonic. They are now well into the dungeon.

Bob is a tiefling warlock with a fiend pact. I've added some intrigue with Bob muttering under his breath and his horns glowing with runes as the party journeys further into the dungeon, linking the runes in a small way to another character's backstory.

I am however at a complete loss on how to resolve this. I have no one who could step in to play Bob any time soon, and as a very new DM, I'm creatively stumped on a good way to write off the character without just having him killed by an enemy.

How can I write out this player character? I am not looking for specific brainstormed ideas, but instead to understand the various ways I can go about this. Please back up your ideas with things you have used, seen used, or can cite.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, @Sam, welcome to the site. If you haven't already, please take the site tour to get a better feel for how this site operates. In particular, this site can't really help with open-ended brainstorming questions (which are more suitable to a forum) but can help solve specific problems (which I think I can interpret this question as.) \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Sep 16 '18 at 0:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ As Novak said, idea generation questions aren't really suited to RPG.SE, and are more suitable for a forum. However, I think it's possible to edit this question to be appropriate here; the important thing is to clarify the goal you're trying to accomplish (e.g. write out the character without ruining immersion), and possibly anything you don't want to do. Then people can suggest the best way to do so. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 16 '18 at 1:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Questions like this can be bad if answered with a brainstormed list of answers, and good if answered with general guidance. Seems on track to me so far. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 16 '18 at 3:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ate your other players aware that Bob's player likely isn't returning? \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Sep 16 '18 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps I spoke to soon - if you're looking to answer this question, what we don't do is brainstorm random ideas that could happen. We instead teach techniques on how this GM can make this decision. If this question gets more "list brainstorm" than good answers it will be closed. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 16 '18 at 16:20
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Well, their PC has just become an NPC, so your choices are limitless.

If there is any chance that the player will return to the campaign at some point, you may not want to "kill them off" - they can just leave for any of the thousand reasons someone IRL leaves a job or hobby or whatnot.

If they're certainly not returning, then you can freely maim and kill them as well.

So what "should" you do when you have unlimited options? Well, it's up to you. But as a DM, you should always be looking to use everything in your game to further your campaign, its plot, tone, and character development.

This is an opportunity to think like a screenwriter. What does your game need? Does it need him to be murdered so they have something to avenge? Does it need someone to be kidnapped so they have something to go after? Does it need someone to declare they're pregnant with another PC's child but they never want to see them again? Does it need them to go out with a bang or stay around? It's all up to you and there is no right answer.

In my campaigns, ex-PCs have settled down and been a source of advice and guidance, they've decided they hate the PCs and plot their demise, they've gone to jail and sacrificed themselves and no end of dramatic turns.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted for in particular "think like a screenwriter". TV shows deal with this problem all the time, when a character needs to be written out for one reason or another. The show must go on . . . . \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Sep 16 '18 at 3:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you mxyzplk this a great answer. I appreciate that this forum is not for brainstorming ideas but thanks to all who replied to me. It's given me a good bit to think about and reminded me that everything can be used to advance the plot as I intend it. \$\endgroup\$ – Sam Sep 20 '18 at 13:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jack Of course, the screen writer has the added problem of how to deal with the missing actor, because the people are not physically interchangeable. In the case of an RPG, what was once a core cast character can be replaced by an extra (aka, the GM). \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Oct 10 '18 at 14:31
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You Are Under No Obligations

First and foremost, you're under no obligations to honor your former players' request as to his character's demise. A fair number of players think that you are (your player may or may not be one of them) but it isn't so. You may, at your discretion, honor any requests they make, but you certainly don't have to.

In particular, if their character fulfills a critical mechanical need, you're perfectly entitled to keep that character around as an NPC (or even to rotate him through the other players to reduce your burden) until you have time to figure out something longer term and/or more satisfying.

For Longer Term Solutions....

...You do have a range of general options, including but not limited to:

  1. A dramatic, motivating death. Whether this will work is something you have to judge yourself in the context of your gaming group. If your characters have bonded, and you think they will role-play his death as a serious loss, then you can make this work. If your group is more combat and les role-playing, or if they just haven't been together long, then maybe not.
  2. The NPC becomes a long term but infrequently seen ally. Think in terms of a TV show where an actor leaves the main cast but returns for guest appearances every once in a while.
  3. The NPC becomes a long term adversary for some reason. This, again, depends on your campaign and group, and it should really flow (mostly) organically from what's already happened (although you may need to retcon some things that happened behind the scenes.)

There are others-- this is your chance to be creative. Bottom line is, never burn a major NPC without getting something in return.

As for how to recover from "he fell over unconscious for no reason," well. Sometimes the best thing to do is face your remaining players, say, "I didn't handle that very well. Can we not think too hard about that while we try this other approach instead?"

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The zeroth rule applies here: "You are the game master what you say goes." At this point I could suggest a few good ways.

  1. He becomes an antagonist for the party by dying, becoming undead, and trying to use parts of them to "Get back to life". Much like "The Mummy".

  2. He is stolen away by the "Enemy" and the party will now search for him till level 20. Leave a trail and the party can follow and "Save him".

  3. The now NPC, was the way the fiend was trying to get to the players as it needed a way to escape its lonely/painful/boring existence. The other fiends are trying to stop the being he had a pact with from fleeing their realm, so they destroy the warlock so he can't communicate with them. Leave enough clues for the party to try and save the fiend.

  4. Let him "wake up" when they get back to town and have him leave, "Quitting adventuring" as it was not for him, that's why he was "comatose".

  5. Make him an NPC and have him do less and less story line stuff till they do not see him as important and then just "Write him out of the show".

  6. Sit the team down say you are taking the character out of the game as that player is not going to play with you anymore. (I like this one as it lets the team know what's going on, however it breaks immersion.)

  7. Sit everyone down and ask them what they want to do, involve everyone. Take in ideas and finally vote on it.

I hope these gave you some idea as to what you could do, not what you should do. Make an elaborate plan or just use what you need off the cuff to make it work.

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The moment your player opted out that character became an NPC. He's at your disposal. The player asked you to do something but he's also not in your game anymore.

The fact that this character is a warlock makes this incredibly easy. His patron claims him for some transgression. Wake him up, think back to something stupid your player did and have his patron kill him for it. Send an assassin, have the patron appear as a spectral image and choke him out Darth Vader style or just have him start spurting blood from every oriface and give a long soliloquy about the price of his unholy bargain with a fiend.

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In our group we often have players missing, and the accepted solution is that all the other players suspend their disbelief that their characters don't especially notice what happens with Bob.

If the player will be missing just one session, Bob is just passively doing whatever he normally does, with the present players often suggesting what it should be ('he attacks those monsters with us, I will roll for him'). When player comes back, Bob recovers from his lethargy and plays fully again, and none of the characters remark about it much.

If it is for a longer time, Bob leaves the party at the first opportunity with some excuse and then catches up later when the player is back. (Heck, we played a game where 2 DM alternated regularly and theirs characters "just went to see grandma" as excuse every time, and it worked too.)

If it is (virtually) forever, Bob just retires and settles down somewhere (say, as village guard, blacksmith, or whatnot) and stay there, occasionally helping the party with requests to "kill this monster/solve that mystery" as a hireling for next adventure, or "fixed their stuff" at a good price as friendly NPC.


You did it another way, but I would suggest talking with the players about making Bob an NPC under your control.

How to explain this in game? Many possibilities:

  • Bob (or his food) was poisoned/hexed by enemy at last village — after finishing this dungeon, go investigate the village again — go hunt him (next campaign hook).
    • Enemy was disguised as traveler, made some ruckus after party left and then ran away
    • Enemy killed and impersonated one of villagers, whose long dead body was then found hidden...
    • Enemy forced all village to play along that he is "just another villager" — by threatening to kill somebody (local priestess/mayor's daughter/everybody), or by threating to reveal some dark secret, or just paying them in gold?
  • Enemy somehow magically attacked him via some hidden artefact that Bob had, or via another magical bond (so other character are immune to this kind of attack).
  • Bob was possesed/cursed long time, and only now have his defences finally been overcome.
  • Bob was a trap to lure them here.
  • Bob is the servant/chosen enemy of the Big Bad Boss of this dungeon.

What to do with Bob just now? Maybe take control of him right away

  • Big circle rise around his body, then he disappears in flash. Later, the PCs will find a scroll/prophecy/explanation of what happend to him.
    • Enemy took him away — find and fight the enemy, rescue Bob, or discover his remains.
    • Gods/Demons took him due to something he did earlier. He is in Heaven/Hell/Valhalla now and cannot be returned.

Maybe wake him up to be able walk and feed himself and put him under your control.

Bob can explain what happened, or there may be some evidence, or the PCs will only discover that much later.

Bob could be aware of his state or not ("No, my horns have no runes, no I don't talk in my sleep", and he does not see the horns glowing, even in a mirror), or just pretend that he is not aware.

What now:

  • Bob can just fight as usual during this adventure if it will be too hard without him, but will suffer bad dreams and worsening headaches. After this adventure he will seek healing somewhere, disapearing for years in some church/hospital/whatever.

  • Bob will fight as usual, then with the loot will just settle somewhere and stop going on such dangerous adventures.

  • Bob will help them find shortcuts down through dungeon, then present them to his Master as sacrifices — all the party will fight goons, Bob and the final Boss, then get the loot (and maybe a scroll or a prisoner or whatnot which/who explains this devilish plan).

  • Bob is the Final Boss (who cast temporary spells on himself to be seen as a "normal adventurer", and now, near the source of his power, the spell finally ends) and brings them to the Final Fight via those shortcuts.
  • Bob is The Chosen One to bring down the Final Boss. After getting to the Last Battle, when it's almost all over for the Boss, Bob will attack him, glowing with unnatural light, and kill him with just a touch and a strange spell, dying with him too in one big flame. His purpose to destroy the Big Boss was fulfilled and he will be praised for it for generations. The rest of party will find big loot (and healing potions and such), and will escape safely just in time as the whole dungeon collapses just seconds after their escape.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ wow, thans SevenSidedDie and @V2Blast for nice edits. English is my 4. laguage and I make so many mistakes (over my normal typing mistakes)... \$\endgroup\$ – gilhad Sep 16 '18 at 23:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks gilhad this is a very in depth answer. Much appreciated. \$\endgroup\$ – Sam Sep 20 '18 at 13:36
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I'm not much of a player, so I can't give detail. But I would make one strong suggestion.

The players have carried him around, catatonic, for a while. In a good storyline, that happens for a reason, or fits in somewhere, or leads to something. You don't just carry Bob around, catatonic, for 2 weeks, to just be told on week 3 "Bob died", and that's the end of the matter.

You have a lot of scope of what you can do with Bob's character. But try to find a way to make his catatonia meaningful, not pointless, even if he dies.

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You handled it quite well with the character now NPC suddenly dropping unconscious and the mystery of him muttering under his breath and strange runes appearing on his horns.

This gives plenty of question you and the players can explore; it gives you plenty of options for the story. And if you don't need the possibilities you can easily phase the ex-character/NPC out.

Possible questions (for each you don't have to have an answer yet, you can develop the answers when you get ideas and when the players explorer the question):

  • Why has Bob dropped unconscious? What is happening to him? Is it a danger for the other characters?
  • What is it with the strange runes on his horns? Is it related to the other character's backstory?
  • What is Bob muttering? Does it have any significance to the current dungeon/quest/world events?
  • Do the players wish to haul a 180 lbs. catatonic friend/party member around? Or do they abandon him somewhere in the dungeon? Is it safe to abandon a living humanoid with Bob's condition somewhere in the dungeon or will Bob or what he has become haunt you and stab you in the back when you are not watching?
    • My group just abandoned a character from a player who left once, later the characters regretted that choice, since the ex-character had become a powerful demon.

Should you need to encourage the players to keep Bob, you can make hauling him around less of an issue: perhaps Bob starts walking again and just follows them, perhaps you just gloss over the fact of bringing a 180-pound body along.
Should you wish to encourage the opposite of the players abandoning Bob you introduce some puzzles that include the 180-pound body: how to scale a cliff and take Bob along; how to cross a gauge; and how to quickly escape an overwhelming horde of goblins?
* What do the good villagers think when the party takes an unconscious body along on a dungeoneering trip?

Opportunities

  1. Use Bob's muttering and runes on his horns to provide clues. Perhaps the runes glow more intense when some kind of enemy is nearby. Perhaps Bob has somehow become somewhat precognant and his muttering, if the characters can understand it, hints about traps in the next room or about the scheme of the big evil guy.
  2. Introduce NPCs an factions that want to 'help'/research/obtain/use the catatonic Bob.
    How eager are these NPCs to obtain Bob? Are they going to make trouble for the party?
  3. Introduce the NPC that has caused this to Bob.
  4. Have an instant character to play for guest players or new players.
    You can help the new players with clues about how to roleplay Bob.
  5. Perhaps the party finds some uses for Bob; however, this might become to morbid for your play style.

Letting go of Bob

Should you decide you have no use for Bob you can encourage the players to abandon him:

  1. I'm not sure if they are inclined to just abandon their comrade in a dungeon.

  2. When they enter a village, there is a village healer that is willing to take care of Bob.

  3. Slowly Bob's life is fleeting, after a few days of seeing him getting worse and worse the characters must conclude Bob is death. There is a ceremony and Bob's corpse is buried or cremated.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Edited for formatting. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 16 '18 at 16:09
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Make him into the Villian

Have him turn on the party and fight against them. They may kill him, he may get away, it's up to you, but he's not in the party anymore.

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Bob could be killed off easily during a protest of angry orcs. That stampeded through Bob's neck of the woods, simply put he was stomped to death by the over arching orc army. Who were later picked off by nestled Elven archers protecting the forest, then have a gnome fetch the Bob corpse of all missing in action items, plunder in an oh so vigelant ending and scatter the remains across all nine realms.

I have no clue what I just said but if that sounds epic hope it helps!

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