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Historically I have generally used XP for tracking character progress in my party. But my latest new campaign I intend to move to a milestone approach.

However the one thing I don’t fully understand is the best way to manage milestones for parties where players drop in and out of sessions. Up front we have accepted that due to life my players will not be able to make every session and so we have agreed that sessions will take place the character will just be missing, or be jaegured.

What is the best way to manage milestone leveling in this case, should I track player attendance and take this into account, level everyone at the storyline moments anyway, or take more of a player by player approach (which feels like doing XP just without the XP).

I know DnD published material is moving towards the milestone approach is there any official ruling from them with regards to league sessions etc?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "jaegured" ? I am not familiar with this word, and my top google hit for it is this question. From context, is it an anglicism of hors de la guerre? \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Jan 20 at 3:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt I had the same question, the same google... but I found this at the top reddit.com/r/criticalrole/comments/8d9i8n/… "community use the term "jaegering" to refer to temporarily taking over someone's character when they're not there" with an answer of "It's German for "hunter," but this usage comes from the movie Pacific Rim, in which giant robots are controlled by humans." \$\endgroup\$ – WernerCD Jan 20 at 4:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ We have a steady group where most people can make most sessions. Every 2-3 sessions, our GM simply ends with: "You can all give yourself a level". This applies to absent players too. Easy peasy. No fuss. Everyone is always at the same level, so everything is clean and simple. \$\endgroup\$ – ikegami Jan 20 at 17:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does my answer solve your problem well enough for a green check? \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jan 25 at 14:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I’m going to have the session zero I a couple of weeks time and then was going to revisit this I have taken advice from all the answers and was going to let how my players and I move forward shape which answer I tick, otherwise I could tick one answer now and then have my players tell me they prefer and approach covered by one of the others. \$\endgroup\$ – Richard C Jan 25 at 16:41
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Missing a session sucks. Falling behind because I missed a session sucks even more.

When I DM for a group, at Session Zero I lay out this crucial principle:

We all want to be there, so missing a session is punishment enough.

We all want to be there. It sucks to miss a game. I am not going to punish you by lagging your character behind everyone else's because you miss sessions. The Dungeon Master's Guide speaks to this a bit, in the context of experience points and Absent Characters:

As an alternative, give absent characters the same XP that the other characters earned each session, keeping the group at the same level. Few players will intentionally miss out on the fun of gaming just because they know they’ll receive XP for it even if they don’t show up.

Usually, people are in it for the game, not the experience points.

Out of game problems require out of game solutions.

If it does become a habitual issue of missing sessions, I will never handle this out-of-game-problem by punishing your character. We are going to have a conversation out of game, out of character, and see what we can do to make things better, or decide that group isn't a good fit for you. But I will never punish your player character for it.

Discuss this with your players at a Session Zero.

I do not mean to say "my way is the best way". Talk about this with your players. Maybe they're okay with falling behind. Maybe they have the self awareness to know that possibly lagging behind in character advancement will motivate them to attend when they otherwise would not. This is okay too, as long as it is something you discuss with your table.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to clarify we are starting this campaign as a group of players who have not played in a while because they couldn’t commit. I can commit hence I was happy DMing, from the start we have agreed that there are 9 players because most weeks at least 4-5 should be able to take part. We are going to record sessions (just for ourselves) so everyone can catch up in between. I will have the conversation at session 0, just wondering how other DMs handle it. With XP I just take the average for the session and half it for players not there. \$\endgroup\$ – Richard C Jan 19 at 20:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RichardC your situation actually has it's benefits. I am in several groups, one is a constant but small amount of people and if one cannot make it we have to cancel because we aren't large enough. Nobody misses regularly, but since each person is absent occasionally we miss more sessions than I would like. The other group is 8 people and as long as we have 4 we play, so it goes ahead most weeks. Consider how advantageous that situation is before taking any action that might put people off from coming back if they miss a few sessions. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jan 20 at 8:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri you can always have the DM or another player play the missing character – generally this is only needed for combat or if something relies on their specific skill (e.g. lockpicks, or their high persuasion modifier). \$\endgroup\$ – Dan W Jan 20 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri One group I DM a couple of players (for valid reasons) often can't make it or have to drop out early. They love hearing the exploits their characters got up to, and stuff like shopping they missed out on we can easily retcon. It does make it harder as a DM if you've planned an encounter around a specific PC getting a chance to shine, and then the player isn't there; I've had to delay a few encounters until the player was there to see them shining. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan W Jan 20 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanW I genuinely appreciate that advice, but it is less about balance and skills and more about not having enough people to make the roleplay fun in the smaller group. 2 players is just less fun for us. We are considering expanding to add another player so that we can just remote pilot a missing character, but still have enough for RP to be fun, strangely players are hard to come by! \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jan 20 at 17:35
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In my experience:

(1) It's probably best to stick with the milestone system and level up characters who are not there. The alternative is that characters fall behind, and the game becomes less fun for the affected players, which only makes them more likely to miss future sessions.

(2) To avoid characters suddenly appearing and disappearing out of nowhere, try to time things so that at the end of a session the characters have returned to some kind of base to rest. Even in the middle of the battle, you could say 'You hear the sounds of reinforcements arriving; you/the enemy retreats.' The players will probably understand the necessity for this kind of contrivance, but it's a good idea to warn them in advance. (An alternative way to achieve the same effect would be a magic item that teleports them in and out, and which they can't entirely control.)

(3) Always have something else going on; the missing characters are investigating a mystery, protecting the base, hunting for food, or similar. This justifies their absence, and why they're gaining experience even though they're not present for the main adventure.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ About (1): I would also add that disparate character levels in a party make it more difficult for the DM to craft encounters. If nothing else, the group would be punishing the DM on top of the missing player... \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Jan 20 at 15:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. Balancing is not a precise science. As long as players are within a couple of levels of each other, crafting encounters shouldn't be too hard. I ran a satisfactory encounter with 4x L3 players who'd roped in the help of a CR3 NPC – nominally equivalent to the entire party. I altered the encounter to add some more weight on the bad guys, who, not being idiots, threw their toughest guys against the NPC, which tied him down tanking whilst the PCs ran around sniping and dealing with everything else. It was a good fun encounter. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan W Jan 20 at 17:28
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As Thomas already pointed out, this is something to be discussed and agreed with the players in session zero.

I'm not sure you are doing yourself a favor by moving from a more gradual (XP) to a very binary (level up) system in this context. This prevents you from assigning partial points to those who were there for part of the time.

The primary question to discuss is: Do you want to keep the party on mostly even grounds, or do you want characters falling behind?

A simple approach would be to level everyone who was there at least half the time or otherwise made a considerable contribution to the success of the party. That leaves some grey area, and most of the time you want to err on the side of the player, but if someone misses almost everything, you can not level him. This will work well if your players are more or less equal in attendance. If one player has more pressing real life than others, he will fall behind.

The other approach is to consider the whole thing a group experience and simply level everyone all the time. This can level up characters who were largely missing, but keeps the group on even grounds.

I would definitely NOT recommend keeping an attendance record. You're not the school master checking on students, you're just another player of a peer group, even if you have a different role during the sessions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I would recommend keeping an attendance record, so you can have a feel for who will remember what. If people were absent a session where something important happened, you as DM may need to fill in something they should have known. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan W Jan 20 at 17:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanW that's a seperate topic. I outsource this - I give a small amount of bonus XP to players who write a campaign log. \$\endgroup\$ – Tom Jan 20 at 19:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ aha, nice idea. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan W Jan 20 at 19:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanW got it from the Amber diceless roleplaying rules and liked it so much that it's now an official rule in my Dragon Eye fantasy RPG. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Tom Jan 21 at 5:40

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