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My sister and I both play at the local game shop once a week. It costs five bucks for anyone to get in.

Recently, my sister has started attending a church program every Wednesday and wants to play D&D every other week rather than weekly. Both the DM and I have said it’s unhealthy for the table as we already have few players, and one physically can’t show up consistently as he’s military. When I told my mom this, she lashed out saying it was hypocritical and unfair to say my sister should pick either Church or D&D. She can play D&D Friday too, just at a different table, but my mom insists that we’re being unfair, and I need to stick up for her even though her choosing not to show up every other week affects the whole table.

People pay to be there, and if we don’t meet the quota for players, we can’t have a “full session” and it has to be a one-shot/side episode. If we don’t have even 3 players, we just go to different tables. It feels unfair to not just myself but everyone at the table. It wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that everyone pays each week to play, and it’s not like we can just start doing sessions every two weeks since it’s organized by the store. Unless we wanna just do two different campaigns or something, but everyone else is really committed to our current system.

I don’t want to give her an ultimatum of church vs D&D, but her coming to play every other week at this table just brings a lot of problems. How do I work these out?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you tell us more about how many players your group has? When I ran at a game store, the rule was that the store could assign walk-in players to my table if I didn't have enough players. Does that happen to you? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    May 16 at 23:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ My table has 6 players total. But one of them often times can’t make it so it goes down to five. Without my sister, it’s four. We are the go-to table for new players but they usually leave after one session and our campaign is very rp and story heavy. Not to mention, we assume those players are gonna stay so we set aside roughly 1-2 hours setting them up (we only have 4 hours to actually play in the store). If she becomes irregular, days that she isn’t there only allow one person to get sick and whatnot otherwise we can’t have an actual session :l \$\endgroup\$ May 16 at 23:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems like this is two separate issues - can we run our RP-heavy game with a player who attends irregularly, and is it fair to ban a player who can only attend every other week if that means the store doesn't give us a table. To the second point, does the store want the person-in-the-seat, or the $5? Is it a possibility for her to pay every week to reserve her spot for your table quota from the store, even if she does not show? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 17 at 0:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ The store won’t stop us from playing and it’s less about the store and more about us players. We pay 5 bucks per session to play this campaign, not to get thrown into a side episode. The DM won’t run a “full” session with only half the players because it’s like having an episode of a show with only half your cast. She suggested running the character as an NPC and that would be fine once or twice but having that be a consistent thing causes plot holes, inconsistencies, etc. so the DM won’t do that \$\endgroup\$ May 17 at 0:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ At this point, your question is not fit in our community. Asking 'am I the selfish one here' is unlikely to help others in the future. Rather, state your goal, for example: I want this campaign to keep going on with my sister in it, then convert it to a question "How can I ..." \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    May 17 at 3:02

6 Answers 6

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It's perfectly fair to not want part-time players

I run games periodically, and I would never accept someone in my game who could only show up half the time.

I've occasionally had players who developed scheduling conflicts and had to miss multiple sessions in a row. Generally I grit my teeth and put up with it, and if they still have scheduling conflicts when the adventure ends, I don't invite them to the next adventure.

In this case, banning your sister seems counterproductive

If you tell your sister she can't play with you, then your game will have even fewer players and your attendance problem will be even worse. It doesn't seem like this will help you.

It sounds like you're attempting to tell her she's required to play with you (meaning she has to skip her church thing) but in my experience this doesn't usually work -- it just causes the player to drop out entirely.

See if you can fix your problem some other way

Why are you playing in a game store at all? The usual reason to play in a game store is to recruit new players, but it sounds like that's not working for you. Can you play at someone's house instead? Or in a mall, or something?

Can you play on a different day, one when your sister doesn't have a conflict?

Your DM says she won't run a game if half the players are missing. But maybe she should amend that to "...if half the full-time players are missing", since it sounds like two of your play group don't really count.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, I’ll be sure to bring this up with out DM. Also, it does help us find new players when our more permanent ones develop scheduling conflicts and such, things just haven’t been… favorable lately. New players tend to drop after one session. Mostly we play in a store because it provides a convenient meeting spot and a set timeframe. Especially since three of our players are minors and it’s a little awkward going to each other’s houses like that 😬 \$\endgroup\$ May 17 at 3:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ You definitely need to consider the comfort level of players, and parents of minors, @SabreDorko. However, you also have a potential resource in your mother. "You said we had to include her - and the way we can make that work is if we host it at our house." Just resist really hard the urge to say, "Who's being hypocritical, now?" if she rejects that idea. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 17 at 3:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't played in a long time, and never in much of an organized system, but one thing my friends and I would do is to have another player role play the absentee's character while they are out. This, of course, requires a lot of trust and communication, but with siblings living in the same house, that should be possible, as long as the siblings get along well. \$\endgroup\$
    – TecBrat
    May 17 at 7:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TecBrat Trust and communication is not something I would rely on in teenage siblings, even if they do get along well. \$\endgroup\$
    – David K
    May 17 at 12:14
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Integrate her [character's] absences into the story

The exact details will depend on the style of your game; some tables will be fine with simply handwaving the fact that the character sometimes is there and sometimes isn't, while others will want/enjoy very detailed explanations of exactly what's happening.

But this is something that - if it's known up front - can be part of character creation. Maybe she's an Eladrin with a strong and tenuous link to the Feywild, such that she occasionally involuntarily Fey Steps there and has to spend some time there before coming back. Maybe she's a Warlock with a micromanaging patron, who will regularly, and with little/no warning, teleport the player into their dimension for a "chat". Maybe she's a malfunctioning Warforged (with an overactive "immune system"), that periodically goes into lockdown - can't be harmed, but can't move or take actions until she painstakingly overrides it.

There are lots of options here, and this could in fact be a very interesting part of the character.

Keep her integrated with the story through offline updates

At a minimum, it would be good to keep her updated with what's going on in the sessions so she can start playing next session without extra overhead/delays.

But if it works for her and the DM, I'd suggest letting her do some kind of background activity in the weeks where she's not there. One of my own players has an erratic work schedule and regularly misses games; his character has an alchemist background, and for many of the games he misses, his character is doing an uninterruptable experiment in the lab that he simply can't be torn away from. In this game the party has come across a dangerous and unknown (plot-relevant) biochemical phenomenon, so it's both natural that his character would want to research it, and actually plays into the story.

We essentially have a short, asynchronous duo-session over WhatsApp for this: I ask him exactly what he's trying to find out and what he's doing, he tells me and (when occasionally needed) makes a roll, then I get to reveal some information to him.

This works very well for us. Firstly, he enjoys it and it keeps him engaged in the weeks he has to miss. Secondly, it means his character actually did do something useful in the last session, and the party is excited to hear about and act on it. Finally, it gives me as DM a good way to trickle little bits of lore and information to the party - some of it useful, some of it just background, but all of it gives the party a more vivid idea of what they're facing.

Thus, having the character do some kind of activity during downtime (whether it's research, or finding rumours, or training the guard, or establishing a trade link with the neighbouring mayor etc.) means that they have a stronger link to the game when they're physically not there, and perhaps more importantly the party feels like the character is still contributing when the player can't make it. In my experience, even having a little bit of "OK, here's what [my character] learned last week" makes a huge difference from "[my character] yawns, rubs her eyes, and asks what she missed".

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is the best answer, imo. It's a game between friends and not an olympics competition, so the effort should be made to keep engaged players, not kick them out. \$\endgroup\$
    – Edheldil
    May 17 at 16:04
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Saying No

The best way to say "no" in any situation is "yes, when."

This advice is a practical application of the general and effective life attitude of focusing on how to find a forward-looking and productive path in every situation. That means mostly setting aside negative feelings from the past, pausing/slowing personal reactions in order to reflect deeply and choose actions mindfully, and then focusing on the problem to be solved—holding people's feelings as of great importance, but always considering them in light of the actions that can make progress, so as not to let feelings simply dictate.

But before you say no, communicate.

Discuss With the Group

Start by having a discussion with all the players, including your sister. Be open and honest about your goals, for example, you might say you're sure everyone wants to have a great experience gaming, and do they mind having a discussion about what that looks like for each person, so they can all get on the same page? How does everyone feel about committing to being present every week? How do they want to handle player absences? Discuss the possibility of working a player's expected regular absences into the story. Don't call your sister out specifically, even though everyone will know who you're talking about. Your goal is to encourage productive, positive expressions from each player to find out how they want to play. Talk in terms of advantages, drawbacks, challenges, and opportunities. Openly list out group goals, and even write them down, perhaps creating a charter of sorts (e.g., having more players and being inclusive are positive, but those need to be balanced with enhancing the overall play experience and creating consistency). Discuss the possibility of playing on a different day of the week. Discuss alternating the time every other week, or playing more than once a week.

In this discussion, try to function first as a mediator or facilitator more than as a person with a personal stake. Practice active listening with statements beginning with, "it sounds/looks/seems like ... ." You could say to one player, "it sounds like you'd prefer people commit to playing every week. I also hear you saying you'd love to accommodate [your sister] being absent every other week, but don't see how that's possible." Or to your sister, "It seems like you feel really disappointed and sad about the possibility of not being able to participate if the group decides it wants players to commit to playing every week." You can include your own perspective after everyone else, but try to do it in the same vein, e.g., "I'd really like to include [your sister], yet I'm worried that the group could shrink to the point where it doesn't exist any more." Labeling positive and negative emotions is a great way to help people understand them, feel them, and then change in response to them—which very often is harder when they remain unlabeled and unspoken.

Overall, the goal is to reframe the issue from "you vs. your sister" to "the will and the good of the group". By openly considering all the options, your sister will see everyone's desire to include her and will start thinking about the group's perspective—they have their own schedule, constraints, desires, and life challenges that need consideration. Once she sees everyone making a serious effort to include her, even if in the end they can't, it is likely she'll feel less upset about it.

Decide, Then Say "Yes, When" if Necessary

Once everyone has had their say, if there is a consensus, the problem is solved. If the group is okay including her in some way, do that. But if consensus can't be reached, then someone has to make a decision.

If most feel that including a player who can only attend every other week would be disruptive to how they want to play, then here's how you can say "no" by saying "yes, when" to your sister (and this plays well for your mom, as well):

"The group would love to include you as soon as there's a weekly time that works for the majority. Let's revisit this once a month to see if things change or if another time has opened up so that you can join."

Then, Stay Firm

Don't waver. Repeat this as needed over and over like you've gone brain-dead, but with appropriate and honest feeling: "The group would love to include [sister] as soon as there's a weekly time that works for the majority." Fully accept, in advance, all consequences that come from holding this position. You'll find that the peace you feel with such pre-acceptance enables you to speak with great compassion and a quiet, firm resolve that will be surprising to your family, and they'll almost certainly react differently. The response to all argument, challenges, criticism, and complaints is the same phrase.

(That's called "assertiveness," which is not a fighting attitude but a mindful deliberateness that calmly and masterfully chooses actions, then accepts consequences for them in advance.)

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You could integrate her into the game without giving her a full fledged party member to play.

For example she could be the companion of another player who will take over controlling them when she's absent. Or she could be the assistant of the DM helping with health, status, and ability tracking, doing combat turns of mooks, roleplaying NPCs,...

This is less unfair that denying her involvement altogether but still less fair than giving her full party member status.

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As adults this becomes a lot more common, and we (our group not all adults) just handle it by that character being very quiet this week, we aren't allowed to use them as canon fodder, but we are allowed to use any safe unique skills they have, so the priest can still heal and bless us, but they aren't going to run into the center of an undead horde to attempt to turn them.

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If your sister can commit to a regular schedule, perhaps you could run two separate games in parallel, one with her and one without? Each could have a different flavor, use different rules, or be single-shots. Use the other game to experiment. Take turns being the DM to get experience. Try something new!

Even if she can't make a complete orderly schedule (who can?), just roll with it and play the one game if she is there, or the other if she is not.

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    – Community Bot
    May 18 at 20:07

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