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Still just spitballing, but I came across an idea for a new group I might be starting. One of the players will only be available half the time the rest of the group will be (let's call him Bob), and depending on what the players want to do (obviously going to do this with their consent) I was thinking of making Bob's character an on-off NPC, for when he's not here.

If the group is ok with it, who plays the character? Is it passed to the group? Or does the GM take over the character? Does the character still gain xp/loot etc? What happens if the character dies? Does Bob get a chance to re-live the events leading up to the death? Or because he gave the character to us, what happens, happens?

I do feel that one of the big worries is the player might feel somewhat detached from the group. But I feel I can manage that.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't mark this as duplicate. The question linked asks for possibilities how to deal with missing players, not about the howtos, pros and cons of a specific way to handle it \$\endgroup\$ – user10570 Sep 9 '14 at 5:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lord_Gestalter As the question says, it's "spitballing", not committed to this idea. The question also appears to indicate that the actual problem is how to handle a missing player, especially since the questions about this one method aren't pros & cons but rather amount to "how the heck would this work?", making this very likely an XY Problem. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 9 '14 at 16:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ So if one was commited to the idea it might be a useful question, and editing the "I'm not convinced" parts would validate my arguments? Don't think so, but you're right about the XY-problem part (which on the other hand is a question for Meta?) \$\endgroup\$ – user10570 Sep 10 '14 at 14:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ ... and, maybe I have to apologize, I might be a little sensible regarding duplicate tags, where I REALLY searched for Y, and an X answer was linked as duplicate, or even worse only X answers were given. But life isn't a bowl of cherries, is it? \$\endgroup\$ – user10570 Sep 10 '14 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Lord_Gestalter Your arguments are valid. No harm done really. People who don't feel it's a dupe have commented, and the linked question also have some valid answers too :) \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Sep 10 '14 at 22:11
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The way I've played this in groups, either the GM or Player (depending on the situation and group) takes control of the player. Your best bet is to talk to the group and come to a consensus. Anything that happens in permanent. So if the character dies, then he dies. You can give the player all the details of what happened, since he should be getting that anyway, but make sure he knows it's a risk, and he may not be able to do anything about it. Since the in-world effects such as death apply, then it only makes sense that they progress with the rest of the group (since the character itself is involved, even if the player isn't).

I've never done it long term, only if we had a single person out, but it you seem aware of the possible detachment which would be my big concern there.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site, DarkSnake! If you haven't already, you should check out our FAQ. Normally, I'd recommend that you flesh out your answer by adding some explanation of why what you suggest is a good idea, but as this question has been put on hold, you should probably hold off editing your answer until it's reopened. Again, welcome! \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Sep 9 '14 at 5:18
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If the group is okay with it, I would say the GM plays the character, but gives little input. You merely take the appropriate combat / skill actions, with maybe a minor amount of flavor. But imbuing your own take into the character may lead the player to feeling even more detached from the group than otherwise.

That said, there are some other solutions to the problem.

Solution 1: They become loot

For better or worse, this character becomes utterly incapable for stretches at a time. Perhaps he is a prince prone to intense seizures that needs to be guarded at all times, even when incapacitated. Perhaps she has the secrets to the work implanted in her head, but it causes her to go into stasis from time to time. Whatever the reason, the character needs to be with them, but cannot do anything.

Solution 2: They were taken, and they shall return

The character themselves have reasons for not being there from time to time. A warlock, beholden to the fey, is occasionally snatched from this plane and forced into servitude in the next. A commander in the Gralik army is beamed away to fight a sudden uprising, momentarily taken away from combat.

Whatever you choose, I would strongly suggest they gain similar XP / loot. If they do not, it may very well lead to feelings of detachment. But as you said, if you play the character and they die, that would also potentially lead to some animosity. That's why I prefer Solution 2, where they are gone, but may logically gain experience and loot at the same rate.

Also, I'd talk over all of the options with the group, and make sure everyone is happy with the solution. It won't help the player much if the rest of the group hates that their character gains XP at the same rate, or if they have to worry about an incapacitated person weighing them down.

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Generally the DM/GM should either play the character or remove the character temporarily from the events at hand. This allows the other players to continue playing their own characters without having to worry about another person they must play. It's optimal to entirely remove the character to reduce inconsistencies in behavior or having to explain events to the returning player, especially if the plot is largely variable or of a complex nature.

The character should still at least gain xp while they are away to keep levels between party members balanced and prevent "Bob' from getting left behind or becoming a burden on the group as his level gap becomes more obvious. In terms of loot, the character should receive loot from sources as regular, even if they are not participating in the momentary event. Perhaps your excuse to remove the character is that "Bob" got a lead on a plot point and investigated that while the other party members handled the rest.

If the character dies, it is ultimately upon the player. As he/she agreed to allow the DM to play "Bob", they trusted the DM to make adequate decisions as that character. Sometimes, adequate decisions result in player-death, at which point the player should be informed of what occurred, but that does not mean reliving the events. Having your party play the same event twice is not what the group is there for, they generally would prefer to advance the plot.

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Depends on the Player

Not everyone is okay with playing a character who's not entirely theirs, or having a character of theirs played. However you do this, there are really two possible options:

  1. The character is yours, a NPC, and is treated as such.
  2. The character is theirs, a PC, and is treated as such.

This will inform your course of action as events unfold:

While it is conceivably possible to just leave said character out of play entirely when the player is gone, this has its own disadvantages, namely always changing up game balance, which could be an issue if you write content ahead of time and the action advances at an unforeseen pace.

If it's an NPC

You control it outside of sessions, you advance them, and generally manage them. This is great for players who are versatile and enjoy roleplaying characters they normally wouldn't build. The player who joins only borrows the character, and it's otherwise managed by you. This approach works well when:

  • The player is flexible or less invested in the campaign (or just doesn't have time)
  • You and the player can communicate frequently
  • You and the player have similar goals and expectations in writing
  • The player is fine giving you final control of the character

This has a few advantages:

  • If the character is clearly a NPC, you have the final say in disputes
  • Having the character die is significantly less likely to backfire
  • You manage the character, always keeping it on hand and making it available for the group

Note that it's perfectly acceptable to hybridize the roles here; you may ask the player what they'd like to see the NPC get as they level up, but you're doing the story writing and characterization for the character. Alternatively, you could pass control of the NPC around between sessions, and just manage how they level up and their roleplaying traits.

If it's a PC

They control it outside of sessions, advancing them, etc. You or other players control the character while the player is absent, but generally the character is treated like any other character whose player is absent. This approach works well when:

  • You don't have time to manage another NPC
  • The player wants to stick to his vision of a character
  • You and the player have different goals
  • The player wants to maintain a certain degree of control

This has a few advantages:

  • The player is more likely to be engaged in the game
  • The character matches what the player(s) want them to be
  • The player is responsible for keeping the character ready

Again, the logistics of who controls the PC between sessions are negotiable; the controller should be chosen by the player. Using a committee is possible, and may produce better results in some cases, but requires more cooperation.

Some parting notes

When dealing with a character like this, it's not necessary to follow the rules entirely. Here's how I'd handle it:

  • Giving the character plot armor when the player is away
  • The character advances like any other character (or at average speed, if advancement is based on things an absent player is unlikely to accomplish)
  • Re-cap outside the game, so that the player knows what is going on, but doesn't slow down play
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