I'm a new and inexperienced player in a weekly game with some old friends, and I've missed a few sessions. (We were supposed to game 2 Saturdays per month but this was changed to every Saturday.) My character is the tank and usually the only one willing to engage in actual combat.

The established precedent had been that when I was absent my character remained present for major calamities that could befall the group, but my character remained inactive.

When I was absent last session, an investigation went awry and two players sent my character to resolve the issue rather than endangering their characters and leaving my character remain inactive. During this mission, my character's rare, expensive armor was permanently damaged. When I expressed my annoyance about this turn of events, the other players said, "Oh, well, we can find more armor."

Had I been present, I don't know if I would've handled things differently or been able to prevent the damage to my character's armor.

  • Is using an absent player's character this way normal?
  • Should I be upset about this?

3 Answers 3


In general, and especially for new groups, the question of what happens to an absent player's character should be answered definitively at the beginning of the campaign. What the answer will be is likely to depend both on your game system and your group, but in all situations, it's a good idea to make sure everyone's on the same page with whatever the answer is. It sounds like your group did not do this well - or at all - which led to unclear expectations for everyone. You assumed your character would not suffer lasting harm while you weren't there; the other players assumed your character was still able to be used fully regardless of consequences.

So yes, to some extent, it's okay to be upset about this. HOWEVER! This doesn't mean get mad at the other players, or do anything to "get revenge". Use your upset only to help spur the discussion of what should happen to characters whose players are absent. In other words, it's fine to say "Guys, I'm really upset that my character has been permanently damaged by choices I didn't make for him. This is frustrating to me and not fun. Can we lay some ground rules about how much our characters will do when we're not here to play them?"

This lets your group know you aren't happy with what happened, without laying blame, and should make it clear to them that your group needs a ruling here. Don't get angry, throw a tantrum, try to harm other characters, or otherwise behave badly to "get them back". Just let them see that you're bothered by what happened so they understand why this important to you.

It's probably also worth talking to your GM separately, out of game, about why this bothers you so much. Ask if there's any way the GM can do something to help rectify the situation. Maybe give you armor to replace what was damaged, or even just retcon the damage away. Make clear that you don't like asking for this sort of handout, but also that you're hurt and upset that your character was permanently damaged by things you had no control over. If you do this before approaching the whole group about the absent-character issue, it'll give you a chance to help the GM see why this was upsetting to you, and to work with them to help you approach the rest of the group.

Regarding what's normal for this situation: As mentioned above, this varies from system to system and group to group. My groups over the years have always used what we call "back-of-party mode", which means an absent player's character is considered present for all events, but idle. They do not suffer damage and cannot be used to take actions, in combat or out. Very rarely this can get weird, when the PCs find themselves in a situation where the idle character really ought to be participating, but the convenience of back-of-party mode far outweighs these occasional bumps.

If the GM knows a player will be absent, and/or the player is regularly and reliably absent (e.g., misses the third game every month due to work on-call or whatever), they might work with the player to come up with something for the character to go off and do separately from the party in those games. This is more work all around, but can create fun side-quests and help the absent player feel involved.

Some groups keep everyone's character sheets and allow another player to play the absent player's character (some systems even encourage this!). Some groups do a limited form of this, especially if the character has skills or powers needed to get through the day's game. The character's powers can be used in a limited form - perhaps the rogue picks open a lock, or the policewoman makes a call to a contact - but she doesn't otherwise participate.

There's more variations out there, as well. The point is that you and your group need to figure out what works for your game. Then, once you've agreed to something, stick with it so there are no surprises.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ My group takes the "back-of-party mode" a step further: If a player's not present, we treat their character's location and activities as indeterminate, and let the absent player specify whether they were with the group the whole time or elsewhere doing something else when they come back. It works pretty well, though we've yet to test what happens when the present PCs get TPK'd. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 5:29

No, it is not normal to use an absent player's character like this, and no, you should not be upset, but you probably will be anyway.

It is never ok to endanger an absent player's character without his consent. It might have been a misunderstanding, but still - they used your resources to achieve their goals.

I think that it is mainly the DM who is at fault here - she should have never allowed for a situation to arise where the other players use your character in this way. I know I certainly would have stopped my players if they would have tried anything like that.

What now?

Well, this happened. So how to go on? I would suggest you talk to your GM, explain to her how you feel about this and ask her to not allow the other players to use your character as human shield.


I play DnD, and it happens quite often that a player is missing (we're playing every week like you do).

As said above, whether or not to use absent players characters should be defined at the beginning of the campaign. If I can help with a solution, we play the missing characters only during combats. Your party made your character do a quest, but you can wonder, if your character had found an ancient very powerful artefact, would they've left it to you because your character made the investigation?

I think that making the absent playing be present only for combat makes it clear, it's a last resort. Someone who'll help deal with too powerful monster groups (you're a tank, so you'd be useful), not someone who can't be sent anywhere to do some dangerous stuff because the human behind the sheet isn't there to say no.

To keep on talking about how we play, if that might be helpful, we decide before a fight if we let absent players participate in a fight, which will grant them a part of the EXP (which is good for them), but no veto on the loots (if someone wants an item you might've wanted, they get it, because you're not there). We also figured absent characters couldn't die while fighting. They can fall at 0hp, be out of combat, but no absent person should come back the week after to learn they need to make another character.


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