In a lengthy campaign players may miss some sessions or even stop playing for some time. Other players may join at any time.

What are the advantages/drawbacks of having the new players taking over the old characters? Assume that the player is experienced in the game system, but not on that particular campaign.

Would it be valid for a player to use a character only for one session knowing that the owner of that character will be back next session?

I'm interested in answers from the point of view of the players and the GM.


3 Answers 3


Speaking from a GM's point of view...

Advantages to taking over characters long-term:

  • Skipping character generation
  • Campaign gets to keep an established character
  • Player gets to start with a hopefully well-developed character

Disadvantages to taking over characters long-term:

  • Player doesn't get to design their own character and may lack investment as a result
  • Player's interpretation of the character may differ jarringly from original player's
  • Player doesn't get the opportunity to learn and "grow into" each of the character's capabilities as it's obtained, and so may be significantly less effective with them
  • If the original player wants to return to the campaign, somebody is probably going to wind up unhappy, unless we're already in a "new player lacks investment" situation; if the original player does take over, it may be difficult for them to assimilate what's happened while they were gone, and another jarring shift in character interpretation may occur

Advantages to taking over characters short-term:

  • Skipping character generation
  • Character can continue participating in ongoing events without the usual sudden and inexplicable fading into the background when a player doesn't show up
  • Player gets to play a hopefully well-developed character
  • A player who isn't sure they want to join the game permanently can "get their feet wet" with reduced setup overhead

Disadvantages to taking over characters short-term:

  • Player doesn't get to create their own character and knows they won't be continuing to play this character regardless, and so may lack investment and even feel unwelcome in the group
  • Player's interpretation of the character may differ jarringly from original player's
  • Group/GM may wind up faced with the choice of either limiting the temporary player's control over the character or permitting dramatically out-of-character actions whose consequences may greatly upset the original player upon their return
  • In some games, a temporary player who then goes on to play their own character may have acquired an inappropriate degree of knowledge of another player's character by playing them

As a GM and a player, we do this from time to time. Sometimes it's a lapsed PC, sometimes it's an NPC that 'gets a soul' when we get a new player.


  • The main advantage for the new player is that the character is linked into the story and has existing relationships with the other characters and NPCs of the campaign. Especially if the campaign has a lot of plot and isn't still at very low level, brand new characters can have trouble "breaking in."

  • For the other players, it can also help with in-game immersion, as you don't have characters "wandering off" even if there's something important going on, or suddenly becoming very passive because they're being run by the GM.

  • For the GM, it saves me work - work writing a character in or out and time running PCs as NPCs. As GM I won't run your PC for you as part of the group for very long, it takes too much work. A session or two max.

  • For the old player, depending on your advancement rules, the lapsed player's PC isn't lagging behind in levels for when they do return. And their return doesn't have to be deliberately "written in," they can pick back up with a minimum of fiddling.


  • For the new player, they may feel constrained by the old character and want to play one of their own creation. Also they may feel pressured in play to do different things than what they want to do by the players/GM.

  • For the other players, if the new player doesn't "play the old one right," it can interfere with their immersion. "How come Salvadora doesn't remember that Count? She must be a doppleganger!"

  • For the GM, there is no direct disadvantage, just having to deal with crying from the other three stakeholders (new player/old player/other players) when one of these other disadvantages rears its head.

  • The disadvantage for the old player is if the new player has a very different path they take with the character from what the original person intended - especially if the old player is ever coming back to "re-take over" that character.


I'd be hesitant to do this unless you have permission of both original character's player and the new player, but that might be because I enjoy making characters; however, what do you do the character doesn't match what the new player would enjoy? Or if the old player comes back?

I could see having a new player using the character of an absent player while still getting the hang of the game, since that would let them learn the ropes without having to delve through quite so much material.


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