In the D&D group I currently GM, a couple players left recently, and I've been wondering how exactly to handle the situation. The two who left did so on rather negative terms with at least seven of the other ten players, so many of our proposed solutions conflict with the wishes of some in the group.

The leaving players have asked that one of their characters uses a rare inter-dimensional portal in order to have their character transport to his own setting in a different campaign he's playing in so that his appearance there would make sense lore-wise. Contrarily, the current players who had negative relations with the leaving players both in-game and in real life would prefer to slay the two characters for their magical swords, which are rather useful, and which they claim would help the group out as a whole. Other suggestions have ranged from simply retconning them out of existence to more controversial ones such as sacrificing them to evil gods.

While some of the "solutions" are obviously flawed (I really don't want to make relations worse between the group and these two), I'm not sure which ones would be preferable in this situation.

I am aware that the leaving players would have no idea what would happen in-game, so the current players could acquire the leaving players' coveted swords while assuring the leaving players that their characters still have them, and regardless of what happens the two players will be able to use their characters in their own universe.

How can I appease both groups of players?


14 Answers 14


My suggestion would be to have the characters disappear through the portal like the leaving players requested, but in the process leave behind a set of evil twins (or perhaps good twins, as the party sounds like it might be an evil one to begin with) who promptly attack the party. That way the remaining players can still kill and loot (or capture, loot, and sacrifice) the twins.

The leaving players get their exit, and the remaining players get their catharsis.


Just to be clear, if you are the GM in this game, then you are under no obligation whatever to appease either group of players or ex-players, let alone both of them. Further, both groups seem to have mostly incompatible desires: One group wants their characters to "escape" from the game entirely, the other seems to want to use them in some way-- rob them, murder them, sacrifice them, whatever.

You could conceivably finesse your way through some of these scenarios-- the sacrifice to the evil gods results in the evil gods creating the desired portal for obscure reasons of their own, something like that. (This is, needless to say, a rather ethically challenged scenario, but your question isn't about that.)

But again, there is no obligation to humor either group, here. I consider departing PCs to become my NPCs to be used for my own nefarious purposes.

  • 13
    \$\begingroup\$ "I consider departing PCs to become my NPCs to be used for my own nefarious purposes." That ain't workin' (as a DM) that's the way you do it; NPC's for nothing and fun for free. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 31, 2016 at 2:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Sorry, I'm having difficulty parsing your comment. What do you mean by "that ain't workin' "? Is it a reference? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 3, 2016 at 9:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GustavBertram It is; it's a reference to the song "Money for Nothing" by the band Dire Straits. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jadasc
    Apr 3, 2016 at 12:54

You have an awesome resource -- two characters that the current crop of players have lots of baggage and connection with.

Don't throw it away.

Turn them into angels, demons, undead knights, zombies, liches -- something interesting. Use them as NPCs. If the current crop of players hate the departing characters (or players via proxy), use that hate to drive plot!

Either the "we slaughter them in their sleep" or "they disappear in a portal to another space-time" throw away the resource you have been handed.

Thus has the added benefit of saying "neither of you get what you want". It serves the game and the story. The characters are not "written off" as loot sources, nor are they turned into a plot point for a completely different game. Instead, they provide future awesome for the game world they are part of.


It's Your Game

Do whatever makes sense for your campaign story and game play. That includes, but is not limited to, not ticking your current players off too badly.

The easiest thing to do is let them sneak off, never to be heard from again. Then everyone can read what they want into the events, be they extradimensional portals or undignified deaths, and nobody has anything to really be unhappy about. And the campaign can just move along.

PC murder can yield oversized treasure hauls

Looting well-equipped PC's can be problematic, as it can load-up the rest of the party with "too many" magic items. (How often does the party run across two adversaries who both have nifty magic swords?)

Consider whether the magic swords and other treasure they have would be problematic this way. If so, don't let the party get the whole treasure trove.

You're totally in your rights to have the retired characters do exactly what would lead to the party getting just the items they need from the ex-players.

Make sure the solution is your own

You are getting lots of advice from your table. Make sure whatever you do is your own decision. The surest way to make one person unhappy is to do exactly what his/her adversary suggested.

Don't sacrifice your story, in any way, for ex-players.


the leaving players would have no idea what would happen in-game

They'll probably find out when the people with whom they're on bad terms, take the opportunity to gloat about how "we killed your characters". So you should account for that.

As you say, no matter what you do as GM of this game, you aren't GM of the game the characters are moving to. So another GM can contradict anything you do, just declare your game to contain "alternate versions" of their characters. From your POV their game is the "alternate version".

Still, it can be rather unsatisfying to a player, to discover that you trashed their character the instant they stopped playing it. Making a game fun isn't just about servicing the players while they're in it, it's also about the game's legacy and the memories it leaves the players with.

This is even true when the player has no intention of playing the character again. This is why we don't end campaigns in an almighty apocalyptic conflict, and then afterwards tell the players "oh, and by the way, the day after that you were all stabbed to death by goblins in your sleep for no reason whatsoever. And anyway it was all just a dream". They're not your players any more, right, so it shouldn't matter what anticlimax you describe? But it does because it affects the legacy of the game.

You should try to judge: is it actually true that it would improve your game and/or the remaining players' enjoyment of it, to get their hands on those swords? If so, and if the party as a whole "earned" them, then you might want to keep that loot in the party so far as your game is concerned. Or is it basically an excuse to play out their antipathy? Rule of thumb: if you think the remaining players might enjoy defiling the ex-PCs corpses, then the swords (while genuinely desirable in their own right) are serving as an excuse.

If this seems childish to you and you don't want any part of it, then have the PCs depart the plane of existence. If you think the departing players are asking too much to demand some interdimensional portal that's totally out of place in your setting, then suggest "alternate versions" -- in the other game they find the portal, in your game there is no portal and you come up with some other end to the character's story.

Xavon's answer is certainly an ingenious compromise. Still, it's worth bearing in mind that as GM you can only referee the game you're running, you won't always be able to appease everyone. You can't referee whatever out-of-game problems there may be between the players, and you certainly don't have to take your remaining players' side in it. You need not weigh a relatively minor gain for the current players ("we want the swords") over a relatively major loss for the departing players (the integrity of their characters as protagonists in a fictional work).

Character death is one thing, but meaningless character death to suit the GM's convenience under pressure from other players is a relatively rare play style. That said, if the departing players really don't care what happens to the version of their characters that stays in your game, you might as well throw them to the wolves.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 to this. I had a character murdered by a PC after I left the game due to conflict with other players. That left me with a bitter taste, and I regret not ensuring that the character was out of harms way when I left. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 3, 2016 at 9:24

The core of your question is, How can I appease both the departing players and the remaining group?

My answer to this would be, don't bother even trying to appease the ones leaving the group. Concentrate on keeping your remaining players happy (or at least, entertained).

We had a similar situation in our game once.

The party were gathering artifacts to help them win an end-of-the-world battle. Two of the players were a couple, who split up. He left the game and cut all contact with the group, she stayed.

Next session, the DM had his character devoured by a slime, which left the artifact intact for another PC to claim.

As DM, abandoned PCs become your NPCs. You can do what you like with them.

Assuming the rest of the party have good in-game reasons to hate them, maybe the (N)PCs could become the villains of your story. Betray the party and run off, to be hunted down later (or become recurring nemeses).


So hopefully I have a proper grasp of the situation: Players A and B have left on negative terms with a majority of the current (still active) adventuring group. Both the players (A and B) as well as their characters were not well liked by the majority. Players A and B have certain wishes for their characters leaving the game world; but the majority want their possessions (Because RPG dungeon grinding games like these have always been about who can get the most loot) and would gladly kill the characters for it.

You have two options:

  1. Allow your players' characters -- however good, lawful, neutral, or evil they may or may not be -- to slay these characters for purely greedy motives. They now have one or two deaths on their hands just because they didn't get along well with the players and their characters both In Character and Out Of Character, and want their magical items.

  2. Write out, Roleplay (RP), or otherwise explain away the absence of the two Player Characters (PCs) in the game world in a way that would make sense and not leave any holes in the integrity of your game world and the impact they had on your story and adventuring group.

You should obviously see the pros and cons of the above two courses of action.

Your best alternative that is fair to EVERYONE involved is to explain away the leaving character's absences in a way that doesn't leave behind loot the other characters failed to earn or otherwise obtain by their own merit. Player Killing, or PC Killing, should be avoided at all costs despite the less than friendly relations between characters. Sometimes you can't choose your party members; sometimes a Dwarf with a long hatred for Elves is paired with....yep, an Elf. They either get over it, or they don't; but either way they survive.


What happens to a character when the player cannot be there for a session?

Typically, their character is ignored (they are out of town for this session; they are asleep; whatever)

Occasionally, it is given to another player to play, with the owning player's consent and acceptance fo the risk of death.

The GM never plays the character, because this can obviously end badly. This rule should be broken only in the most unusual and extreme circumstances.

And what never, ever happens -- assuming an at-least-semi-competent GM -- is that the other players deliberately kill the character, in the player's absence. Just, no. No, never. This is not fun. This is not OK. This is not why people RP. Nobody benefits from this.

If players have departed permanently, why should this be treated differently from a normal absence? Their characters are retired. The other players don't get to steal their office chair once they are gone. They get some cool whizzy artefact and have set the precedent that they can kill each other for baubles and you'll let them. You get a little artifact inflation. Your ex-players get to hear through the grapevine that their characters got ravished by your players and feel bad.

Nobody wins.

Getting the ex-player's permission to use their characters as NPCs (@Yakk's suggestion) as a GM could work, and could be a whole TON of fun, though obviously could end poorly, so be careful.

In the absence of that permission, retire them out of the game, and fast. They disappeared in the night, having got a hunch that their party was out to kill them. The players will otherwise just continue to be a disruptive influence in the game, even if only by proxy, through their headless characters and the loot that was stolen from them.


Talk to the other GM. Coordinate with that person.

You may want to have "leave behind an item" as part of the requirements to enter the portal. Or you might want to let the person through the portal, and then (maybe after anger has settled down a bit) have a coveted item go through a second "aftershock" portal. But whether that makes sense to do, or not, may depend on the other GM. Does the other GM want these swords? If not, the swords may be able to leave your game and enter the other game... and then return, quite possibly through the same process (or obvious reversed-direction process) that was used to move them from your game in the first place).

The way to "win win" is to make the departers happy now, because you won't have an opportunity to make them happy later, and then make the remaining people happy now or later. If people will still be talking to each other, then the departers will be comparing the new GM to yours, and the remaining players will be comparing the stories of the new GM to yours. Your long term reputation benefits best by having them leave as happy as possible. Then, change the priority drastically the second that they are gone.

If the departing players feel some sort of ownership of their characters, be nice to them. Just have a way to also satisfy your current players, through reward or clearly visible promise, quickly, so that they know they have something positive to look forward to by remaining in your game's group. (After all, in the end, people don't really want swords. They want to be entertained. Doing that well can more-than-make-up-for a couple of items.)

What is so special about these swords that prevents a slightly superior effect from being on some newly discovered swords in your world? Let those people, attached to those swords, leave, and then come up with something slightly more fascinating. (And the concept of loosely or tightly intertwined games, through cooperation with another GM, might be genuinely fascinating.)


I am aware that the leaving players would have no idea what would happen in-game, so the current players could acquire the leaving players' coveted swords while assuring the leaving players that their characters still have them, and regardless of what happens the two players will be able to use their characters in their own universe.

You answered your own question right there. Do whatever you wish with them in your campaign. They can do whatever they wish in their other campaigns.


Let the people go

I think you should let your two players leave unmolested, and to leave nothing for the remaining players.

After the next section, I will proceed to justify this position in the rest of the post.

When the remaining players complain

If the remaining players complain about losing the loot, I would point out that they still have more than 83% of their loot and fighting power remaining, and that their actions directly lead to these players leaving.

If they continue complaining, I would offer them a quest where they can get equivalent loot and swords elsewhere.

If they continue complaining that they want to fight the actual characters who actually left, then I'd ask if the players wanted to do this out of spite the leaving players.

If they respond that they are not, but that they still want to fight the exact characters that left, I would put on my evil GM grin, and ask them if they are sure. Twice.

"Are you sure?" are the most ominous words a GM can ever use.

If they are sure, then I'd allow them to hear rumors of someone who can retrieve anyone. Drop lots of ominous hints. Lead them to some representative of chaotic evil powers. Make a dark deal for bonus points. One of their souls. A bit of soul from each of them. The soul of a child. Their memories of a skill. Their memories of childhood.

Then let them summon exact parallel universe twins of the characters. Let the twins recognize what is summoning them and to prepare for a fight.

Then play the fight straight.

Try to kill at least one of the remaining player characters. Remind them that they asked for this. Repeatedly. And that you checked that they were sure. Twice. And that they didn't want an equivalent quest.

But that's just me. I get a bit fire and brimstone when people are being dicks.

You are a judge

As a GM, you cannot please everyone all of the time. You have to interpret the rules and the situation, and use your judgement to make a fair and consistent ruling. If you can't make the ruling fair and consistent, try to make it appear to be fair and consistent.

I try to handle judgement situations by trying to figure out which roleplaying principles are relevant to the situation, and how they apply. That way I can explain my decision in terms that players can perceive as fair and consistent.

My understanding of roleplaying game theory is that there are three main ways to play: Narrativist, gamist and simulationist.

The Narrativist perspective

Narrativist gaming is about developing character motivations, and often players have strong control over their character's behavior.

  • If the remaining characters suddenly murder two of their companions for their loot, then that should be directly informed by their character motives, and then they need to follow through, by always looking for an opportunity to murder more of the player characters.
  • The leaving players have player agency. They have a right to say what their characters do, and if they say that their characters walk away, then the remaining players have no right to dispute that.

The Gamist perspective

Gamist play is actually not about collecting loot, but about overcoming greater and greater challenges.

  • As a GM, you choose how difficult to make their challenges. You can choose to adjust the difficulty of challenges to account for the smaller group.
  • If the remaining players want to overcome a challenge to be better prepared for the next challenge, then they can choose to fight something other than the leaving players. They don't have to take the players on for their loot. They can get the same loot from a different fight.
  • If the remaining players want to get the loot without a fight, then I would point out that they are betraying the goal of gamist playing. If you give them a "always win" cheat code, what would be the fun of playing at all?

The Simulationist perspective

Mostly concerned with internal consistency, and cause and effect.

  • The remaining PCs have no in-game way of knowing that the leaving players want to leave.
  • If they decided to fight the leaving PCs, then they're going up against powerful characters that may kill some of them in a fair fight.

Your main goal is to entertian the current players so err one the side of the players -- but you don't have to give in to their exact wishes.

One GM I played with just made old PCs vanish or leave without much question. He also once let the exiting PCs leave under the cover of night and let the leaving PCs put hallucinagenics in the PCs dinners, allowing them to "hallucinate" the PCs endings in any way while keeping the now NPCs alive and well doing whatever they want.

Once in our group a character left and was "hallucinated" to have been marooned on an island with only salt water to drink, or taken captive by a military group while the actual former PCs actually get away. That idea worked well as both the PCs and former PCs liked the solution and it will probably work for your group to.


Think through the implications of killing & desecrating two of your player's characters (to whatever degree of harshness; blatantly, subtly, or in effigy as thinly veiled clones). First off, this is clearly petty and OOC. You'd never do it if the player's were still playing, right? What changed? They stopped wanting to play in your group. Hmmmmmmmmmm, not exactly a coincidence.

As a leaving player, if I ever heard that my characters were massacred for revenge after I left a group without me actually saying "yeah, go for it!", I'd mark down that GM and group as a clear group to avoid, and tell any friends and associates who asked to avoid playing with them as well. Better not to associate with people who are so bad at separating I.C. And O.O.C.

As a remaining Player, I would also be repelled. Is this what will happen if I leave? May be time to quietly find a more mature group elsewhere to play with.

As a DM, I'd ask "do you have a shortage of compelling characters, that you need to rely on theirs?" and "do you have some shortage of imaginary magical items, that your remaining PCs must 'forcefully conserve' these ones that happen to be in the possession of the other PCs?" Come on now.


The great thing about fiction, particularly where it concerns two different campaigns, is that you can split the timeline at any point.1

In one, their character(s) escaped through a magic portal. They can go play their other game in whatever way seems best to them.

In another, it didn't work (and there are ample reasons for something like that not to work), and they remain as NPC's, allowing the PC's to interact with them and possibly acquire their stuff. Maybe the don't kill them on the spot, depending on the rate you give out treasure, the ethical framework of your game, and the plot you have in mind, but they could easily become the source of an interesting challenge. (I would leave it at that, though; making recurring villains out of characters whose players left the group on bad terms rubs me the wrong way.)

My experience with this was a Dark Heresy game that ended a bit weirdly - the most powerful character in the party, a high-level Psyker, rolled high on the Hilarious Table and then rolled a 99 on the Really Hilarious Table, causing instant permadeath, and my character died shortly after. The Psyker's player never really got over her death, and the campaign never really recovered. So when I was designing a campaign world a couple years later (different system), I decided that my character and hers were both hurled into this world by a portal instead, giving me a chance to revisit. They weren't a big focus of the game (in fact haven't even appeared on-screen, except in the character building tutorial I sent out), but it was nice to reminisce and the cognitive dissonance didn't bother me a bit - after all, some theoreticians will tell you that every roll of the dice creates new universes with each possible result, so why couldn't I build my campaign to take place in one of them?

If you feel the need to be underhanded, you could roll for the success of the leaving characters' escape and end the session, then in the next one after they're gone say "Hey you know what I [forgot to add a modifier/misread the table/whatever], they're actually still here." Though personally I don't think intentionally misleading people usually reduces drama.

1Comics do this all the time with different continuities and parallel universes; if you really want to strain your brain keeping track of this sort of thing, read Homestuck.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any advice for GMs whose players point out that settings with infinite parallel universes in which all possible outcomes play out robs their characters of meaningful agency? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Mar 31, 2016 at 5:22
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Well, the goal is to stay in a universe where you're still alive and achieve your goals, because except in extraordinary circumstances like this one, the fact that you can't freely move between universes makes it largely irrelevant if true, just like in real life. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 31, 2016 at 11:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you have your own answer, put it in an answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Apr 1, 2016 at 2:00

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .