Player Tip #5 – On Absentia

The past few weeks have been a hectic time for the Thirdwalling staff.  The turmoil has reminded us of one unequivocal fact:  Life happens.  Whether it’s schoolwork piling up, vacations, family obligations or stress from the day job; players will occasionally miss a game session.  The way you handle that absence as a player can mean the difference between a seamless night of play without you or a polite invitation for you never to come back!  This week’s player tip explores the steps you should take as a player to minimize the impact of a missed session for a long-running game.

While pick-up games and one-off scenarios like those offered by Pathfinder Society have the advantage of drop-in/drop-out gaming, the appeal of a long-running and immersive campaign game will never fade for some of us.  When you have formed a strong bond with the other players and your character has established a niche with the rest of the party you want to continue to foster that atmosphere.  But once that synergy has been established, it can greatly disrupt the flow of the game to lose a player – even for just a session or two.  A good Game Master can adapt to the short-term loss of a player – but as players we have a responsibility to ensure that our loss won’t set the party back too much.  Some of these things seem like they should go without saying, but for the sake of new players they need to be said.

1. Give advance notice – 

With any social gathering you are invited to attend, the moment you know for sure that you cannot be there (or the moment it comes into question) you should let the organizers know.  In the case of tabletop gaming, the Game Master should be the first to know that you may not be able to make session.  This courtesy allow the GM time to plan for your absence and make any changes to loot, monster stats or snack trays that your absence may cause.  This can be as simple as changing your answer to “no” or “maybe” on the Google Plus invite but a quick phone call, text message or email will go a long way to divert frustration and avoid communication failures.  A good Game Master shouldn’t give you a hard time about it if you simply explain the situation and try to give them a clear idea of when you’ll be back in play.

2.  Avoid the telephone game – 

While it may seem easier to just let one of the other players know you won’t be there and why, avoid playing the telephone game.  When you give a message to another player to pass along to the game master, vital information (like sincerity) can be lost or the message can get distorted.  Instead of falling for this trap, contact the Game Master directly and explain yourself clearly.

3. Discuss your options – 

Talk about your missed session with the Game Master in advance of the game. Is there something that your character wants or needs to do that would separate them from the group for a short while?  That could explain your absence and minimize the impact on the party.  Would you trust another player or the Game Master to control your character for a session, allowing the party to move on without losing your character’s skill set?  Does your situation allow you to join the game via Google Hangout, Roll20.net or some other video chat service?

If you do elect to have someone else play your character, don’t expect to get experience for the session .  Likewise, a good Game Master shouldn’t penalize you for an unavoidable absence either.  Consumables like food, water, ammunition, spell reagents, etc should not be consumed when you’re not physically there for a session – but don’t expect them to use your once-only magic items to save the day either!  Likewise, discuss with the Game Master and other members of the Party what your character would like to do or gain from the current scene in your absence.  This will help them know how to have your character act and allow your character to be a more active participant in the game even when you can’t be there.

4.) Don’t make a habit of it – 

Life happens.  But if you are going to continually miss gaming sessions the arrangement might not work out.  It is not fair to the Game Master or your fellow players if they can’t rely on you to be there.  Consider giving up your seat for someone else or talk with the Game Master about the feasibility of changing the sessions to a different night or time.  It is frustrating to both the players and the Game Master to have an unreliable player at the table.

If your situation requires that you be an in-and-out participant in the game, discuss your options with the Game Master.  It may be that a recurring NPC may be a better option than allowing you to play – and certainly do not expect to get an abundance of plot attention if you can’t reliably make the game.

Thoughts?  Additions?  Want me to record a video of The Fez doing the Truffle Shuffle?  Take it to the comments!

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[ Featured image by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons ]

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