How to handle players that can't be at every session

Given the connections between characters, DramaSystem seems like it relies on having a solid core group of players at each session. I'm getting ready to start my first game with a total of six players (myself included) but I know one of those players probably won't be able to be at every session. Any suggestions for mitigating the impact of this?


  • I actually had this problem in my first game. It ran for six weeks with one 3 hour evening a week. One night we had only three of us including myself - that as the hardest. Once they'd had a scene with all the NPC they wanted to it stalled, so we finished early. However missing just one player had very little impact. Keep good episode notes, but don't recap what the returning player missed (I also forbid my players from discussing the game outside sessions). Missing stuff actually added to the game. We had real moments of "You said What!" and "They didn't did they". It was much more fun that way. We also took the soap opera approach and just ignored the fact that the character wasn't there and was off doing something else important.
  • We have actually had this happen to us several times when we have run the Tales of 13th Age organized play games. So long as you are not ending your sessions on cliff-hangers, its very managable. In Crown of the Lich King we ranged from 3-6 players total and we were able to find convincing enough reasons why the players were absent. In Wyrd of the Wild Wood, we've had a group of Nymphs continuously entice several of the players away from the rest of the group. When those players return the next week, it gives them an opportunity to tell some wacky tale of what they were up to while away.

    The main thing is to think of consistent reasons why the characters might be absent. And to give them story opportunities when they return. You can even use this to your advantage to have characters off screen bring relevant information to whatever plot you have going on. Make it an opportunity to expand your game, not to hinder it.
  • Tackle this problem by buying into the conceit that your DramaSystem game is a TV Show. This week, one (or more) of the actors has the week off due to an overly generous contract. If it is one character, highlight the absence of that character. What interesting imbalance occurs in the cast when they aren't around? If several characters are gone, then you can start the episode by cutting the present characters off from the rest of the cast. It could be a bottle episode. Maybe this is the episode where they lock themselves in the freezer, spending their time exchanging flashbacks that fill us in on their past. Alternately, if you are using the Hillfolk setting, maybe the characters get left behind without horses on a raid gone wrong. They need to spend an episode making their way back home, with plenty of room to point blame over the situation, along with further obstacles to stir more drama.

    As JssSandals says clifhangers can be a problem, but you can even work around those. If the cliffhanger only relates to the absent player, find a way to leave it hanging off-screen. If it ties up a mix of absent and present players, the present players can relay the outcome in an opening scene, while also explaining how the outcome lead to the absence of the other character.

    Ideally, DramaSystem should be a strong ensemble with multiple plots running, so there shouldn't be any one player that can kill progress dead by not showing up. If the absence forces character together who rarely interact, it could even turn out to be a good thing that some jerk decided something in their life was more important than the gaming group.
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