With an established party of adventurers, substitutions can be tricky. As Dungeon Master, how do you eject a missing player from the narrative on a temporary basis? How do you maintain the balance of challenges versus the party when 25% of their resources are missing? How do you revise a planned session to account for the missing player?
If I have warning, I can normally craft a suitable story, but this one came as a surprise. Our group is pretty good about attendance, but I suppose one of them being pregnant is a suitable excuse to take care of other business.
Anyway, I had to cut her character out. Somehow.
Oh, right. I’ll use that trick.
Jacob Holo: You find a letter shoved under the cabin door. It’s from Sam. She says she left during the night and that she’ll meet up with you on the mainland.
Erik: Does the letter say why?
Jacob Holo: Uhh … yeah, sure. It says she’s taking a detour to meet someone called Nancy Preg. It sounds urgent.
Erik: But aren’t we still on that pirate ship?
Jacob Holo: She took the long boat.
Erik: In the middle of the ocean?
Jacob Holo: Dude, just roll with it.
Oh, yeah. Seamless transition.
With that problem out of the way, I had to deal with the other problem of combat balance. The party was down its tank, and they were about to come up against some nasty trouble. I could have turned down the difficulty, but I really didn’t want to. We were fast approaching a plot climax, and the battles needed to intensify accordingly.
So, it was time to introduce an NPC to help out. A Menoth ship (now shipwreck) encountered in the last session seemed the logical choice. I grabbed my Menoth rulebook, picked a stat line, and retrieved the all important “Menoth Voice Simulator” from the kitchen cupboard.
I had everything set for the substitute character. Which is fine in theory, but that’s before players start mucking around. This crew is naturally suspicious of new characters. They might attack on sight or just kill the NPC for his shoes. Again.
My new Menoth Cinerator wouldn’t last five seconds.
Fiz: Hey, there’s this heavily armored guy in the woods up ahead.
Ferrous Claw: What’s his armor look like.
Fiz: Umm … what did it look like again?
Jacob Holo: White and red heavy plate with gold trim.
Fiz: Right. What he said.
Erik: Does he look undead?
Fiz: Umm, did he?
Jacob Holo: The individual is completely encased in armor. You don’t even know if it’s a he.
Ferrous Claw: Sounds tough. I think we should recruit him.
Erik: Yeah, good idea.
Fiz: We can use him to replace Sam! He’ll be like a substitute teacher, but with MORE PAIN!
Jacob Holo: What? Seriously?
Ferrous Claw: Did you say something?
Jacob Holo: No.
And so, based on absolutely no evidence at all, they decided to recruit this new character who then joined the party and helped set many Cryx ablaze. If only all of my NPCs were so fortunate. They didn’t even try to steal his shoes or anything. I was almost disappointed.