Monte Cook

For quite a while, I was playing in an online D&D game (via G+ hangouts) with a bunch of my original game group friends. It was a very casual game, basically a dungeon crawl. And like happens so often, often not everyone could make it. In fact, it was literally never the same group two sessions in a row.

The problem of player continuity is one that often rears its head. Some RPG groups won’t play unless everyone involved can make it. Others make up on the fly reasons why a certain PC is missing, or how one missing before suddenly catches up with her friends. Some have the characters of missing players run by players who are there, or the GM takes over as if they are now an NPC. Still others just hand-wave it, and say that Bob’s character is still around (just kind of “in the background” someplace) even though Bob’s not there. In my 35 years of gaming, I’ve done all of those things, and probably others. In at least one campaign, the PCs had an artifact that explained all the comings and goings. And of course part of the whole reason for my Ptolus setting (all taking place in a city) was to facilitate PC exits and entrances.

Here’s how we handled it in this online game (at least, this was my take on it, which I really took a liking to). The conceit was that there were an infinite number of parallel universes out there, so there were an infinite number of parties going through infinite identical versions this dungeon. While the composition of the party might be different, the deeds were basically always the same (at least in the universes we were concerned with). So it might go something like this:

Session 1. Elf fighter, human cleric, halfling rogue. The elf warrior killed the gargoyle, the human cleric got the magic key, and the halfling rogue disarmed the trap and opened the chest so the group could get at the 1,000 gp.

Session 2. Human wizard, dwarf fighter, halfling rogue. Looking back at last session, the dwarf killed the gargoyle, the wizard now has the key, and the rogue still did what he did. In this session, though, the dwarf fighter is terribly wounded in a fight with some orcs, and the rogue saved his life with a well-timed sneak attack. Sadly, the halfling was knocked unconscious and there was no one to help the fighter. Things looked pretty grim, and rather than wait for more orcs to show up, the wizard pressed ahead in the hopes that he might find something that could save them. He used the magic key to open the door and get to the stairs down to level 2. At the bottom, however, he used knock to open the door there (they must have missed a second key somewhere).

Session 3. Human cleric, elf fighter, dwarf fighter, elf rogue. The dwarf fighter starts the session off still hurt, but the cleric fixes that right up. The door at the bottom of the stairs was forced open by the fighters working together. Things aren’t nearly so grim, and the progress down to level 2 seems natural rather than desperate. (Who killed the gargoyle in Session 1 from this group’s perspective: the elf or the dwarf? The elf, since that’s the actually happened at the table.)

The point here is that the adventure just keeps going on. If something important happened in a prior session involving a character not in the current session, it happened to a different character with relatively the same results. The progress through the adventure is always the same, only the minor details are different. For example,┬ánote that the change in session 3 didn’t change the adventure. They didn’t suddenly find that second key. In other words, the course of the progress, the discoveries, the victories and the defeats didn’t change, only the identity of who overcame the obstacles and how.

That campaign appears to have drawn to a close, but this is an idea I am going to pick up again soon, and maybe tinker with a bit. Give it a try if it sounds interesting and your group needs a solution for this problem. It doesn’t change your game, really, just the way you look at it.

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