Most tabletop games, including Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, require players to be part of a fairly balanced group that plays together regularly. A gaming session is never the same without your regular adventuring party, and the plot suffers when characters randomly phase in and out. So how do we handle attendance issues?
The Backup Plan
Life can get in the way of gaming at a moments notice. Illness, weather, and volatile work schedules are the most common adversaries of a typical gaming session. Knowing that anything can and will happen, it is always a good idea to have a board game or card game (or three) waiting in queue. If there is significant travel involved for your gaming group, this is highly recommend. A few light-hearted options would be wise, as the group may be dissapointed that they will not be playing the game they were looking forward to.
Assessing Situations and Making the Right Decision
There are many factors that might contribute toward a decision to move or cancel a session, or to end a session early. Here are a few items to consider:
Frequency of Play
How often does your group meet? If you play weekly, it will not hinder the campaign to cancel a single session. But if you play less frequently, this decision might be harder. In my home campaign, we only play once every 4-6 weeks, so cancelling a session means that there may be no DnD for several months months! The less often you play, the more you need to make solid, long term plans.
For players with volatile work schedules, planning sessions weeks or months in advance may not be an option. In our group, one of the players is a chef, and schedules at the restaurant are only determined a week or two in advance. He can try to request to not work on a gaming date, but there are no guarantees. His attendance is always a wild card, but fortunately he is the only player with such a volatile schedule. It is pretty much impossible to have a regular gaming session if everyone’s schedule is volatile… as a lot of us learned in college.
Inconvenience of Play
How hard do your players have to “work” in order to attend a gaming session? Do they have to drive a significant distance? Do they need to acquire baby or pet sitters? Players in my private campaign are spread across South Eastern Wisconsin, so we generally meet at a compromised location that requires everyone to drive about an hour. This level of commitment means when everyone agrees on a date, everyone better show up or someone will be upset.
In the Midwest (or any other Northern climate), traveling during snowstorms or blizzards can be quite treacherous. Although Weather forecasting is not perfect, you generally have a good idea of what is coming 24-48 hours in advance. Be careful that no one in your group is bullied into traveling through conditions they don’t feel comfortable in.
This is the miscellaneous catch-all category. At our last gaming session, a player had indigestion that was so painful they had to leave the table and lie down. Events like this in the middle of gaming sessions are particularly challenging. In our case, the player had carpooled with another on the previously mentioned 60-minute long drive.
In the middle of an adventure, what could we do? As the DM, I found a way to incorporate the player into the activity of the NPCs the players were helping out, so it did not seem like the group was “losing” anything… and since this character is the group’s primary healer, I allowed the other players to spend minor actions to “call” for heals from the character that had joined the NPCs. Effectively, I changed the Healing Word mechanic into something similar to the Skald Bard’s healing aura.
Aside from mechanical changes, I found a way to skip through some of the content I had planned more quickly, so we could end the session an hour or so early. Normally we play 4-6 hour sessions because the travel is so significant, but with a player not feeling well on the couch (who was stuck there because of her carpool buddy), I think it was the right choice to find a way to end the session early, but not abruptly.
What Do You Think?
How does your gaming group deal with these kinds of issues? Have you ever had to come up with clever solutions to these kinds of problems in the middle of a gaming session?