When A Friend Leaves Your Game
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1080
I received an email from RPT GM NK who received news from a friend:
I DM a group of 8 players and the one who got the most people involved is leaving in two months across the country.
The whole party is very emotional about this.
Any ideas on or for the last two sessions?
The group will continue playing after. We may do some sort of remote play too. Yet this player was a key core and the game will not be the same after this.
First of all, NK, I am sorry your table is losing a beloved player. That’s always a sad thing.
I do encourage you to look at online play. I ran into a similar situation, and we set up a monitor on an empty chair at the table. It was great seeing them as a virtual player.
As for your campaign’s last two sessions, here are some thoughts:
What would you like to see happen with the character?
Do you want them to become an NPC? To be removed from the campaign? To be there in the wings in case the player can make a session?
Start with your desired ending in mind.
One approach might be to save the character.
As a tentative Save The Character arc:
- Villain Strikes
- Fond Farewells
The idea is to set up a two session arc (perhaps two 5 Room Dungeons) where the villain lashes out indirectly at the party.
Family members of the departing character are kidnapped or attacked. Allies are rocked from betrayal by villainous double agents. Campaign plot is threatened via villain intervention.
The key here is to attack three or more steps away from the party so they must backtrack to figure out what’s going on and fix things.
For example, the departing character’s family gets attacked by the villain.
But the party does not know this yet.
Instead, the hook lands when an NPC summons the party on an urgent matter. The NPC knows about the family attack and wants to deliver the news personally and help the character save their family.
Perhaps one travel encounter later, the PCs discover the NPC has disappeared.
To find the NPC, the party must follow clues found at the NPC’s last known location, which leads the party through a short 5 Room Dungeon.
Each room is an encounter with NPCs who help get the character closer to the missing NPC.
That might be enough for session #1. With eight players, I’m hedging a speedy 5 Room Dungeon plus intro encounter and travel encounter is enough for a session.
Session #1 ends with finding the NPC who drops the bomb about the character’s family being in terrible danger.
We run session #2 as another 5 Room Dungeon focused on saving the family. To do this, the party will need help in the shape of allies, clues and information, and a special item that’ll help rescue the family.
To recap my example, run a two-part arc of saving the character’s family.
But here’s the twist.
Each step of the journey involves revisiting NPCs and locations previously encountered.
This is a farewell tour.
The player, with their friends, relive the best moments of your campaign together, as the villain’s actions has them revisit old locations and meet old friends (and enemies).
In this way, your friend can say their fond farewell to your campaign. That could be a very powerful experience.
We end the final session by party confronting the situation facing the family.
Whether victorious or temporarily defeated, you end with the character needing to leave the party.
It could be for a private quest. It could be to help (remaining) family members grieve and heal.
Or, it could be the character falls victim to the villain’s real end goal: kidnapping the character.
“The village lies in ruins. People welcome you with tears in their eyes, very grateful you’ve come back to help them, but also saddened by their losses.
“Suddenly, winged creatures fly from hiding places and attack!”
Over the course of the battle, the departing player’s character is carried up, up, and away into the horizon….
End of session.
This arc offers you several gaming boons.
First, you put the plotlight on the departing player, giving them two glorious sessions of character hooks and development.
This also lets everyone at the table focus on the player and character in-game and prepare themselves in real life for the inevitable.
You also revisit treasured campaign moments as the party tracks down the clues. What a great way to reminisce, close open loops, roleplay with NPCs from the past, and celebrate your campaign.
Finally, you end in such a way that you can keep the character’s spirit alive and well in the game.
With the character’s life now in jeopardy, you can make saving them a new quest.
Your friends can keep their now departed friend top of mind for the next few sessions as they have a clear purpose.
The departing player need not be there because their character is the source of the quest but not present. Yet pursuit of the character means everyone at the table can keep talking about them and thinking of them to ease their sense of loss.
How you end this arc is up to you. But you’ve got options now. Can the character be rescued? Does the rescue open up a cool new plot arc, or help the party progress along the current arc? Can the character retire happily ever after?
Whether this ends with players at the cemetery giving eulogies over the character’s fresh grave, or the party celebrating the character’s return but withdrawal from the adventuring life, you provide a chance for player, character, and campaign closure.
Pitch your plans to the departing player so they can help guide things along.
Plan a nice, final moment at the end of session #2. A toast, gift, and group hug.
Narrate that last scene with character being kidnapped so things end how you want.
If it were my group, I’d run it like this:
“The creatures attack [the character]. Two hit and wrap their talons around his arms!
“Ok guys, I’m going to step out of character now. I know the party has chances to stop the character from being whisked away.
“But I’m going to narrate what happens here instead as this is how [player] and I would like to leave things off.
“We’ll say some attacks and spells hit a couple times, leaving a trail of dripping blood you could follow.
“But the creatures succeed in escaping with [the character]. And we’ll end things here now and say our goodbyes….”
Due to this special circumstance, you dictate outcomes so you can leave things how you and your departing friend plan.
I hope this proposed plot arc, or some piece of it, helps give you ideas, NK.
Please let us know what you end up doing and how it turns out.
And hopefully your friend can return to your game table again, one way or another, for a wonderful reunion in the future!