Change in players
It's September and Duck and Roll is back! This time of year is full of change both in the weather and in people's lives. To celebrate that, this month's theme is Change. All month long we'll be talking about changes in scenery, adventures, stories, and more!
To start things off we're going to talk about change at the gaming table, and some of the many forms it can come in. A tabletop game, and a gaming group as a whole is a living thing that grows, shrinks and evolves with very little provocation. I have no doubt that every person to roll a set of dice has encountered some pretty big changes in their group or groups. Let's take a look at some ways that the players of your game may change and how to make the best of a situation.
Loss of a player: People move away, people lose interest or get busy, and sometimes they have to quit for other reasons. When a group looses a player it can be a very sad occasion and it can leave an empty void not only at the table, but in the story and the dynamic of the group. Sometimes a DM or storyteller can fill the gap by bringing on an npc to serve a similar purpose. For example: If the player who served as the group's link to the mafia can no longer make it, a new member of the organized crime family reaches out to join the party. If the party finds itself lacking a melee powerhouse, a mercenary companion or loyal ally may take up arms to help the heroes. (or antiheroes if that's your thing). Sometimes the role a player occupied can be replaced with an item, a plot device, or a change of situation. An adventuring party suddenly lacking a magical healer might find that a magic wand or crate of potions does almost as well. A superhero team short of their fire breather might come to realize that throwing cars is about the same damage (if somewhat messier). Some plot elements may have to get reworked fairly considerably depending on the importance of the player's character. Some common ways of adapting are to have the party take up their old friend's mantle, identity, or destiny, or to have an outside source hold the team responsible for the deeds of their former associate. There's also a lot that the other players can do to try and pick up the slack. If your lost player used to track initiative, try volunteering to fill their shoes. If your wizard can't play for a few months, maybe the Rogue or bard can grab some scrolls. It's easy to be dismayed or disappointed in a friend, and to fall to a defeatist attitude. "I guess we aren't doing any ghost stuff without our sin eater." But stepping up, having your mage learn a few dots of death magic for example, shows a maturity and initiative that is sure to get noticed. As much as I love my weekly sessions and my gaming group, as much as I've made it my life's ambition, I understand that at the end of the day other people have responsibilities to uphold. It's important not to take someone bowing out of a game personally. A lot of the time it's cleaner and easier to have someone choose not to play with your group rather than being distracted, not giving it their all, or not having fun at the table.
Addition of a player: Tabletop games are big, and they get bigger every year, more and more people are getting into it, and that means those players are going to wind up at the same table as you. A "New" player might be a 30 year gaming veteran, or they might have never held a character sheet before. When someone joins your group, regardless of if you're a player, storyteller, DM, Ect, it's your job to make them feel welcome and help them to get accustomed to things. Different groups have different rules and customs and it's important to be patient and open minded. If your spectacular roll was suddenly nullified because "Floor dice don't count" you might be pretty upset too if you'd always had them count before. Try to be sympathetic to this newfound stranger at your table. And if YOU are the new one at the table, do your best to pick up on how your new friends do things. Don't be afraid to offer a different point of view, but understand that no two groups are the same. From a story perspective it can be challenging to integrate a new player, especially if your plot involves a specific number of people, and it can likewise be difficult to catch someone up on the details they've missed. One of the easiest solutions to this problem is so simply explain to the player only a bit more than their character knows, and introduce their character as an outsider only meant to offer temporary aid. Soon one encounter turns into two or three, connections form, and consequences fall on both parties. In the long run of a game a player can start even halfway in and still feel like a fully fledged party member by the end.
Change of role: As my groups Forever GM, I deeply understand the desire to change up roles sometimes. Everyone should get a chance to play, and some people are better off running games than being on the party. When a new player picks up or takes off the storyteller hat it can be a tumultuous time. Table rules could change, new campaigns may be formed, old plots might be rewritten, and styles may clash. When someone steps up and offers to run a game, the most important thing to remember is that everyone is on the same side. You all want to have fun, and nobody shows up to the table with the intent to ruin other people's enjoyment. That being said, some people do things very differently, and not everyone is cut out to sit behind the screen. And not all great storyteller's make great players either. The easiest way to help a transition like this along is to come together as a group, to listen to each other, and be willing to try out different styles. If the new GM isn't working out, see if you can all clearly come to the conclusion as to why, and find a solution that works for everyone. It's easy to fall into the same roles as always, the same GM running for the same players, but only by trying new things and new compositions can you really find out what works best for everyone.
Change of identity: Sometimes people change, and those changes aren't always easy for the person involved or for the people around them. Some people are more comfortable when their character has elements of them self in them, and when a part of someone's identity changes they may want that change to be reflected in their character. Of all the changes that can occur at the table, these sorts of changes are the easiest to know what to do, even if some people have a lot more trouble dealing with them. All that required here is communication. If a player wants to go by a different name or pronoun, all they should need to do is communicate that desire. If a player is no longer comfortable with a certain type of content, they should only need to mention it and that aspect can be downplayed to a comfortable level or taken out entirely. When a player undergoing a major life change wants that change to be reflected in their character there are two main ways to handle it. The first is to have the character also undergo a similar change, which depending on the game or setting might be a very quick change, or it may be a very long one. This experience, if done right can even be very theraputic for a player and can help enrich the setting and the character's arc. The other option is to retroactively change things so the character always had the qualities being changed to. This option is much faster and easier to implement and requires a lot less attention. Fortunately it's not hard to figure out which to use, just ask the player what they'd prefer and proceed from there.
Hopefully this has helped some people deal with big changes at the gaming table among their players. It can always be a trying time when the things we're used to change, but hopefully this can help keep you centered and give you some guidance for getting back on track.