So you’re cruising through the adventure, slaying evildoers and plot points with equal dispatch. You’re gaining experience, uncovering secrets of the universe, and inching your way ever closer to the climactic fight against the BBEG. Only problem is that Bob couldn’t show up this week. That’s cool though. You’ll just play some Catan with the rest of the group and wait for next session. But next week rolls around and Bob is still MIA. Then the week after that Carl has to go to his cousin’s wedding. He’s really sorry. Which is what you’ll say to the judge after you murder Carl.

Here’s the secret though: Carl and Bob are not jerks. They’re just real people with real lives that don’t always intersect with the gaming group. The problem isn’t with your friends. The problem is with the way you tell stories.

If you’ve got to structure a campaign such that every one of your players must be present in order to proceed, you’re setting yourself up for frustration. I figured that out early on in my current megadungeon campaign, and decided to make some adjustments. Rather than running it as a plot-centric game, I decided to make things a little more episodic. Less focus on in-town shenanigans and more on dungeon exploration. I also introduced a plot device where, thanks to a PC’s connection to the mythos, eldritch powers from beyond time and space could teleport the actually-present-players into the dungeon and the absent players away. After all, what could better represent the chaos and caprice of the elder gods than player attendance? I’ll have to pay off that little contrivance at some point, but in the meantime it’s removed a lot of the stress of building adventures around specific characters who might or might not show up.

How about you guys? How do you solve flaky player syndrome? Do you use cardboard cutouts? Metagame artifacts? Vicious beatings? Sound off with your ideas in the comments.