So there I am, running the party through the uncharted depths of an underground jungle, when all of a sudden the module calls for pod people. These pod people are copies of a previous adventuring party that died in the jungle, and the PCs have to figure out whether these vegetable adventurers are friend or foe. Cool stuff so far. According to the module however, “Their goals, personalities, races, and classes can be any mixture that makes sense in the context of the campaign.” In other words, I had to invent their stat blocks. And since I’m an awful person and an irredeemably bad GM, I hadn’t prepared properly. I had to make up their stat blocks on the fly.

Happily, since this was happening in a game with a handy dandy SRD, I was able to pull close-enough stats from the internet. That saved my bacon, but it still left me trying to learn four mid-level characters on the fly. That’s taxing stuff, especially when you’re simultaneously trying to run a tense social encounter.

I bring it up for this reason. In that same session, a buddy’s girlfriend was sitting in as a guest player, piloting an NPC she’d only met half an hour earlier. She too was running a big block of stats that she’d never seen before, and doing her best to be a part of the party. Running a character without prep time is tough, but running somebody else’s character—one with an established personality and relationship to the party—is ridiculously hard. Brava! thought I, as she gamely made the attempt.

This sort of thing comes up most often when one of the players has to miss a session. I’ve often seen groups call on another player to control a PC in its owner’s absence. And when that happens, it’s a common solution to say, “He stands over there and does his default action.” Now as fun as it is to use Sir. Mannequin as cannon fodder, I’d much rather see the stand-in player make an attempt to get the character right. Yeah it’s a high degree of difficulty, what with running your own PC at the same time, but I think it’s a better solution than gaming with sock puppets.

How about you guys? How do you handle it when you have to run a stand-in PC? Do you just handwave that character’s actions, pretend they aren’t there, or try and do the character justice?