Monday, July 4, 2011

PC Death in Absentia

Today was the last session of Deadlands for awhile. We completed the second "leg" of the campaign and, due to some player decisions, the third leg is going in a direction not anticipated by anyone, GM included. Still, he's cool about it and the next leg will follow what we've set out to do.

There is, however, a troubling aspect to today's game session, and the more I think about it, the less comfortable I am with it.

Unbeknownst to us (until today) Anthony's character, a recent addition to the party, was working for the enemy. Having been resurrected by them in his back story, he labored under a magical compulsion to steal the Big Ass MacGuffin the rest of us had been after for this entire leg of the campaign.

Anthony recently got a job that schedules him unpredictably, sometimes late at nighit or overnight. He had to cancel his appearance at the game today at the last minute, presumably because of said job. (Or perhaps he had to work all night last night and just couldn't hack it today...quite understandable.) With today being the big finale, his characters' presence was required. Josh mentioned that his character was present, but we just sort of let him fade to the background.

When at last we overcame deadly traps and combats, we finally arrived at the Big Ass MacGuffin. We were then told by the GM that Anthony's character shoved everyone aside and claimed said MacGuffin in the name of a new, previously unknown antagonist. Said antagonist, well beyond our ability to deal with, appeared, took the MacGuffin, and vanished... leaving Anthony's character alone.

Now, the above event was a bit of a railroad. The GM said that he would have allowed Anthony the choice, had he been here. As it was, in Anthony's absence, the choice was made, and we were unable to do anything about it.

Having been betrayed, my first impulse was that my character would shoot his character in the face. The betrayal was not only personal, but actually affects a large part of the US and has potential global ramifications. After being talked down by a fellow PC, my character was content to shoot him in the leg, tie him up, and leave him. Being on an island, other party members argued that this was tantamount to killing him slowly, as there seemed to be no food or water on said island.

Out of character, I changed my mind because I would be fucking livid if my character was killed by the other party members for making a decision that the GM made on my behalf because I had to miss a session. I figured Anthony's "patron" would rescue him, or he'd find a way off the island, perhaps to redeem himself to us, or perhaps to become an antagonist to us. Either way, I suddenly felt uncomfortable offing Anthony's PC in his absence, especially since we don't know what he would have done had he been present. The other player who was considering the same thing as me decided not to pull the trigger, though I don't know if his reasoning was the same as my own.

....aaaaand, then Mindy's character blew him up with a canon.
No, really.
Her reasoning was that the canon was a quick death, compared to dying alone on that island. (For the record, I didn't really think he was going to die on that island, but that was, admittedly, metagaming on my part.)

At first, I was relatively okay with what happened. This character had betrayed us in a way that would have made it impossible to trust him ever again. Even if we hadn't killed him, it would have taken some serious contrition on his part.

...and yet, the more I think about it, the more uncomfortable I am with what happened. The GM took over his PC and made a choice he might not necessarily have made. If we had been given the chance to react, I'd have probably had my character shoot him in the arm or leg to incapacitate him and stop him. Then again, how were we to know he would betray us? Still, I'm not sure I like the idea that the character was killed without the player present. The more I think about it, the less I like it.

Thinking back, Anthony really didn't seem to care overly much when his long running character in my AD&D game bought the farm, but then again, it was his choice and he admitted that it wasn't the wisest thing to do. Who knows if he's even attached to this character? I've been playing Dr. Montrose since November, whereas Anthony has only been playing his character for two weeks.

I would totally be fine with Dr. Montrose getting killed, so long as it was me at the helm and not because he made a decision that I had no say in. In fact, I marched the good Doctor into a situation today that I thought spelled his certain death so that the PCs might have been spared. He managed to survive, but when I made the decision I was already starting to think of a new character I'd like to play... now, if the GM or another player had made Dr. Montrose make that decision because I had to miss that week, I would be flippin' pissed.

I'm not really sure what to do now. I haven't had a chance to talk to either the GM or Anthony since my feelings on the situation reversed. I want to make sure there aren't any hard feelings at the gaming table.

Addendum: My own policy as GM is that the character cannot die when the player is not at the game session. In my current Pathfinder game, and most of my other games, the absent PC is sort of there/not there, stuck in some crazy Schrodinger's Cat state until the player can return. The PC is safe from death, but they are not able to participate, use skills or spells, or otherwise contribute to the adventure. This is only if I can't find an excuse for the PC to have to leave/stay behind/go ahead/whatever. (The party is smack in the middle of a dungeon excursion, for instance) I have, in the past, allowed each player to designate another player to handle the character in their absence, but I have decided not to do this anymore. The absent character receives no experience, and receives treasure/goodies only if the present players are nice enough to share.


  1. In my campaign, it is the job of the player to figure out why their character isn't there at a session. If the players decide to end the session inside the dungeon or in some adverse environment. In that case, I allow the player whose character has the highest charisma or the best relationship with the absent PC to take over playing him.

    If the character dies during that expedition, he dies. End of story.

    The players knew that this could happen by ending a game in such an environment and the likely hood of not showing up.

    If *I* have to call a game when the characters are in the dungeon, enemy castle, etc. I would likely announce that any character whose players are absent fade into the background. They cannot die, use their skills (unless absolutely necessary), and will not gain experience points for any that happens to during that session.

  2. I have been thinking about this myself the last couple days and I do feel bad for what happened to his character I was not expecting the lynch mob. I was simply using his character as the tool to move the campaign leg to the end I had in mind without weighing the consequences I will probably retcon his death sometime in the next 4 months before the campaign runs again

  3. easy enough for the GM to rewrite history. Say that a changeling replaced him at somepoint getting there and it was not really Anthony's PC at all. Anthony's PC staggers into a town the characters are at and tell the story he was abducted. Easy Peasy.