Don’t Wait — Just Play

How many games have we skipped because we had a couple of players missing? How many first sessions of a campaign have we delayed due to absence or scheduling snafu? If you’ve been playing tabletop games for more than a few weeks, you’ve almost certainly run into this annoying truth – real life gets in the way of RPG’s. And it never gets easier to get a group together.

So, here’s my advice: Life is short. Don’t wait. Just start playing.



You’ve been prepping for months. The intro adventure is ready and has been on the calendar for weeks. Snacks are in the pantry. The soundtrack is cued up. The group is ready to start their epic journey. And three days before the big night, somebody gets roped into a family obligation. Somebody else gets hit with mandatory overtime. You’re two adventurers down and the remaining heroes are failing their morale check before the dice have even hit the table.

Do you delay? After all, you wanted all your friends there and had customized introductory scenes written for each character. Everything’s been fine-tuned for five and you’re down to three… wouldn’t waiting a week make sense?

Don’t wait. Just start. The two missing members will be back the following week and you can do their cool intros then. A month from now, the healer’s player will have a birthday party, and the week after that the rogue will get the flu. It will never stop. So, don’t give up valuable game time. Just start playing.



If you play once a week, you only have 52 opportunities per year to game – and let’s be realistic – holidays and GM absence will probably whittle that down to closer to 40. If you’re an every-other-week group, cut that in half. Once a month? Half again. Ten games is not a lot of gaming. You simply can’t wait for everybody all the time if you want to maximize your chances of making a game happen.

So, we must accept the notion that some players are going to have to skip some of the time, especially if they have busy family lives, school, demanding jobs, unreliable transportation, chronic illness, or a host of other non-fantasy, real-life requirements. Games will always come second to hospital visits, weddings, and childbirth (although, you could bring the game to the waiting room if you were a really cool friend – no, wait – I’m being informed that you should ask the person having the baby, first).

To make sudden absences more agreeable, I would suggest having a “Register of Rationalizations” like the one at the bottom of this article – it’s basically a big list of reasons why a particular character might be out of commission for a mission. Another handy tool for your Bag of Hold-On-I-Can-Fix-This is a nice collection of one-shot adventures and side quests, like this one. Slipping in side quests is an invaluable method for delaying a plot point without calling game night off, entirely. This is very effective when you have a player missing and the upcoming story was ALL ABOUT THEM AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN REALLY COOL I’M TOTALLY OVER IT THOUGH.


Games can work with a bunch of people missing. They can even work with just one GM and one player. Adapting your pre-written material for a smaller squad is a hands-on kind of skill that will get easier with time, but there’s no need to dread it. In fact, most modern game systems contain rules for doing just that. Just remember these tips:

  1. Cut the number of opponents way down – you’re looking to balance the economy of actions (the number of actions the PC’s can take versus their foes).
  2. Focus on challenges that the present players have skills for – if there are no healers but several “social” characters, make the session’s obstacles more about fast-talking rather than survival, for example. Add optional ways to get through problems with the abilities your group has to work with.
  3. Let the players have the spotlight – less characters means more time at center stage for the ones that showed up, so let them show off a little.

Game time is a precious resource that shouldn’t be wasted. Many groups die before they begin because they can’t get a quorum together. Don’t disband because you can’t get everybody on the same day – just start playing and add people whenever they arrive. Small, successful gaming troupes are better than big parties who never have a night all together. Don’t wait forever.

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