Role-playing games are an escape from reality. We play to forget the hardships of a day, and to enjoy the company of friends. We play because we would rather be these other people, at least for a few hours. But the few moments we can steal away from the dreary day-to-day are still at the whim of Real Life. Sometimes, we can no longer make the commitments that we made when we started gaming. Sometimes, we’re no longer having fun with these characters, or this party, or this DM. And sometimes, Real Life says “Enough.”
And we stop.
It’s lamentable. It’s tragic even. With bittersweet farewells in character and mixed feelings out, we try to reconfigure the game to deal with the absence of characters and players who we had previously counted on.
And that’s the rub. We did count on these people. We counted on the storyteller to keep telling stories, or the tank to keep getting all those big, bad monsters not to hit us. We counted on the healer to keep us alive. We counted on the rogue to gank bitches and take names, damn it! We counted on our friends, and we can’t any longer.
So how to move on? How to deal with the absence introduced? Well, that depends on a lot of things, but mostly it depends on whether the person who is leaving was a mere player on a stage, or if he was the storyteller.
If the storyteller’s gone, then nine times out ten it’s the end of the game. It’s a little different in a LARP, where players have a lot of investment in the games themselves, but if it’s a tabletop game, or if it’s a raid, that might very well be the death knell of it. You can kiss that game good bye, and those stories probably finish without ending. Maybe that’s the greatest tragedy; the game got started because the people around it wanted to tell a story, and they’ll never have that chance any more. The sour feelings and wishful thinking that the game could be resurrected someday almost pale in comparison to the story having never reached a “the end”.
It’s far more common, and far more muddy, if it’s a player who leaves. If one player leaves, usually the person in charge (the ST or raid lead) will try to fill that place in, try to get someone new to pick up the slack. This usually works, but doesn’t usually work well. New party dynamics have to be figured out, new relationships have to be established in an already established order. Can it work? Like real world relationships that have problems, it’s really only possible if everyone left tries to make it work. The new player has to do their best to fill the role expected of them, and the rest of the group has to try and accommodate the new. It’s more disastrous if one person’s leaving triggers an exodus, and suddenly, a noticeable percentage of the game just isn’t there anymore.
In either case, if the remaining people want to save it, they have to make the decision to try to save it. They have to be willing to put in the effort to do the heavy lifting, and to deal with the new that has taken the place of the old. It’s hard for the people who don’t make the decision to leave, but instead decide to try and rebuild, knowing they’ll not only be a little sadder, but that the game they’re now playing is not the game they agreed to play when the game began. All games change over time, but rarely do they change so radically.
On the other hand, the players might not want to save the game. They might just want to reform, with a new idea. Play a different game, raid with completely different characters. Moving on from what was to what will be, what could be. The possibility of having something new to take the player’s mind of the old is a very alluring concept. Since the old game failed, after all, you have all this free time to fill it up with a new game.
There is also the decision to just tough it out. Maybe you don’t need that person in the way you thought you did. Maybe you can get on, ignoring the limp, the phantom character sensation as it were. It doesn’t always apply, of course. You need a storyteller, and you need a couple of players, but you can sometimes make do with less. Maybe you had more than you needed to begin with, and it’s actually a blessing in disguise. Your games are faster now, streamlined without that extraneous part of the group.
But ultimately, the problem isn’t with the person who’s leaving. They’ve made their peace, and their decision, and carry on with their lives. They knew what they were doing, and when the finally put their foot down, there isn’t a lot that another people can do about it.
No, the problem is with who’s left.