Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Back in the Game: How I Handle Replacement Player Characters

Chris Mata writes in: Half the party wipes (say 6 players) night one of the campaign. What are your favorite ways to let the 3 guys who lost their PC’s ‘back in the game’? another shipwrecks crew? random wanderer on the island? I would like to hear your thoughts.

The way I prefer to do this depends greatly on the scenario. If I had placed Stonehell Megadungeon a half day’s march from Specularum, then I can see letting people roll up however many new characters they need for the next sortie. The only hitch is that I might require the players to spend a few days in town making arrangements– this would give the monsters time to restock a few rooms and otherwise freshen up the dungeon.

For the Isle of Dread, things are different. The fact that the place is totally remote is central to the module’s theme, and letting players infinitely respawn isn’t consistent with that. So bringing in new player characters is more problematic. Here’s my thoughts on each method:

  • If you’re running a fourth level player character, then it wouldn’t be a surprise for them to have a second level henchman. If you worked this character up over the course of dozens of hours of play… you’d probably even have the maximum number of armor bearers and meat-shields that your Charisma can muster just to help keep them alive longer. But people don’t seem to play that way as much anymore, even if their Dungeon Master strongly encourages it. Maybe they’d change their minds if they knew how stingy you might be with respawning! At any rate, for the Isle of Dread, this is the most logical source of replacement PC’s.
  • I like it when the players pick up new hangers-on in the course of the game. (It’s reminiscent of Ultima IV among other things.) I generally play the locals as being persuadable, but cautious. If the low level flunkies they loan to the players make it back with some gold in their pockets, then others might want to give it a shot, too. If the players spend these characters like they’re red shirts or something, then they shouldn’t be surprised if this source of assistance dries up. And the players might have missed that part of the contract that requires life for life…. At any rate, this is my favorite source of replacement PC’s because it’s a good source of local color and it gets everyone involved in developing the cultures of the island’s inhabitants.
  • I let the players have “no fair do over” characters back at the ship for anyone that wants to roll them up. The trek across the island is onerous enough that I expect that people that go back that far probably don’t care anymore and that the party might as well fast forward a few years and bring back an entirely new expedition. I try to give the players a lot of choices on how they proceed, so this one is up to them to a large extent.
  • As to having replacement characters be from other shipwrecks… yeah, you are not the first to suggest that. This idea is over the top for me unless there was some reason that there would be a bunch of ships heading out to the island at more-or-less the same time. (If the Island is super-dangerous, you’re probably not going to have a lot of people like Ben Gunn from Treasure Island hanging around.) I suppose you can make it a campaign based loosely on the Lost television series… but if you are running the module as written, it doesn’t seem to fit with that. The module implies that the players are the first serious expedition to the Island in a long time. Also, while there is plenty to do on the Island, it is still primarily a worked example so that you can see how to run and develop the larger campaign map that is included with it. (This is my primary reason for not getting too creative on this point, but then… I am a purist.) Nevertheless, if the players ask for this, I’d give it maybe a one-in-twelve chance that their replacement character could be something like this. But there’s a three-in-eight chance that the guy is from the Asian themed continent. Keep your Oriental Adventures hardback handy!
  • Oh… and as to the characters being shipwrecked themselves… well… in the first place, that’s not the module-as-written. In the second… that is an obvious railroad device and I’d prefer to leave a very large and very obvious door open that will allow the players to choose other pursuits if they want to. It’s a sort of release valve on the campaign. If the Isle of Dread is “meh” after a while, then the players always have the option of going somewhere else. This distributes responsibility for the campaign’s course between the players and the Dungeon Master while emphasizing the complete autonomy of the players.

7 responses to “Back in the Game: How I Handle Replacement Player Characters

  1. Alex J. June 3, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Who do those pirates prey upon?

    • jeffro June 3, 2013 at 9:39 am

      The could be the probable explanation of the new PC’s coming in from the 1-in-12 chance of castaways and whatnot, sure. But in my view, not enough to justify infinite respawning. The adventure is by default sort of a conquistador type “there and back again” scenario… it is not an effectively infinite grind that goes on until the Island is completely cleaned out hex by hex. At any rate… I don’t see the Island as being a particularly high traffic area. Maybe other people have a different reading on that.

      • Chris Mata June 7, 2013 at 9:11 am

        You are right. I was viewing it as more of an overland dungeon where you ‘stay’ till its done. At some point, I think you would have them meet their match and be forced out or the locals rise up after they have pillaged the treasure.

  2. +Roger Burgess June 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    If they’re not bringing henchmen, they’re doing it wrong.

    There’s a REASON why XP requirements are geometric: Your PC dies, and at the end of everyone’s NEXT LEVEL, you’re just one level behind. Even better, henchmen already have XP in the bank, if they’ve been with you since almost day one, then you’ve got only 1/2 a level’s worth of XP to ‘recover’.

  3. Chris Mata June 7, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Reading this makes me want to run Isle of Dread.

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