Every gaming group has to deal with players who can’t make it on game night at some point. Every group deals with it in a different way, but there’s never been a perfect solution. Until now! The current DM of my 4th Edition campaign, Ryk Perry, has developed a simple, useful set of rules for keeping the party rolling when the cleric has to work the late shift. I’ll be poking my nose in to explain why the rules have worked so well for us.
Our current gaming group is actually 8 people (7 players and a DM). One of the reasons that we have such a large group is because we frequently encounter short-term player attrition. Any given game night, there’s bound to be one or two people who have other commitments and can’t make it. With a large group, even if we’re three PCs down, we still have enough to play. But what to do with the characters usually run by the missing players?
All the usual solutions have their usual flaws: the DM has his hands full already; the other players don’t want to run someone else’s character, and don’t know the powers and feats anyway; the hand-waving, “they just step out for a minute” solution is unappealing from a role-playing perspective, and leaves the party short-handed for the tougher combats. On top of that, often the absent player forgets to leave his character sheet behind. Hence, the SuperMinion.
SuperMinion: the character is converted into a party SuperMinion (SM). SMs can move normally (as a move action) and have the following power:
Standard, At-will. Melee or ranged, depending on class and equipment.
No roll – automatically hits any targeted enemy and deals damage equal to the SM’s level.
When it comes to defense, there are no hit points to track. All defenses are simply the SM’s level plus 10. The first time a SuperMinion is hit, she’s bloodied. If hit while bloodied, the SM falls unconscious. SMs are automatically stable and should be considered untouchable while they are down. The only way a super minion should actually die is in the event of a Total Party Kill. They return to full strength after a short rest.
At the end of a fight, tally up the XP total, then give 100 XP to each SM before dividing up the rest among the other characters. This keeps absent players’ characters from falling too far behind, but especially at higher levels won’t represent a major XP drain on everyone else.
SuperMinions also get a handful of special abilities based on party role:
Defender: the target of any attack is immobilized until the beginning of the SM’s next turn.
Striker: attacks cause +2 damage.
Controller: The target of the controller SM’s attack is marked until the beginning of the SM’s next turn. If the target moves from its square before then, the target takes damage equal to the SM’s level.
Leader: as a minor encounter action, allow one ally to use a healing surge.
The concept is that there would be no dice rolling and essentially no options for the SuperMinion. This system worked out pretty well. There were still 6 PCs on the board (one of our players is gone for the summer), and they were able to put out a good bit of damage over time and could be used to shape the battlefield and pin down foes rather effectively. I’m sure that there are some tweaks that will need to be made, like maybe having each player submit a super minion version of his/her character that’s a little different than these vanilla rules, but keeps some of the character’s flavor in the fighting. But, at the end of the day, the characters are still all together and the returned player’s second-hand knowledge of the fighting (assuming his buddies fill him in) can be more easily explained due to the overcharge of adrenaline or concussions than explaining why his character left to powder his nose before attacking the Deurgar slavers of the Horned Hold.
Ed’s comments: This worked really well for a number of reasons. We could still have the benefit of the additional party members around, but no one was stuck with bookkeeping someone else’s hit points, daily power uses and all the other stuff that’s just an unfun pain when you’re doing it for some character that isn’t even yours. If nothing else, they sponged up some damage, but we found that over a long fight they really dealt out a fair share as well. We made extensive use of the defender’s ability to pin down some annoying foes, and I’m sure the other abilities will come in handy too. In practice, each turn the party seemed to come to a very quick consensus about what to do with the SuperMinions, then we moved on.
The only drawback I see is that the SMs are very vulnerable to blasts and bursts. If you’re having one of those nights where two or three people don’t show up, a burst power can cut your party in half in two turns. We’ll just have to adjust our strategy to avoid that (never put the SuperMinions next to each other!).