We’ve talked a bit about consistency and pacing, but haven’t really covered what a GM should do in that between moment of losing a player and finding a new one.
Obviously, you shouldn’t just stop; a game needs to continue. One solution is to simply NPC the missing player’s character until you find a replacement. This may be the most common solution; although it’s a lot more work for the GM, it also buys them time to consider the alternatives.
The first of those alternatives is to sideline or bench the character; find a reason to remove them from the playing field entirely (mine the history for something appropriate). This can make things harder on the remaining players, depending on what’s going on and what the benched character’s role in the party was. A heavily combat oriented character going AWOL in a heavily social situation might not be a big deal, until the assassination attempt comes up, for example.
The second, and sadly often the permanent solution; remove the character by means of character death. Sometimes this can lead to some awesome roleplaying, as the abandoned character gets to go out in a blaze of glory, buying a major victory for their companions. Most of the time, that isn’t possible, much less practical.
One of the two above is the most likely solution, because not every player enjoys or is comfortable with the notion of taking over someone else’s character. I cannot speak for anyone else, but my personal experience has been that there is almost always a twitchy phase in which the new player is getting used to the dynamic and the rest of the party is dealing with a slight personality shift in their companion. Most times this works out, and occasionally can even be explained, depending on what’s been going on in the game. Sometimes it leads to massive OoC drama; you’ll want to cut that off at the pass.
If anyone has any alternate suggestions, or examples, we’d love to hear them! Please, share in the comments, or via FB or the Portal Forum.