Quitting the Party Mid-Adventure

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 5, 2011

It’s not often that something happens during a D&D game that I haven’t experienced before, but just a few weeks ago that’s exactly what happened. The circumstances of the adventure terrified my PC so much that he quit. I knew that removing this character from the adventure was the right decisions. Walking away was the only choice he’d make given his detailed and well established background.

In our home game we use a character tree. Every player has a repertoire of PCs that they can choose from at the beginning of each adventure. The adventures run about six weeks and when they’re done everyone levels up. This time around I choose to play my Rogue Daggermaster. He’d been a major NPC in my campaign for years and this was going to be my first chance to play him as a PC. Even though my character wasn’t technically party of the party, he’d been an important part of their lives for 17 levels. This was a character that we all knew as well as any of the PCs.

A major part of the new adventure had the PCs investigating a series of strange occurrences. Without knowing very many details at first we began our investigation. Upon learning what was really going on, I realized that my character couldn’t complete the adventure. Based on his back-story and knowing how I’d played the character through all of those levels as an NPC, the strange happenings would absolutely terrify him.

As a player I was torn. I had a few options before me, none of which I found very appealing.

  • I could ignore the character’s background and emotional development and continue on.
  • I could continue playing him, and really role-play his intense fear.
  • I could simply have him refuse to continue on with the party when they went on to investigate the next location.

I talked with the DM and he explained that at the midpoint of the adventure there would be a suitable in-game opportunity for me to change my character with another in my character tree. Until then I kept playing the Rogue but I really emphasized his growing and almost crippling fears.

When we reached the midpoint of the adventure, my character explained to the party that he couldn’t accompany them any further and that he was leaving. The next week I rotated in a different character.

Never before had a felt so emotionally invested in a character that having him leave the adventure seemed like a better course of action than fighting on. But I knew this character. I understood how he behaved and knew that his fears were justified.

I was fortunate that the DM had a built-in break that allowed for such a smooth exit. Had this not been the case I’m not sure how I’d have played this character for the rest of the adventure.

Looking back on how I handled this situation, I’m positive that I did the right thing. Yet I feel kind of strange about it. Even though I really, really wanted to play this character as a PC for this adventure I still choose to remove him from the game. This was the first time that I knew and understood a character so well that quitting was even an option.

In the past I would have just said “Oh well, he’s scared, that’s too bad for him let’s just move on,” and continued running him like any other PC. But this time the role-playing superseded the mechanics. There was no statistic or penalty to represent his fear; I just role-played him that way.

In combat I played him like I would other characters, but he constantly reminded the party that they were there to perform a task and leave – to the point of seeming cowardly. And when the opportunity to leave presented itself he took it.

I’ve often written about the importance of developing a rich history for your characters. By establishing their motives and understanding their emotions, you’ll often have a better time playing the character and it will be easier to make decisions.

Based on the scenario do you think you’d have made the same decision I did given the situation? Do you think I took things too far and maybe took the game more seriously than I should have in this circumstance? Should I have just had the character get over his fear or even try to turn the mission into some form of emersion therapy?

Have you ever had a character with such strong convictions, motivations or emotions that they choose to quit the adventure rather than proceed? Do you think my DM was too lenient? Would you have given me the same courtesy and allowed me to switch characters mid-adventure if you were my DM?

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1 iserith April 5, 2011 at 9:57 am

I call this “painting yourself into a roleplaying corner.” I’ve seen players do this before and it’s highly annoying because it’s generally a passive aggressive way by which a player can demonstrate dissatisfaction with the DM or another player. Maybe you did it “right,” I dunno. I suppose it helps that you have options vis a vis a character tree; however, I have seen this done before in such a way as to hurt the game because the player didn’t want to take a moment to scratch beneath the layer of paint on their character and find some other motivation that would “allow” them to continue on despite their “background.”

2 callin April 5, 2011 at 10:30 am

Having the character tree to fall back on may have made the decision easier. Usually there are already established ties with the party so integrating a new character is simple. However, without a character tree I can see it being more of a problem.

I did have one of my groups quit a campaign for purely role-playing reasons. While they had never confronted the “big bad guy”, they were so terrified of him that they left town and the long-running campaign that had been building there. Even weirder that the entire group made the decision.

3 Kevin April 5, 2011 at 11:00 am

Do I think I’d have made the same decision given the situation? I’m not sure, I’m torn on that question.

I suppose part of me wants to think I would have done the same thing, but part of me also would have wanted to explore the depths and limitations of the character’s fears. Part of me would have wanted to see that character “man-up” and face those past demons regardless of his personal hang-ups.

4 Alton April 5, 2011 at 11:06 am

I find it really depends on the reason the character is so scared. I agree in part with Iserith that the character seemed to have been put into a corner. I think the DM should have maybe taken into consideration the character background so you wouldn’t have to give up playing him.

On the other hand, to add to the roleplaying, I would have self-imposed some penalties to my character until the adventure or the threat was gone. For example, -4 to Charisma checks when confronted with your fear. A -2 penalty to all attack rolls and saves against the fear etc… I would do this just to be able to 1. Continue with my character and 2. to add to the roleplaying aspect of the game.

I don’t know what the setup was, but I am sure you made the right decision based on the circumstances. It is just may not be what I would have done.

5 Ameron April 5, 2011 at 11:39 am

In order to better respond to some of these comments I’m going to share some of the specific details so that I can better put the events into proper context.

Our campaign takes place in Eberron. The events we were asked to investigate were localized reproductions of the Mournland. Upon investigating the first area we realized that this was a deliberate act. Someone had weaponized the Mournland effect. My character was traumatized when the original Day or Mourning happened. The realization that he was expected to locate and investigate more of these occurrences terrified him.

I imagined it would be like someone who survived a nuclear attack by dumb luck. Their hometown was destroyed while they were on a business trip. Now he’s being asked to go into the hot zones. I felt that for this character that was asking too much.

I agree that I did “painting myself into a roleplaying corner.” Almost any other circumstances would have had no effect on this PC. But because it was so directly related to the events from the Day of Mourning it terrified him. Although the DM didn’t know that this character had this fear, I’d actually worked it into his back-story long ago. Your fears aren’t something you broadcast so it never came up directly in game. If I’d had to stay with the party (let’s say they were in a dungeon crawl, for example) I would have had him face his fear, for better or worse. But seeing an out he took it.

I agree that knowing I had a character tree to fall back on did make the decisions easier. I think that D&D players assume that their characters can face and defeat everything which is what makes quitting or fleeing so rare. I’m actually really looking forward to playing this character again in an upcoming adventure. His desertion should make for some interesting role-playing next time around.

I thought about just manning up and proceeding. After all if they succeeded in their mission there’s a good chance they’ll learn what caused these events and that might actually provide some closure and peace for this troubled PC.

The DM didn’t really know about this PCs fear of the Mournland or the Day or Mourning so in that way I’m to blame. Had I been more upfront about it the DM might have advised me earlier or I might have began the adventure with a different mindset (or even a different character).

I did try to emphasize his fears during the fighting. He’s a level 17 PC so he’s tough, but he was quick to get it, get out, and go home. No time wasted searching for loot. In one case he actually convinced the party to go on to the next encounter without a short rest because he was so anxious to just get the mission completed.

6 Alton April 5, 2011 at 12:08 pm

@ Ameron

With the new information at hand, I probably would have done the same thing.

7 Wimwick April 5, 2011 at 1:05 pm

As the DM for the adventure it was interesting to observe the role playing aspects of the character that Ameron introduced. I’m interested in how the other characters will respond to the character Ameron withdrew from the adventure. Will they paint the character as a coward, will the sympathize with him, or will they always question his motivations?

8 Arcane Springboard April 5, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I remember playing a Lawful Good fighter or paladin a long time ago where I roleplayed him out of the party. I think it came down to an interparty conflict where my character couldn’t associate with them anymore.

9 j0nny_5 April 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I played an epic tiefling warlock once. The party was after Vecna, I had already acquired the Sword of Kas. At 24 we met one aspect of Vecna, the one with the Hand. It was a big, epic battle. About halfway through the encounter, when the Hand of Vecna fell to the ground, I snatched it up, cast a portal, and left the party.

They nearly wiped trying to finish the fight without me. They all knew my character was only after power, they anticipated my deception, but they couldn’t stop me (I rolled well).

They hated my character more than Vecna himself at that point. They really wanted to find and kill him. The tiefling became one of the final bosses at level 30 and they got their wish.

None of us would take back that story, it’s one of our favorite ever. I played that character from level 1, sure I wanted to see him to 30, but sometimes the story trumps all.

10 Naz April 5, 2011 at 11:37 pm

My latest campaign has had nearly a dozen PC’s who have been part of the “Party” at one time or another. 5 PC’s began the major Heroic tier story arc, and last week when we started the final adventure that will finally bring them up to Paragon tier, only 2 of those PC’s still remain in the party, which has grown to include a total of 7 party members now.
Mind you, the original 5 players are all still here, but 3 of them now have new characters. 2 of them basically let themselves die, providing the other members a chance to escape possible death, while knowing that by doing so they would almost certainly be killed. But the other party member actually had an experience similar to j0nny_5’s tiefling.
His orginal character was an assasin, but when the party was faced with the choice of either going north into the harsh mountains to track down the source of a vile curse, or head south to attempt to take out a major antagonist (who, unbeknownst to the rest of the party, the assasin character had been tasked with killing in a particular manner, a promise of glorious treasures awaiting him if he did), the rest of the party wanted to search out the curse. The player didn’t protest much at the time, but a couple of days later, he called me to talk about what he felt his character would really want to do.
Though not very party oriented, and inspite of the fact that it would seem an obviously disasterous course of action without the rest of the party there to help, he felt strongly about his character’s motivations. So that character left, with the understanding that he would then become “My” character.
Several sessions later, the party, now in pursuit of the afore mentioned villian, ran into the assasin, with a differnent (but obviously sub par) party in tow. The players ended up treating this now NPC pretty badly, (even his original player joined in the fun), and basically left the assassin for dead out in the middle of nowhere (the rest of his party had actually died during an encounter with monsters that the party interupted).
Fast forward to level 10, the party has just entered the Shadowfell, and they have had to fight through a number of enemies as they approach the hiding place of the real master of puppets that has been causing all of the problems for the parties home relm. They enter what they think is the final chamber, itching for a fight, and who do they find, but the assassin, frightfully powerful, deadly minions lined up to protect him. He taunted the party, he tortured the party, in the end, he lost to the party, but the group was surprised, and delighted by the battle. Was he really the mastermind the whole time? If not, what brought him to this state? The party will have too wait another week or so to find out all the answers.
As a DM, I think you both did the right thing. I agree that in some games, a player can try and use these types of events to ditch a PC they aren’t enjoying, or maybe just in an effort to cause mayhem. In your case, as in the story I have presented above, I think that it works especially because the Player and the DM had a hand in making it happen.
This was a fun discussion to follow and read the responses too. I think eveyone presented some pretty good points about how this type of event can affect an adventure. Keep up the good work!

11 Dan April 7, 2011 at 12:00 am

This type of thing should only be attempted if it doesn’t interfer with all the players’ enjoyment of the game. If the decision is made that a character will leave, hopefully it is agreed upon by all people involved and the DM has seen fit to make the transition as smooth as possible. I can see that this type of action could cause problems, not only between DM and player, but between players as well. For example, if one of the original party members is then forced to compete with the “new” character for speciality equipement or specific magic items, then that could be a source of conflict between players. Of course, most players are kind enough to share, but if resources are scarce, then there might be some bickering…

12 Dixon Trimline April 7, 2011 at 9:22 am

I think it’s a wonderfully courageous decision, and would only enhance the story being told, both during and afterwards. Allowing roleplaying to “interfere” with mechanics is a GOOD thing, since I don’t need anyone else to simply roll dice, use powers, and note damage.

In my own experience, I played a character once confronted by a close friend who had clearly been possessed by something big and very bad. Instead of drawing a weapon and cutting him down where he stood, I pleaded with the NPC, identifying myself repeatedly, begging him to “come back to me.” Instead, he attacked, taking me down. Even though a few of the other players were annoyed, I still think I made the right roleplaying decision.

13 AJ April 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I think if the decision serves the story, or the role playing is accurate for the character, there’s no problem with having them leave. The assasin and tiefling especially are great examples because of how they affected the story, and even if the rest of the party was angry at the time, I’m sure they appreciated it later.

As a contrary example, the last regular group I participated in was in a Pathfinder homebrew campaign. One player was a lawful good cleric, but couldn’t be bothered to follow his alignment, instead bullying and attacking unarmed civilians a couple of times. When the DM gave him negative effects for this (his holy powers didn’t work temporarily because his patron God was angry with him), he “RPed” storming out of the party never to return. That would be a BAD example of leaving mid-adventure. Please, nobody else do that.

14 Andrew April 12, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Interesting discussion for me; I’ve just been through a campaign season where I wanted to quit but did not. It’s one of those ‘not satisfactory, but not bad enough to break goodwill’ campaigns. My character was bagged by players and GM, and the GM undercut some of my character development from the get-go. At the end of the season I had my character motivation to walk out, and did so. To do so earlier would have been seen as offensive, by the same people who thought bagging the character was fun. Between seasons I have the option to talk over the issue and start a new character if it seems unresolvable.

15 cisco academy March 18, 2012 at 7:57 am

Interesting discussion for me; I’ve just been through a campaign season where I wanted to quit but did not.

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