Recently we lost the party cleric in our regular Pathfinder campaign. That left the cleric’s player, Pat, having to make another character. Losing a character is always rough, but one of the benefits is that you get to try something new. Pat began leafing through the classes and asked the group what they could use. Their answer?

You guessed it; the party needed a cleric.

Pat was upset; he didn’t want to get stuck playing a cleric for the rest of the campaign. While this may seem paradoxical (since, if Pat’s character survived, then Pat would be playing a cleric for the rest of the campaign), the truth is that Pat’s emotional investment was gone. He’d rather play something completely different and it seemed that the only way out of his dilemma was for another player to swap characters.

This dilemma exists in any game where characters need to fill certain roles. In a cyberpunk campaign, there may be only one computer hacker. In a pulp exploration campaign, there may be only one learned professor. In a Star Wars campaign, there may only be one Jedi Knight.

So how do you handle this dilemma? Here are a few ways:

This is the easiest way. If two or more players lose characters at the same time, then they can swap roles with each other.

This one goes all the way back to when I had to color in my dice; I even created a Gnomenclature entry for it. The player basically uses her same character sheet under a new name “Bobbin is dead; his twin brother Throbbin is out for revenge.”

The player fills the same role, but plays it in a new way. This could be a simple personality transplant (Tork the gruff, rarely-speaking warrior is now replaced by Rel, the honorable, passionate warrior) or has slightly different abilities within the same role (Gord the fierce barbarian is replaced by Reynard, the flamboyant rakish swashbuckler). The latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons helps foster this with “roles.” The party needs a defender, so you can swap out your divine striker (Avenger) for a primal striker (barbarian).

The group was created with enough redundancies that the loss of one role will not cripple the rest of the group. This works best in campaigns with group character creation (“okay, if Sal goes down in combat who else can hack a computer”) or large enough groups that the role lost had a spare or two in the group. A group of Jacks-of-all-Trades , such as secret agents that are given a well-rounded field education, also creates a redundancy cushion.

The Player can play what she wants, understanding the consequences of an unbalanced group. This imbalance is accounted for in other ways (the GM de-emphasizes computer hacking and lets an NPC step in when necessary; the group buys up healing potions due to the lack of a healer).

Take One For the Team
Sometimes, another player may be ready to change characters (or simply isn’t as emotionally invested). In this case, the players can work with the GM to write out a character and allow the players to swap roles as soon as dramatically convenient.

The Substitute
The Player creates a new character that fills his old role with the understanding that, once another character death occurs, the Player will be allowed to walk the new character off and make a new character that fits the now-open role (and the other player will create something that fills the substitute’s role).

Obviously, all of these solutions have their strengths and weaknesses. Some solutions also work better than others depending on the type of campaign being run. What say you? Has this dilemma cropped up in your campaigns? If so, how have you handled it?