As humans, we pride ourselves maybe a little too much on our ability to focus and be productive. Any RPG player knows that one guy that can’t keep a character for more than two sessions and always wants to switch it up. Perhaps a player makes a story decision that exudes the character from the campaign. Or furthermore, the player simply didn’t get what they envisioned out of the character build.
As GMs, it’s out duty to make sure that we, and our players, have fun for the entirety of our role playing experience. Trapping a player into playing their character is not fair, to you, the player or anyone else in your group. It creates a miserable environment, where the players lack of fun brings down the party and makes the game difficult for you to run. I have a player in my regular group that is a bit of a Frankenstein of all of those situations mashed together.
First off, the nature of the players wanting for a change of character is most important to how to approach the situation. If the player is just plain bored of the character, the manner in which the character takes it’s leave is hugely dependent on his/her role in the story. Major character? Hello subplot! Maybe the character has a falling out with the party and becomes the villain, or is cast out by the party against his/her will entirely (character, not the player. Be inclusive!). This can set up for some interesting complications for your story and create a recurring nuisance at the least, villain at the most. The example I can think of in my campaign is that we had a rogue, Blain, who was reforming his life. He was becoming more settled down, using his talents for the greater good. When the deck of many things came into play and his character was crushed by the loss of his dwarf friend, Ligvar, it changed him. An old frenemy (friend but enemy at the same time) showed up and presented an idea to Blain. Feeling lost to begin with, he took up his offer and departed from the party to rebuild his former thieves guild. The player that created this character made the decision because he felt it’s what his character would do, making the rest of the party very angry with his character, having just survived the Siege of Ald Sotha together. But he felt it was what Blain would have chosen, so he departed and brought back a character he played before the rogue, now a changed man because of his experiences away from the party.
How I was going to handle this became a little tricky, seeing how this was his second character change even though it was his original character that came back. I had to build a story for the returning character and devise a path for the departing character. Characters that aren’t instrumental to the overall story are definitely easier to do: “The fighter got sick of being called ‘Meat Shield’ and left to go be a farmer.” But for the most part, a character departure can be a good plot device to steer things even further in a direction. Maybe the character sympathizes with the villain of the story, maybe the character outright ran way for some unknown reason and the party goes to track them down. Or the “princess in the castle” idea could be applied, the character is kidnapped and becomes the person the party is trying to save.
One of the most important things to talk about when a character leaves the party is whether or not the player who created him/her is okay with the character becoming an NPC. Some players really don’t like the idea of being face to face with their previous character, emotionally wounded if/when a GM misrepresents their character, or portrays them in a way they wouldn’t. Then there’s the player that gets all hyped up for their character becoming a villain or helpful NPC. To each their own and as a GM, it’s your job to respect that. A player character departure can be as mundane or interesting as the player and story warrant. Just come up with a plan!
Stay Metal \m/