Shamal the Magician
We have been running a weekly D&D game now since October and I am really impressed with how well it has gone so far. The idea from the beginning was that we would hold it every week and that players would come when they could and not stress when they couldn’t. Most of the time we get all of the players at the table, but everyone has missed a few sessions and there have been some times when we only had 3 of our 7 players show up.
To help deal with inconsistency, I had started the game with a roster of NPCs who could step in and pick up the slack, but it wasn’t my favorite approach and I eventually got rid of all of them except for one: Shamal the Magician. She generally takes a back seat to the players, and sometimes doesn’t do much at all, but she’s always there to help out.
What I like the most about Shamal, though, is that she has become our de facto guest player character. We have had four different guest players now over the last 8 months and each one of them has played Shamal. She has been a cautious observer, belligerent combatant, and everything in between. She takes treasure and magic items, which adds to the fun when someone new sits down to play with her. And knowing that she’s there either way lessens the pressure on newbies who might be a little afraid to play.
If you don’t have a Shamal in your group, I would recommend it. It’s really great to have a character who the players know and can be passed around to guest players when they show up.