It happens to every group sooner or later. Someone moves away, or suddenly gets scheduled to work on the regular game night, and the party needs a new member. Or maybe someone brings their friend, or significant other. Whatever the reason, introducing a new player to an ongoing campaign can be a delicate process. Many play-groups become quite close-knit and bringing in a new member can feel awkward for the new and old alike. Here are some tips to help avoid anyone feeling like a fifth wheel:
- Keep a campaign log. One of the biggest obstacles to new players is that they are generally coming in partway into an ongoing story. It can be jarring and confusing for new players to be thrown into the game in medias res without a frame of reference. By having a campaign log, you can ensure that new players will have some idea of what is going on without needing to halt the game session for digressions explaining things the rest of the party knows. There are many ways to track the campaign available. Quick summaries of the group’s previous adventures along with brief descriptions of the important NPCs at minimum should be provided. A campaign wiki is an excellent resource to use to bring in new players, as it can be updated by the entire group, not just the DM, and the details provided will be the ones the PCs in particular find important.
- Talk to the new player, one on one and with the group. Just as with creating characters for a fresh campaign, it is important to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Make sure that the new PC will fit in with the party as a whole, and ensure that the player understands the needs of the campaign. It can be more difficult to accommodate unusual or non-traditional character concepts in the middle of a campaign than it would be at the beginning, since the setting has been established in the minds of the group as a whole. Also, ensure that the new player knows what style of campaign to expect, and that you have an idea of what style of game they enjoy—do your best to adapt to fit their needs as well.
- Be fair. Don’t penalize the new player for being new—let them come in at a similar level to the other players. Most players should understand the reasoning behind this. If any of your other players want to change their character, it can be a good chance to let them do so, as well, either by bringing in a new character entirely or simply tweaking their existing character a bit. Don’t be too free with changes—this should be used as a way to rebalance the group for the incoming player, not as carte blanche to change everything. After all, if everyone decides to bring in new characters, it may be easier to begin a new campaign. In the unlikely event of this happening, though, it may be worth considering that as an alternative.
- Work together to bring the new character in. Discuss with your group how they would prefer to handle it, and work together to ensure everyone is satisfied.
Below are some ideas on ways to integrate a new character into the story:
- Run a short flashback to establish a relationship between the new character and the existing party, then skip ahead to current events and introduce the new character.
- Have the new player take the role of an NPC the players are already familiar with, avoiding the need to run an introduction. Provide the new player with information that the former NPC would have had that will help the party.
- Have the new player take a role that would normally have been filled by an NPC. Instead of having an NPC guide, for example, bring in the new character in that role and give them a reason to stick around after.
- Have the new player take a role from another player’s backstory. This provides a good link between the existing characters and the new character without needing to spend a lot of time establishing it.
- Assume the character has always been a part of the group. Sometimes the simplest way is just to ignore the problem. This can be jarring in some campaigns, but for others it works just fine.
No matter what you do, always remember that the most important consideration is making sure that everyone is having fun. If everyone involved is satisfied with whatever method you choose to introduce a new player to the game, then don’t sweat the details and just enjoy the game.
The ‘make as little fuss over it’ as possible usually works best in my experience.
The only problems I once had was with a new guy who was used to beeing the ‘alpha’ in his own group and didnt want to settle for a less dominating role. But that has little to do with the characters, more with the personalities of the players.
I always have to bring in new people at one level under the party, if we’re in mid campaign. They are not permanently behind though, I will make opportunities for them to catch up by asking them to try and give a personal plot hook, have a particularly interesting in-character conversation, or otherwise contribute to driving the story. The rationale for this in my head is our existing group has established themselves and worked hard against my challenges. Someone new dropping in is going to have to make some kind of effort too, otherwise it simply is not fair to the other players. So far, this tends to help spur the new player to interact with the world provided. At most, the player is only behind on XP for 3 to 4 sessions.
I have never had the “take over the role of an existing NPC” option go well. The new player has less investment in the character, and the inevitable changes to the portrayal of the character are jarring to the established party.
It often also works well for the new PC to play up the lack of knowledge of the history of the campaign. Give the PCs an excuse to do an IC retrospective. It can serve as a nice reminder of how far they’ve come.
I also often find that it is important to give the new PC a reason to travel with the party and vice versa. Do the PCs have a recurring villain? Have the new PC have a vendetta against the same villain. Can the new PC fit in as a representative of the PCs’ patron?
Depending on your player, and the level of your existing group, it can also be interesting to have the new player come in at considerably lower level and play essentially the cohort (apprentice, acolyte, squire, etc.) of an existing PC. This is generally a pretty unusual solution, though, as it requires a specific kind of group and a specific kind of player.
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