How To Welcome The New Player

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1208

A Brief Word From Johnn

Ahoj Johnn!

I read an interesting article last night that asked the question:

What’s more important, the player or the character?

In the real world, it’s the player, of course. Because the characters aren’t going to drive themselves home, right? Joking!

But in the game, it’s a fair question. Stuff I’ve been noodling on since reading that article:

  • Do we emphasize challenging characters (abilities, die rolls) or players (puzzles, choices) in our adventure building?
  • Where do you draw the line between good roleplay and character social skills?
  • Should characters start out so powerful they effectively begin as super heroes? Or should that be earned?
  • Do we want characters to be extensions of player identities, or do we want players to try stuff they’d never be or do?
  • To reword the first point, is your game about testing player skill or character skill?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

How to Welcome the New Player

By Jonathan Hardin,

A Story to Begin

Getting folks together week after week is the reason I keep playing tabletop RPGs. And I have this habit of meeting new people and inviting them to my house or online meeting hub for a friendly game and evening of storytelling. However, integrating a new person at the table can present some challenges to the current flow of the game, especially if everyone has been playing together for a while.

Here are a few ways you can welcome a new player with ease without upsetting the current flow of the game.

Solve an Old Problem

The party has melded together in a cohesive force from defeating monsters and sacking ruins, but they keep running into a similar problem involving a weakness within the party.

Common problems can include:

  • Dropping to 0 HP and spending the combat unconscious.
  • No melee fighters to ensure the rogue takes advantage of the sneak attack bonus.
  • Many magic items, but no way to identify them.
  • Always getting lost, losing food, and failing to survive in the wilderness.

If  you can identify party balance problems, perhaps you can guide the new player to solve some of those problems by taking on a certain character type.

Have the new player choose a healing class to keep the others alive. Choose a brawny tank to assume the frontlines. Pick a spellcaster with a utility spell that makes life easier. Or make an outlander guide to solve some of those overland travel problems.

Cooperate with the new player as they choose their character’s class and abilities.

GM: Hey Robbie, the table has been doing well in each encounter, but where the party is lacking is needing a healing class.

Robbie: Does that mean I have to play a priest? I was hoping to play a druid or shaman, will that work?

GM: The druid will work, but let us make sure you take some healing spells as that is what the party needs the most.

Overall, remember that players solve problems the game master places before them. Even if you don’t have room for another at the table, you should always present more problems than the players can solve, because challenging limitations make for great adventures and fun times.

Introduce a New Problem

This advice calls for a little more flexibility and improvisation on everyone’s part. As you welcome the new player and discover their class or character skill set, you immediately introduce a new problem by which the new player’s character can solve.

A few ideas may include:

  • The characters receive a treasure map, but it leads into a hostile country’s territory.
  • A character’s rival calls for a duel, which arrives by the message of a new character.
  • An invading army attacks and a new character helps the party escape the war torn city.
  • The party is given a ship and needs a mechanic for repairs.

In each example, the game master introduces a new quest or encounter, but bakes the new character into a quest or encounter.

Notice the cooperation between the game master and the new player.

Stevie: I was really wanting to play an elf bard.

GM: Perfect. The party had received a treasure map leading into your country’s territory. There will be plenty of encounters, but if the party welcomes you, they won’t have to deal with the overpowerful government.

Stevie: I hope that makes life easier for the party!

Overall, remember that you can connect the previous actions and consequences of the party to the new player’s character. This creates a seamless welcoming that hooks the new player into your party of adventurers.

Roll Dice as Soon as Possible

New players can be nervous at a table of existing friends. I have found that roleplaying interactions become awkward even if everyone already knows each other. Bypass the uncomfortable introductions by beginning an encounter that requires teamwork.

I call them incidents — they happen TO the characters. In other words, trouble comes looking for them:

  • A local gang vandalizes the tavern where the party and the new character meet for the first time.
  • The party becomes captured by pirates along with the new character.
  • The governing authorities summon the party and new character to a special briefing.
  • A wildfire threatens to burn down the village where the party and the new character live.

Each incident drives the party and new character into the action and this means lots of dice rolls and skill checks. Now the nervous energy can funnel through the fun, and then roleplay and storytelling will naturally happen as everyone relaxes.

Once the encounter is resolved, then ask the new player for a description of their character. At this point, after some fun dice rolls and dangerous moments, people at the table will have already been having a great time and then welcome the new character into the party.

Bake the Mission into the New Character

One of the best welcomings I ran involved a new player into a group of four existing players. The party was on a mission and found the new character also on that mission. They blended immediately.

I say this because it might be tempting to let the new player develop a backstory outside of the current party. As a result, the new player might unintentionally divert the story from the mission. So it’s better to assign the mission to the new player so they will more likely blend with the current party goals.

Notice the cooperation between the GM and the New Player:

Alex: I am a tiefling warlock of a devil and have been hunting down my parent’s murderers. Only then can I free myself from the bonds to the god of deception.

GM: Awesome, we can keep that going in the background, but in the meantime, you are also very concerned with the safety of the local village and heard about an invading goblin army.

Alex: Maybe my warlock patron could have given me information about that army?

GM: Perfect, that way you will align with the current party goals.

Overall, remember that cooperation is a key element in making tabletop roleplaying games happen, so practice cooperation with your new player as you welcome them into the party. It is perfectly permissible for you to ask the new player to exercise that same level of cooperation. If you set the standard for teamwork at the welcoming, it will continue on throughout the campaign and everyone will be happy.

Debrief the Session

At the end of your session, conclude with asking from each player a highlight moment in the game. Examples may include:

  • A funny joke or pun another player said.
  • A vivid description of a magical spell casting.
  • A new use of a feature or maneuver in combat.
  • A clever problem solving from another player.
  • A rich and powerful NPC impersonation from the game master (we need encouragement too).
  • A compelling moment where a player character reminded the party of a past encounter (I love when players remember things from previous sessions).
  • An exciting skill challenge and failed dice roll that resulted in a tense moment in the game.
  • A character helping another character, especially in a noble or sacrificial way.

When you have 3-7 players and the game master going around the table expressing something positive about the game involving other player actions and descriptions, you are going to raise the value of your game.

Each player, including the new player, will benefit from this increased value ensuring they will want to continue the participation. The next session will then hinge off of the last moments of the previous game, which ended in positive reinforcement through the players expressing their highlights. This is a great way to welcome a new player.

Final Thought

Tabletop roleplaying games have always been a way for people to come together, play, and tell stories. Even though players might have begun as strangers, eventually, they become friends. I’m grateful to the ones who welcomed me to their table and want to continue that hospitality. Become a gracious host to your table and welcome new players with ease and skill.

May your Story Continue!

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Cool Map

From RPT GM Maja

re: How to Measure Map Distance — RPT#1207

Hey Johnn,

Talking about distances on RPG maps, I’d like to tell you about the Aventurien map from the game “The Dark Eye.”

Have a look at this:

It works like Google Maps. Our group had a great time using this. There is even a version for the whole planet of Dere (same game).

Thanks for your good work!

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Better Session Notes

From RPT GM Neil F

re: Campaign Tracker PDF

Hey Johnn,

I have a home-brew that I’m slowly working on called Havenrift. It’s kind of a reskin of Aquistitions Inc. (The Red Talon Trading Co.) I ran it for a while seat of the pants style – building a little a a time… But I had too many story threads going at once and my ADHD got a little overwhelmed. Had to shut it down for a bit.

I’ve been listening to AI podcasts, so I’m more familiar with their shenanigans now and can apply their mechanics a bit better. But I also know I need a plan to better track what info I’ve been giving out…

I like the Lazy DM stuff, but I don’t take enough in session notes to keep up. And my players remember, about half…?

As a player, it’s equally frustrating when you feel like you’re getting either too little information or too much too freely.

I’m hoping to end that magic ratio and maybe your tracker is the perfect thing?

Hey Neil!

I hear you on the notes. I produced a commercial app for that exact purpose, called Campaign Logger. Campaign Logger will soon be getting player editing, so you can crowdsource details.

However, until that happens, you might try a Google Doc. Share it with everyone and invite players to record anything they like during and after sessions. Even if it starts out just as names. That’s how I started. I created a doc just to type in names of people, places, and things for players as I got tired of spelling everything out and repeating the spelling when players forgot. 🙂

As players started finding that use case useful, we expanded into everyone eventually chipping in with a detail or name or even session diary. Bullets and point form are accepted.

Another thing that helps me a lot is creating and curating my single Source of Truth. ONE place to put all notes. I have a Leuchtturm book when I feel like writing. Evernote. And an iPad and pencil for drawing and writing more ideas. Regardless of where I record something initially though, it all goes into my Source of Truth.

Now I don’t lose time looking for ideas, decisions, details, etc. I go into Campaign Logger and search, use tags, use labels, etc. to find anything anytime. You could use docs, OneNote, a paper binder, index cards, etc. As long as you have that one single place you curate everything. Saves a ton of time and headaches.

You might try delegating. For rewards or not. When players are asked to help the GM, you keep bored players busy, they help lighten your load, and people tend to have more fun.

Some addition tips that might be of interest:

I hope this helps.