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Simple Ways to Introduce a New Character - So you Think You Can GM? (GM Tips Part V)

Simple Ways to Introduce New Characters


I know this is straying from where we left off on the "So You Think You Can GM?" series (long overdue update coming soon), but it is a fair GM tip nevertheless. Today's GM tip is all about how to introduce new characters to your games.

Recently, I have made my grand return to actual tabletop RPG sessions IRL (as opposed to play-by-posts only). It had been over a year and a half since I last made a session and closer to two and a half, maybe even three years since I attended regularly.

That's a long time.

My return was a bit... not so spectacular. (To avoid a long story, skip to "Getting to the point...")

I am not criticizing my friend for his GMing style, he is a good GM (normally). Perhaps explaining the situation might improve understanding.

My last session in the campaign was close to two years ago. The party had changed quite a bit. I arrived late (as I normally do...) ,and knew very well that there was going to be some time before my character could be reintroduced to the party and the campaign.

Upon arrival, I do my quick hellos and hugs, and take my seat. It's about 4:30pm. I listen to the RP for about 10 minutes before initiative is rolled.

Combat! AWESOME! Grab dice in case I am tossed into the fray.

Party faces a group of bugbears for a round, when all of a sudden a side door busts open.

Reaches for d20 to roll initiative.

A second group of bugbears come charging to flank the party. Enemy flanks the party? Loving the stakes being raised. Sweet!

Druid takes care of on group for awhile by summoning a swarm of monkeys. Nice work!

Next, party is told to roll perception. This is it! Here I come!

Charging from behind is a third group of bugbears WITH their commander. Oh no, the party is surrounded, what will they do?!?

Well... after some great battle tactics, the party has gained the upper hand (and it is around 5:30pm now). Some banter is exchanged mid-combat slowing the skirmish to a halt. (My best friend asks me if I have any Warlord cards because he sees where this is headed).

And let's just say everything went the way it was looking. Mass roleplaying session that only takes into account two of the eight (I'd make nine, eventually) players and the GM.

That leaves... myself and seven other players to twiddle our thumbs. I go ahead and pull up Hearthstone on my phone (Battletag kaishazar#1309 friend me). After a handful of matches, it seems like the "select" RP session is closed and now the party is back together to discuss what they wish to do. I concede my current match so that I am able to focus and not bother the party. An hour long discussion ensues before everyone starts to get hungry.

Check the time. It's about 7pm. We take up votes on dinner and decide on this cafe that most of us haven't tried. Food was great and the best part of the night, for me (If you just happen to be in Lubbock, Texas, Check out George's Cafe). GM tells me that we were not at a logical point for me to jump in, but it shouldn't be too much longer. Okay, now we're talking!

We get back, and it is not a little after 8:30pm. Party had decided to break so that a couple members could teleport to where I could "logically find them" and bring me back. Thank you's were giving to friends for making the decision to actively help me get to start playing.

GM follows the party's plans and...

I know, I know.

This post is getting long and boring. If you have made it this far, then lots of love goes out to you! Just as you were thinking of leaving, so was I. It was 10:30pm and I was found sitting. waiting. doing nothing. I was eventually brought to the party to deliver my message. I get a small RP part with my character's childhood friend lasting about 10 minutes. We conclude around 12:30am. Out of the Roughly seven hours of game time, I was "in the game" for two, Play time: 15 minutes.

Getting to the point...

A GM's story is his precious. His one masterpiece. It can be annoying sometimes to have to break the down that fourth wall and insert someone or change something in a poof of logic. Even players can feel like they are being ripped out of their immersion within the story.

At some point, people can forget the most important rule. Well, my rule anyways. If you don't know what I'm talking about, read rule #4 of things you should know in my "So You Think You Can GM? (GM Tips Part I)" blog series. For all those that didn't read, the rule is simple. Keep your game fun, for everyone! 

Now, it is impossible to do this 100% of the time. But it is a great motto to follow and strive for. No one likes sitting around twiddling their thumbs in some dark corner while others are having their time in the sun.

When you have a new character, player, guest, whatever to insert, do so to the best of your ability. Here are some ways to get them involved without knocking out that fourth wall.
  1. Battle: Not all battles are going to be appropriate for inserting new characters, but an old friend looking for his comrades can be a welcome sight and make for a spectacular entrance. This method also takes an encounter that you would normally not write home about and makes it memorable.
  2. Backtrack: Conjure up a reason why the party might need to backtrack. Perhaps while looting the bodies of the last skirmish, an item calls for some urgency for the group to return home/nearest town/earlier location in current dungeon. It doesn't have to be far or cumbersome, but just something that hints at some urgency to put pressing forward on hold for a short period of time. This also gives the party a reason to refresh, regroup, and press forward with renewed vigor and purpose.
  3. Rescue: Whether it is battle (as opposed to the character coming to the party's aid) or just imprisoned/unconscious, the party rescuing a new or old character can help strength the bonds between new and old.
  4. Strange noise: Much like the "Backtrack" this involves getting the party to move towards a temporary goal; however, unlike backtrack this method can be used to move the party forward. Anything that gets the party's attention (noise, strange light, weird divination), is fair game. The character(s) being introduced can also be attracted to the same event. A quick reason as to why they are there makes a quick "wash your hands and push forward with the game" moment. Perfect for saving time.
If you must break down the fourth wall because you are just unsure what to do, remember, it is all just a game. You can apologize to your players about your lack of creativity. A friend that appears in a poof of logic (or lack thereof) is better than a friend wishing they were somewhere else and the group spending an hour or more of game time trying to meta-game a reason to get their new member added.

What's your favorite way to bring characters into the game? Have you had problems introducing players? Have you been that player twiddling your thumbs or scrolling on your facebook waiting for your chance? Comment or send me a message on facebook, twitter, and google+.

Missed the previous post in the series? Find it here: Part IV 

You can also now catch Part VI here!
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