Sooner or later, you will most likely have a time when a new player is coming to join your group for the first time. When this player is an “experienced” player — someone who has played at least a few times — this is not as big a jolt as getting a new player — someone who has never played before. You would think that most groups would love new blood in their company, but this is not always the case…

Some groups play together for years. They’re comfortable with each other, with how they play, their GM’s style of storytelling, their characters, the worlds and systems they run. Change can be uncomfortable, but if the new player has been vetted a bit, the entry of a new player can really charge up a gaming group.

One of the best ways I’ve found to vet a new player is simple: meet them in a non-game environment, like a coffeeshop or wherever to chat about games, what they’ve played, what you play, the personalities of the group. Like a first date, you want to get the broad strokes of who this person is and what interests them in gaming. If they get along with a few members of the group, they’ll usually get along with the group in toto. (Usually, it’s just me doing the vetting in my group, but bringing along another player isn’t a bad idea.) This allows you to weed out the stereotypical crazies of the hobby (like the 300 pound “ninja” whose highly honed senses couldn’t pick up on me and my roommate of the time slipping past him and into our apartment building during the “stalking” phase of dealing with him), those who are sharply different (and not in a good way) from the rest of your group (usually this manifests in game preference and personal politics…putting a screaming socialist in a group of conservative/libertarian gamers? Not good.), or who simply don’t get on well with the group.

Once you’ve established there is a good fit, the first night’s going to be where the rubber meets the road. Do you let them create their own character without really knowing what the rest of the group is playing, what the feel of the game is? Or do you drop a pre-generated character on them and toss them in the deep end? If you are deep in a campaign, it might not be the best to do either, but rather get together for a character creation jam. I prefer to do a pre-gen character if your group is only playing one game, and do a side mission — a flashback or a side quest. Optionally, a good idea, if you’re playing different games from time to time is do a one-shot in another system and setting — something that puts all the players on the same starting line and knocks everyone out of their comfortable, established relationships and expectations.

Don’t focus too much on the new person in this latter option, but make them an important, if not the most important character in the piece. Even if they’re not the lead, they should be above the line, as they say in the movie biz. If it goes well, integrate them into the existing campaign. Often, I like to fire up a new game and campaign to include the new person. For existing games, I try to bring them in at a decent break point, but that’s not always doable. For the traditional dungeon crawl, it’s kind of hard to have them “just appear…” find a good way to bring them in: were they a prisoner of the bad guys? Are they part of a failed expedition that preceded the group?

Introducing a new player/character to an existing game, I feel needs a “teaser”, to use TV/movie lingo — a set-up sequence at the beginning of the night that is short enough to be interesting to the other players (who should not be involved) to give the character a chance to get the flavor of the game, campaign, and their own character. This is similar to the action movie set-up where the character is introduced on another quest/mission in media res — Indiana Jones in South America 1936 in Raiders of the Lost Ark, for an example…once we see them in action, bring in the scene where they meet the others. Never kill off a character in the teaser!

For those new to gaming in general, introducing the new player is a bit more tricky because you’re not just selling you game and group, but the hobby in general. There are a few good ways to do this: run a solo game for them — something simple and straightforward, there’s no pressure to “be good at this” (as my wife would say.) Pick a simple system that is easy to learn on the fly. For introducing my wife to gaming, I chose a quick spy mission set during the 1936 Winter Olympics. Her character is a rich socialite with an adrenaline junkie personality who gets enlisted in finding and recovering secret papers a former mentor has stolen from the Nazis. There was a teaser set in the part to give her a feel for her background, then there was the opening scene setting in Germany and meeting her former mentor. Social tests and roleplaying were the focus. He gets killed and she chases the bad guys down the Zugspitze: chase and action tests and how they work. It flows quick and gets them into the fun. There was an investigation/problem solving sequence to search the mentor’s room and find clues to where the papers are. Another social sequence to get invited to a big Olympics party with the fuhrer himself. A scene where she has to stealth around the ski chalet and find the material, then a escape without detection. There was to be a big fight sequence, but she played it smart, outfoxed the bad guy, then escape to Austria in a stolen staff car.

A leads to B leads to C. Simple. Fun. I chose Hollow Earth Expedition because i know it well and it plays fast. She had fun. She now games. Had her first experience been the next game run by a former friend, she would have given it a pass. He wasn’t really into it, the characters didn’t quite jive, the adventure sort of meandered with little direction from the GM on where we needed to be going. It was boring. So to recap: simple, fast, no chaff.

Bringing them into the existing group, it’s pretty much the same advice as above. Make sure the new guy/girl gets enough to do (as withe all of the players), try and keep that first night or two simple and fast-paced. First and foremost, I think it’s important that the people get on well — gaming groups that meet just to game can last a long time, but I prefer to game with friends — people I want to see outside of the gaming group. It makes the play that much more entertaining.