March 8, 2014
Ways To Introduce New Characters
Be it from a character death, the introduction of a new player, or the return of an old player to the game, introducing a new character into an ongoing story can be very tricky. Starting at a higher tier of play can be very fun and rewarding above starting at baseline, but it can also be very tricky. The more complex of a character you bring to the game, the harder it is as you have not had the opportunity to work your way up to that, learning as you go. You see this a lot with online multi-player role-playing games a lot too, where someone relatively new to the game (a “newb” if you will) is given control of a relatively high level character they have no idea how to play. It can be confusing, frustrating for them and others, and can lead to an honest disinterest in the game. However, with table-top role-playing games, allowing for a difference in character abilities can be just as troubling, as the newer and less powerful characters feel completely overshadowed, and even impotent, compared to the stronger, more experienced, better armed veterans they are trying to adventure with. Personally, I have become a fan of normalizing all experience/levels among my players. Having no difference in levels allows more a much more even starting point and also prevents players from being punished if the new character comes in as a result of character death. In equipment heavy games, there is often a guideline for giving out equipment to higher level characters, but I encourage Gamemasters to use these as guidelines more so than solid rulings, as it is not outside of the norm to run either gear light or gear heavy games, either of which causes yet another potential imbalance.
Now, the biggest question is how do you include the new character into the group? Well, from my experience I have found four potential ways of doing this that seem to work. The first, and the least encouraged, of them is just to say “and you meet this guy/gal as you travel and decide to let them join up with you.” It’s efficient, yes, but takes away from any meaningful connection your new character will have with your current ones.
The second option is to discover the new character in some sort of dungeon or otherwise as a prisoner of the bad-guys. This sets up motivation for the new character to help the group, as well as invites a good opportunity for narration as to how they got there and what they have accomplished so far. A lot of players dislike this option because they feel that it shows their characters as weak and needing to be rescued, which I can understand, but I still hold it as a valid option. I simply tell them “No, your character is not weak. They are simply ‘weaker’ than the main antagonist. Your imprisonment might be as a result of that, or it could simply be bad luck” to which I let them determine the cause of their incarceration.
The third option is to meet up with the new character mid-fight as either the new character jumps into the fray the other characters are involved with or vice versa. This shares a lot of the same elements as the above incarceration example, but without the new character having to be imprisoned, which many players prefer. It can risk the new character possessing the advantage of being at full resources if this is mid-dungeon, but that is left up to individual circumstances.
Finally, the last and – in my experience – best way of introducing a new character is to have them already connected in some way with a current character. Example, we had a player join late into an Anima: Beyond Fantasy campaign, and rolled him in as the uncle of an existing character, which allowed for an almost instantaneous admission into the group and an already established connection with a character that proved to be one of the most endearing facets of the entire year-long campaign. If you can find a way to accommodate for this method, I highly suggest it.
Of course, all of these are merely suggestions and examples of how I tend to run things. I am sure that every Gamemaster has their own tricks of the trade they use for this sort of thing, and I would love to hear what those are.
As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming.
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