Five Tips for New Players in Old Groups

It’s pretty common for a group to acquire a new player in mid-story; maybe the group’s been whittled down too much and needs to get back up to their old numbers, or the new player’s old game dried up and the GM figured they needed somewhere to play, or a hefty portion of the group likes them and wants them to join. Goodness knows a new mind to appreciate the nice game and a shaking up to the existing patterns can’t hurt, right?

Only sometimes, it can—and there’s a lot on your shoulders, if you’re a new player stepping in for the first time. What can go wrong, and how can you avoid it?

First, have a good idea where the social lines lie. You’ve probably got a friend in the group, or you wouldn’t be the only one asked right now—but by the same token, there’s probably somebody who dragged their heels a bit on letting you in. It’s a good idea to know who this person is; he’s the likeliest to complain about things you do, so if you can figure out how to not make a bad impression on him, and how to avoid the likeliest complaint triggers, you might be able to make the transition more smoothly. At least, make sure he knows what kind of person you are (or at least what kind of person you want to see yourself as and therefore show to other people); it’s not unheard of for someone in a tight-knit group to feel awkward about playstyle when confronted with someone he doesn’t know from Gygax. Make friends if you can, but don’t push too hard.

Second, be ready to deal with the feeling of isolation. People don’t just magically meld into a group, after all, and the longer the group’s been around together, the harder it’s going to be to find a place within it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, of course, just that you should be ready to deal with large numbers of in-jokes you can’t make head or tail of, quirks that you didn’t think they’d be willing to deal with from someone they met out in the world, and other hallmarks of people who’ve been enjoying each other’s company for quite a while. Act natural (plus or minus adaptations for the social “rules”) and be patient. (Yeah, it’s difficult; I never got the hang of that one.) And while it may be tempting, don’t rub the in-jokes you share with other members of the group in the faces of the other people who weren’t there too much, particularly if not invited. You weren’t enjoying them doing it a moment ago, were you?

Third, figure out what you’re going to need to know ahead of time. This includes system rules (or at least how strict their rules are; some games are a lot more tolerant of the mechanically behind than others), setting, and approximately how the party works. Ask lots of questions, particularly “What do I need to brush up on?”; even if you can’t figure it all out ahead of time, you’ll at least get points for trying. Context matters; “It’s too hard” may be a complaint from the person who’s barely skimmed through the material, but from someone who’s studied up on it, asked everyone who holds still long enough questions about it, and after hard work is still overwhelmed, “It’s too hard” is more a statement of fact. Be the kind of person from whom it’s a statement if you can.

Fourth, try to find a niche nobody’s occupied before, particularly one you’re suited to. Within the game, there’s both the mechanical and the personality niche for a new player; what kind of skills, attitude and way of life can your concept bring that hasn’t been covered before? (Just be careful to try for one you think you can actually qualify for; it’s hard to be the group common sense or maturity if you’re spouting insane schemes or showing at least as unstable a temperament as anyone you’re working with.) Outside of the game itself, there’s trying to find a ‘role’ within the group proper; are there things that everyone else is known for, like being “the girl with the game system”, “the food guy”, “the idea person”, “the mechanist”, “the one who brings cast pictures”, “the listener”? Is there a role you think you could play that isn’t covered? Try giving it a shot and see how it’s received; if it doesn’t work too well, though, don’t force it.

Last but not least, try not to shake up the routine too badly. A little bit of concession is one thing, but when you want to completely rewrite how they work to accommodate you, that’s something else entirely. So try to balance what you ask of them. If you’re messing up their time schedule, be willing to give a bit on what goes on when you aren’t actively gaming; if you’re not comfortable with their style, push for elements of your favored style but not a complete game rewrite; if you can’t stand the food, be willing to bring a full meal.

But it’s not just your job; tomorrow, I’m going to discuss where the rest of the group comes in.

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