Pulling Down the Walls

A new player joining a pre-existing group requires two elements: the group and the player. Duh. Yesterday I discussed how the player can adapt to the group, but it can’t be just her job; today I’m going to talk about what the group can do for the player.

First: provide a welcoming atmosphere. You may not realize how insular you come across, but she’s probably feeling all the us-and-them you’re giving off and a little extra. Even if some of it’s in her head, some probably isn’t, and that you can do something about. Ask her questions. Explain the in-jokes, and try to ease up on the frequency. Try to make running lines out of the stuff that’s just happened so some of your in-jokes are her in-jokes as well.

Second, be ready to offer assistance without too much judging. A lot of the newbie’s biggest difficulty comes from fitting in, and there’s nothing quite like not knowing something to make a person feel like she’s standing under a big neon sign labeled “Other”. They have a little trouble with the system, perhaps, or don’t know the world, or aren’t too clear on how they fit in. Why not have one or more of the oldies take the newbie under their wings? It’s one part social connection (particularly if it’s an oldie who doesn’t know the new player quite as well), one part bridging the knowledge gap.

Speaking of which, make sure the new player knows what she needs to learn before the game begins. Which rules are you strict on, and which do you let pass? What sorts of houserules do you use? What’s vital information about the world, as opposed to optional stuff?

Help her find a niche, as well. I strongly recommend bringing her in before play starts and having the character creation be in part a group activity; if she knows what the existing characters can already do, and what the group considers its strengths and weaknesses to be, that’ll make it easier to balance finding a concept she wants without stepping on anyone’s toes. And as an added bonus, if the rest of the group doesn’t get too overwhelming and lets the new player keep primary control over the result, the collaboration in itself can give you a chance to see how the personalities might mesh and what kinds of workarounds may be necessary.

One important thing to take into account is making sure the character gets into the group. This may seem like something that should be between the GM and the new player, but it’s going to be important to make sure the group has some say as well, as it’s they who have to team up with this person. Figure out what it is they’re looking for. If the game has been all about a certain type of character, they will know. If there are conditions it would seem necessary for a character to meet—competence of a certain kind, a particular mindset, a shared goal, the ability to be trusted—then it’s useful to know that ahead of time, so as to try to sneak it into the build. Many a game has been made difficult by the addition of a square peg to a group whose shuffling to create space created a round hole. If you can’t adapt to the character, then at least make sure the player knows what it would take to adapt to you.

This won’t eliminate all the inter-group tensions, but it should at least decrease them long enough to integrate the new player. Good luck!

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