Ever been running a game and a friend, or friend of a friend, suddenly becomes interested. “You play Dungeons & Dragons?”
“Well,” you reply, “I do. Actually I run the game. I’m what they call the Dungeon Master, or the DM. I play all of the parts that the group of people I run the game for don’t, like the people they meet and interact with, or the monsters.”
“You know,” she says, “I’ve always wanted to play. I keep seeing things on the internet about it and I always pass those giant books at the bookstore, but I never had the chance to play. Any possibility I can get in on a game?”
“Sure. Always room at the table for one more...any chance we can get together a bit before the session to create your character? It can take a bit of time, and I’d like to have an opportunity to talk about the game too, so you have some information before game time.”
Welcome to Session 0.5!
It doesn’t matter if your friend is a long-time gamer, or is just starting out in the hobby, getting someone integrated into an existing roleplaying game campaign can be a struggle. It’s even more confounding when the player or DM is new to the hobby. One thing about playing a tabletop RPG, it takes a time investment to do it right.
It’s easiest when both parties are experienced with the game. Now your goal is simply to integrate the character into the campaign, which comes with it’s own set of hurdles, but these are much lower and easier to navigate than with a person who has no idea how to play, what to play, or how to play it.
In this ‘best case’ or ‘total noob’ scenario I follow a few simple rules to smooth it all over.
- Make sure the new player has access to the rules, at a bare minimum the Player’s Handbook (or equivalent) from whatever game system you will be playing. I tend to play OSR Retroclones, and many times there are free, no-art versions such as this one for Labyrinth Lord along with several other free-of-charge items like character sheets. Ensure that the new player is at least passingly familiar with the terms and rules by asking them to casually read through at least the first few chapters, which will usually cover the basics of play.
- Spend some time discussing your game world. Whether you utilize a pre-existing campaign environment like the Forgotten Realms, or a world of your own creation, try and cover the basic mechanics and social structure of that world so they start to feel like they are part of the story(s) that you will weave there together.
- Try and discuss the ‘tone’ of play, and the other folks at the game table. If all of you already know each other than this is a no-brainer, but if this person has never met the other folks you play with it will help tremendously if they have some idea of the social structure of the table. Can I curse? What foods are appropriate to bring? Try to give the new player a heads up. People like knowing what they are walking into.
- Take your time with character creation. This is really the time where the new player in your game will connect with the basic rules and possibly start to become invested in the roleplaying aspect of the game. For experienced players, this is where they get a vibe for how the actual session will play out, and they can ask all of the pertinent questions about the game world, character background, house rules, etc.
Now, remember in the beginning when I mentioned that the game was already ‘in progress’. That means that some story has already happened, and the characters have probably levelled a few times. You now have a couple of things to decide.
- At what Level are you going to start this new player? Will they be a brand new, shiny Level 1 character, or are you going to have them keep pace at the same level as the other PC’s? I lean towards a happy medium, usually starting a new character at one or two levels LOWER than the rest of the party. This gap usually closes quickly, gives the new player a sense of accomplishment much quicker, and doesn’t make the other players feel as though they’ve worked harder than the new guy.
- What equipment does this character start the game with? How about money? Again, I try to find a happy medium. A character above level 1 has probably had some moderate success as an adventurer, so I give them everything a starting character would have plus a few upgrades. Maybe a better suit of armor for a Fighter or a slightly better weapon for a Thief, or an unusual spell for a Magic-user. Maybe a small magic item, a +1 weapon or a few Potions of Healing, something to enhance the new characters survivability.
- Sometimes if time allows, I use this Session 0.5 to do a short bit of 1-1 roleplaying. Perhaps I even will play out a simple combat. This gives the experienced player an opportunity to stretch his ‘legs’ in my game world, and it gives the super-fresh new player an idea of what to expect, and playing a simple combat helps with the learning curve with regard to mechanics and rules. Other players are usually very kind when it comes to helping a new player through their first combat, but bringing someone new to the table who already knows how to ‘roll to hit’ and deduct some HP when attacked, who knows what spells might be useful in combat or who knows to look for traps in the right circumstance can make all the difference in quick and friendly adoption by other players.
Create a First Meeting between characters with some tension, but that immediately has the existing party and the new player working as a team. Most commonly I have them meet at during a combat scenario, giving them no time to linger but immediately throwing them into action that requires a team effort. A successful combat will quickly bring people/characters together. Other useful scenarios I have used include the party being thrown into a dungeon along with the new player, or all of them being swept up magically and falling into the grasp of a powerful wizard who requires their services. There are endless scenarios, but I lean towards those moments of great stress and common ground...these seem to really help integrate the party quickly. The tendency is often to have everyone meet at a local inn, but this low-pressure environment can lead to slow and awkward integration, IMHO.
For those playing in online games, as I so often do, a session 0.5 is a must. It’s usually easier to arrange, since schedules are only subject to when both folks are home and free. Online play often has the added burden of learning how to use the interface of the game application, such as Fantasy Grounds or Roll20. Unfamiliarity with the online interface can slow down the gameplay even more, so this is a great time to help narrow that gap as well.
However you integrate new players to your game, keep doing it! Allowing new folks, and existing players, to join your game is how we grow as a hobby. Sure, not every game is for everyone, and sometimes you just don’t jibe at the table (or online). That’s fine, but as long as you’re up-front about the game you play, the people you play with, and the play environment a new person is going to be encountering, you’ve done your job.