Introducing a new character to an ongoing campaign is always a challenge for me. Maybe it’s because I place too much emphasis on making the game world coherent. I suppose if I wanted, there would be no real problem with introducing new players the same way videos games do when you plug in a new controller. “Player 2 has joined the game.” I don’t actually know if it would bother my players to have new characters suddenly appear as if placed there by the gods. For me it would be jarring; I like the world to feel consistent. I’m curious to know how other GMs handle this.
There are two situations when a GM is typically faced with integrating a new character into the game. Either a new player has joined the game, or a regular player’s character has died and a new one must be introduced.
On the one hand, I don’t think characters should simply appear. Adventurers wandering through a desert should not suddenly find themselves with a new companion by their side. There should be some “in-game” explanation for the character’s appearance, and for the character deciding to join the adventurers. Players wandering through a desert might find their new companion unconscious and dehydrated. Once the party saved the new arrival’s life, the new character could join the party out of gratitude. One of my time honored methods of introducing new characters is to have them enter the game as henchpeople of NPC quest givers. The NPC sends their trusted servant along to ensure success, and once the adventure is over, the character can choose to stay with the party if they please.
On the other hand, players should not be left sitting on their hands while they wait for the rest of the party to find them. They’ve come to your game table to play a game, not watch helplessly as others do so. This is particularly true for new players. Most players will approach a new group with justified trepidation. We’ve all heard horror stories about terrible GMs. Making a new player sit around for fifteen or twenty minutes doing nothing is a good way to end up as one of the subjects of those horror stories yourself.
So, introducing a new character is a balancing act between maintaining a logical world, and keeping players engaged in the game.
Within my last three gaming sessions, I’ve had to introduce two new players into my established gaming group. The first player entered the game just as the party was starting a new adventure. The party had ended the previous session by returning to a lone wizard’s tower with the magical reagent he had asked them to find. They accepted his offer to rest and resupply there, and in the morning as our next session began, he offered them a new quest. He needed a relic retrieved from the depths of a far off dungeon. In travelling there, the party would pass through a small human settlement, and I thought that would be the best place for them to encounter the new half elven rogue who had joined the group. I could even have the wizard tell them that they’d need to hire somebody who could to pick locks when they passed through the town.
Unfortunately, it would take about an hour of gameplay to reach the town, so that was right out. Lacking any better ideas, I simply had the wizard introduce the rogue as “an associate who also recently returned from performing a task for me.” He said the rogue would be helpful, and poof. The party was formed.
I only now find myself thinking that perhaps the game might have been improved by running two concurrent adventures. One where the party was journeying to that town, and another where the rogue player was going through a brief solo adventure in the town. I could switch back and forth between the two parties each ‘day’ of game time. That may be something I need to try in the future.
The very next session, we had another new player join the game. This one was a gnome barbarian, which was a particular challenge. The previous session had ended in a dungeon which, for unrelated reasons, had been magically warded to prevent gnomes from entering it. I wassn’t quite sure how I wanted to handle the issue, because I had gone to great lengths in the previous session to establish that even gnomes of great wealth and power had been unable to find a way to enter. It seemed ridiculous that a level 1 barbarian should be able to make it.
Fortunately, the players had already discovered a room filled with gnomish statues, and confirmed that those statues were actually real gnomes who had been turned to stone. Before the game started, I gave the new player a little background: she was a warrior who had fought beside the gnomish King Teleron against an army of Giants, Ogres, and Orcs. In the battle of Stonefist Peak, she had been magically turned to stone, and she’d spent the last 200 years as a statue.
I thought this was a really elegant solution, but again I was faced with the problem of potentially forcing her to sit the game out while the rest of the party tried to figure out how to break her curse. My original plan had been to make freeing those gnomes a potential long-term goal for the characters, but now I needed a way to do it immediately. So, when the game started, I had the players find a scrap of paper at the bottom of a treasure chest (which they had looted just before we ended the last game) which came from the diary of one of the dungeon’s prisoners. The prisoner’s diary explained that Demon’s Blood (which the players already had on hand) could be used to reverse the spell. They poured the blood on one of the statues, and the new player’s gnome did a happy little flip and shouted “ta da!”
The way I introduced that second character was somewhat more elegant than the way I introduced the first. None the less I had to fudge some stuff around to make it work: finding the diary which wasn’t there before, whichever statue they had poured the blood on would have been the correct character, etc.
How do you handle introducing new characters to your game?