ST 236: Integrating New Characters into an Existing Game

The sudden need to integrate new PCs into an existing game is a wonderful problem to have.  It means growth for the game, new ideas, and new challenges.  This document will cover common new player needs and expectations, tips for handling the first day, and how to move forward to create the best experience.


In the Mind of the New Player

Sometimes, a new player will have be a very clear plan for the PC in mind.  This could be a clear plan for the RP of the PC but not the mechanics, vice-versa, or the player may have a whole sheet and background written up for you to review.  These players will probably be eager to show you the material they have already produced, or else to describe to you what they have in mind.  Take the time to listen and, as much as possible, read what they have produced. Talk through the concept with them and work with them on developing it to insure it works well so a player will have an active experience.

Whether or not a new player knows what they want to play, they may have a lot of question about character creation.  Players who do not have a sheet prepared will need help making a character or selecting a pregen.  When that is the case, the player probably arrived expecting that you, or at least an assistant, would spend some time helping them get prepared to play today.  Consider being prepared to give the new player some of that time while balancing your other responsibilities.

Sometimes, a new player probably does not know most if any of the other players at the game.  Consider spending some time making introductions and socializing with the player.  Introduce the existing players to the new person, and give folks a chance to chat a bit.

Getting the PC Game-Ready

Be prepared for a 30 minute intro:

Assign someone to work with the new player if you are unable to take the time to work directly with them.  If you have an aVST, her or she can be running a minor plot while you are helping the new player.  It would be good to discuss beforehand with your existing players exactly how you would like to handle new player introductions.  Most players remember their first time and understand it is a unusual experience.  They are willing to help out and grow their game.

Determine if character creation is needed:

Once you’ve introduced yourself and the rest of the crew, start by checking the obvious, “Do you have a character prepared?”  If that’s a yes, you can move on to checking the sheet.  Otherwise, the player either needs help making a character or needs help selecting a pregen.  It is better if you can help the player come in with a PC of their very own; this gives the player a sense of ownership and a deeper care for the character they have made.  Pregens are a good alternative, but not for every player.  You can find out the player’s desires here by asking a few nice questions.  It’s okay to start with “Are you familiar with <venue name>?”  If that’s a yes, you can get into more specific questions such as “Do you have a Clan in mind for your character?”  Take some notes.

Going with the pregen:

If the player does not present knowledge of the most basic elements of the venue, you could suggest a pregen.  Sample pitch:  “Just for tonight, I would like to help you pick out a character from a set of brand-new, never-played characters I’ve written up sheets for.  You’re free to pick any one you like and play (him/her) the way you want with the personality you want.  Between now and next game, I want to help you either retool that character into exactly the (guy/gal) you’d like to play *or* help you write up a completely new character.  But I think if you play this person tonight, you’ll get a better idea about the setting and the mechanics just from the experience.  Also, you get to meet the other folks and see how you might fit in.  Does that sound okay for tonight?”  If they say “no” here that’s okay!  It may take longer, but it is better to let the player work on the new character if they wish rather than giving them a pregen they don’t want.  If they agree, show them your pregens and explain what they’re “good at”, helping the player select one they’re attracted to.

Going with character creation:

If the player demonstrates enough knowledge, you might make a few suggestions, give them a blank character sheet, and work them through spending Creation Points.  If you come to something they’re uncertain about (such as selecting supernatural powers), it’s okay to leave it out for the moment.  Try to get the Creation Points down within the 30 minute mark, or at least side-bared.  Then, you can award the PC’s starting XP (Floor XP plus any MC XP) and share the core book(s) for the venue.  Point out how to find Merits and powers in the index, and perhaps show one or two example powers which you think fit their concept well.  As you point these powers out, you can explain the mechanics of how powers “work” in general.  This will give them a better capability to browse other powers and pick what’s right for them; or they can go with your suggestions.  🙂  Ask the player to document how the XP is all spent, and explain the 50% rule.  If you have an assistant who can remain with the player while they work, that would be great.  Otherwise, offer to check in with them in an hour.  As needed, check back each hour and spend another 5 minutes or so answering a question or two.

Once the sheet is “ready”:

Once your player has a character sheet prepared, you or an assistant could review it at the earliest possible time.  As an ST, you need to verify the character is in accordance with the rules of the Mind’s Eye Society.  There may be traits the player does not know need approval.  Once you’re satisfied that the sheet is game-legal, make certain you’re comfortable with it being introduced to the game.  If all is well, you can let the PC in.  If something is holding the PC back, explain the problem to the player.  You will have to be firm here, but of course be polite.  It is highly unlikely that the new player knew there would be a problem with this item; coming down on them for it will be very off-putting.  Try to suggest specific alternatives which serve similar purposes; “Instead of Fame, what about the Socialize skill?”  It’s also good to point out, “This could get approved later!  Fame affects the national game so it needs a slightly higher authority than me to approve of it first.”  Explaining this maintains goodwill and to encourages participation in the national game.

Entering Play

As a storyteller, your plans for game likely rely upon your knowledge of the PCs.  You know which characters can do what and have the plot designed with that in mind.  The day that a new PC arrives, “nine times out of ten” you will be seeing the character sheet for the first time just before the game begins.  Introducing the new PC means having some flexibility at least to the very start of the day’s plans.  Determine with the player’s input when and how they’ve arrived in the city.  Was the character “always here” in the background, or did they just arrive?  Is this the character’s first day as a supernatural creature?

All of this feeds into how the PC ought to be introduced, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  Try to make the new PC the center of attention for at least the next scene or two, giving the introduction some real meaning.  If this means dialing back an important plot, or reshaping it slightly, it will be worth the cost.  This could, in at least some part, be a big moment for the PC and for the player.  Make it count!  Remember, new players can bring in new elements and take stories to new places.  It is great to include the creative energy they can bring in.

If the new player arrived with a friend, the friend would probably be more than willing to help the character introduction process.  The friend could bring in the character into the plot, saying in-character: “I brought my buddy with me.  They expressed an interest in helping the city.”  A simple introduction like that could work smoothly, and might be more comfortable for the player if they would rather not be in the center of things.

Not Ready for a PC?

Many people who are interested in larping for the first time are going to be nervous.  Offer to them the option to observe if they so chose.  Sometimes just the act of watching will help some find ideas on what to play.  Do not force them into a character. Find out what they are comfortable with.  You can still introduce them to the group.  You may also pair them up with someone who would not mind someone hanging around them.

If the new player wants to be more involved than this, but just is not ready to portray a personal PC or even a pregen PC, an alternative could be NPC portrayal.  To be prepared for this, you could have an NPC or two written up just for this sort of occasion.  See if any of the existing players would be willing to introduce the NPC as a new Retainer, a new childre, or other NPC that they would have an interest in.  Alternatively, you could have the NPC introduce some mystery for the PCs so solve.  An NPC with amnesia can work rather well for this.  Alternatively, you could have a recurring NPC soothsayer who is always in a new disguise; coming to tell the PCs some important but cryptic news!  A little pre-planning can help you prepare a fun-to-portray personality here, giving the new player a fun first experience while interacting with the others.

Going Forward

Talk to the player to find out what his or her characters goals are.  This is the best way to bring the character into the larger story.  You could make some suggestions about possible paths to take which fit nicely in the venue, your existing plots, and the supported mechanics.

New characters can add new flavors to the game, so it would be wise to welcome them and work with them.  This can help you in your storytelling efforts and make the game better for everyone involved.