So, I recently rejoined a role playing group that I had left about 3.5 years ago. I joined them just last week in the middle of a game that they were playing. Now, each group is going to have a different way of introducing new players, but with ours the tradition has been that the prospective player take in one whole session before making the final decision of whether he or she is going to join full time and make a character. There are several reasons for doing it this way, which I’m sure someone can write about in the future, but I want to take it from the newby’s perspective. How can this sit-in be used as a productive time to improve future role playing? What, if anything is expected of me in this first session?
1. Remember that you are a guest.
You’re sitting at that table because someone else, most likely a friend of yours, has vouched for you and said that you’re interested in playing. I get that you might be rules lawyer by trade, but now is not the time to debate with GM over the proper mechanic of how climb a tree, or if the wolf monster should be allowed to thrash someone into the ground or not. Nor is it a good time to make suggestions to each player about how they picked the wrong weapon if they wanted to get the most damage out of their attacks with the smallest amount of risk of missing. You are a guest at that table, your job at the moment is to observe and, for the most part, keep your mouth shut and let the regular players play. Otherwise you might find yourself on the wrong end of the attention of that she-elf you were hoping to ask out in
the game, and have that cleric cast you out like a horde of undead. It says a lot about you as a player when you take over a session you’re not fully involved with yet, and you will quickly find yourself on the outside looking in.
2. Look for how you fit.
Watch the group carefully. Listen to their characters, the personalities, what classes do you see around the table? Find exactly where you can fit into the group. Maybe they're missing a healer, or a meat shield, or hunter. Perhaps you can fill that hole. This little sit-in session doesn't have to be a total bore. If you watch closely enough you can already start to form a character in your mind that can easily fit in with the group and give it a new dynamic. This way too, you don’t go into the game set on being a fighter, only to find out, after the character is all finished that they’ve already got more than enough of those and you’re just adding a fifth, and highly unnecessary and boring, wheel. Now, yes, a good GM can stop this from happening, but your first time with a group can curtail even that kind of awkward conversation. “I want to be a wizard,” you say. “We’ve got two already,” the GM quickly replies. “Oh. Crap. Well, I don't know, now.” See, that whole interchange could be avoided if you pay attention in that first try-out game and see just how many wizards there are and think to yourself, Wow, this game has two wizards already. Does it really make sense to add another? What these guys really need is a meat shield before the GM tenderizes them with a Barbarian. You’ll also be able to see what kind of character can balance out or add to the game. You don’t want to go in looking to be the strong leader, when they’ve already got one, or play an emo character when that slot has been filled and you two end up competing for who’s the worst. (Actually, that one could be fun. And on second thought, [or would that be third thought?] the drama of inner group tension can be a good storyline to add to the game, if played right and not taken too far so as to be disruptive.) You can easily find ways of adding to the game and quickly forming a fun character to add some spice for the group.My little try-out a few weeks ago helped a lot in this respect. I was able to see where a new character could fit in. I could see what was already there, which eliminated several character classes right off the bat and gave me some ideas for the group as well. Now, I’m excited to see what kind of mayhem and fun this new character can add to this group.
3. Look for how the group fits.
Not all groups are created equal. Nor do they have the same style of play. Maybe they play a hack and slash kind of game, going from one big battle to another. If you like the storyline kind of role playing, it won’t take long until you’re bored with the whole affair and the big battles start to lose their zest and any feeling of accomplishment. Maybe they’re focused on the storyline and can go a few weeks before finding themselves in combat again. Then you feel bored out of your skull and gaming starts to remind you a little too much of watching paint dry. Or, you find that the group likes to dirty the language up a little more than you’re comfortable with. Then, it doesn’t matter how good the character is, or how much you might like one guy at the table, if your sensibilities are going to get assaulted each game, the fun will be gone very, very quickly. The opposite is also true. If you know you like to dabble in the colourful metaphors but have found that the group is a bunch of Puritans (why Puritans would be playing D & D, I don’t know, but just roll with for now) then you’ll find yourself bottled up, and again, most likely, you’ll having fun sooner or later. Sitting in on a game lets you know this for sure, for yourself, and you can make the choice to stay or leave without having already
invested time and energy in creating a character. While that try-out session can be boring, especially when all you want to do is get down to rolling the dice, filling in the sheet, and killing some goblins, the benefits can greatly improve
your own character as well as the entire game. Your playmates will be grateful that you took that time to prepare to become a part of their group and join the game.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.