Ask The GM: Midseason Addition

By John Serpico on

 

Colette asks – Hi! I’m DMing a campaign for three friends, and one of those friend’s girlfriends is interested in joining. I like her and think she’ll be fine, but I’m having trouble thinking up a way to work a completely new character into the story. For reference – this is a D&D 5e game and the party is currently stuck in a town due to ogres on the main road.

Colette, bringing in a new character mid-campaign can be a very smooth and fun process. There are just a few questions you need to focus on, and partner with the player on, in order to introduce a new adventurer into the fold successfully. But before I get to those questions, let’s talk about why a smooth character integration is so important.

It doesn’t take that many sessions for a GM to get a sense of how the players work together and how their respective characters work together. In other words, there are two layers of camaraderie and problem-solving and a GM should be keeping an eye on  both. If both of those layers are working out well (i.e. the players are “sharing the stage” well and the characters are finding ways to help each other and build rapport), one of your jobs as a GM is to protect that. Yes, you should challenge them and test their ability to solve problems and manage limited resources, but you are ultimately the steward of the story and you (hopefully) want it to be a story of brave warriors working together to save the world.

When you introduce a new character into the mix, your eye should be towards preserving both layers of teamwork. So you ideally want a player that gets along well with the other player and a character that adds to the skills and enthusiasm of the party. You think that this new player will be a good personality fit, which is great. That means your focus should be on making sure her new character fits into the party dynamic and has enough color to be a meaningful addition to the story. With that said, let’s talk about the questions you need to answer:

Why Is The Character There?

In other words, why is the character in this exact location? Was she trapped there? Is that her home? Does she have a connection there? And, by extension, why is the character there instead of where the party started? Essentially, you need to figure out why this character is showing up in this place and at this time, as opposed to any other place or time. One of the best ways to start the process of folding a new player (and character) into the mix is to make her first appearance meaningful. Maybe an NPC that the party has worked with says that he knows a powerful companion that can help them. Maybe they’re trapped somewhere and this new hero saves them. The reason why the new character is there should feed into the introduction and start a sense of rapport. Just meeting her in a tavern isn’t nearly as effective as a “there with purpose” origin.

What Does The Character Want Long-term?

Ideally, the new character wants many of the same things that the rest of the party wants. Perhaps this new character wants to restore the same prince to the throne, or she is an emissary from a foreign land hoping to build a bond of friendship, or maybe the character is someone from another player’s past that has sworn an oath to help in a time of need. Bringing a new character in will be much easier if you can connect her to the existing plot or the existing character motivations in a way that will keep moving the story forward.

What Does The Character Believe?

If you play tabletop long enough, you’ll run across a party in which three characters are upright and virtuous and one happens to be a bloodthirsty murderer whose nihilistic desires run counter to the theme of the game. There’s a greater chance of that kind of rogue element appearing when a character is introduced mid-campaign. The other players have experience together and can hopefully keep their characters working together (even if they have to temporarily pause their desire to murder the town guards), but a new player might just come in and be too disruptive. A great way to mitigate that is to really figure out what the character believes in and make sure that those beliefs are not destructive. I’m not saying that a new character must have the exact same alignment and faith. On the contrary – a diverse set of beliefs and motivations are crucially important to good collective storytelling. But what you want to push the player away from is a belief or alignment that will actively harm the game you’re trying to run. If the game is about morally dubious thieves trying to scratch out their place in the world, would a lawful good paladin that MUST report all crimes to the authorities really be the best addition? That might be fun, but it will be a very different game than the one you set out to run.

What Can The Character Do?

I don’t generally push for party balance when building a campaign. If three people want to play barbarians or five people all want to play starfighter pilots, then so be it. I can and do build a game to showcase their overlapping wants, instead of building a game to showcase their lack of a healer. Granted, most parties that come together have some degree of balance because some players want to throw magic missiles and others want to cut folks in half with a broadsword. But there’s no reason to force it, particularly with a new character. You should get a sense of what actual skills this new character wants to bring to the table, and maybe make some recommendations. What the new character can do, regardless of what the player chooses, will give you more flexibility in what you can do. A thief or ranger might allow for more opportunity for stealth-based challenges. A big, heavy damage-dealer can expand the roster of beasts you throw at them. Think of the skillset on the new character’s character sheet as an invitation to expand the kind of things you as a GM can do.

 

 

You obviously can’t do all of this alone. The player will want to make a character she wants to play. So your goal in guiding her through character creation is to let her know what the party is all about now, what their long-term goals are, and what they like to do session over session. Let this new player know that she can make the character she wants, but she should do it with an eye towards the party and the story. And feel free to add some limits. If a dragonborn wizard wielding a gatling gun full of wish spells is just not doable within the campaign, let her know right away and then guide her towards the thousands of other options. The end result should be a character that is fun for the player, can fit into the party, can fit into the narrative and can expand your GMing options.

Best of luck, and I think this new player will work out well.

Happy GMing!

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