Ian Gray contributed to this article.

Ask the gamemasters

Anniversaries have a way of reminding you of the promises on which you have yet to deliver, and so does the start of a New Year. “Ask The GMs” is one of the cornerstones of what got Campaign Mastery to it’s 5th anniversary. It’s now 2014 and for two years I’ve been promising to tackle the mountain of accumulated Ask-The-GMs questions that have accumulated; It’s time to start delivering on those promises.

Of course, there’s rather a large problem: The site is now one person, not two. I could rename the series “Ask The GM” but if there’s one thing that I learned through the preceding entries in this series, it’s the value of bringing multiple voices to a question. The number of times that Johnn covered something that I hadn’t thought of was both astonishing and educational.

So here’s the plan: Of the players in the Zenith-3 campaign, only one is not a GM. Of the players in the Adventurer’s Club campaign, two are non-GMs – but one of them wants to change that. There is some overlap between the two groups, but that doesn’t matter. What’s going to happen is this: I will write up a primary response to each question. When I get the opportunity, I will then put whatever question is next on the list to whichever group I happen to be in front of at the time, and let them debate the question while I take notes. These notes will then form the basis of a second response. If I’m talking to one of them about something else in the meantime, I’ll drop in the question and discuss it with them then.

Will it work? I don’t know. If it doesn’t, I’ll try something else. One way or the other, I am going to end 2014 with a lot fewer ATGMs pending than I started the year with. There are 52 weeks in the year. That’s roughly 104 posts. I want to try and deal with an ATGMs question more often than once a month, but don’t want them to become the dominant type of content – so no more than one post in three, and probably more like one in four or five will be the target.

In some cases, Johnn and I answered by email, and were careful to CC each other, so I already have a second answer to post. All told, then, the goal in 2014 is to publish answers to between 20 and 30 ATGMs questions. I’ve updated the ATGMs page, so that it shows the true scale of the backlog. This plan will only do away with about half of it. But if I can keep it up through most of 2015, the Backlog will get cleared eventually.

Which is all well and good for the future, but it’s still early January and those groups won’t get together until later in the Month. So this time around, you’ll have to make do with whatever I come up with, and anything the readership cares to contribute.

Which brings me to the question posed this time around. James Senecal wrote:

“If death is to have a consequence, if a PC dies (permanently), are there any ways to quicken the generation of a new character, and might you have any tips to integrate those new characters into the party? I’m not using DnD, this is purely from a roleplaying point of view.”

and, in a clarifying follow-up, he explained,

“The campaign recounts the development of a world that is in constant change. But because things like:

  • Cities being built,
  • Empires going to war, and
  • Technologies being developed,

do not take place within mere days or weeks, I feel it’s only logical for years to pass. If not 2-3, then half a decade or even a full decade. At which time, the PCs will likely age. At the very least, these time skips will only happen every couple of sessions. Kind of like playing the Sims and once things are settled, you press fast forward.

Naturally, the players will have a good idea of what’s going to happen to their characters. They’ll also likely take back their characters for one last spin before starting the next session as their character’s children (if that’s the case, or new characters entirely if that isn’t the case).”

There are two questions there, and since I’m on my own this time around, I think I’ll tackle the easier one first: How do you parachute new characters into place within the campaign? How can you accelerate the introduction of new and replacement characters without damaging verisimilitude too badly?

Ask the GMs - Mike

Mike’s answer:

The problem is more complicated than it initially appears because as a GM, you have two conflicting objectives. The first is to introduce the new character as quickly as possible, and the second is to introduce the new character as seamlessly and naturally as possible.

The Question Of Player Knowledge

Before you can make any decisions, you need to define the problem, not in generalities, but in specifics that apply to this particular occasion. The place I always start is by considering how much the player knows about this particular campaign and immediate events therein, because that knowledge will need to be explained – a much better approach than having the player try to disregard his player-knowledge, if you can pull it off; I realize that this step won’t apply to James’ specific question, but I want to address the general problem and then fit his situation into that framework.

Explaining how the character acquired his knowledge of the PCs can redefine the character, changing the answers to subsequent questions. That’s why it has to be the first question, posed (if possible) before character generation even begins.

The Question Of Location

Secondly, where are the PCs now, and where will they be in the immediate future?

The Question Of Co-Location

Thirdly, another character-defining question: Taking into account the answer to question one, do any unusual circumstances need to obtain in order for the proposed specific character – class, species, race, whatever – to be present at one of the locations listed in answer to question 2?

The Metaplot Question

Finally, one more character-defining question: Can the new character advance a plotline that’s underway within the campaign, or better still, one that has become moribund and stagnant?

The Specific Question

Having considered the option of designing and constructing the new character in such a way that its introduction to the campaign is facilitated by the nature of the specific character itself, you are now ready to pose the specific question, “What is the best way to introduce this specific character at this specific time within this specific campaign?”

Answer: Chance

Once you have posed the specific question, you can start to choose between the answers to find the one that best fits the circumstances. Of them all, the weakest – because it is so clichéd – is Chance. The new character just happens to be staying at the same inn that the PCs are using, or just happens to be nearby when they are attacked and gets caught up in the melee, or whatever. It’s a cliché because it works – but because it is a cliché, it strains verisimilitude when it happens for the umpteenth time.

I don’t like using chance. It smacks of weak planning on the part of the GM.

Answer: Confluence

A much better answer, but one that won’t work in every circumstance, is Confluence. The new character has the same objectives as the party, and that leads them to seek out the party; or is working toward the same end independently, and an alliance occurs to prevent the two from tripping over each other.

Answer: Inevitability

If there is some reason why it can be made obviously inevitable that the party and the new character will end up working together, that inevitability can be employed to justify confluence. Inevitability can also be used to put some teeth into the “chance” answer – the two parties can be co-located through chance, but the alliance between them happens as a result of inevitability rather than simply because the new character is a PC. Having the rest of the party get blamed for acts committed independently by the new character, for example, or having the party attacked because someone thinks it’s too big a coincidence for both the new character and the party to be at the same place at the same time. Having both locked up in the same prison and needing to work together to escape is another good variant on the inevitability concept.

Answer: Rescue

A variant on confluence can be achieved when the new character rescues the PCs from some situation, or vice-versa. This only needs two things to work well: a reason for the party in need of rescue to get caught in whatever situation traps them, and a reason why the new character can rescue them. This approach works well in D&D when the characters are in the middle of a dungeon, a circumstance that excludes most solutions to the problem.

Answer: Recruitment

If the PCs are down a character, they may decide to seek out a replacement, and end up recruiting the new character. As a twist, I will sometimes give the player an NPC to play who is clearly better-suited to the needs of the party, and who beats the new PC out of the job, only to betray the party, and letting their rejected prospective member come to the rescue.

I’ve also used the approach where an NPC recruits the PCs and supplements their number with the new character.

Answer: Conversion

One of my favorite approaches is to have the new character working for the PCs enemies, either out of ignorance or reluctantly, by force. This makes recruiting the new PC a reward to the characters, helps tie something that could be disruptive back into the ongoing plotlines, and gives the new character a solid characterization opportunity with which to establish themselves right from the start.

Answer: Inconvenience

Another good idea is to create a need in the minds of the existing PCs that only an individual of the race/class/abilities of the new character can fill. Make the absence of that type of character an inconvenience to the characters, then give them an opportunity to redress that need. This creates a situation in which the players will do all the hard work themselves.

Answer: Successor

Another approach that I have used successfully from time to time is to have the new character appointed the successor to the character that he is replacing (even if that is a self-appointment).

Answer: Promotion

Is there an existing NPC – a henchman or hireling – who can be promoted? If established details don’t match up, can you find a reason for the new PC to have lied about who he is?

Answer: Improbability

Then, finally, there are the improbable solutions. An accident with a teleportation spell. Finding the new character frozen in an iceberg. A hot-air balloon that comes to earth right in front of the PCs. A magic mirror that transforms the old character into the new.

Old Plot, New Plot

If the existing plotlines don’t accommodate your needs in terms of introducing a new PC, don’t be afraid to interrupt with a mini-plot designed purely to be a vehicle for the introduction of the new character. It’s always better if you can fold the new arrival into the existing plot, but don’t sweat it too badly if that won’t work.

Do you want it fast, or do you want it good?

They aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, But too often, a GM will choose speed over quality. That’s how the clichéd introductions became clichés in the first place.

The more long-term the character’s involvement in the campaign is to be, the more a good introduction should be prioritized over a quick introduction, if you have to make the choice. Especially if warned in advance, the player will usually be quite happy about it. I’ve even run a partial solo adventure on the side for an incoming PC, stopping the action at the point of introduction to the main party.

The golden ticket to quality

There’s one simple rule to follow in order to achieve a quality introduction: avoid contrivance. Reject anything that has even the faintest tinge of appearing to occur purely as a means of introducing the new character, even if – at a metagame level – that is the sole purpose.

To answer James’ Question

Having dealt with the generalities, I’m now in a position to take a closer look at James’ situation. His is (or was) an unusual context, it must be said from word one.

The key point that has to be borne in mind is continuity. You can’t replace the whole party, or that continuity is placed at risk; though having some organization that provides a “spine” connecting the different game eras might solve that issue. Another solution might be to have the too-old PCs actively recruit in-game their replacements.

With that aspect of the situation resolved, most of the techniques listed above will work. Even in the “Improbability” category, a time-traveller from the future who has lost most of his memory (or is paranoid about changing history by revealing too much of what he knows) might work. Variety will be the key.

This answer has probably come too late to help him in that particular campaign, but so long as there are RPG campaigns, there will be a need for GMs to parachute new characters into their campaigns. The guidance offered will, therefore, be of value to someone, sometime.

In the next ATGMs: I’ll tackle the other, more difficult question that James has raised: How to have substantial time pass within a campaign. Look for it in a few weeks’ time.

In the meantime, do you have any more ways to integrate new players or new characters into your campaigns in a hurry?

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