Filling the Empty Chair

How to find local gamers

You have a vacancy in your gaming group and decide to advertise for a new player. Because there are many places online and offline potential players might look for groups you put ads in several places, casting a wide net, hoping to get a response. To your surprise, you get a few responses. However, now that these potential players have responded and have asked to join your group, what do you do? Roll a dice?

That was the question asked over at the Age of Ravens blog when they posted a review of Filling the Empty Chair, our new ebook about recruiting gamers. The ebook covers how to find great players and groups to game with, using online and offline methods. Lowell at Age of Ravens asks what comes next:

  • How do you tell if a player might be good for your group?
  • What are the warning signs for problem players?
  • How do you screen prospective players?

Good questions. Here are some tips and advice.

Hire slow, fire fast

RPGs are intensely social. A bad apple in your group causes pain. Sometimes your good players leave the group because of them. The bad apple might even break up your group.

So take your time. Work through recruitment one step at a time. Do not rush because you have a big hole to fill in your group. Better to play shorthanded for awhile than to bring in a new player who does not fit well and causes the problems mentioned.

Send me your favourite PC

If you have lot of applicants, the first thing I would do is ask them to send you their favourite player character along with what made the character their favourite.

This is a fast way to get a feel for the players and their style. For diabolical GMs, you get a nice batch of potential NPCs.

Look for power gaming and munchkin tendencies. Does the character seem to have a lot of treasure and reward notes? Are there any role-playing notes on the character? Does it seem like stats or treasure takes higher priority than flavour and role-playing details? Did the player use a prefab character sheet or an original one made for just this character?

There are no right answers here. You just want to find a good match for your group. If your players are in mix/maxers, then a new player with a min/maxed PC might fit right in.

Also read the reasons given why each character is a favourite carefully. Hopefully some other reasons will mesh with your GM in style and player personalities.

With your stack of PC submissions create three piles: Super Awesome, Meh, No Way. Sort the characters into these three piles. Then contact the people who submitted the super awesome characters for interviews.

This exercise just gives you a short list of potentially great players to spend time on with the next part of the recruitment process. Do not throw out the other characters just yet. If players from the Super Awesome pile do not work out, then move on to the Meh pile. If the players from the Meh pile do not work out, then move onto the No Way pile – though this would be a desperation move.

You cannot tell everything from a character sheet, so this is just a shortcut for creating a smaller list of potential players to interview.

Run an interview

You should park with a candidate before inviting them to game. Feel free to have more than one meeting. Take your time to get to know the player and socialise with them until you get a feeling one way the another about their suitability for your group.

Use the player’s favourite PC submission as a great icebreaker. Talk about that. Explore the reasons why the PC was their favourite. If the player ends up joining your group, you can use this information as a guide on how to please this player and make your campaign a great one for them.

Give them a rundown on your campaign. Be brief and focus on the general plot that has been revealed so far, the characters and the types of foes they have met. Ask what type of PC they may be interested in playing. Then ask for hooks on how the new PC could meet, join and be accepted by the group.

Here you are testing their collaboration mindset. -10 points if their PC is an orphan. -100 points if the PCs anti-social. Ideally, the player shows that they are willing to work with the campaign, game world and party in an interactive and positive way.

One way to look at people in life is to ask yourself whether they are growers or diminishers. A grower makes everyone around them better. They add value, participate, help, support and praise. A diminisher reduces everyone around them. They create negative emotions, put people on guard, are selfish.

As you chat with the player, you might consider your gut feel on whether they are a grower or diminisher. Only recruit growers if you can.

Ask them about their play styles; their expectations of you as GM and of the other players; the campaign, setting and rule preferences; and other questions to get a feel for what kind of player they are.

If your ad did not cover logistics get into this as soon as possible, preferably even before their character submission. When can they play? Is the gaming location fine with them? How would they travel to the game? Are they okay with the game(s) that we play? Are they okay with the general group playing style? Describe your GMing style and ask them if they are okay with that.

Get a gaming history

This is an important part of the interview process. It can take some time, but do your darndest to run through every campaign they have played in, and every group they have played with. Ask them for an overview of each and why they stopped playing with that group or why that campaign ended. Go back as far as you can you can into their history. Go back even to their school years.

You are looking for a pattern. During any kind of interview, smooth talkers can fool you. But actions speak louder than words. Get into the specifics of their gaming history and how and why each game or campaign ended to give you a fact-based pattern of their playing career.

How many games ended well? How many games ended because of social conflicts? How many games ended because the player was disgruntled? Sometimes you get stuck with a lemon group or GM. It is not the player’s fault. That is why you need to get as complete record as you can of all the games in the player’s history, so those anomalies can be discarded for the general pattern to emerge.

This history should also give you some idea about the player’s strengths and weaknesses. Listen to how they talk about their past fellow players and GMs. If they regard them with respect, that is a good sign.

If the player complains a lot, listen closely. If it seems like the player was constantly put upon, that things were always being done *to them*, they are taking no ownership or responsibility for their parts, then you probably do not have a mature individual before you.

As a fun exercise, go through your own gaming history. Write about each game and campaign and how and why it ended. Talk briefly about the players in those games. If you are not the GM, make some comments about them. After you complete your own history, run through the notes and look for the patterns.

You might be too close to the subject matter, so hand your notes to a friend and ask them to spot the patterns. you might even have a player interview you rather than writing things down, and have that player do an assessment. Be ready for interesting news. :)

Set their expectations

Communication is a two-way thing. While you are looking through the lens of finding the best fit for your group, the potential player is looking through the lens of whether you in your group are suitable for them. They are also looking for feedback, whether they know what are not, on what they can do to fit in successfully.

This is where setting their expectations can help any quality of candidate become a permanent and contributing member of your group.

Be forthright with your preferences and expectations. Let them know what bugs you. Let them know what qualities your ideal player would have. Tell them about the positive qualities of your players. (Do not get into the negative qualities of your players, as that would be an appropriate, unless you have discussed them with your players first and have their permission to discuss them with candidates.)

Be clear on the type of game you run. Do players need to do anything between games, such as homework. Do you condone player versus player activities? Do you see yourself as an adversary, referee or storyteller?

Tell them about the frequency of encounter types are typically get played. How much combat is there versus role-playing versus puzzles?

Discuss any qualities and attributes you can think of that would help them understand your group and help them fit in better. This also gives them the opportunity to assess whether they are a right fit, so they can bow out, save you time and let you get onto the next candidate.

Meet your major players

Introduce the potential player to your major players. Feel free introduce them to the whole group, however it can be easier for shy players and introverts to meet a smaller group of people first before being thrown into the ring with the whole gang.

You might also have players or more casual and do not care to be part of the recruitment process. In such cases, leave them out of any non-gaming activities if you think that is best.

Your players represent your group and will give the candidate an idea of who they will be spending their game nights with. If they do not impress the player, you might lose a great candidate. so just have a quick word with your players before hand and ask them to put their best foot forward. Have them be themselves, open and honest, but keep in mind everybody is out to make good first impressions.

After the meeting you can get your players viewpoints on whether the candidate would be a good fit. You can also talk to the candidate to get their impressions of your players.

Ask them to make a character

If things are progressing nicely, ask the potential player to roll up a PC and send it to you. Assess their PC the same way you considered their favourite PC submission.

A new character gives you fresh perspective on their current thinking and style. It also tests their knowledge of the game system you are using, or serves as a brief tutorial if the system is new to them.

Over the character with them on the phone or in person. Ask them about the character’s personality, role on the party and how the character could be introduced to the other PCs. You might ask them for a brief character background as well.

Run a solo session

Next, you might consider a one-on-one session. Make it short and include a number of encounters that span role-playing, puzzles, skill use and combat. Introduce them to the setting as well.

Play at least one NPC and see how they like to role-play. Use the NPC to bail them out of any trouble, as well.

You might consider adding one or two of your players to the session to get their opinion on the player, and to serve as a soft introduction to the main group.

Use the sole session to flesh out the PCs background. finish the session in a place where the new PC can meet the party immediately next game without creating a dependency on the party itself that this meeting must take place. This sets the new player up to be able to join right away. But if the new player cannot make next game, is late, or did not make the cut, then you do not put the party in an awkward position of having to meet this character.

Set a trial period

As with a job, put the new guy on probation. Let the player know how long the probation will last and what sorts of things you are looking for. Nobody likes to be judged, and new player wants some security with their new gaming group, so be clear as you can on the nature of this trial period.

When I run my trial period until the new player is a two-way street and that they are evaluating me and the group just as much as we are trying them out.

The trial period gives you an easier way to go your separate ways if it becomes necessary. I read online horror stories of game masters return to tricks and manipulations to get rid of unwanted players. This is bad for morale and erodes your confidence. It is also mighty uncomfortable.

Ending the trial period and letting the player know whether they are a good fit are not can be a bit difficult, but it is a lot easier than playing tricks and head games.

Get feedback from everybody after each session, and give feedback to the new player each game. Most people want to improve and fit in, so any tips or advice you have about adjustments they can make would be appreciated.

Likewise, get feedback from the new player. They might have insights on how to improve your GMing or help the group have more fun at every game.

Ask your players to help the new guy to fit in

Make it easy on the new player by having your players take an active role in helping them adjust to the group’s style, preferences and house rules.

At the first session, take it upon yourself to do person introductions right away. It will be easier for each player to remember one new person’s name than for the new person to remember several players’ names. So jump in whenever the new person struggles with a name, and refer to your players by name often until you think the new player has mastered them.

Seat the new player beside two players who will get along best, or will help him out. Perhaps The Social Player and the Roleplayer.

Introduce the new PC as soon as you can. I once waited four hours to get introduced to the party despite what I saw as several windows of opportunity opening and closing. I just sat there, my main means of getting involved and interacting – my PC – just sitting in front of me.

Have shy players bump into each other during the game. It will be awkward at first, but shy people just need a few easy interactions and they start to open up.

Stop to explain things to the new player when something strange or unique to your group happens. Inside jokes, for example.

Once the new player seems to have fit in, start treating them normally, with less attention, so they can just be themselves.

Thanks very much for the ebook review, Lowell. hopefully I’ve answered some of your questions. Campaign Mastery readers, if you are looking for a new player to fill an empty chair at your game table, check out our ebook.

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