How To Introduce A New PC

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on April 28, 2010

It happens in almost every game, a PC dies and now you have to figure out how to introduce the new character. Or a new player joins your group and you struggle to explain why they should join the party? There are a many ways to go about answering these questions. From the serious role-playing that this type of event triggers, to the inane and superficial. How you approach this aspect of death and dying in Dungeons & Dragons will come down to the play style of your own group. Different approaches to the game will result in different introductions for new PC.

Poof, Hey Are You The New PC?

The simplest way to introduce a new player is to have their PC appear and join the party as if they’ve always been there. It defies all reasons of logic, it doesn’t require a rewriting of the story, the PC just appears. This is akin to a Wizard arriving, noting the party doesn’t currently have a Wizard in the group and offering their services. The party accepts blindly, after all we just want to play some D&D tonight so why waste time.

The problem with this is it just doesn’t make sense. Yes, from a get the new player involved in the game perspective it’s the way to go, but it cheapens the story. Adding a new player to the game is a great opportunity to increase the level of role-playing that occurs at the table. It also allows the DM to introduce new information to the game.

Granted, if you are playing a hack ‘n slash game of D&D just introduce the new PC. But if you’re game is running at a higher level then this you’ll want to take some extra steps.

Provide A Plausible Backstory

When bringing a new PC into the game take the time to work with the player in devising a backstory that meshes with the campaign. This allows you as the DM to bring new information to the party. It also allows the PC to feel that they are of immediate use to the party and gives them a reason for being there.

If the PC arrives with no backstory and no plausible reason for being present with the party it breaks the immersion of the world.

Get The New Player Involved, Quickly

Nothing is worse than arriving for a session of D&D with a new character and not being able to participate until the last half hour. If a new PC will be entering the game, get that player involved in things quickly. Now, if you are trying to maintain the level of immersion in the game and the PCs are in the middle of a dungeon it might not be very easy to introduce a new PC. In these instances you may choose to break the immersion and just have the PC appear in order to get them involved with things.

There are other ways to do this, such as having the party discover the new PC in prison or perhaps the new player is tracking a common foe of the party. No matter how you choose to introduce the new PC give the player an idea of how long it will take you to introduce their new character to the party. This way you set the expectation and avoid any hard feelings if it does take longer to get things rolling.

What experience do you have with introducing new characters to the game?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dixon Trimline April 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm

This is a great article. Given the differences in DMing approaches and round-the-table styles, there probably isn’t one good way to introduce new characters, but it’s a good conversation to have. To the inevitable “it’s just a game” crowd, I’d gently point out that immersion DOES matter, and it’s what elevates the activity beyond a simple numbers-on-a-page exercise.

In a game I ran, I was confronted with a party number that went from 3 to 2 to 3 to 5 over the course of a matter of weeks. Fun! For the first loss, I had the party member kidnapped between sessions (thankfully we were in an extended rest at the time), and for the first addition, I had the party’s patron send a replacement member to fill in for the loss. For the 4 and 5, the two new members had infiltrated the target site independently (one broke in and was taken prisoner, the other had been dominated by the big-bad and had JUST shaken it off). I started a massive fight, incorporating all characters from three separate locations, resulting in them arriving at the obvious “enemy of my enemy” conclusion.

2 Chromed Cat April 28, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Long time reader, first time poster.

I suppose i’ve been Dming long enough to feel that the action takes care of it’s self in D&D. So when it comes to introducing a new character, or even getting rid of one, i find it a great opportuninty to inject some story into the game.

My first consideration when introducing a new character is to have a new faction/concept/religion of the game world introduced that hasn’t been in play before. Tying in a vested interest to the current is party is obviously important though. So overall the new character will have different patrons and other NPC’s or villians to bring into the story.

If someone want’s to change character or leave the group, a well orchestrated death has the chance to provide more meaning to the adventure also.

Going the extra mile rather than just plunking a new character or ripping a character out can be the Dm’s “bread and butter” for injecting meaning. It’s a way to show the players; you and the game have standards and that nothing occurs in a vaccum.

I’m doing exactly as suggested in next session; having an captured PC being thrown into a cell, only to be liberated by the current party so he can join in the action straight away. The PC is a Paladin of Kelemvor, so the next encounter will invlove undead and the necromancers he has been opposing in his back story.

Nice article.

3 Wimwick April 28, 2010 at 6:22 pm

@ Dixon Trimline
I like the scenario you presented of having a 3 way battle where the PCs realize they might make a good team. That should make for a very interesting encounter.

@ Chromed Cat
Welcome to Dungeon’s Master, though I guess that welcome is long over due. This post was inspired by the party having a PC retire due to the player not enjoying the direction the character was going in. The DM exited the character in such a way that he has now become a major villian in the game world. The players new character introduced himself as a bounty hunter as sorts, who has been tracking the PC that retired. It’s reinvigorated the campaign and thrown a wrench into it that no one was expecting.

4 Kameron April 28, 2010 at 7:03 pm

I’ve had two new PC introductions so far in the campaign I’m running. One was a new player replacing a player that left, the other was a player who was swapping PCs. In the former case, we killed the departing player’s PC. The new player’s PC was a bard performing at the local inn, overheard the party talking after their return from the dungeon, and asked if he could tag along.

In the latter case, the PC switch was facilitated by backstory. The player’s original PC, having just helped defeat the nefarious schemes of the adventure’s villain, felt he had earned the right to return home and claim his title. His new PC was a member of the mage’s guild, and possessed knowledge of some teleportation circles, allowing me to introduce new information to the setting that allowed the heroes quicker access to their next quest.
.-= Kameron´s last blog ..Forging ahead =-.

5 Dungeon Newbie April 29, 2010 at 3:18 am

Well as you all know I haven’t played D&D yet, but I have an idea: if the new PC is a Shardmind, say, why not have the players somehow arrive at the Gate that Shardminds want to rebuild and they found him there? Just an idea, of course.

Visit Dungeon Newbie’s Dungeons and Dragons website.

6 Jard April 29, 2010 at 10:32 am

Great article! One of the things I do to introduce a new PC that I know will be joining next session is create him as an enemy that is controlled/brainwashed/rebelling against a common enemy. This puts the PCs at odds with the character before the PC appears, and offers a great opportunity to show the new char’s strength and creates role playing opportunities before the PC shows up. You can’t do it multiple times in a campaign, but the enemy-becomes-friend trope is really effective.

7 JR May 4, 2010 at 3:14 pm

In my campaign we all took a session to roll up “alts” and join the new PC in a different part of the world. His mission pitted him and the rest of the alt-party against an enemy that the main party had only seen tangentially, which one of their NPC allies had mentioned to them. When the party finished their extended rest, they went to visit the allied NPC and discovered their new party member waiting for them, having just defeated a group of the enemy and recovered valuable intelligence. The allied NPC persuaded the New Guy to act as the party’s guide back down to fight the common enemy, and voila!

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