So, earlier in this week I went over the XP/Power Level considerations when you bring a new character into your game. Yesterday, as part of the RPG Carnival we talked about introducing a brand new player to the game. So, today I figured I'd wrap up the whole "new player" experience with talking about the narrative methods of bringing a new character into your game. What do I mean by that? Well, it's simple really. I mean the story that gets the new character involved with the established party. Some people just gloss it, for others not introducing someone right can get them left behind/killed within five minutes of their introduction - and that includes the time spent arguing about whether or not the group has established a pattern of paranoia well enough to justify the slaying of a person on the road. So, read a long and lets talk about at least a few of the ways to introduce that new person.
So, first of all, let me begin by saying the method you use, and can use, is very dependent on the type of game you are running. A game about a privateer crew of PCs is going to have different options available to them then one about a squadron of Imperial storm troopers. As such, when reading the methods I provide try to see what types of games they would work for and what they wouldn't. I'll try to point it out as well, but there are just too many options for me to get them all. Ok? Ready? Good, let's begin.
Method 1 - Assign the New Character to the Group
This is probably the easiest method in the world to use to get a new character into the group. It is also the one that is the most dependent on the type of game you are running. For it to work, you need the PCs to be part of some over-arching power structure that is capable of making personnel choices for them. So a military campaign would work great for this. Then, all you really do is have the new PC show up with their transfer papers. The person has been assigned to the PCs unit, and while he is the F.N.G. he has credibility for being there, and there shouldn't be too much issue with him just dropping in, especially since the unit may have just lost someone else.
The weakness with this is that it needs to be a game where the PCs are taking orders from some group with complete control. If the PCs are a mercenary unit and someone is assigned, they're going to be distrustful because it's very likely the newb is a spy. See the difference? National military, he's an F.N.G. but they're all soldiers anyhow. Merc unit? He's possibly a spy or some other form of attempted control put on the group. So just be aware, and be careful.
Method 2 - NPC Evolves into....PC!
There are two ways to do this. The first is you give over a named NPC (preferably one that the group likes) to the player who needs a character. They get an already established character, along with a bunch of plot info from a different perspective and all that fun stuff. The downside is you lose an NPC you may have had plans for, and the Player doesn't get to build their own character which means they may not feel as attached to it as you'd like.
The second works only if the PCs have followers. Running their own ship, their own big merc group, their own nation, something where they have multiple nameless followers who have gone on so far as "generic soldier" or "generic cook". Then what happens is the player makes their character, and one of those NPCs turns into the new PC. The Generic Follower suddenly becomes someone of interest and note. The strength here is that the person comes in already on the PCs side, they're not someone new, the only thing new is their significance. The downside though is that often generic NPCs are depicted as 'weak' by comparison to the PCs, where as this one suddenly became strong. You can explain it, it could just be the equivalent of bad rolls or something like that, heck, maybe they just weren't where the other generic NPCs are. As I said, you can explain it, but those with a keen eye for consistency may not like it.
Method 3 - Pre-prepared and Intro'd Back Ups
This was a method brought up in the discussion on the XP/Power Level mechanics by a reader named Runeslinger. I've given it some thought, and it definitely deserves to be mentioned here. Basically, how it works is like this: Your players make up back up characters along with their regular characters. You the GM then involve those backups as NPCs who help the PCs along. Then, when a player needs to bring someone new in they can grab their back up. The back up is already established with the group, so should be able to meld in seemlessly.
The possible downsides I see to this are few, but worth mentioning. Least important is a player doesn't want to play their back up when they lose their old character. I say least important as all this does is bring you back to square one with intro'ing someone new, and you can always just change the pre-genned into the new character as long as it isn't too different. The other problems though are that with the NPC already established a lot can happen. It could become something the player can't play anymore, as you give the character a personality it wouldn't have had previously. Or it could just end up in danger, dead, or ruined in some other fashion. Finally, by establishing the character you establish their location, which might make it weird for them to suddenly be with the party when before they never went 10 feet from their home.
this is still a great idea, just keep in mind the possible pitfalls.
I'm sure there are dozens more ways to introduce someone. For instance, I never even touched on the classics like 'drafted into the army together', 'past connection with an established pc', and 'got lost in this dungeon!'. The key thing to remember is that a good intro will bring the new PC into the group with little snag or resistance. A bad one can start an inter party war, or at least get the newbie shunned from the group.
So, how do you go about handling those issues? Do you have a favorite way of bringing a new PC into the fold?