Monday, February 17, 2014

Try Outs For New Players

I generally check Twitter on my phone when I have time to check it. It works out for me because it lets me glance through and get updates on various facets of my life/interests in the little moments when I'm free to do so which is pretty much perfect for twitter. Unfortunately, it also means that I can't always re-find something I find which, especially on days like today, sucks when it prompts a post. The topic for today's post is in the title, and I wanted to talk about it.

The Issue...
The issue in general came up some what tangentially to another discussion. Effectively one person said that they do "try outs" for new players before they're allowed to fully join a game and some people took issue with that while others supported it.

Personally, I am for the try outs and I intend to explain my version below. Anyone who disagrees please flesh out your side below. In the conversation the big reasons I saw basically equated to it "being a game" and it being unfair to invite someone and then uninvite them later. Also the issues involved with introducing a character, shaking up the group dynamic, and then having them go away. All of which I am sympathetic to, but I think there's bigger reasons to have the try out despite these disruptions.

A Table Top Game Is A Big Social Event
The biggest reason why I'm for the try out is because a table top game is, in effect, more than a game. Yes, you are getting together to play just a game but the way you play it is very different. You aren't just logging in to a game server or something. Generally speaking people are showing up to someone's house and you are spending upwards of four to six hours at a time with these people. A new person, especially one that a player doesn't get along with, can royally mess that up and cause undue stress for everyone.

So Only Recruit Friends
This is the strongest counter argument to what I just mentioned. If you only bring friends into the game then people should get along, and normally this is true. However, just because two people can get along in normal social situations doesn't necessarily mean they'll be fine in game. For example, I have two friends who are fine if we're hanging around, getting a meal, or going to a movie but they don't like to game with each other because their play styles directly bump into each other and cause issues. Basically the strong "objective" focus one person has interferes with the strong "narrative" focus the other has and they feel they are just at odds with each other instead of helping out.

Unfortunately things like this can't really be found out until you are at the game table for a few sessions.

Player/GM Comfort Should Be Key
Everyone who is already in the game should be the game's top priority. Why? Because they're already in the game. As such it should be a top priority to preserve that level of comfort. Players/GMs who are uncomfortable don't have fun and can pull from the fun of others. One of the fastest way to move someone from a place of comfort to being uncomfortable is to change the social dynamic by adding a new element, like another person, to the game.

Much like with playstyles however, this is also something that can't be really found out until you've had the people together for a little bit.

What The Tryout Does
The tryout solves all these issues by letting everyone know they're going in to a trial period to see how they get along. This is just as important for the new person as it is for the group.

For the new person they need to see if they can fit in, if they like the game style, if they like the group, and if it is a game that they can have fun playing in. It is every bit as important for them as it is for the rest of the group because it needs to also be worth their time and a trial period gives them the opportunity to make the decision that they don't want to be in the game without feeling like they're putting you out for extra work. After all, it is just a trial period.

For the group it gives them a chance to feel out the new player. They get to find out if they like the person, if their play style meshes, and if the person is someone they're comfortable exploring new worlds and taking down all the monsters in the game with. For the GM it matters if the player can fit into the game and their GMing style just as much as with the player's playing style.

Effectively, the trial period is being up front with a feeling of "We want to make sure this works, but it has to work for everyone." Ultimately, if it doesn't work for one person and you force it you risk the whole game. So why not be upfront that you want to protect that?

1 comment:

  1. I enthusiastically agree your two positions A.L.

    First, the very important opinion you briefly mentioned (and is worthy of its own dedicated posting) that, simply put: "the game comes first". The game always comes first, which is to say the group, before individual players. In my experience, there is a strong tendency for players to think linearly - themselves, their character & how they themselves relate to the game. It's the GM that thinks of everything in relation to the group. Imagine a game where all the players generally put the group before themselves - just from that right there, that's a game people are going to tend to want to play in.

    So, with that in mind, I support the concept of tryouts wholeheartedly. Playing a one-shot at a Con is one thing, but the #1 factor for new players is that they be a "good fit". You can find that out inadvertently by the 3rd or 5th session...but why wouldn't you try to find out before that?

    I like the idea of "Guest Players" (GP) as a feeder system for new players. So, if a Regular is missing for a session you invite someone as a GP to run that PC or, more likely, to run an important NPC. That person KNOWS they're a GP, so commitment is attractively low for both GP & group. Then when you're looking for a new Regular, you're going to have a group of GPs, known to the group, as a resource of candidates. That pool of GPs is also going to have a comfort level of what they're getting into when you invite them to be a Regular.

    As GM, you're going to get a good idea of that player, particularly if you give them a NPC to run - because, unlike a Regular (usually), their agency is going to be limited. What I mean is that, to play an important NPC, for the sake of the story and the integrity of the established setting, they must play the NPC as they already are - not how the GP wants to play them. You're trusting that GP to follow directions (and this, of course, must be clear to the player, when you invite them to be a GP). That's going to be a good evaluating assignment because it forces them to put the group before themselves - as well as showcasing that person's "playing chops", if you will.