Our inquisitor seems to be all about asking the probing introspective questions nowadays. What’s with that?
I was recently asked (along with my lady-friend) to sit in on an already-in-progress Dungeons and Dragons group. We were asked to play characters who had already been created and fleshed out and were right in the middle of a dungeon crawl, and we had never gamed with any of the other players in the group before, nor with the GM (One of the players is a co-worker of mine). This whole experience cast into relief the experience that a lot of people have when looking for or joining a new group – how does each member fit within the group? Are there any roles that exist at the table (and not just Healer/Tank/DPS or Controller/Leader kind of roles) – what kind of player roles do you or your players take? How difficult is it to fit in? How does playing a character someone else built change your perspective on the game? How hard is it to just join up in the middle of something? All these questions answered, and more! /circuspitch
Let’s start with a simple one: joining an already existing game. I think I’ve been fairly spoiled as a role-player; I’ve had the uncanny knack (and of course my own goading has helped this along) to have games spring up around me. Since I started playing I’ve never been for want of a group unless I wanted to take a break, I’ve convinced people who have never played before to game, have convinced old groups to try new games and so on. So I haven’t really had to face any adversity when coming into groups; I’ve always pretty much been able to cherry-pick (so to speak) my group’s membership. So, this game I played last weekend was something outside of my comfort zone.
I asked myself a lot of questions before going in. What would the general atmosphere of the game be? Slapstick or serious? Rules-crunchy or fast-and-loose? Lots of tabletalk and horseplay, or complete focus on the game? Obviously these are all extremes but I tend to fall on the less-serious (jokes welcome!), rules-y, and focused sides of the spectrum. I was worried that I might be too rules-y for these guys, who were more old-school types engrossed in a long-term (though infrequently meeting) 3.5 game. I tend to be a planner, and I really enjoy the aspects of a roleplaying game like DnD where you get to pore over details such as the construction of a room and try to figure out the inscrutable. I was worried that these guys might be hack-and-slash kick down the door types? Would I fit in?
I wondered about the character that was laid before me; another, former, player had created Gorstag the Barbarian, and he was (no offense) about as vanilla as they come. I had a very short backstory (I was hired by one of the other players at the beginning of the adventure) to be his bodyguard. That was it. Would the other players accept my expansion of his backstory? Should I just play him as the stereotypical barbarian? Should I even try to figure out what the original player’s modus operandi was?
As it turned out, I worried too much. Of course! It’s a game! We had some cheese and crackers, a veggie tray, some chips, some soda, and hacked and slashed our way through a dungeon. It was a bit awkward getting to know everyone at first, but that can’t be avoided. Two of us had new (old?) characters, so it took a bit of time to get the mannerisms down. I ended up going with the “alien” barbarian trope, where these customs and cultures were strange to me, and I got into a bit of conflict with the Cleric over “desecrating” remains, which I responded to by going on at length about my tribe’s belief in using everything and letting nothing go to waste. It was a good time, and I settled down from my usual hyper-creativity and just had some fun. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but that’s not a bad thing.
Best of all, it kind of refreshed me. Like I talked about last week, this was something very different. I wasn’t running a game, I wasn’t able to come up with a detailed backstory or spend countless hours honing my character, I just showed up, was given a character sheet, had the stage set (in the middle of a dungeon, in the middle of a module, no less) and hit the ground running. I liked fleshing out my character on the fly, figuring out what he could do and why, figuring out how to re-tool my equipment the next time we went to town (literally the only pieces of gear on my sheet were Greatsword and Chain Shirt, not a single other thing – I assume I was literally naked from the waist down).
I think groups will naturally form their own chemistry, and the best groups will be so much more than the sum of their parts. It’s just hard to know how to piece everything together, and how it will work.
I guess the bottom line is: don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. It sounds obvious, but try out games even with people who you don’t know. It’s great to introduce newbies to roleplaying as well; I haven’t yet met someone who didn’t love role-playing after trying it.
This is not to say that every experience will work out well. I’ve had groups not mesh and simply fall apart, but this usually happens because of scheduling and priorities (of which gaming is obviously not one). Usually, if everyone is having fun, then groups tend to stick together. I can’t emphasize how important having a dynamic GM is for this, but, and I know I seem to harp on this every week, being an attentive, creative, and energetic player goes a long way toward making everyone’s experience enjoyable.
Next week: Character classes for your players. Or, the roles we take at the table.