Cover for TWH #176, the issue this zine appeared in.
being an attempted House Organ for
Copyright © 1993 Collie Collier
Like the measles, love is most dangerous when it strikes late in life. --unnamed net-person
Since my last zine, I've had some extensive conversations with both friends and roommates concerning a new player trying to get into an established group. It can be immensely frustrating for a new player to always be relegated to the role of spear-carrier. Not understanding the rules conventions, the tone of the game, or even just the in-jokes makes you feel like an outsider. Alternatively, having someone come into your game and expect to get away with murder sometimes makes you want to commit murder on them.
I'm sure most people have been in this situation at one time or another. Smooth introduction of a new player is at least a challenge, and at most, a messy end to the game. It seems that most people have no idea of exactly why this problem came to be, or how to fix it. Some ideas that we had follow.
"Thus man wishes..."
Humans communicate in a variety of ways. One of those methods of communication consists of body language. An established gaming group will develop its own verbal and visual shorthand. This is why groups that have gamed together for a long time always seem to know what each is about to do. They are reading each other's cues, both consciously (as in oral language) and subconsciously (as in body language).
Into this happy little band comes an outsider. Let's say she has a "gaming language", but it is different from that of the established group. Two behavioral possibilities exist. The new person will either become part of the group, or not.
"...to be peaceable;"
If the jargon of the established group is learned, then there is a successful assimilation of the new person. This is, of course, the desired result. The amount of the new person's dialect integrated into the "group speak" depends both on the openness of the group and the force of will of the new person. Either way, some compromise or change has been accomplished, and both parties are happy with the resultant "language".
"...but in fact..."
Unfortunately, the life of someone entering into a somewhat closed or long established group can become really unpleasant, without the individual understanding why. The old company has become set in its ways. No change is permitted. Everyone knows their place and what types of characters they are expected to play. There are often unspoken assumptions about how ugly the game can get, or who the scapegoat is, or whether it is okay to mock beaten opponents, or whatever. In a previous zine I have referred to this type of group as "incestuous".
The new person often upsets the established pecking order. Believe me, nobody gets hostile more quickly than a group leader who feels, rightly or wrongly, that their position as top dog is being threatened. New players in the game may also have different expectations of how the game is played. Aggressive inter-PC arguments, or whether killing an opponent is a viable option, can be a shock and/or disillusion any player. They might see these actions as unfriendly or unheroic.
"...woman is essentially unpeaceable,"
This is not necessarily wrong behavior. It is simply that the two languages being spoken have not evolved a common ground. The only time that this becomes incorrect behavior is when someone(s) refuse to change.
"...like a cat,"
If the established group refuses to accept any variations, the new person must be the one to change. This can be done by changing one's personal assumptions as to acceptable behavior. Also, a difficult PC can be exchanged for a new one. Becoming accepted may take a while but is feasible. One's own different ideas must be stifled in an attempt to absorb "group-think". However, if you have to bend so much to fit in, it is usually your best bet to simply leave such a group. They have created their own (in my opinion) stagnant little sand castle, and they don't want you to question or kick at it.
"...however well she may have assumed..."
If the new player will not compromise, things will also be difficult. The group can attempt to patiently and consistently insist on what they consider good behavior and/or taste. This technique works well in animal training. Poorly socialized people sometimes respond well to this type of calm encouragement.
Being blatantly truthful with the player often will fix things. Sometimes a player is not even aware of the discomfort they cause. Alternative characters can be suggested, if an unfortunate sort of PC is the usual choice. (Example: "I want to play a soulsword wielding, half-elf, telepathic, red-headed ninja assassin!" "Umm, we were kind of hoping you'd play a super-hero, like the rest of us!" :-). Ideas to hook in the new PC with older, more experienced PCs can be explored. A new character can use a connection to an established character as an introduction to the group.
Again, if all types of encouragement towards change are futile, having the offending player leave is probably the best choice. This does not have to be a painful and unfriendly occurrence. Tell the truth: running or playing in a game where everyone is uncomfortable is not fun. If the game isn't fun, why play?
"...the peaceable demeanor."
To conclude: to me, truthful compromise is the best answer to many social problems in gaming. Compromise can lead to positive change; an absence of change will cause stagnation.
Keeping mentally flexible will help you to accept change. Some things I do to keep myself mentally agile follow. For starters, don't always play with the same people. Learning new languages, even if they are only those of a subculture, is always broadening. Let new people into your group -- it takes a different type of courtesy to be friendly when you are in the majority and have nothing to lose. Try different types of PCs. A player who is tactically oriented trying to play someone who is oblivious to danger can be amusing for everyone in the game. Above all, be willing to try something new. Stretch your skills! Change doesn't only keep you interested, it keeps you interesting.
Paragraph headers on the above courtesy of Nietzsche.
Last Updated: Mon Aug 4 1997