Starting & Running Roleplays & Bringing In New Players

Getting a new roleplay off the ground or adding new people into an established roleplay can be hard for both game masters/admins and players alike. Fortunately, there are things you can do as a GM/admin or even as an experienced player to make the whole thing a lot easier for everyone. Thanks to DML for his help on this article!

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Make sure people understand how your group works and make your boundaries and limitations clear from the start.

When you're telling potential players about your roleplay, you need to describe it in clear and unambiguous terms. Descriptions like "character focused with emphasis on narrative" or "just here to have fun" could easily describe two very different groups where behavior that would fly in one would get you kicked out of another.

When you get a group together or bring in new members, the first thing you need to do is make sure everyone is or can be quickly brought up to speed on a few key issues, potentially including but not necessarily limited to:

What does your game master/admin do? Is your game master there to provide a story with pre-set, branching options that the players are to be constrained to? Is the game master supposed to run the game on its own internal logic that takes place independently of the actions of the players, and change the events dynamically to the choices of the player characters? Is the game master supposed to have no story or internal logic whatsoever, and simply play the environment to react to the players' actions? Or is there no game master, only someone who's designated to step in and say ‘guys, please play fair' when someone feels another person's cheating?

What's the purpose of your player characters? Are you there to kill monsters, score points, and win treasure? Are you there to interact with each other, and get your characters to create conflicts for each other like love affairs, corporate betrayals and death feuds? Or are you going to play the game against each other? In what way? What rules govern player-versus-player scenarios? Or are your characters there to follow a story set by the game master, with a set storyline that's controlled by the game master with little or no player influence?

What kinds of characters are permissible? How powerful and/or talented is it acceptable for characters to be? How powerful is too powerful? Must characters be some sort of supernatural, superhuman, or non-human creature? Are some creatures off the table or restricted? What kinds of backstory elements are permissible, and which are verboten? If it's based on someone else's work, are OCs allowable, or must people stick to canon characters?

Do you play with specific goals in mind? Do you play competitively, with a focus on scoring or winning? Against other players? Against the game master? Do you play co-operatively? What are players to expect from each other, and from each others' characters? If the game manager assigns set goals, are the players expected to follow them closely, or expected only to follow them where they feel it is convenient to do so?

What constitutes a social faux pas in your group? Are there persons in this group who are underaged, requiring restrictions on age-inappropriate content? Or would any of the underaged members find themselves in awkward situations if their parents caught them with subject matter they deem inappropriate? Do any of your players have beliefs or values that should be respected? Do some of your players find certain portrayals of certain things disturbing or deeply upsetting for reasons that they don't want to discuss? Get these out and written down.

What constitutes a roleplaying mistake in your group? When the game starts, is it important that the group remain in character and remain focused on the game until it's time to stop for a pizza break or go home? Or is it perfectly acceptable to spend a lot of time joking around and going on tangents between exchanges of dialogue, or during combat? Are you expected to focus on objectives or goals set by the game master, each other, or yourselves? Are you expected to provide these goals or can you expect to be provided with them? Is the game particularly silly, and are you intended to joke around or treat the whole thing as if it's a cartoon, or would that be considered obnoxious? Do other players consider their backstories sacred, and prefer that other players not touch them? Or do your players not mind if other players contribute to their characters' backstories? What kind of conduct within the game would be considered invasive, rude, tasteless, or impolite?

What's the proper posting format? Are OOC messages to be written in double brackets, or in any kind of brackets that clearly mark it as separate from IC action? Or is there a separate area for OOC talk altogether? When people make IC posts, should they write in past tense or present tense? Should it be done "literary style" (IE, written as if they're writing a book), or is it going to be a script-style roleplay?

How important is scheduling? If it's important, when can everyone get together? Is it important that all or most of the players are generally on at the same time? If so, when can everyone get on together? Or is scheduling not terribly important, and it's all right if not all players are around all the time?

What should players do if they must take a leave of absence, and how will their characters be handled when they're absent? Should players make a formal notice if they're going to be absent for awhile? How should the other people and their characters carry on if a player goes absent? Should the players try to come up with IC reasons for their characters to be absent? How long can players go absent before their characters are considered "dead," no longer part of the story, or available for someone else to play?

If you plan to run a long-term game, it's best to discuss these issues with the players before you actually start playing. Take the moment to talk with your group and find out what suits them. Find out what kinds of things they like and don't like, what they can and can't do, and where they'd be able or willing to make compromises.

If you're running a short-term game, or if you're in any situation where your players may not have the time or inclination to sit down and come to a mutual agreement, you can provide a general guide that lets people know what kind of roleplay they can expect, what the correct posting format is, as well as a general list of what types of things will and won't be tolerated.

In any case, it's always important to make sure that your players have a general idea of what's going on and how to conduct themselves - or you may very well find yourself with half a dozen players playing six different games.

Make an effort to break the ice and get new players into the flow of things ASAP

Being a new player in an established game often isn't easy, and new arrivals often find themselves feeling nervous or utterly lost. In any new game there there will be a learning curve, as new players will have to get accustomed to different players, a different environment, and a different story even if the game takes place in a universe or setting they've roleplayed before. For example, fandom RPs will inevitably stray away from canon to some degree sooner or later, so someone just invited into an established fandom RP will often be in the dark over things like who's hanging out where now, who's in a relationship with who, which characters are now enemies or rivals, who's turned over a new leaf, who's gone over to the dark side, and the general history behind how everything came to be the way it is now.

Whether fandom RP or original universe, new players need to have context established for them. Give them some history and backstory that helps them form a picture of how and why things are the way they are now, let them know a bit about the character dynamics, and let them know who generally hangs out where as well as where they are now. Ask new players if there's anything they're not clear on and whether there's anything they feel needs explained. Let them know that they're welcome to ask questions at any time.

Make an effort to engage new peoples' characters IC. Have your character ask them questions, answer their own questions, and show them around or bring them up to speed on recent events. This helps new players form a picture of the world in their minds while making them feel like they belong and are welcome in it.

If your character is supposed to be a recluse/jerk/shy/misanthrope/whatever, there are still ways you can give new players a hand. You can let them know ahead of time that your character is not likely to initiate friendly contact and give them some pointers to let them know how they can get your character to interact with theirs. You can also play a secondary character or NPC who is friendlier or more outgoing and use that character to ease newbies into the RP. Even an NPC butler or someone similar can be immensely useful. If you really can't do any of this yourself, see if there's an experienced player who can help out.

In any case, don't simply leave them in the dark guessing, because unless they have the patience of a saint they won't stick around guessing for long. Roleplaying is a social activity, and not many people will join one just to be snubbed and ignored, and hazing new players by refusing to interact with their characters or making them do all the work initiating contact in-character and expecting them to simply try harder when your character ignores theirs is a good way to come off as snobby and self-absorbed.

Remember that players want to be involved and do things.

A good way to frustrate players is to veto player actions or manipulate the game's plot with contrived in-story events (also known as railroading) any time a someone wants to try or do something that isn't in perfectly in line with some pre-plotted plan of yours or seems that it might upset some status quo. Players who start feeling like there are few to no actions they can actually take in the RP (especially when it would be OOC for their characters not to do something) will soon get fed up and leave.

If you find yourself railroading or vetoing a lot, it usually indicates some sort of problem on your end, including but not limited to:

You didn't set clear boundaries and limitations. Maybe you didn't define what constitutes being too powerful, or maybe you failed to communicate what kind of RP this is supposed to be (EG, being relationship-focused, rather than action/adventure). Perhaps you didn't make it clear that just because you're running a fantasy roleplay doesn't mean that any fantasy creature goes, or maybe you failed to make it clear that the fantasy creatures that do go are supposed to work a specific way. Before having people simply jump into the roleplay, try to make sure they have a clear idea of what goes and what doesn't.

You didn't think your setting out very well. Perhaps you decided to allow beings with godlike powers in your roleplay, but you didn't actually work out a way to actually stop one of these beings if one suddenly took a shine to destroy the place where the RP is supposed to be set. Maybe you allowed unrestricted and unlimited teleportation and telepathy as superpowers in your game, failing to take into account that you could end up with a character who could read peoples' minds to know whether they planned anything evil, then teleport into their homes and kill them in their sleep before your plot could even get off the ground. When you create your setting, ask yourself how someone really bound and determined to wreck the whole thing could do it, then try to set some checks, balances, and limits to prevent it from happening.

You're treating the roleplay too much like collaborative fiction. If you create long-term goals to be met in the roleplay, and you veto or railroad people because the actions of their characters lead away from these goals rather than toward them, you should consider that perhaps roleplaying isn't right for you and that you should try writing collaborative fiction instead. If you're really very sure that you want to roleplay, relax and stop trying to exert so much control over the plot - it's unrealistic to expect any long-term plot goal to survive a bunch of players who all have their own goals, ideas, and methods of dealing with things intact.

So if you find yourself often putting your foot down or putting a nix on player action, stop and ask yourself if one or more of these is the problem and if so, move to rectify it. Most players want to have the freedom to participate and do things; they aren't going to be happy if they feel like they have little choice but to passively watch your pre-planned story unfold.

Sometimes, you have to acknowledge that some players aren't right for your game.

If you've done all you can to be helpful and clear to new players and they still aren't gelling into your game and getting into the swing of things, you need to consider that maybe they're not right for your game and you need to politely bring it up with them - point out that they don't seem to be a good fit for your group, that every group is different, and that maybe they'd fit better elsewhere. Remember: if you try too hard to accommodate everyone, you'll end up accommodating no one, and you'll often find yourself and your players flustered and frustrated with each other due to your mutually exclusive goals and expectations coming into conflict.

So, to recap...

You might also like:

Basic Tips To Create And Run A Good RP Plot
When A Game Master Or Roleplay Admin Might Be Power-Tripping - And What To Do About It
General Roleplaying Tips & Advice
Writing Better Prompts, Starters, & Beginnings: A Few Pointers
Plot & Story Development Questions
On Plot Structure & Plotting
Common Problems In Roleplaying Characters
Exercises To Improve Your Character Writing & Roleplaying Skills

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