View Full Version : Ask a GM [01/21/09]: Vetting a New Player

01-20-2009, 04:56 AM
For this week's Ask a GM topic, I posed the following question to our GM panel:

How do you go about vetting a potential player into your game? Do you meet with the player beforehand, invite them over to watch a session, or have them dive in -- sink or swim style. What if you end up inviting the player, but after a few sessions they aren't working out? How do you handle that?

The very nature of a site like Pen & Paper Games is to bring people together from different walks of life who enjoy the same thing - roleplaying. It's an awesome thing when you can travel outside of the confines of your social circle and meet new people, but at the same time, it can lead to disaster for a gaming group if the player isn't properly "vetted." This is even more important when you are taking on the daunting task of putting together a group from scratch. If you bring together the wrong mix of people, the group can implode before it ever really get's started.

So, what's a GM to do?

Step One - Talk to Your Current Players
Before you set out to bring in any new players into your group, you should first discuss it with your players. I really do consider my D&D group to be a part of my social circle, and before I bring anyone from the outside into that, I want to make sure my players are comfortable with that. This is something that I try to make sure I do before I have conversation-one with any new players.

Step Two - Interview the Potential Player
This is something that is really critical for the GM to do before bringing in the player to the gaming group. Once the player has attended even one session, it gets harder and more emotionally tense to remove them in my experience. So, after I have found a potential player either from the Player Registry or a referral from one of my players, I set aside some time to chat with the person first by phone and then usually in person as well.

Usually the first thing that I try to do when I interview a potential player is to get a feel for their ideal game. What things do they like, what things do they dislike? Do they like a game with a lot of action and combat or perhaps something more intrigue-centric? If your game is heavily roleplaying centered and they like something a little more akin to a scene from "300," this might be your first red flag. It certainly doesn't disqualify a player from playing in my game if they prefer a different style, but I do want to make sure they will enjoy playing a different kind of game than they might otherwise. And, hey, if you're a versatile GM who run and enjoy different styles of games, knowing what your potential players want is a great way to start forming up your new campaign.

Overall, here are the typical topics I generally cover.

What roleplaying games / systems does the player most enjoy.
What style of gaming do they like -- heavy combat, roleplaying, a good mix? Intrigue, dungeon delving, dark and gritty, epic save the world type?
How often do they want and will they be able to play? Will they usually be available for games? Do they have any periods that they aren't available for? This is especially critical to find out if you are putting a new group together, since a lull of several missed game sessions when one or more players isn't available can kill the enthusiasm for a new game.
How long have they been gaming? If they are new to gaming, you'll want to make sure that you and your group has the patience for having a new player and if they don't own the manuals or even dice, that you have some extras they can borrow during or even between games. If they're hardened, grizzled players who have been gaming for decades, then you can probably guess that the standard fare of "Answer the King's call and save the damsel in distress," is probably old hat -- so you should be prepared to spice it up a little.
How would they describe themselves as a player. This is a little abstract, but their answers can be enlightening.
Do they have any pet peeves? If you're running a dark and gritty campaign and they believe that the protagonists should always be shining heroes, this might be something you want to discuss. Or, if they hate it when GMs use house-rules, and you run your games "fast and loose," this can signal a problem.
Now it's your turn. Take time to tell the new player about your group (or the other players you have invited so far). Tell them about the type of game you will be running, your preferences, your house rules, and any information that would be helpful about the gaming system and/or story. I like to have a short intro or teaser to let the player read so to see if this is the sort of game they would enjoy. Be careful though, if you have a long running campaign, try not to bore your new recruit with hours of back story.

Step Three - Talk to Your Group
Okay, you have interviewed a potential player and you like him or her. They seem to gel well with you and you think they'd be a good fit for my group. Before springing them at the next gaming session, I recommend going back to your group again and tell them what you've learned about the new player. By this point, I've generally spoken with the potential player in person and have spent at least an hour talking about them and our group. Give the group your honest impressions and tell them about any pitfalls you see.

Step Four - A Trial Run
You've chatted with your group and everyone is on board with bringing in the new player. Here, I recommend inviting the player with the understanding that the first session or perhaps even the first several sessions are a trial run. This will give the new player a chance to see if he or she likes the game, and it gives the group a chance to see how well the new player fits in.

And Finally...
After the "trial period" is over, it is a good idea to chat separately with each of the players and see how they feel things are going with the new player. If the consensus is that things are going well, then great. If they aren't and you don't think that the problem can be easily resolved, it's probably best to cut the player loose -- or as my Dallas group was wont to say, "Vote them off the island." Many a'time have I tried to force a square peg into a round whole by trying to keep a player on despite the group's and my misgivings, and without fail I wished in the end that I had listened to my gut and made the painful, but necessary snip.

Most of the time, there's no way around it, if you have to remove a player because they aren't working out there is almost certainly going to be some hurt feelings. Its going to be even more difficult for both parties if this person is a friend or coworker. This is why I think it is so important to really take the time at the beginning during the "interview" stage before inviting a new player into the game.

When It Doesn't Work Out

Ways that you should NOT "tell" the player things aren't working out:

Killing every character they make session after session or otherwise thwarting their character's every move hoping that they will eventually get so frustrated with the game that they won't come back. Unless they are truly clueless, they are going to recognize this as a malicious way for you to get them to leave, so you haven't saved yourself anything.
Scheduling or rescheduling games and simply not telling them about it. This is pretty underhanded and eventually you are going to get busted, so you might as well come out with it. The same goes for constantly scheduling the games for days and times that the player can't come...
Writing the player an email. Unless this is a play-by-post / online game, it's probably best that you at least have the conversation over the phone -- if not in person. Rejection is bad enough. Getting "email-dumped" is just adding insult to injury.

What you should do is:
If at all possible, talk with the player in person and as soon as it becomes obvious that they just aren't working out. Don't allow it to languish over multiple sessions. In general, it is probably best that the GM have the conversation with the player -- you didn't think it was going to be all fun and games did you? -- However, if someone else in the group has a close relationship with the player, it might be okay for them to give the player the bad news. Whoever does it, it is best to do it privately after the game away from the other players. My advice is to just come out and tell the player that while you may think they are a cool person and still may want to hang out with them, they just aren't going to be a fit for this gaming group. Perhaps someone out there has a more suave way of putting this, but the bottom line is I think being honest and nonjudgmental in your discussion is the best way.

If they want feedback on why, give it to them in the most neutral way you can. Focus on explaining differences between their style and the group's instead of making it a discussion of their perceived character flaws. If, however, it really comes down to some personal flaw, be it hygiene, belligerence, general disruptiveness or whatever else is going to be a problem no matter what kind of group they try to join, then if you can bare it, bite the bullet and tell them. You'll probably get some blow-back for your trouble, but maybe the person just truly needed to have someone come out and say it before they could grow out of it as a person.

(And, what the heck, if they don't already know about penandpapergames.com, you might want to go ahead and tell them about this site or others out there than could help them find a group more suited to them)

That's my advice. Take it for what it's worth, and read on for more good advice from our panel.

01-22-2009, 12:23 AM
Excellent question, because it touches on a sensitive but necessary topic.

I think it's very important to not only match people up with my campaign style, but also the other folks at the table. While some tension can be a very good thing, too much of it between players can be a very bad thing.

Before I ever bring a new gamer into my house, I give them a list of things that I require of anyone who visits. These are actually not all related to gaming, and are very simple; but they are also very important pass/fail points.

You have to be clean. I tell people up front to wear clean clothes and shower or bathe appropriately.
I have a wife and kids. You have to be nice to them.
I have a dog and cat. If you have strong allergies, skip on it.
Smoking is for outside. Butts are for the ash can. Do not fail on either count.
Drinking is welcome, casually. Getting drunk, or doing any form of drugs is not.
Rules are debated after the gaming session, unless it's a "live or die" ruling or I state otherwise in advance.
Everyone will create characters that can play as a team, unless the campaign dictates otherwise.

I know the first one sounds especially mean, and I don't enjoy saying it -- but it has been quite useful and many people sound relieved to hear it when I say it. I have run into more than a few stinky gamers in my time (an extreme minority, but still) and I just don't want to deal with it in my house.

Which is the point of most of my rules up there. They set the stage for what I expect at the table: people who are clean, affable, and ready to have fun in the game with each other.

The question about what to do if it's not working out is an important one too. Not every campaign is for every player; and not every mix of personalities works out. I have not had to do this much, but I have told more than one person that they are no longer welcome in my home. The key to it is to be polite. You are already kicking them in the nuts by telling them they aren't welcome to play; you don't have to beat them into a pulp over it. That's not the goal. The goal is to just admit that you don't run a game they can enjoy, and that it's best that they look for one that they can.

I can't say that this makes people smile and thank me, but by sticking with a simple message that does not say "We all decided that you are a jerk and can't imagine anyone liking you." it makes the conversation quick enough and direct enough to get it done. I don't advise waiting until they show up for the next session to do this either. That's rude.

The minute you know you don't want them around, you need to contact them and tell them. It does not have to be in person, but it has to be clearly communicated by the best means you have -- and you can't beat around the bush.

For the games I run, that's about all the advice I can share because it's the fullness of what I use. The rules above filter out enough people who see it and decide that I'm not for them, and while I have not done it in more than a decade, my willingness to politely remove people who don't match after a few sessions takes care of the rest.

The end result is what I think is the most important: A table full of people who can have a great time gaming, and who can become friends in the process. I've moved enough times and restarted from nothing to see that this works and hope it's helpful to others.

Now I have to go face the firing squad... :eek:

01-22-2009, 12:23 AM
First off, I've always had the problem of having regular, tabletop players stick-they almost always either move, or vanish after the first meeting As an aside-I do have to say, if a player doesn't like the group or the times not good for you or whatever, I'd appreciate letting me know-and not leave me hanging and wondering what happened.

Generally I try to meet the player(s) before the actual start of play, mostly to do character creation and that fun stuff, at a 3rd party location. Unfortunately a lot of the people I've met never made it past that stage (usually the weird, creepy people are the first to go, and some of the others who I do want to return, vanish after that, for unknown reasons). I only had one person I did ask to leave (nicely-it was more for that he was upsetting other players, rather than not being on time, and such) and he never showed up after that.

As far as PBPs go, generally I tell them to jump in as soon as they have a character. Almost 60-75% of new players I get, I get a character sheet sent to me and okay'd, they disappear online for a month or more (ignoring my emails the entire time) and then they decide to email me saying "What happened to my character/that game/why aren't you automatically NPCing my character and why aren't you playing him/her right?" I don't like NPCing new characters, especially when they never posted in the game forum, mostly because if they are asked to leave the game, I really don't have to worry about writing the character out. If said player comes back after a long hiatus and do want to play, I do emphasis they need to make an effort of actually (and consistantly) posting-it's unfair to the other players who actually do make an effort to the playing game. If the hiatus is repeated several times, I do tell them nicely that they can't play in whatever game they orignally were suppose to be in.

I haven't actually said to anyone that they can't be in any of my games at all-I do think that's a little extreme, though.

01-22-2009, 12:23 AM
I too like this question, however I have never had a group get to this point and don't really have any first hand experience with either situation, in the past. The groups have usually just disbanded because the point came where only 2 or 3 members would be able to get together at any given time due to everyone's schedule. We have discussed this in our "Tsojcanth" group, in case we would find ourselves in this situation.

As for bringing in a new member, we have to make certain that any potential player doesn't have a problem with children being around, since our game session hosts have 3. Once we clear this hurdle, we figure that it may take a session or so to really get a feel of the new person. As long as they are not disrespectful and will be able to commit to coming to game sessions, we are pretty easy going. We seem to "talk" with someone that may be a potential join to the group, mostly online here at the site first. This way we get a general feel of what type of player/dm they may be. Once we feel comfortable, we will invite them to come to a game session. Now for someone that is known by another member of the group, we would just have them come to the first game session that they are able to.

As to having to ask someone to leave, we have not really had any problems other than some folks that have not been to a game session in quite awhile. Since it seems that their schedules don't seem to work well for them to be able to game, our plan is to ask if they will be able to attend future sessions. If they tell us that they won't be able to make it, we plan to ask them if they would mind if we would get another person to run the character that they had started, in order to have someone there to keep the game session going smoother and make a little less work for the dm. Our group's hope is that we never have to be rather mean about asking someone to step aside or just leave completely, but I have heard "horror" stories that led groups to have to get rather forceful about someone not returning to the group. I can only hope that I will never have to encounter that type of situation.

I look forward to reading the other responses from the rest of the GM panel as well as other members that have had more experience with what can be a rather sensitive subject.

01-22-2009, 01:19 AM
I am generally very careful with my tabletop groups. I like to chat and read posts and interact with people for a good month, if I have an already established group that i want to add a player to.

I try to give the prospective player a clear picture of what to expect and how I run it, and what the deal is, I'm the DM, I make the rulings, as a player you got to take the initiative, and be a part of the team and a part of the story. No lone wolves, minimal splitting up, no Emo crap, unless it is in character for the character, no PVP, I run it gritty, kind of hard core save or die type stuff like Iron Heroes, or modern games with no raise, nor res.

That's generally my style, and 90% of the people i am not gonna get along with insult me or something by that point, or argue about what I've just laid out, because they want "a long standing 40th level character", or they don't like the idea that I have characters age out of the campaign and die.

Online games, I like to meet with them off and on for about a week. then i'll give them an invite, Unless it is a built from the ground up group, in that case, i'll just see who makes it in, who is regular to show up, how much do they put into their character, etc.

9 times out of 10, for an online game, I can see if they are pushy or demanding, or a min maxer, I just tell them "Look, this isn't going to work out, you need to find a different game or Guy to DM for you, because our styles clash, and I really forsee long term problems."

I don't personally want to deal with people with ultra low self esteem, pushy, demanding, manipulative, etc. none of that. Or people that say, "yeah, in my last group this little toothpick whiner, man i shoulda snapped him in half." no drug or alcohol problems, satanists and proud of it, or especially, guys in a group of girls who are hitting on the girls and leering, making the girls leave. ditto for guys that can't stand to have women in the group for whatever reason.

I agree, let them know it isn't going to happen, as soon as you can and be direct.

in 2005, I had a guy stalk me exactly for a year after i kicked him out of a group. He posted fake suicide notes twice, etc. I like drama in the game, but not in real life, so yeah now i take a good month to get to know people.

01-23-2009, 02:58 PM
i seldom find myself in round-the-table groups. and i should probably preface that with a bit of history.

warning! strong flashback ripples! backstory ahead!my first exposure to roleplaying was one of three experiences, i no longer remember which was first... gaming star frontiers with a friend, d&d at boy scout camp, and d&d with a local church group. ever since then i burned to play, but had no one to play with. so i read and reread and read again all the books my dad had (he wouldn't game with me either) and made endless maps and characters.

eventually my mother was worried that i was obsessing and asked me to stop altogether. after some discussion i decided to acquiesce to her request and instead read massive amounts of fantasy, mystery, and sci-fi. for several years. i then went back to my mom and explained that i was still interested, and wanted to play-assuming i could find people that i was willing to play with, coupled with assurances that i wouldn't play with people with radically different standards-and that the years of abstinence proved that i wasn't obsessing, and that i was willing to be obedient to my parents. happily, she agreed, with reservations perhaps, but nonetheless agreed and gave her permission.

now blessed with approval, i went in search of game. for years. i would play a little here, a little there, but either my family moved, or i broke it off for some reason or another. and in between i read and read whatever i could find.

in high school i found some friends to game with and we played a number of systems, and freely hopped between one and the other, even creating conversion rules and tables for the various systems we played. later i found another dm with whom i gamed for a while, before we moved again.

finally i became fluent with the emerging internet and got back in touch with all the really good gamers from my life and game with them to this day. so, anyway, thanks for slogging through all that... the point of all that is that due to my experiences, i approach this topic from the perspective of the eternal player in search of game. when i vet a group out there are a number of things i look for. in no particular order:

location, location, location. as in, how far is said location, what is the surrounding environs like of said location, and is said location savory, hospitable, and clean.
host and game master and players... are they savory, hospitable, and clean?
belief systems of the players and if/how they carry this into game and character. will my characters or myself be subjected to moral and ethical situations based upon (a) given belief system(s), and is that a written or unwritten thing? belief systems available to characters are also a point of interest.
styles of gaming and characterization, or lack there of. this ties in closely with the following...
personalities of the gamers, do they have them, and are they nice? how well does everyone respect each other, or is the cutting repartee and the bruised feelings the order of buisness?
recreational substances, are we talking real food and drink items here, or are we talking about perception altering items?
system, it's theology, cosmology, and any custom variants thereupon in effect.
system hopper, game hopper and the like. do they do it, and if so how frequently? i'm not the continuity police here, but neither do i want my gaming to be like an endless night of channel surfing, either.
family oriented or not? peoples mindsets change from before marriage and kids to after either or both marriage and kids. makes a difference in game, too.
maturity... are they? if they are less so, is it in a fashion that one is willing to deal with?
language. i don't use what is termed obscenities or vulgarities in my speech, and i freely and openly admit that i have a low tolerance for such. the occasional heartfelt explitive is completely understandable, but i will notice, even if i politely don't react. especially if the "occasional" aspect falls to the wayside.

these are all things that have come up in one form or another at one point or another, separately or in combination. great ways of gaining this information is to talk with not only the gamemaster, but any hosts and players involved. preferably both in a non-gaming environment and in a gaming environment, so you can see how and if they behave the same, or differently from one setting to the next. i especially like to spend some time with the people i'm considering gaming with during their other social activities... frequently a telling indicator becomes visible.

to be honest, the end result of my screening processes is that i do most of my gaming online, spend a lot of time reading rulebooks and acting as a game consultant for those less picky than myself. on the plus side, i don't really have any stories of conflict, 'bad gamers', or 'bad sessions' because i've actually never been in such a situation before. i've also never been told that i wouldn't fit into a group, or asked to leave either.

all the people i've gamed with for extended periods of time have been great people, resulting in wonderful game sessions.

01-23-2009, 03:48 PM
language. i don't use what is termed obscenities or vulgarities in my speech, and i freely and openly admit that i have a low tolerance for such. the occasional heartfelt explitive is completely understandable, but i will notice, even if i politely don't react. especially if the "occasional" aspect falls to the wayside.

Oh my. You'd probably leave my game within the first hour of play, I have to admit.

i do most of my gaming online [...] and [act] as a game consultant for those less picky than myself.

Game consultant? Qu'est-ce que c'est ca?

01-23-2009, 04:15 PM
Game consultant? Qu'est-ce que c'est ca?

i am the go-to guy for ideas. need an idea? i generate ideas constantly. i guarantee quantity, not quality. but it should be noted that my customers have all left a brainstorming consultation session satisfied, and with at least one of three things: usable ideas to apply to their situation, a honing of their own ideas as a result of dross being washed away in the deluge of my ideas, or a kickstart to their own creative gearing from the volume of transfusion of my ideas.

plot twists, names, places, histories, timelines, complete planets, cultures, races, languages, maps, items, adventures, over-arcing campaign threads, technologies, mindsets and belief systems... you name it, i can come up with ideas for it. =D

i currently don't charge, so it's first come first serve, catch it as i can sort of a thing, though i make a point of trying to help time-sensitive situations earlier. i'm open to donations and bribes, either of which customers will be promptly attended to. see my amazon or b&n wishlist (or just ask me!) in such an event. heheheheh. =D

02-12-2009, 07:51 PM
Whenever I have had a new player it has been done by referal by an existing player. The other times I have been the new player in the campaign and met the group that way.

03-18-2009, 01:19 PM
Are you looking for a player or a new friend?

If you're looking for a player, and only a player, it sounds like you're filling a void for a personal pleasure.

I'd hate to find out that the reason I'm playing is I filled the gap in the party.

Since I hope players live nearby, that life is going to be more than "see you a few hours every so many weeks" and whatever happens in your life is your problem and really isn't important to me.

If you're joining my group, you are joining a group of friends. When something happens that is good for you - we cheer. If something bad happens, - we care. And that sometimes carries into the actual game;)

03-18-2009, 05:39 PM
Sometimes it's both - but not always...

03-23-2009, 09:43 PM
I remember a while back that my roommates and I used to play DnD at least 3 times a week. The only guy would consistently make annoying characters because that was his way of enjoying the game. Slowly, we would game more often when he was working and he was a bit slow to catch on why he wasn't gaming as much anymore. As cruel as it was, I confronted him on it, and explained to him in no uncertain terms the reasons why we didn't game. I was rude, or vindictive; I explained it to him the best I could without trying to hurt his feelings. It worked, and we gamed more often again regardless if he was around. He was ok with it as far as I know.

Moral of the story: it's scary to confront some people about issues in terms of being a good player, but most people have no idea the effect they have on other players. That crummy player could have a great player underneath that crusty exterior... you just need to smack him around a bit :p

03-30-2009, 08:06 PM
I remember a while back that my roommates and I used to play DnD at least 3 times a week. The only guy would consistently make annoying characters because that was his way of enjoying the game.
I once built a character in response to another player's annoying character. Regretably, that charcter died and I was left with my 'annoying' character. His name O'Kai Musashi - he would usually reply okay! Once, one player said,"Fine! Just kill me now." I started rolling dice :laugh: