It is a Wednesday evening and you have gathered together with five of your closest friends to spend a night drinking some cool drinks, eating a hot pizza, and pretending to slay dragons. But, wait a minute, the guy who just walked through the door is a friend of one of your friends that you’ve never met before and he wants to play to. As a game master (GM), you are suddenly wondering what you should do.
There are a lot of potentially uncomfortable situations you can run into while running a role playing game (RPG), and running a game for strangers is easily one of the most uncomfortable. Exactly how you should deal with the situation usually depends on exactly where you are running the game and why you are allowing a stranger to play in the first place. Obviously, no matter the precise situation, you need to have an open mind and give the new player a chance, but beyond that you need to approach the situation very differently depending on the situation. The following advice will guide you through running a game for strangers.
Friend of a Friend – This is one of the more common situations that will cause you to run a game for someone you either don’t know or don’t know very well. Most likely your friend knows someone who is interested in playing and you have agreed to let them join or the game needs additional players and your friend knows someone willing to play. The fact that you have a mutual friend with the stranger is both advantageous and problematic. Mutual friendship makes it easier and more likely for you to become friends with the person, which will resolve the difficulty quickly. But, if for some reason your personalities clash or the player doesn’t fit well into your game, it can be difficult to remove the player due to your mutual friend. If possible, you should try to get to know the person outside the game in some sort of group activity before having them join. If this isn’t possible, then make it clear to your mutual friend that the person joining the game may not be allowed to stay and they need to accept that from the beginning.
Public Games – Sometimes you will find yourself running games at public events. This is especially common at conventions, but also can occur at gaming stores or in gaming clubs. Most likely, everyone you run for will be a stranger. Since you don’t know anyone at the table in advance, the situation is actually in some ways less awkward than when only one person at the table is a stranger. At the same time, there is a good chance of having a personality clash or rules argument with at least one person at the table. From the very start, you must take charge of the game you are running. Politely make it clear that you want everyone to have a good time, but if there is some form of dispute, you are the final arbiter. Even if you find yourself disliking someone, you should try to hide your dislike. The game will be over in just a few hours and you will likely never see the person again. It is much better to remain calm and genial than create strife over something as trivial as a game.
Complete Stranger – Most RPGs require a certain minimum number of players to be successfully run. Depending on schedules, interest, and various other real world factors, it can be hard to get enough players to run a game. The common solution is to publicly advertise that your game is looking for players. The problem with this solution is that it gets a complete stranger playing at your table. Your common interest in the game makes it likely that you will get along and that the stranger will get along with the other players, but this certainly isn’t a sure thing. To deal with this situation, you need to be very open with the new player. If possible, get all of your players together and explain the type of game you are running and have each of the players introduce themselves and briefly describe their personality. If the new player doesn’t feel comfortable after such an introduction, it is best to not have them join the game. Even using such an interview process, there is a chance the player will simply be a poor fit. Intervene as soon as you see hints of a problem and try to be as polite as possible if it is eventually necessary to remove the player from the game.