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How to Introduce a New Party Member

In the nasty sewers conquered by the Ratskin wererat gang, the group frees a kobold warlock from his shackles. Desperate for revenge against the lycanthropic thieves’ guild and their wizard master, he joins the party. With powers derived from his fiendish patron, he freezes and pierces the thieves’ defenses and immediately proves his worth. In the trials to come, he'll surely do so again and again, until he meets his fatal end in the dungeon of Underkeep.

Far from her woodland, a water nymph tries to communicate to two creatures locked in conversation inside a hill fortress. Her fey patron sent her to this tropical archipelago to find them and she didn’t plan on letting a stone wall or window interrupt her quest. She sends in her watery pseudodragon familiar to get the minotaur and lizardfolk’s attention so she can unite with them as soon as possible.

As the party recovers from their spit with a giant roper, they hear wet footsteps coming from the passage to the south. To their surprise, in comes a triton who’s been tracking them and seeks their sahuagin prisoner’s death. If they fancy him, he’ll help the party delve further into the cove; if they don’t, there might be trouble.

Most campaigns gain new characters (and even new players) throughout their lifetime. Whether it’s near the beginning, in the middle of a fiery arc, or near the end, new characters appear and must be introduced. Sometimes, introducing them can be difficult. Lots comes into play. Are they a dead party member’s replacement? Are they simply a new addition? Where is the party currently? Does it make sense to introduce them immediately? Do you care? These are a few of the questions you need to ask yourself; and as always, how you introduce a new PC depends on the group. Some people will care greatly about how a new party member joins the party, keen on having it make sense in the context of the story. Others will want the newbie to walk out of a portal and appear alongside the group as if they’ve always been there.

I’ve had to introduce plenty of new characters into my campaigns either because a new person joined the group mid-campaign or someone’s character met a terrible end the session before.

Based on my experience, I’ve split the ways to introduce a party member into three categories: in medias res, at the proper time, and as fast as possible. Let’s delve into each of these and learn about the best ways to introduce a new party member.

In Medias Res

When you’re introducing a character in medias res, you’re introducing them at the next logical step in the very session their player has them ready. This means you’ll have to work some magic to insert them into the story in a sound way. Work with the player to make this happen. Overall, this is the best way to introduce a new character. It keeps the story intact, lets the new player or the old player’s new character quickly join in on the action again, and only requires a bit of coordination and suspension of disbelief from the rest of the group.

For example, in one of my first campaigns, my brother’s character, a bumbling half-orc bard fell to his death in a violent fight with a halfling wererat rogue. The session he died during ended in the wererat gang’s hideout — a sewer of course. In between sessions, I talked to him; he wanted to play a kobold warlock. In an attempt to introduce him quickly and intelligently, I asked him if he’d be okay starting a prisoner of this gang, kept in their sewer prison. He agreed and came up with a reason why he was there. Fast forward to the next session: the party pressed onward and eventually ran into his new character and he joined the party with ease. As a plus, it made sense!

So this gist is: talk to the player, connect their new character to the story in some way, and introduce them as quickly as possible. It doesn't need to make 100% sense, just get it to 40-50% and throw them in!

At the Proper Time

If you’re willing to wait for the perfect moment to introduce a new party member, you’re following the “at the proper time” approach. Sadly, it might take longer to let a new member join this way, but it might be the right method if your group is super into immersive gameplay. In my view, this is the worst way to introduce a new member, especially if it’s a completely new player. Get people into the game, don’t stall and respect the story, giving it precedence over the fun of the new player unless you see it as a necessary evil.

Despite my trepidations, I’ve done this a time or two. In a campaign I’m currently running, one of my player’s characters was killed in a deadly battle between the party and a ravenous black half-dragon and his shadow wyvern mount. We decided to wait until the best moment to introduce her character, about an hour and a half into the session. She truly loved this character and didn’t want her to just stumble upon the party; instead, she was searching for them, knew they’d be in a certain place at a certain time, and methodically, logically found them. It wasn’t chance. It wasn’t convoluted. There was no disbelief that needed suspending. She joined the party as a new member at the proper time.

As Fast as Possible

Some folks don’t care about immersion or story sensibility and love the “as fast as possible” tactic. This means as soon as the session starts, the party gains a new member no matter the circumstance the group is in. I’ve seen groups where the new member simply fades into the group, teleports in via an extra dimensional portal, or just charges into the session-starting battle. It works, just not for all groups. Some people don’t care how their new friend joins in, they just want them there; they’re able to conjure up how and why they’re there on the spot.

I’ve utilized this approach quite a few times because I’m usually a fan of launching my new players into the campaign as quickly as possible but as a general rule, I’d stray away from it. Using “in media res” is a better approach in almost every scenario. Put a bit of thought into the new character’s arrival and drop them into your story. It’s almost always better than a portal cutting through existence and delivering the party a bold fighter or sassy ranger.

In Summary

When you’re trying to introduce a new party member to the group, there are a few ways to do it:
  1. Thrust them into the action in a plausible way.
  2. Allow them to meet the group during downtime or at a proper story moment.
  3. Drop them into the opening/next encounter.
That’s it for this week, folks. Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends, post it on Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit, and comment below.

Until next time, farewell!

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