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Being Assimilated

- Or how to integrate yourself into a roleplaying group

- By Skimble

Many of you will be facing the challenge of becoming a productive member of a new or existing roleplaying group in the coming weeks. This can be a daunting task, especially if you have been used to gaming with people who were already friends up until now. This is doubly true if you are joining a game which which you are not familiar.

So what can you do to make the process easier and more successful? Here are a few tips from my experience.

1) The Social Contract

As with all successful relationships, the core of building a successful relationship with a new roleplaying group is communication. One of the first things you need to communicate about is the group/game’s social contract.

The concept of a social contract is usually applied to sociology and philosophy, and is defined as:

“An agreement among the members of an organized society or between the governed and the government defining and limiting the rights and duties of each.”

You may be thinking that this is irrelevant to gaming, but in fact every gaming group has a social contract in place, usually unwritten. The social contract embodies the group’s expectations from the game and from each other, and is formed by the answers to questions like:

  • How seriously do the players in this group take their roleplaying?
  • Is power-gaming acceptable in this group?
  • Does the group focus on strategic combat or on diplomacy and social conflict, or both?
  • What is the degree of game linearity (For more on this subject, see my previous article)?
  • How acceptable is party infighting?
  • Are there any taboo subjects in the game due to the personal preferences of one or more group members?
  • Are there any special rules regarding to dice rolling? (This may seem silly, but some groups get very annoyed by people who, for example, roll their dice one at a time rather than as a pool, etc.
  • How does the GM prefer to handle rules disputes?
  • What level of metagaming is acceptable?

And so on.

You can gain an understanding of the social contract in place within a particular group by simply joining and watching, and learning by trial and error, but you will find that you will integrate much more smoothly if you aware of this sort of thing in advance.

While some GMs might communicate such information about their group and game, it might fall to you to ask these sorts of questions in order to get a good understanding of the expectations of the GM and players.

2) Don’t be afraid to take part

It can be a bit scary to start playing with a new group, especially if the game is an established one. It is by far better to dive in head first and try to play your character than to stand by the sidelines and watch to try and build up your comfort.

We all do this for fun and nobody is expecting you to be expert at the system (or even roleplaying) in the first session. Almost every gamer I know would prefer that you take the plunge and be a part of events right from the outset, as this improves the energy level of the game and increases the likelihood that everyone will have a good time.

Don’t be afraid to pause and ask questions about the setting, your character, or the rules. Make an effort to bounce off the roleplaying of the other players and you will find that your experience is much more satisfying.

3) Learn The Rules

Nobody expects you to have complete mastery of the rules in your first session, though if you have the chance a very basic familiarity with them and with the setting for the game is very useful. You do need to make at least some effort to learn the rules that pertain to your character, though. It’s a good idea to write down the rules for actions you perform commonly so that you can refer to your notes rather than having to find the rule in a book or consult the GM or other players every time. This will tend to speed up play, endear you to the GM and players, and give you increased confidence with the system as time goes on.

4) Feedback

It’s very difficult to tell how well you and your character are integrating into the group if you don’t ask for feedback. A lot of gamers tend towards the passive-aggressive ‘ignore the problem’ school of social interaction, so if you’re doing something that the group finds annoying there’s a chance you might not find out until too late.

Asking for feedback is something that absolutely every GM should do on a regular basis, and it’s a good habit for players to get into, too. Double check that any hostility from another player character is entirely In Character rather than something you did out of character, be open to positive criticism and don’t be afraid to offer constructive feedback to other players or the GM.

Roleplaying occupies a strange middle ground between game and art. It’s all in fun, but over time people get attached to their characters and stories and I’ve  seen friends fall out due to things that happened in character. It’s very sad when this happens, and if it can be headed off at the pass with a bit of reflection on all parts then it’s well worth doing.

5) Attendance Habits

Nothing annoys a GM more than a player who fails to turn up to a session without having provided adequate notice. Real life emergencies do come up of course, but if you can’t make it to a game and you know in advance then it’s common courtesy to let the GM know as soon as possible. Likewise, if you’re going to be missing more than one session you should let the GM know in advance so that he doesn’t place you at the centre of any plots to arise during your absence.

The same goes for GMs: Players need to know in advance if your game isn’t going to be running for any reason.

6) Bribe the Group

Everyone loves snacks, and it’s perfectly acceptable to bribe the group with them. It may seem shallow, but nothing ingratiates a new player with a group like free snacks.

Coda

If I were to summarise the content of this article in three words, I would say “Communication, Communication, Communication”.

Communication is the key to all successful relationships, and being part of a gaming group is really just another sort of relationship.

What tips do YOU have as far as integrating into a group? Let us know in the comments!


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