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I'm looking to start a new Savage Worlds campaign and I need a full set of players for it. I've played in games before and ran a couple of one-shots, but I've never GMed a full campaign. There's already a meetup group for RPGs in my area, so I don't think I'll have a hard time finding players.

However, how can I make sure the players I pick are players I want in my campaign? I want this to be a more serious, mature game than other games I've played in and I need players that can handle this while also being respectful to each other.

So how can I screen potential players without making them feel like it's a job interview?

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7 Answers 7

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On the one occasion we started a new group from scratch, we all went out to dinner together, during which we talked about what we were looking for in a game and did some basic worldbuilding. Also, it meant hanging out in a social situation and just getting to know each other. If it didn't end up working out, I believe it would be a softer rejection this way, either with me deciding it was the wrong group for me or with the rest of us potentially deciding to leave someone out.

It was clear that this was sort of a casual gamer interview for each other, but not in the high stakes way that a job interview would be. In our planning email, I was upfront about just making sure that we had some basic social compatibility.

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That's good advice. It's probably best to be upfront with everyone about what you are looking for and ask them what they are looking for. You can catch basic incompatibilities that way before they happen. –  TheEnigmaMachine May 12 '13 at 20:03

I've been in a very similar situation with a Savage Worlds zombie game I wanted to run, and there were several things I did that helped.

Make it really, really clear in your 'sales pitch' what you are expecting from players in the game

Be explicit here. The more detail you can give the better, and it will mean everyone starts the game on the same page about what you are trying to do.

Establish ground rules and expected behaviour in your first session with the players.

This will cover a lot of the same ground as your 'sales pitch', but do it anyway. It will reinforce your message, and make it clear to your players. This will also be the first real opportunity for your players to ask questions about what you are planning, so try to be as clear and open as you can to avoid confusion or disappointment at a later stage.

Run a prelude adventure in the same genre with the same feel as you are intending with your full campaign

I would advise you do more than a one shot here, as you really need a little more time to get a good sense of the players.

This allowed me to see how the players went about playing, including how seriously they took things and the types of experience they enjoyed and engaged with. It lets players get a look at you without too much of significant commitment, and makes it easy for them to drop out or be asked to leave if it becomes clear it isn't going to work. It also allowed me to get a feel for the group dynamics, which helped fix a few potential problems before they really started.

Also, although your question particular refers to the screening process, a couple of other points for when the game has started...

When behaviour slips (and it will), catch it early and deal with it quickly and firmly

However clear you make things at the start, players will occasionally do something that goes against what you agreed. This is fine and to be expected, but make sure you deal with it as and when it happens to stop problems from growing.

Use bennies to reinforce the type of role playing you are after

Don't underestimate this. Award bennies for serious in-character roleplaying that meets what you are hoping for. Also, if you want a grittier, more serious feel then consider being generally a little more frugal with bennies awarded during sessions.

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Like the last point, but the rest seems far too controlling. The players should have (and in the end will have, willy-nilly) as much say in the shape of the campaign as the GM. –  TimLymington May 13 '13 at 17:18

However, how can I make sure the players I pick are players I want in my campaign? I want this to be a more serious, mature game than other games I've played in and I need players that can handle this while also being respectful to each other.

So how can I screen potential players without making them feel like it's a job interview?

To me, this seems to be about expectations and managing them. As a player coming in on a new game you will have certain expectations about the game. Theses will, unless managed, be based on your past experiences with:

  1. The players
  2. The game master
  3. The game system

What you may find useful is working out your goals for the game and expressing them to the potential players up front. In my experience, expressing what you are offering will help keep the "job interview" feeling to a minimum. That done, the only real way to find out if a player is the kind of player you want in your game is to play with them.

This you can do in a couple of ways:

  • Run a one shot session with them.
  • Play with them under some other GM.
  • Talk to other people that have played with them. (use with caution)

This is not a quick process, you are building relationships and that can not be rushed. You may experience more "failures" than "successes" but don't give up. After a while you will develop a list of folks you feel comfortable gaming with.

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I’m not super-familiar with Savage Worlds so I don’t know how feasible this is, but what I have usually done is requested characters from all interested players, and then chosen the characters who best fit the intended campaign, or picked the characters whose backstories have indicated that their players have had the appropriate mindset for the game.

Obviously, you have to give them some character creation and campaign information guidelines before they start. You should also indicate how long the backstory should be, or any particularly important details you want every character to have. Players may not want to write a long, detailed backstory that may not even see play; alternatively, I have known players to write enormous backstories, which I just didn't have time to read and I just felt bad rejecting since they put so much effort into it.

A really good start is the Ten-Minute Backstory – it ensures that the players cover some important points, while encouraging them to keep things short and to the point. You might also adapt the Same Page Test to either tell players what sort of game to expect, or to gauge a player’s suitability for the particular game.

All that said, it’s also important when GMing to remember that ultimately, while the players are in some sense guests to your game, a good host caters to his guests. You can definitely sort of “set the tone” with the initial descriptions, and the various tools of the GM role are largely designed to maintain a tone, but being too narrow about what you want to see from the game may leave you with either no players at all, or players who thought they would fit in fine but are now feeling constricted because they think you’re being overly limiting. Those can be some fairly complicated issues to resolve.

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"how can I make sure the players I pick are players I want in my campaign"

As with all group games, it will become more "our campaign" than "my campaign" as it goes on.

Attending the RPG meetup and asking people what they want from a game and why they play RPGs in casual conversation will give you a good idea of whether them playing is likely to evolve into a game you would like.

Once you've met enough like-minded people, invite them to play, and you can have a slightly more formal discussion about what you all want and play the game from there. That way you all have the same expectation and have and implicit social contract.

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Definitely elevator pitch your game.

"It's a Lovecraftian cyberpunk game that focuses more on action than horror, with the good guys thwarting sinister incursions left and right."

If nobody bites, they're not interested. Include the genre and feel, as well as, if necessary, hints about the type of game. If they're veteran roleplayers, this is probably only necessary for the little first bits.

It's really hard to screen player compatibility beforehand. I've had mixed luck with this myself in my games; try to find a way for people to submit anonymous feedback-I've had players hate my games but be afraid of saying it to my face (and some who haven't, but they're not going to be a recurring issue because you can fix the game if it's broken or simply acknowledge that it's not going to be for them). I've used Google Docs for this, since it allows people to submit feedback relatively quickly and, more importantly, anonymously (if they choose to do so). It also reinforces the fact that you're listening to them, and want to see what they're going to enjoy at the table. Unfortunately, the game has to start for this to work, though you can do a demo session easily enough.

Alternatively, know your players beforehand. If you don't, you'll have to accept that the group just may not be in the game for the same reasons and you won't be able to get a feel for what they like-most of my players are all pretty happy with the standard "run-and-gun" feel of a hack-n-slash game, though one is much more interested in diplomacy (but not to the exclusion of firefights) and another is heavily invested in setting lore (which can preclude certain settings, and lead to some unfortunate metagaming). When I first ran Shadowrun with them, I hardly knew them, but it came together fairly well because those that I knew well got along with the style of the game, and it turned out that the other players were like-minded.

As far as the screening process goes, it's hard to do it without making it into an interview. You'll basically either have to get to know your prospective players, or you need to set up an interview. As a general rule, if it sounds interesting to them, they'll do well in it, so you can try with the elevator pitch thing. That said, tabletop gaming isn't set in stone, so you're likely to have a catastrophic-seeming failure.

Sometimes, as a GM, the importance is not finding the right group for the game, but finding the right story for the group. My Shadowrun players, for instance, went into the game wide-eyed and guns blazing, but by the end of the campaign they were still combat monsters and kings of the world, but they'd learned that royalty has its limits, and embraced the paranoid and dark nature of the setting, in part through constant betrayal from people they trusted who had been suborned by their enemies. This from a campaign whose second session involved the troll taking a leak on a (severely injured) unconscious guard. They went from maniacs out for a good time to careful, professional runners, and enjoyed the game just as much even though subtle methods had turned it from what they'd originally wanted to play into a much more serious, dark, but still epic campaign.

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I've done the "meet up with guys beforehand" thing, and to be honest it did feel like a job interview. And the thing of it was, there was one really bad seed in that group who simply did not make himself known as a bad seed until we started RPing. My suggestion is this: start small and always be on the lookout for fresh blood. If you have 3 or 4 guys you know work well together, you can bring in a new person for a session or two, see whether or not they'll work out, and act accordingly. It's my experience that most of the time, if they are a bad fit for you, you're a bad fit for them as well and they won't come back. If they're like our bad seed and they throw a tantrum every week but keep returning, well... you've got to talk to them about that, but I don't know that pre-screening is going to help all that much.

On top of that, there is a huge difference sometimes between how a player or GM says they want to play something and how they do actually play it. I've been a part of situations where the GM said they wanted players to do their own thing, but once we actually started playing, we were basically in 1830s London (i.e. RAILROAD CITY). I've been a GM in a situation where I wanted players to have agency but instead they just wandered around and complained that I didn't have a Master Plan for them (I'm sure I was far from blameless in that situation). A player may want to play a certain way but their previous experience is such that for them, "RPing" for instance means "not making anachronistic jokes more than 5 times an hour". The point is, there are many, many reasons short of outright lying why what a prospective player might say might not match up with what they mean.

The bottom line is, most of us are out there just to have fun gaming. It's already a fairly small cohort to choose players from in a lot of places, smaller still if you're not using one of the mainstream RP systems (I guess Savage Worlds is DnD, but unless you're hacking it to Pathfinder it's made for an older version). The only real way to know if they're compatible with your group, I think, is to actually roleplay with them and see how it goes.

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