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I've got a situation I'm dealing with tonight and that I've dealt with before, but I've never had rpg.se to ask about it. So here goes:

Are there any tried-and-true methods for dealing with introducing guest-stars into ongoing campaigns? I've got a gamer joining my game for tonight and I may have another next week.

The only rule of thumb I've got for doing this is:

  • Get the guest in as soon as possible - nobody wants to wait around for 90 minutes while the main group finds their way to the encounter where the guest joins.

I'm looking for more concrete tips on this. Or am I the only GM this happens to?

To be clear, I'm not talking about players joining campaigns in the middle. I'm talking about someone showing up for just a session or two in the middle of a campaign.

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4 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

My primary methods:

  • have them take over an NPC
  • in military campaigns (esp. Trek), they've always been aboard/around, they just haven't been important/in-focus
  • In dungeon crawls, party comes upon them fighting a common enemy
    • especially good if encounter 1 of session is party routing some bad guys
    • works even better if it's a major NPC enemy, and he flees when they show up.
  • party rescues lone PC from traps.
  • new PC shows up in employer's livery, "Just following the trail of bodies"

I do make it clear to my players up front that PC vs PC isn't acceptable, but that it's up to them to link the PC's together, so a new PC is often an old friend of one or more party members by the group choice.

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+1 for the "players find the links between PCs" thing. When I first implemented that rule (an embarrassing amount of time ago) I got rid in one fell swoop the tedious "why should I trust you?" crap that infected games before that point. –  JUST MY correct OPINION Oct 30 '10 at 14:14
    
+1 for the dungeon crawl suggestions. Finding someone who is battling a common foe already is a great idea. I tried it the other way. New guy comes upon the party already battling an enemy. The battle went badly and the party was forced to flee pretty quickly. They didn't trust the new guy and when they fled, they left him behind. Of course, the party had just been betrayed by one of their own at the start of the battle, so they weren't really in a trusting mood anyway. –  BBlake Oct 30 '10 at 21:24
    
@BBlake Timing matters, man, timing matters. A new PC right after a betrayal often is doomed from the get go. –  aramis Apr 17 '11 at 2:40
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I start the game in the midst of a scene with the guest star, which besides getting the story going immediately also serves to explain why the guest star is there.

A good guest star needs the following:

  1. A reason to be there
  2. Something crucial to contribute
  3. An exit strategy for why they won't be a major character in the plot again

My other consideration is to avoid a "Mary Sue", a character that can do everything better than the players. One way to avoid this is to make them slightly less powerful than a player in the game. As they have that "crucial something" having a power edge is not important for driving them forward in the story. This is a fine balancing act and changes system to system. Its also important to remember if your getting a guest star because you are auditioning a potential new member to the group you want to make sure the character isn't to simplified.

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This depends a lot on your typical GMing style, but in general these are the main considerations:

  • Talk to your players, and make sure that they're on board with helping you get the guest star into the plot. A lot of players get into how "unrealistic" it is for their characters to have anything to do with any player who isn't in their party because they wouldn't know them well enough. Make sure your players know not to do this.

  • Use a longer than usual narrative prologue. Set up the scenario, introduce the guest star's character, and why they're important to the group.

  • Give the guest star a reason to be important. Don't just have them be some guy who happens to show up: make sure they have a reason for aligning themselves with the group (or vice versa), and give them some important service that they can provide.

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  • Here's a twist I used once — if "guest star" is a player, not a character, allow him to role play (and control the actions of) the boss of the next encounter. A challenge and change-up for the group, who may be used to your strategies by now. The guest doesn't have to be a "GM" - you can still handle the minions and special knowledge stuff. This definitely reinforces the give the guest "Something crucial to contribute" as suggested by Jeremiah.

  • Otherwise, my stand-by is to have the visiting character acting as some sort of messenger. "I've been tracking you for days!" (S)he is carrying a critical package/letter/item to one of the party members from a family member/guild leader/rival. That rival one is very fun to play out — "I am Inigo Montoya…" — initially a conflict that transforms into a short-term alliance.

    In the end, I see visitors in service to the plot. Make their stay memorable and information-rich and your group will welcome the arrival of more guests.

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Great ideas, both of them, thanks! –  gomad Oct 30 '10 at 22:21
    
Oh yeah - here's another example of the messenger guest-star "Hey! Aragorn - You left these sword shards behind back at Rivendell, so we fixed them up for you! Time for a sub-quest!" –  F. Randall Farmer Oct 31 '10 at 6:44
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