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I moved into a house share with my friends (ages 24-29), and they play role-playing games on weekends at the house, but they won't let me join in because they say it's not fair to the players that have been in the group for a while. Specifically, it seems that it's not fair on the DM to have to write in a new character. I can understand this, but one of the members dies nearly every month and has to write a new character.

As a newcomer to role-playing games, I'm not sure how this all works. Is it usually necessary to join a group when the group is just starting a new story? Or is it possible to join an existing game?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 17 at 16:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ How many people are there in the group you asked to join? \$\endgroup\$ – mjt Apr 17 at 23:20
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Is it possible to join an existing game? Yes ... but ...

... there appears to be a small group dynamics issue that needs to be addressed.
(More on that at the end).

Joining a campaign that is in progress

The key here is to find a way to fold a new character into the "adventure in progress." I've done this dozens of times, as both DM and player, but it takes a willingness on the part of the DM, and the group, to accept a new player at a point in the story where it makes sense to encounter or find a new player character to join the group.

Sometimes, there is a natural break: the party needs to get to the harbor and onto a ship, so they meet on the ship. Party comes up out of a dungeon, and they meet in town while preparing for the next adventure. Ways that we have done this over the years include:

  1. Character is found chained to a wall in a room in the dungeon.

  2. Character meets the party at the duke's hall, while waiting for an audience with the Duke

  3. Character encounters them as part of a merchant caravan

  4. Character arrives with a letter/message/news that has relevance to the next step in the adventure

  5. Meet in a tavern while having a pint

    There are literally hundreds of ways to do this, in a narrative sense.

"It wouldn't be fair"

There are a number of ways to fold a new player character into an ongoing campaign. Sometimes they enter at a level or two below the current characters, other times at the same level. That depends on the table: I've seen it done both ways. The group needs to welcome the new player character.

  • If the feeling at this table is that 'you have to earn your levels' then there may be a mechanical problem: if everyone is level 7, and your character starts at level 1, you may be in for a lot of frustration since that kind of level disparity can be lethal to a character, while the higher level characters may feel that their progress is held back by a lower level adventurer.

  • A way around this: work with the DM to have some solo or small group sessions where you have a chance to get used to the game and to earn some levels. (Or have the PC die trying, which can also be fun ...)

You mention that

Specifically, it seems that it's not fair on the DM to have to write in a new character. I can understand this, but one of the members dies nearly every month and has to write a new character.

Actually, that's the perfect time for you to join in. After one of the current player characters dies, and the player needs to make a new one, your new character (which you create along with the DM's oversight) can join in when that other new character joins in.
Suggest that to the DM, and to the group.

Your problem here isn't anything to do with the game

That your "friends" into whose dwelling you moved are unwilling to find a way for you to meet up with the party during the adventure is a sign of something well beyond the game needing to be addressed. Friends don't stiff arm friends like that.

You need to have a serious conversation with the DM - away from the group

Find out why they don't want a new character in the adventuring party.

  1. Group too big?

  2. Group is worried your inexperience will be a drag?

  3. Someone in the group doesn't like you?

  4. The table is competitive with D&D? (You have to earn your levels!)
  5. Something else?


There is a lot going on here that has to do with small group relationships, not the game. Resolve those first.

Or find someone else to play with

We have a number of Q&As about how to find gaming groups. Here is one and here is another.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, for answering the question as asked, but also for giving the answers OP needed. This is primarily a "people" problem rather than a "D&D" problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Josh Apr 17 at 13:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is only a people problem. This answer could be improved by putting that at the top, instead of burying it near the bottom. \$\endgroup\$ – aherocalledFrog Apr 17 at 16:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aherocalledFrog I appreciate your perspective (and don't disagree) however the player is new to RPGs. If they want to engage with the DM and the Group - beyond the "why are you giving me the stiff arm" discusion that has to take place - I have offered some experience based points on what may be going on, and some ways on 'how to join in' so that they have some 'ammo in the clip' for the conversation on how to join in (once the other obstacle falls). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 17 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aherocalledFrog Definitely agree that this is a people problem, not a DnD one; but it is a DnD question, not a people one! Answer the DnD question first, address the real issue after. The order is better left as is IMHO. \$\endgroup\$ – RyanfaeScotland Apr 17 at 18:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like your answer, although you are a bit harsh on the friends without proper knowledge of the situation. I have friends who don't take very likely to not be inculded, 'just because' they would be the 7th person for a 6-player tabletop game, so usually they aren't even informed. Don't take this action as offensive without speaking with someone first, I know I would and this won't help to solve the issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Azzarrel Apr 18 at 7:54
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The old-school response would be "of course not; join any time". The idea being that D&D is an entertainment hobby, and players may drop in and out at any time as per their availability, and the game sessions are basically self-contained picaresques.

Consider that the earliest D&D campaigns could count 20 to 50 players as participants. Obviously one couldn't count on exactly the same set of players in every game session based on that.

I can imagine a few ways where modern play might slip away from that, with heavy narrative-based, railroady storylines and whatnot. E.g., I enforce a rule that PCs must escape from the dungeon and get back to home base at the end of every session, and then same-as-real-days pass between sessions (as per original D&D rules), which smooths out explaining the appearance or disappearance of new PCs. If one loses that legwork then things may feel a bit more crunky to handle.

Anyway, I would personally love for you or other new players drop into any of my games at any time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's how our 5e campaigns go; whomever is available plays that evening. Of course, we all started old school ... ;) Loved your choice of "picaresque" as descriptive. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 17 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you ever have issues with your house rule regarding dungeons? Does it ever induce an early end to the session as players are ready to tackle a new dungeon or cause sessions to go way over time due to longer-than-expected delve times? Is your campaign mostly a dungeon crawler that lends itself to this style? I'd be open to continuing this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Weasemunk Apr 17 at 14:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Weasemunk: Our end times are very consistent. Players know they need to get out and there's a few wandering monster checks (both dungeon and wilderness) to get back to town. Also that's required to earn XP so they're eager to lock that in as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel R. Collins Apr 17 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Weasemunk if you go to the web page hosting Daniel's OSR and OD&D style approach, here you'll see that he runs combats that are pretty quick paced. The "get to town, but wandering monsters check!" is still (comparatively) brief IRL time in contrast to some of the later edition pacing I've experienced. So his structure of "each session ends back in town" is quite achievable. I've played in games like that: heck, a lot of my play in the 70's was in games like that. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 19 at 3:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great, thanks for the reference! \$\endgroup\$ – Weasemunk Apr 22 at 15:56
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I very much concur with what you will find in the other answers, but I think there are a couple points worth addressing or emphasizing as well as a need to answer the precise question.

Yes, it is Possible and Normal

To answer your exact question of whether it is a possible thing to do and a normal thing to do, it is simply an objective fact that the world of this hobby is full of many groups integrating new members/characters at some point or other if not frequently. Groups lose someone, never had enough people to begin with, or just have a person they want to play with. To cite personal experience I've had it happen, albeit usually early on, in every group I've had that did not start as a close friend group and lasted more than two sessions. One of mine that is a friend group is planning to incorporate a new member at the next good juncture, in part precisely because they are a housemate of the player whose house we play at, as well as it being a friendly thing to do and something that should help round out the party.

Exactly how common it is in the hobby overall is something nobody could really know for certain, but it is not uncommon by any means.

But Don't Play With People Who Don't Want You

However, I think it is important to emphasize, that a group that does not want you there is not a group you are likely to enjoy playing with. Even if your very best friends, if some of them are dead set against it then human nature would be for at least some of them to notice the problems with your play and playstyle disproportionately to the positive contributions you make. This doesn't necessarily mean it would not work out if they gave you a shot, simply that there is a high likelihood of it not being a good experience.

Never play where you are unwanted, it will rarely be a pleasant experience. The conventional wisdom is that no D&D is better than bad D&D, though that is of course a matter of opinion. In any case unless you are in a very small community, very shy about new people, or simply not interested in a group that is not already your friends, you should have no trouble finding other groups that want a new player and statistically some of them should mesh with your play.

And Don't Hold Turning You Down Against Your Friends

There may be some underlying personal issue with you or how they anticipate you would be as a player. Or there may be some misconception of how incorporating a new player would go that has unreasonably prejudiced them against it. However there are also several fairly sensible reasons that have nothing to do with you why they would not want another person in the group.

The absolute best and most common would be that one more person is simply too many for the group. Every additional player means less time other characters can be taking an active, or at least the most active, role in things, and longer they have to wait for their combat turn. It is also more work for the DM, and still more the more carefully they tailor the adventure to the characters.

The next best would probably be that they simply have a group dynamic they are very happy with and are afraid to mess with success. A really good group dynamic is a precious thing, which some will guard carefully. If you were a stranger they could probably try you out, see if you mesh, and drop you if it doesn't work out without ever needing to worry much about it. When you're a friend who lives with them though it's a very different situation where rejecting you after a session is much more uncomfortable than preemptively excluding you.

They may really not want to deal with showing a new player the ropes, which is not something I personally can remotely identify with, but is a perfectly reasonable perspective.

The stated reason of "not being fair to other players" might not generally hold up if you agree to start at level one on an experience point system, since they will be dealing with experience point numbers that level a low level character up rapidly. That said, most groups share out XP evenly to all players or at least all players at the session, which means that everyone else potentially levels slower by having another person. Still XP is the DM's prerogative in how they structure XP opportunities or just in how much they give out by fiat, so this is mainly a "more work for the DM" problem.

Meanwhile if you are leveling at milestones this would probably require you getting milestones much more often than everyone else for a while, which may be a bummer for other characters. In either system they may find it unfair that you get to level so fast when it was such a slog when they did it. Both these issues veer into the realm of an 8 year-old "he gets a cookie so give me a cookie" conception of fairness. Nevertheless if that's something they need to enjoy this recreational experience which they do solely for fun and have no obligation to participate in, then such is life.

Some groups may have a preference against having varying experience levels in the group, which legitimately may force a DM who calculates encounters very carefully to have to worry about balancing them more. They may worry that between starting low and being a newer player you won't be able to pull your weight. I'd argue that any player contributes something unique to a game, that unless you have a very large party there are always unfilled niches that can be useful to have someone specialize in, and that a new character provides potential to explore new aspects of their own characters and get cool new adventure hooks. Nevertheless this may not be enough to make it worthwhile.

If they are in tier three or even tier four of play (as in those over level ten, to gloss the jargon) it is entirely likely that a very low level character would be downed constantly with the enemies they face. You would be downed almost any time you were hit by many of the enemies for the first couple levels, and then they are burning healing spells and potions constantly to keep you in fights, and potentially having to raise you from the dead. At the very beginning there is a substantial risk of being hit with so much damage that you die outright on a fairly regular basis (a single fireball with a high die roll will outright kill any first level character under normal circumstances).

On a final note you mention that characters die and need to be replaced in their game "nearly every month". This is not at all the case for many groups, my own included, but it would tend to indicate an at least somewhat gritty blood-and-guts campaign style (the norm at the beginning of the hobby, less common in later editions). Under such circumstances a low level character is less likely to be viable to play with high level characters and where a newer player's mistakes are more likely to have dire consequences for themselves and others.

At the end of the day, while they may be entirely offbase (and their stated reason is one of the weaker one) they are in a better position to accurately judge these things than you or any of us because they are the ones who actually have experience with their table.

But, if they ever do oneshots, where the fairness thing is irrelevant and which often happen when groups are short a player or two anyway, they may feel very different about you joining. And should that go awesome enough their stance may well change.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Shouldn't all the characters be low-level, if they're dying and replacing with a new level 1 character often? \$\endgroup\$ – Random832 Apr 19 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Random832 Only if one presumes they are not to letting players roll new characters at or near the same level as the ones who died. My sense from the groups concern about it being "unfair" to them for a new player to enter but not for themselves dying and creating new characters was that they wanted new characters to be based on the level the player had gotten to rather than level one. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Olson Apr 19 at 15:53

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