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So, I am running a DnD campaign, and we have another player joining. Not really in the middle of the campaign, but the party already played a few sessions without him.

Now the problem is, that the new player wants to play a hive mind of insects, possessing a dead body, which would look quite peculiar. Because of this, I am almost one hundred percent sure, that if we don't resort to metagaming, the party will try to kill the new character.

Introducing such character at the start of the campaign seems hard, but not impossible, but I have literally zero idea how to introduce him to an already existing party of characters.

Would appreciate any help.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does the hive mind have a reason to want to go adventuring? What class? Does it speak common? I think these details might be useful. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 12 at 2:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps it would be good to elaborate on why you think your players will try to attack this person on sight. Because they are dangerous? But would seasoned adventurers not be used to interacting with dangerous individuals (and in fact, know the virtues of not risking their lives unnecessarily)? Because they look clearly evil? But if their species is not generally evil, would knowledgeable people living in that world even think they looked evil? \$\endgroup\$
    – Obie 2.0
    May 12 at 9:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ How is this "hive mind of insects, possessing a dead body" implemented in terms of the rules? Every race/origin in 5e has its mechanics. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    May 12 at 11:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're referring to the existing party as being almost so method (acting) in that they are either completely unaware or willfully ignoring of the intention for a person to be joining in on your activity. Did the people (not the PCs) sign up for this person to join the game long term? If so, why would they then actively seek ways to bar them from joining long term? It's unclear to me whether your expectation maybe does not reflect their reality; or if there's more to this story that would explain why the existing players would definitely behave this way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Flater
    May 13 at 23:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ One thing I'd add which is not being covered in any answer so far (but isn't enough to be an answer itself), is to check if the rest of the table wants to make it work. Even if the DM is okay with it, the other players might not be, and one player who wants to play an insect hivemind possessing a corpse shouldn't be allowed to overrule the rest of the table wanting to play as people who would kill insect hiveminds that desecrate corpses. Telling the new person to come up with a different character that fits in better is also an option. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim C
    May 14 at 22:02

7 Answers 7

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Metagaming is not necessarily a bad thing here!

How exactly you do this will depend on your gamesystem and your table. But "it's what my character would do" always needs to be tempered with a measure of "it's what would make a good story" and/or "it's what would make a fun game".

After all, your characters aren't real. Your players are! If what your character would do in this situation is "abandon adventuring, go home, and spend his life working as a baker", that's probably not going to make for an exciting game of D&D. So it's up to the players (and DM) to find a reason not to do that—they're the ones who have dedicated a few hours from their busy lives to play a game, after all, not the characters, and they're the ones whose fun really matters!

Same thing here. If what the characters would do is "turn on the new PC and try to kill them", that probably won't make for a fun game, unless it's what everyone's signed up for OOC ("out of character"). So it's up to the group, OOC, to find a solution to this.

So, talk the group OOC about this new character concept. See what they think. If someone says "I would kill them right away", then ask, "why would your character do that, and what could happen differently to avoid it?" See if you can come up with a solution that everyone's happy with, then implement it in game. Maybe the druid hates the infernal more than anything else, and would be willing to work with pretty much anyone if they were also dedicated to undoing infernal works. Then the insect swarm's player can come up with a reason why they have common cause. Maybe the paladin doesn't like the undead, but is sworn to help anyone who's in danger. The DM can ensure the new character's introduction makes them a damsel in distress.

I tend to run games with a lot of intrigue and conflicting schemes, but I always start by explaining the OOC rule that the player characters have to end up working together somehow (since otherwise, well…you don't have a party). Then we work as a group to make that work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 but what is OOC? Out-of-Character? \$\endgroup\$ May 12 at 5:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin It's Serious Business, is what it is! \$\endgroup\$
    – No Name
    May 12 at 16:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin Added a note about that \$\endgroup\$
    – Draconis
    May 12 at 16:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ One thing I'd add to this answer is checking with the players to make sure that they, out-of-character, really do want to play a game with this new character in the party. One player who wants to play as an insect hivemind possessing a corpse shouldn't be allowed to overrule the rest of the table wanting to play as people who would kill insect hiveminds that desecrate corpses. Telling the new person to come up with a different character that fits in better is also an option. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim C
    May 14 at 22:11
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Introduction Etiquette

Obviously you should start from a place that the Table matters. So at some point there has to be a level of metagaming that this new crazy character is joining the party for a reason that can be more or less dubious. However, the introduction etiquette varies wildly and can be quite interesting as a DM and player group to explore. I will explain some methods that cover a range of narrative believability.

The "Drop In"

It would be impossible to start without talking about the least narrative, most metagame-y, way a character can be added. You simply have them show up at the next (insert relevant area). And the party decides, on a whim, to pick up the joining member because reasons. Since you are looking for a more compelling reason this probably isn't the right way for a member to join but it's also very common in my experience.

The "I Know a Guy"

Talk with your players. Find an in where, because of some narrative reason, they need to find this joining member. It's a deus ex machina of sorts but adds a level of character life to the game where a party member knows the joining member because of a reason that ties back to the narrative. Maybe they're a conveniently easy to find tracker, or a mage needed for a favor. The reason for that character to join the party then becomes something that you can seed into that character's introduction.

The "Enemies of my Enemies"

A more narrative manner of dropping in, present a problem to the players and the introductory character that both need to solve together. The players stumble upon the new guy being mugged by bandits that just so happen to have a bounty on their heads. A sudden village assault by gnolls pits them together. Whatever the reason, adding a challenge to lump both the old group and the new guy together as allies will smoothly transition an introduction.

The "Did we just Become Best Friends?"

A more involved and subtle way of making a smooth introduction, let the players talk as players and find out that thread that ties them together. Then play out how that thread pulls them together. It can be as simple as a love for books or beer, or as complex as an interwoven personal story. They can be followers of the same religion on pilgrimage or they can just enjoy the company of a fellow card shark.

Above the Table

As summary, whatever path you choose you should make the table aware of. Having someone join the party always shifts the dynamic so it's important to communicate with your players that someone new is joining. And to that point, I don't recommend springing the whole "undead hive mind possession" concept on them in play. There's a level of metagaming necessary for a smooth transition with no weird feelings from players. So communicate, communicate, communicate.

Now I've used all of these methods and none is necessarily better than another. Simply put, this all depends on how much your table appreciates metagaming. It's worth mentioning that you can always talk to your players about how they'd want to have a new player introduced. And then, as long as the table enjoys the introduction, you can move forward with your new player.

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In my games, I go with one of two solutions. The most common solution is to say: "Your characters have known each other for a long time, and you're friends and allies. You know that neither of you is going to attack the other." The players are welcome to add some background about how their characters met, or not.

A second approach is: "Someone has hired you to go on this quest, and they've also hired these other people. You're not expected to be friends, but you are expected to work with each other as professionals."


But think about this for a moment. If someone is playing a character who's that evil-looking and scary, it seems like that's going to come with a lot of problems. NPCs won't trust them and might attack them on sight. They probably can't go into villages. And, as you say, it might strain roleplaying believability that the PCs have chosen to trust them.

Sometimes you just have to tell your player: "Look, I know you like this character concept but I don't think it's going to work in my game -- every NPC is going to be trying to kill your character all the time, and that's not what I want this adventure to be about. Please play a normal character out of the Player's Handbook for this game."

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Do you know "The Gamers"?

Yes, the 2001 45 minute independent film that every DnD player seems to know. The part you are worried about is one of the tropes:

Plug 'n' Play Friends: After Ambrose dies and the suspiciously similar Magellan shows up, the party ignores the DM insisting that this should be treated as meeting a new character and fits him right back into the same slot.

There's a truth in there: No matter what you do, the other players at the table will be predisposed to accept the new character as acceptable, unless you are playing a game that actively encourages PVP. And that's ok. We play to have fun together, and if the other players are ok running a game with what is essentially a swarm of bees, so be it. That is unless said swarm of bees is Swarm, then you all need an intervention.

Only allow it if it fits the game!

If the game world has a reason not to slay such a character on sight, make that clear from the start. If the game world would, deny the character or hav ehte group face consequences. You are having a Drizzt-expy there - Deal with it the Drizzt way.

Describe what makes one uneasy.

This is a trick I have learned from Vampire the Masquerade. In the game, several clans are horrible to see: Nosferatu for example are very much disfigured. When I introduce a Nosferatu, I start with pointing out what makes them so disfigured. Are they practically a mummy with black skin pulled tight over the bones? Are their jaws filled with many jagged teeth and the mouth opens ear to ear, with no lips and a backward bulging cranium?

In your specific case, let me grab into my inner Tzimisce and write up something...

Something about the figure in the corner seems off as you look at him. The hood hanging deep into his face hides most of the features, but as you look at him more closely, it seems like his muscles twitch uncontrollably and without reason. It might have been a trick of the light, but the bartender would swear that as they lifted their mug to drink, a few crumbs of dirt flake to the table, but then scurried to the other hand and into the sleeve.

[...]

As you get closer, you see in more detail what seems odd with them. The eyes seem blind while a gash on the left cheek of the pale skin is maggot-infested, some of the white worms wriggling around the cut.

Introduce them from someone higher up

You did not say what sent the characters on the mission. I used exactly that in a campaign to justify a character that otherwise would not be acceptable: Make clear that the character was some sort of envoy or delegate sent by a mighty person.

In my specific case, it was an artificial small humanoid automaton (e.g. "warforged" without being warforged). Not recognized as having rights, the protections it needed to not be slain was that it was sent by an archmage that made it as "envoy".

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    \$\begingroup\$ Plussing one especially for the second point. As GM, you define the genre (and the particulars of the genre) you're playing in, and you're allowed to tell the players when they're pushing too far. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    May 12 at 18:59
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Do your players kill every "dangerous" thing on sight?

I mean, I don't blame them, necessarily, sometimes that's the only way, but if that is the case, then your job is to give them a verbal cues that makes them pause.

A certain amount of metagaming is just fine

And completely normal, too. The goal is to have a fun game, not bend over backward in service to an arbitrary metagaming (or any other) standard.

Here's an easy way to do introduce Joe's character, the dead-body hive-mind thing:

DM: Hey everyone, Joe's joining today. Joe, you'll get a chance to introduce your character in a few minutes.
DM: {a few minutes of other stuff}
DM: You see a figure in the mist. As it comes clear, you see it's humanoid, but strange-looking. You're not quite sure what you're seeing.
DM: Joe, go ahead and tell them what they see.

And take it from there.

But really, is that the real problem here?

You said:

Now the problem is, that the new player wants to play a hive mind of insects, possessing a dead body, which would look quite peculiar.

You didn't give us a racial description but it seems to me it's a huge problem for a player character to appear to be an animated corpse covered in bugs, and finding out the bugs are in charge does not make things better. I mean, assuming this is a setting where such things are assumed to monsters to be destroyed on sight, which it sounds like it is.

Have you worked out a common understanding with the player?

There are a lot of ways to work such a character. One way that is perhaps viable is that this monster is trying to pass for normal, and may be or may not be good at it. Everything from trench coat and hat pulled down low, so some sort of shapeshifting or illusion.

But if the character is going to always look like a shambling undead nightmare crawling with bugs, well, people are going to notice. It's going to be challenging to stop in a tavern for a drink, for instance, much less meet the king. Everyone will want to kill this thing on sight.

Conclusion

If you work out with the player how this character is a viable character for your game, then everything else should more-or-less fall into place. If a little metagaming is necessary to get things started, well, don't let it bug you.

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I would start by talking to the new player. His idea sounds...well, very weird. It sounds cool at first but it's going to start to be a real problem as soon as we get into detail. How many hit points does this dead body have? If the dead body becomes unusuable, can the hive mind simply take over another?

Ask the player what they want to achieve, and what characteristics of the "dead-hive" they really want. Then maybe ask if there's something else they could do? Maybe instead of taking over a dead body the hive mind has grown a mindless human that they have taken over. That would look substantially less creepy and still have most of the characteristics they want, and also get round many of the mechanics problems.

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First, make sure your players are really on-board

If your players are telling you that their characters would kill that character on sight, they are telling you one of two things:

  1. The objections come from the character. "I am playing a character who would, due to their personality, kill the bug-ghoul on sight. I, as a player, want to preserve the integrity of my character's personality, but I have no particular preference for killing the bug-ghoul."
  2. The objections come from the player: "I, as a player, do not want to play a game where the bug-ghoul is a member of the party. The actions of my character are my only agency to affect the game world, so I will prevent this by having my character kill the bug ghoul if you try to force them into the party."

The solution is very different depending on where the objections are coming from, so the first thing to do is to talk to your players and find out what's going on.

Why? (A personal anecdote)

I have a story which is related to this situation. It's not quite the same, but it's similar-enough that the core lesson applies.

This was with an inexperienced DM; there was no session zero, and we were all friends (of the DM) going into the game. Character creation was done independently, without knowing what anyone else was going to be playing.

I brought a paladin knight errant character, and another player brought a barbarian who believed in might-makes-right as a moral principle ("The weak have no rights."). On the surface level, these characters are oil-and-water, but I didn't raise any objections. After all, I am a long-time member of RPG stack exchange, well-aware of "My Guy" syndrome, and I knew that I could always choose to have my paladin choose not to quarrel with the barbarian.

Our differences ran deeper than that, though: I wanted to play a heroic story, where we go around saving towns and making the world a better place, while the other player wanted to play an us-against-the-world story, where we go around conquering towns and demanding tribute. The DM was trying to split the difference by giving us towns to save and then letting the Barbarian conquer them and demand tribute over my character's strongly-worded objections.

That lasted about 5 sessions before I decided that a Bad Game is worse than No Game and quit.

Getting clarity from your players

I recommend the following approach:

  1. Talk to each player individually.
  2. Tell them that you're considering two options - a group brainstorming session to figure out a way to introduce the bug-ghoul to the party OR the bug-ghoul's player makes a different character.
  3. Do not ask them to pick one or vote - just try to get a sense for how they feel about each option. Well-meaning players may "vote" for the more cooperative option (in this case, the group brainstorming session), even if they have a preference for the other.
  4. If no player expresses a strong preference for the bug-ghoul's player making a different character, go ahead with the brainstorming session. Otherwise, ask the bug ghoul's player to make a new character.

Other answers cover how to introduce the bug ghoul

I won't re-tread what other answers have said. If your players are on board with it, refer to other answers for the details of how to run the brainstorming session, and what sorts of ideas to start with. Work with them to find a solution where their characters can choose to accept the bug ghoul into the party.

If players don't like it, make the bug ghoul player's play something else

If you have players who have a preference against the bug ghoul, you should own those objections yourself. Tell the bug ghoul's player something to the effect of, "I've been thinking more about it, and I don't think that the character you're proposing fits with the game we're playing."

Then help them roll up a new character and guide them toward options that do fit with the game you're playing.

If you're not sure, go with a different character

If you can't get a clear signal from your players about whether the objection to the bug ghoul is from the character or from the player (even if the lack of signal is for perfectly innocent reasons like not getting a chance to talk to them one-on-one), you should assume that they come from the player.

I recommend this because the consequences of wrongly forcing the character into the party are much more severe than wrongly forcing the new player to come up with a new character.

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