Continuing on this question how is the best way to set up an auditioning session? What gamewise should you do differently? What are the expectations on the group and the potential new person? What is the best way to handle this socially?
Pre-discussion of styles is fine but the real vetting is when they come and meet the entire group and interact with them.
First thing is to make sure they understand it's a tryout and the terms of it. "Hey, we'd love to have you but want to make sure you gel with the group. Come play with us next Tuesday as a tryout, after that if everyone's cool with it you're in." Or "We have three people trying out for our open seat, you're first in so after your time it'll be a couple weeks; we'll let you know the week of the 5th." Or maybe you're not doing tryouts, you say "hey anyone's welcome" - but if you say that, don't call them up after and say "sorry they didn't like you." Or "come join us for this campaign, but for later campaigns' it's up to that Gm to invite you..." Set expectations with them.
It's just like a job interview - both sides need to make a good impression. Don't just focus on "putting the new guy through his paces" - if he doesn't like your group, he'll reject you. It's the usual "don't change who you are, but put your best foot forward" thing. Make sure they feel welcome, brief them on what they need to know (where and when the game is, social rules of the house, etc.) Similarly, they should be on time, show normal "guest in someone's house" graces, etc. Beware in that some established groups can be very off-putting to new people - lots of shared context, in-jokes, etc. make it intimidating. And whoever the new person is, it's quite likely they're less of a freak than at least one of your established group. So pre-discuss with your group how to act and try to set some kind of mutual understanding ahead of time on what should comprise a yes or no, including decision process (any veto; majority rules; GM's prerogative, etc.)
A lot of it is more about personality/group fit than anything RPG specific, so even a board game night will show if they get along with people or not.
As for trying out in game, I think it's done better in a one shot than as a guest shot in an ongoing campaign - if the campaign is too in depth then they're lost. In my current gaming group, my first session was the climactic session of their entire several year long previous campaign; the GM handed me a hundred page sheaf of docs on world background - quite offputting and hard to do well. Or at the start of a new campaign. If it's in the middle it's somewhat inevitable that they play a NPC for the first time - it's understood this is a tryout, and it's disruptive to introduce a new PC that might not be there next time (unless it's a casual or high death game).
Make sure and think about saying the meta-stuff you don't always say at a game. Expectations about attendance (e.g. it's expected you call if you can't come), kinds of preparation expected, gaming style (e.g. we adhere to the book rules without exception), and that.
Everyone should relax and have fun!
Hmm. I don't think I've ever auditioned players before. This was very thought provoking — as I'd never thought of this as a formal process of any kind. Upon reflection, this is what we did…
People get invited into the games I run by myself and other players. In short, we use "social networking" to pre-qualify people to join our group. Each person that wants to bring a guest is free to, given that they understand that they are responsible for the behaviour of that person.
The unspoken rule is, "Only bring people who you would…
- Want to see for 4+ hours in close quarters every single week,
- Trust with your (character's) life,
- Think would play nice with your group."
So my answer to the question, "How do I audition new players?" is, "I don't. We invite people we know and trust." I guess I've been very lucky to always have access to lots of great people to play with.
I "auditioned" players by asking one universally-applicable question in any kind of social setting: "Could you please describe to me your favourite character?" This is typically in a setting where role-playing is being discussed in a social context. The answer invariably proves enlightening.
I call this "universally-applicable" because it works, in my experience, no matter what the relative styles of play of the two people. If I'm a dramatist-all-for-the-story GM and the person regales me with tales of a character's grand exploits, personality and thoughts and reactions to events, there's a good chance this player is a fit for my game. If the player instead talks up the levels and stats and magic items, etc. there's a very good chance this player is not a good fit for my game.
The reverse, however, is also true. If a GM asks me this question and I answer with the name, family, great deeds, weaknesses, personality traits, etc. of my character, there's a very good chance I won't fit into a game dominated by people who treat the game as a series of tactical puzzles.
I adopted this approach to sounding out prospective players about five years before circumstances forced me to stop gaming entirely. In those five years I had one single bad fit. Before that I was averaging more than that per quarter. I've also used this on the player's side with a slight change to the question ("Could you please describe the greatest event in your last year's gaming?") to see if I'd be a good fit for a group.
We've never auditioned anyone really for our group. On the rare occasion that someone has left our group, adding anyone else has always been an invite someone you already know kind of thing. We've been lucky with adding some great players over the years.
Even then, though, you play a few sessions and see if things are going well. I wouldn't change anything from what a normal session would be. You just try playing for a bit and see how it goes. If things mesh, you'll know it. And if things aren't working, you'll know it.
In my Ars Magica game, I always audition new players through a series of games. The first few games the player is encouraged to first play, and then create grogs that fit with the Covenant theme and that amuse them.
After they understand the mechanics of the system, the flavour of the world, and the relative powers of magi, I allow them to play an NPC magi at the covenant for a game or two, to allow them to understand how spell-casting and spontaneous spells work.
At that point, I poll all of my current players: any player may veto the newcomer for any reason, privately. During this period I will have discussed the general play style of my game and the expectations of the group privately with the newcomer as well.
This mechanic has the least disruption to games, while proving a multiple game venue to insure that both the new player and the old players are comfortable with each other.
I meet the person somewhere public to get a sense of them. I try to do several things.
I outline what my game is, how I run it, and what my expectations are.
I ask whether any thing in what I've told them so far causes them any concerns.
I ask what their expectations are
I ask what kind of character they think they might want to play based on what they've heard so far.
I give them a one page summary of the campaign world and tell them I'll let them know.
If the person seems like they'll fit into my group I ask them to come and play a session. After the session has had a few days to sink in, I ask my players what they thought and I ask the new person what they thought. If everyone is happy then we ask them to be a permanent member and go from there.
I've never actually tried this because I've never had a shortage for players, but here's an idea I've really wanted to use. Instead of auditioning players, audition characters. Have the potential new players send you summaries of their characters and backgrounds. Choose the character that will have the most interesting affect on the story.
The first 3 weeks are a trial-period for everyone. If they can't handle the bad jokes, the game in progress, etc, then they don't get to stay. I've only punted 5 people in 30 years.
- 1 for cheating
- 2 for not being able to make it to game reliably; they're welcome back when life quits kicking them in the....
- 1 for drawing a weapon on me
- 1 for failure to pick up his bloody snotrags after his frequent nosebleeds.
I've had several who decided my group wasn't for them; that's more like a dozen in the same time frame. There are a few unwelcome individuals; then again, most everyone in my circle either considers them the same, or knows that the two of us in the same room equals no game.
I'd never really engaged in 'interview's' as a matter of course, but have been on both sides as interviewer and interviewee in very recent months.
I guess the best advice is what 'feels' right to you, the GM and other players and it depends if the person is a perfect stranger or not - best not to meet complete strangers on your own and all that as others have said.
Check with your group beforehand to see if they have any 'deal breakers' ("no rules lawyers please!" or whatever) and so on, just so you have your expectations set in advance.
I personally couldn't have cared less about rules knowledge, previous characters (do NOT tell me about your character) and their understanding of various game mechanics or roleplaying style. Everything is possible if you all get along, which was the most important part I found. I tend to look for indications that the person is enthusiastic, happy to learn new tricks and appears to be reliable. Everything else is less important to me.
When interviewing for a player I exchanged a few emails, spoke briefly on the phone and then met up with a guy at his house (met his wife and child too), along with my gamer wife. This gave us the time to get to know each other and get a feel for things before getting the whole group together. We talked systems, what we play, what the group was like and other stuff but the point was to get a 'gut feel'.
I let the rest of the group know my impressions and then we all got together - as it happens everyone got on great and built up a rapport that had nothing to do with game (which I think is useful but not necessary). I checked with everyone after the first session but as we were a pretty laid back bunch we we're all cool.
I've very recently been on the other side of this having moved from the UK to USA and tracked down a gaming group. A few email exchanges with one of the gang and then a meetup with the larger group for an afternoon of shooting the breeze and gaming started a week or two later. Things appear to be going well so far.
Hope that helps?