Uncharted Territory: Role playing in settings/groups that are new to you – Part 1 of 3

Last night I was so tired by the time I went to bed that my eyes were burning.  So, of course, as soon as I got into the horizontal position my brain popped with: “Hi!  I have a great idea for a 3 part series on making characters for and playing in settings that you are unfamiliar with and/or with joining established gaming groups!!”  To which I replied:  “That’s nice.  Can we talk about it in the morning, please?”  To which my brain responded:  “No, no, no!!  We have to talk about it NOW!!!!”

Some nights I hate my brain – or rather its timing.

At any rate, it was a good idea so here we go.  This will mostly be an introductory sort of post with some generalized tips.  The other two posts will be broken down into tips for making short term/one-off/NPC characters in new to you settings and making characters more interesting for longer campaigns.  From my experience, these tips should work equally well for either table top sorts of role playing games (RPGs) or live action role playing games (LARPs).

If you, like me, are a late blooming gamer who was deprived of comics and D&D in your youth – do not despair about making characters for universes you are not familiar with.  If you have good people and good storytellers/GM’s, then it will be fine.  Same applies if you’re not a late blooming gamer but are still new to gaming or the group you are gaming with.  For example, I’m having a great time in the Marvel Game I’m playing.  Most of what I know about Marvel characters come from cartoons or movies I watched growing up while most of the people I’m gaming with have read comics for years, known each other for years, and role played together for years.  It’s not an issue.  I don’t get all the in-jokes and references they make to each other but it’s not generally vital to my role play that I do.  If I’m not sure if it’s something I should know in character, I ask the GM.  If not, we just keep things rolling.  If so, then they give me a brief explanation of what it’s about and then I make notes if need be and we keep going.

The lesson here is that you don’t need to know every in joke or what every reference means to have a good time.  There are people I’ve been friends with for 10 years with whom I share mutual friends they’ve known much longer than me.  They flat out have more history to draw from and because of that they will have inside jokes that I wasn’t a part of – and that’s okay.  The same applies for every gaming group and game I’ve participated in.  It’s not about them trying to exclude people, it’s just a natural effect of a long term friendship/relationship.  Chances are, even if I asked them to explain every joke and reference that I wouldn’t find them as amusing as they did, at least some of the time, because for some things you just have to be there.  For example, I can look back at memories of road trips with friends where we were laughing hysterically at something on the radio but for the life of me I couldn’t explain why it was so hilarious.  If you join a long established game/campaign, you will likely find the same thing applies in character as well as out.  Try not to let it intimidate you and, if you can, try using it to enhance the role play.  You could mention that the characters seem to have some history together and ask them if they are willing to share the story behind the joke/reference (if it were made in character).

Don’t let the lack of experience or knowledge of a given setting hold you back from playing in a game.  Let the GM know you don’t have any prior experience but are interested in trying it out.  I did that for the Marvel game when I was invited and the GM was more than happy to spend time laying out the general setting and he gave me the option of playing a pre-generated character he made or making my own.  One of his characters caught my fancy so I went with her and have fleshed her out and made her my own as time went on.  Surprisingly (to me) I’ve been told he likes how I’m playing her.  I have used the interactions between other characters as a guide for how to fit mine into the group and we have since added another player that was just as unfamiliar with the setting.  We are both having a great time!

I also recommend talking to the storyteller/GM about possibly playing an NPC (non-playing character – or rather – a temporary character whose purpose is to move the plot along or otherwise get plot points out to the established regular players).  This gives you an opportunity to try out the setting, get an idea for how the storyteller/GM works, and see what the group dynamic is like.

Chances are, there are story games conventions in your area or near by.  There is often gaming at sci-fi conventions.  For some of these there are likely pre-generated characters that you can use if you want to join in.  For some, that may be the only option (this sometimes works best in settings where it’s a one-off game at a gaming event).  There is always room to add your own touches to a character.  My experience these days is that gamers are very welcoming to new players – they love to have new players and will be happy to help you get into a game and have fun.  Visiting your local gaming and comic shops is a good way to find out about the events in your area and about local gaming groups.  Ask your friends too.  Maybe some of them, like you, are interested in RPG’s but are not sure where to start or who they might know that shares that interest.  You could start your own small game in a setting you agree on or join an established gaming group together.  A number of the folks I have played table top games with in the past several years have not only known each other for some time, but have more experience in many the settings we’ve played in.  I’ve still had a great time.  In the Girl Game (on hiatus for the summer due to much schedule craziness on all our parts), we have even made up our own settings a couple times.  No one is going to stand over you being a character/setting accuracy Nazi.  If they do – punch them in the junk* and find a better group to play in because gaming is something we do to have fun.

*Okay, maybe visualizing punching them in the junk would be better as there will not be an assault charge involved.  ;-P

3 thoughts on “Uncharted Territory: Role playing in settings/groups that are new to you – Part 1 of 3

  1. Great timing of your brain! When I’m moving to another town in October, an online-friend of mine (who lives in that town) invited me to join their D&D group because I’ve been interested in starting to play. Since I have no experience (only playing Citadels, which is fun but very limited in contrast to D&D) I really look forward to the other parts of this!

  2. It’s always important to have a few NPC’s sitting around that players can jump into for just a short term try out of the group or game. Lacking system/game knowledge is something that definetely needs to be made up for by your storyteller with giving you background information as needed. The other players should be helping out in this regard as well, at least if they’re intersted in keeping another player. If they’re not well.. it might be best to be looking for another group.

    Differing groups obviously have a real wide category of things they lean towards, some are all about combat, some intrigue, some romance and so on and so forth. The only way to figure it out of course is to get in the trenches and have some fun.

  3. @Mealla – Happy – I’ll see about getting onto part 2 this week. 🙂

    @Grey – In the local LARPs I’ve been a part of I’ve found there’s a mix of people with different styles they lean towards. I think we need to stop fighting against each other and rather tailor parts of the plot to the different groups of folks that play at the games and otherwise live and let live. Seriously. After 12 years I’m tired of the gaming style wars. I have yet to have a character killed by a combat cheese monkey. Mind you – this is most likely because our characters don’t really cross paths much. I’ve observed that the ones that scream the loudest about the combat cheese monkeys – are the other combat cheese monkeys who lost the combat…

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