Incorporating New Characters In On-Going Campaigns

I don’t have a Infrared Isolation chapter for today. It turns out that the chapter I’ve been working on is long enough to maybe become two chapters and I haven’t had the time or energy to work on it much due to some chaos at work (which will be an instrumental part of next week’s posts), my overall exhaustion, and my worsening burnout from all of this and more. I did finish the chapter, including an editing pass and some notes for my alpha reader about where and how I’d put in a chapter break, so it will be ready by next week if it not edited and set to post before this even goes live. Instead of trying to pressure myself and my alpha reader to get this all finished and turned around in forty-eight hours, I’ve opted to delay the post a week so it can mature properly (and so I’m not burning myself out even worse). Today, you get some thoughts about bringing new characters into established Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.

As anyone who has played in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that has gone over thirty sessions can probably tell you, sometimes a player needs a new character. The most common reason is because their existing character died and either chose not to come back, could not come back because of some nefarious plot, or the other characters lacked the resources to bring them back (sufficiently powerful spellcasters, the money and components required, the social capital required to access either of the aforementioned, etc). At that point, depending on how your conversations with the group and the effected player go, you need to figure out how to introduce an entirely new character to the game or how to bring a character from the background into the foreground.

Now, the easiest way to do this is the classic “introduce a powerful and useful new character who has access to some information, resources, or McGuffin the other players need” method. The players seek this person out as a part of their normal efforts to continue their mission, the new person offers them what they seek in exchange for some kind of service or permission to join the mission, and the new party sets off as they attempt to find ways to go over character details the players all already know but this new character definitely doesn’t. It is swift, straight-forward, and requires little suspension of disbelief on behalf of the players beyond what they had already invested in the story and world.

Another easy way to do this, which only works if a character left the party for reasons other than irreversible death, is to have the character who left send someone to replace them. I had an example of this in my “The Forgotten” campaign just recently. One of the characters got incredibly lucky with a couple draws from a custom magic item that I’ve been calling “The Bag of Many Beans” since it’s a statistically improbably result of what can happen using my custom Bag of Beans table that turns it into a warped and potentially disastrous Deck of Many Things. He wound up with the ability to alter a past event and the ability to ask a question that would give him the knowledge and wisdom to make the most of a slightly altered past event. As a result, he left the weird trapped dimension that the rest of the party was stuck in and, after some time talking through the player’s options, this character decided to send someone to show up right after he disappeared. It took a bit of finagling to get everyone’s timelines and locations to match up, but now the party is back together again and it took very little in-game convincing to get everyone cooperating.

It might take a little more work and some in-game time, but another way to bring a new character in is to have the surviving characters choose to replace them. If the mage in a party dies or disappears, removing the party’s ability to return them to life or even find out where they went, the party might choose to actively recruit another mage, perhaps to eventually bring the first one back once they go on enough quests to find the necessary materials or perhaps to help them track down their missing companion. Sure, that player might then have two characters to pick between, but it’s easy for the party to say goodbye to their new ally or for their old ally to reveal that they wish to retire now or perhaps were actually a villain. I cannot overemphasize how much fun it is for a player character to have secretly been a villain the whole time, only revealing themselves when they’ve tricked the party into unwittingly furthering their vile aims or laying the groundwork for some accursed ritual. Love me a good friends to enemies twist.

It might be a little rough on the roleplay side of things, but having someone show up to pursue vengeance for the death of the character is doable, especially if the party couldn’t take down who or what killed their companion and also thirst for vengeance themselves. There’s also the somewhat comedic idea of using the same character sheet and either adding a “jr.” to the end of the name or changing the first letter of their first name and carrying on as if very little had happened (though maybe with some vengeance thrown in for fun). Honestly, there are a lot of ways to bring in new characters as long as you’ve got control of the situation and it seems reasonable for the party to encounter someone new. It’s a lot less easy when the characters are somewhere that isn’t accessible to most of the people in the world, like some kind of deep dungeon, a prison on another plane of existence, or a weird prison demiplane that only really gets new people when a weird cursed hand reaches out of the nothingness between all objects in search of new sacrificial victims to fuel the horrific ritual that seeks to unmake all of existence or when people dive in after said cursed hand and potential sacrifice. At that point, it’s usually better to adopt a prisoner already in the dungeon, some kind of far-flung planar traveler who’s just happy to see people from the same place they are, or a poor soul that followed the hand in through a different opening but who has been unable to make any headway on their own.

There’s lots of ways to add new characters to an existing campaign if you take the time to think it through, work with your players, and have a group focused on enjoying themselves rather than pursuing some nebulous and unattainable verisimilitude. Those sorts of groups are rarely happy about anything, in my experience. Best to just enjoy yourselves and come up with some kind of out-there reason things are happening the way they are. After all, who cares if it’s normal or not? We wouldn’t be telling this story to each other if a whole bunch of interesting stuff wasn’t happening.

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