…If that headline doesn’t make you wince a little bit in sympathetic pain, I envy you: because you have apparently led a charmed life when it comes to roleplaying games (RPGs). The rest of us all know how a new player can be a (either temporary, or semi-permanent) problem player. Some of us have even been that problem player, although nobody really likes to admit that they were once the bad guys, however unintentionally. Still, getting new blood is part of getting the RPG hobby (dare I say, ‘lifestyle?’) to grow. So let’s make it as painless as possible, shall we?
We’ll break this up into three sections:
If you are the gamemaster (GM): congratulations! You sucked in another player for your campaign! Well done. Now try to keep him. First off, if it’s “let’s keep her:” you can have your girlfriend play. You can have your not-girlfriend play. But if you’d like your new player to be your girlfriend then GMing for her is not as optimal a method of achieving that result as is simply, well, asking her on a date or something. Substitute genders as needed or desired here, but the advice remains the same: your potential love interest is primarily there to play. So play*.
Aside from that, the most practical thing that I can think of when it comes to bringing a new player in is to have that player first show up at the table by roleplaying some of the non-player characters** (NPCs). Doing this will give that player an idea of the existing group dynamic, what the party is looking for in a new player-character (PC), what the party needs in a new PC, and a direct look at how everybody plays and acts while around the table. Plus, it can provide exposures to both the regular and house rules for the game, which will hopefully save time later. And, of course, it will help everybody get to the point where they all decide whether this new player is really going to fit in, or not. Which is kind of important to resolve early.
If you are already playing: congratulations! You guys have somebody who can join the group! Well done. Now don’t scare him off. Moderation is one of your touchstones for this sort of thing: you don’t want him to feel like he’s intruding, and you definitely don’t want to make him feel like he’s in a cult. The other touchstone? Patience. Sure, the rules of the game are right there in the book, which you’ve of course read twenty times or so because reading RPG books for fun is what gamers do. But not everybody does; and not everybody can. It will probably take your new fellow party-member as much time as it took you to get up to speed — and if you think that it didn’t take you any time at all to get up to speed when you started roleplaying… sure. Whatever you say. Be patient anyway.
One other thing that you can do for new players is to answer their questions, but — and this is important — in a way that doesn’t disrupt the flow of the game. Smoke breaks used to be a great way to do a quick Q&A, but people don’t smoke as much anymore. But if the GM needs to hit the bathroom, or one of the PCs is getting in some face time, or the pizza finally arrived… well, that’s a good time to take the new player aside and get an idea of what’s confusing him. And something will be confusing him. Part of your job is to help with that, if only because otherwise he’ll be asking the GM — and thus eating up your face time.
If you are the new player: congratulations! You found a gaming group! Well done. Now shut up for a bit. Not forever, of course. But when you’re playing with a new group, you want to start out by listening more and talking less. And you want to be attentive to what’s going around you, too. Don’t panic if you don’t understand the rules or the setting instantly: just scribble down a note or two and ask questions during the after-game kibitzing. The other players and the GM should be happy to walk things through for you: in fact, if they’re not, well, not all gaming groups are created equal. You might find another group that’s more to your liking.
The other piece of practical advice is this: unless you absolutely know that you’re naturally funny — which is admittedly a subjective judgement, unless of course you’re managing to be paid to be funny — don’t become the class clown at first. That often (correctly) gets interpreted as trying to overcompensate for acute social awkwardness. What you should be aiming for instead is being pleasant. If people are participating in humor, and you feel comfortable in joining in, of course do so: but remember that RPG groups typically want to have new players. You don’t have to truckle and bow in order to keep that seat at the table. And if you do, well: again, not all gaming groups are created equal. You might find another group that’s more to your liking.
Finally: nobody in this scenario should be putting too many demands on anybody else. The GM does not need the new player to suddenly be able to pass a college-level final exam on the rules. The other players does not have the right to insist that the new player should subsume his will and desires to the Adventuring Party Collective. And the new player is not a beautiful and unique snowflake. If everybody remembers that, then everybody should be fine.
*This advice also applies to fellow-players. To put it mildly.
**I know that this sounds paradoxical, but you can roleplay NPCs. You just have them act in the way the GM told you to have them act, but with a little personalized spin added on.