Introducing a SO Into Roleplaying

by Peter V. Dell'Orto (

[An installment of the "Women in Gaming" column, written by Emily Dresner and published monthly in Pyramid, has spawned numerous reponses on the discussion boards, with one thread trailing off in the direction of aspects and effects of a situation when the GM (or another player) brings his or her significant other (boyfriend/girlfriend/thingfriend) to join the gaming group as a player. After a lot of comments about fairness and other issues, Peter wrote a great post which was too good not to be preserved here. -- Incanus]

Look at that example in WiG again. Those players are clearly uncomfortable with the GM's request, but feel like they have to do it anyway. Does that sound like a good scenario to introduce any gamer, never mind a SO. And boy, the GM's SO introduces a character, secretly designed with the GM, that destroys the whole party. Ho Ho Ho! That's going to lead straight to a session of back slaps and good-natured ribbing while the players marvel at the way they got taken in, eh? Even if the GM is totally fair problems can result. Scary, and very familiar to me.

When the GM isn't fair, or when the SO causes problems, look out. That kind of move can cost friendships or permanently alter the game, even if the SO stops playing. Properly done, relationships are messy. When they don't work out, they can be seriously destructive.

Now, here is what I think is the proper method to introduce a SO. These assume you are the GM and it is your SO. They still apply, though, if the SO is the SO of a player, but to a slightly lesser extent. [Author's note: When a player brings a SO, fairness is less of an issue, and you can give in-game reasons for a player to show favoritism to another player. Lots of players will show their SO no favoritism -- these are often the same ones who stab their own relatives in the back during games of Diplomacy.]

  1. Ask the players -- genuinely ask. Don't pressure them. The WiG example is pure pressure -- the answer no is not going to go over well. Explain that you want to introduce your SO to gaming, and that you don't want to do that if it is going to hurt your current group. If people really feel uncomfortable with your SO, ask them how you can introduce him/her to gaming without making them uncomfortable. This step is tricky -- it is too easy to pressure because people will usually fold rather than say, "I hate your girlfriend" and then have that hanging over their heads. You'll need to notice those subtle signs like them not showing up to game or acting out of character. "You girlfriend's PC just called my Bad Tempered Vengeful Sociopath a loser? Oh, I'll let it slide, rather than cap her like those two NPCs who just called me that." ;)

    One more thing: ask the players first. Don't get your SO excited about gaming and then have to say "The guys don't want to game with you." Oh, that's a Sword of Damocles, isn't it? Who'd be suprised if that was a source of resentment? If your players are okay with it, then ask your SO and see if he/she would be interested. Saying "I'll have to ask the guys" is inferior to "I asked the guys and they said they'd be fine with you gaming with us. Want to give it a shot?"

  2. Introduce the SO during a mini-campaign, or one-shot, or a side adventure with no strings attached. Don't introduce a newbie SO into the climax of your 5 year old mega Vampire game that everyone is emotionally and intellectually invested in. Ease the person into gaming, and into the group. If an SO disrupts the group, can't (or won't) learn the rules, plays badly, and doesn't really care about the game, the players won't mind so much. Who cares? It was a one shot!

  3. Don't help your SO make his/her first character. Don't teach him/her the rules. Get another player to do it -- that way, the players know how much the SO knows, that the character is on the level and not a plant or souped up. [Author's note: Refer back to #1 for this. If you suspect the GM's SO is a planted character, are you going to kill him/her off just like you would wack another plant? Or, to avoid having that hanging over your friendship (in case the relationship works out).]

    Watch the process, and make sure he/she gets good advice and the rules are shown correctly, but don't take over. This will save you a lot of grief -- if your SO keeps forgetting the rules and has to be baby-sat, it is not entirely your fault. The players had a hand in the process and they have responsibility as well. This also gives them more investment in making sure the SO has a good time and sticks around - otherwise they wasted their time.

  4. Be fair. Scrupulously fair. This is beyond not starting the SO's character with a boatload of goodies and Odin as a 15- Ally. It extends to how you normally conduct game. Everyone has to be there at 7 or you start without them? Don't make the SO an exception. Friday is Game Night and That's Final -- and if you can't make it you can't join the group, don't start cancelling it because your SO can't make it. Exceptions will get amplified, because everyone knows why you are making the exception...

  5. If the person introducing the SO has a history of short relationships, messy relationships, or the SO is someone the current gamers seriously do not like, or the SO is someone who you wouldn't let game if you weren't hopping in bed with her/him, don't do it.

  6. This is the final step: if this isn't working, don't keep on going. If your group is uncomfortable despite your efforts, you can't be fair, your SO doesn't take the game seriously (Author's Note: Yes, even in Toon. If your SO doesn't play as intently as the rest, your SO is baggage. No one likes baggage.), or whatever, stop. You can try again if the situation is better, or if you think you know a better way to do it, but don't rush it. You don't want to lose your gaming group (and maybe your SO!) over the introduction of a new player.

Remember, introducing the SO to gaming may be a great idea, but even the above steps may be too big and too risky. Take baby steps. If the SO and your gamers don't really know each other, let them get to know each other. Introduce the SO in a mini-game just for the SO and a few players willing to take the time to help. Now, if the SO is a gamer already, you still need to take these steps. Take your time -- done wrong, this can be a disaster. Done right, and you have another gamer.

I'll end this one with the reasons I never introduced my girlfriends to game, no matter what. You see, when we would eventually break up, I'd still have gaming as a seperate place. No matter how angry/despressed/hurt/miserable/happy I was at being single again, gaming was unaffected. Sure, I just broke up, but I still have to run game on Thursday. No fewer players, no reminder of my ex-SO. Just gaming. That always worked for me. Despite that, I have given the subject of how it should be done some thought. I hope it helps you folks out.