I tend to take some time at the start of a session to introduce new characters to the group. This is a holdover from running character-driven games like Amber DRPG, Ars Magica and Vampire: the Masquerade, where so much of the game revolves around watching the characters interact and exploring their personalities. But old-school D&D is a different beast with different goals, and I’m wondering whether these introductory sequences are useful, wasteful or outright counterproductive.
Old-school characters aren’t painstakingly assembled over a matter of days or weeks, nor does the DM go into the game preparing storylines for each starting character. Your first level OD&D or BD&D character is a brittle thing, a tissue of single-digit hit points wrapped around a pawn for the player to manipulate. These characters start off with one-note personalities and backstories that develop organically and gain complexity through the adversities of play. As such, new characters don’t have a lot to contribute to introductory scenes, since no one—not even their players—really know who they are yet.
There’s also the issue of spotlight time. Old-school games can involve lots of players; I’ve had as many as ten players at a session, and Tavis has run even larger groups. More players in attendance means more players twiddling their thumbs during introductory scenes, and I’d prefer to keep the entire group engaged with play whenever possible.
Last session we had three new characters and I more or less threw them in willy-nilly, with a bit of “oh, based on your concept you probably know player character X; hey, player X, are you cool with that?” It worked out fine and sped play along significantly, giving us more time in the dungeon. Success! I’ll want to experiment with various approaches to character intros before coming to any conclusions, however.
I’d love to hear other’s thoughts on introducing new characters in old school games, especially those with more of a beer-and-pretzels vibe. What kind of approach do you take to character intros, and what are the consequences with regard to play style?