Are New Player Try-Outs Unfair?

My Microlite74 Wilderlands campaign has unexpectedly lost a player. One of the original players who started this campaign has to be in Oklahoma City by December 10th. His wife got a fantastic job offer they can’t turn down, even if it gave them three weeks to move. While we’ll all miss him (and the occasional homemade pies from his wife), our campaign style (see Long Campaigns Don’t Have To Be Boring!) means that losing a player — even a long-term player — will not disrupt the campaign.

I had four players on the wait list, but the player at the top of the list decided he did not want to play when he found out that I meant what I told him when I met him and put his name on the wait list — getting to the top of the list means the new player get a 2 (sometimes 3) session try-out so I can be sure the new person if a good fit for the campaign and the other players can be sure the new player’s personality doesn’t rub them raw.

I’ve handled new players this way for many years with few complaints from potential players. (However, I have had several players get annoyed when they were not accepted.) The player at the top of this list this time has thrown a fit, claiming that such try-outs are unfair to players who have been on the wait list for many months. He feels that a player who has waited patiently for a spot deserves to be able to play, even if he is somewhat disruptive to the group. Some of his comments to our email list:

“The group should be able to adapt to any new player, especially one who has showed he really wants to play by sitting on the wait list for over a year.”

“Try-outs are inherently unfair and something I associate with competitive sports not with D&D.”

“I will not give up my spot. I’ve earned the right to play.”

You’ve probably guessed that I told him that he hasn’t “earned” anything and no one has an automatic right to move into my house for a few hours every Sunday. I’ve removed him from the wait list and from the group mailing list. The second person on the wait list is now up for a try-out and she doesn’t seem to have any problems with it.

Personally, I think the first person was a jerk — especially since he was told that we did “try-outs” when we first met and did not register any complaints then. BTW, when asked about this he said that he did not object because he knew if he did I would reject him out of hand. However, I’m interested in what this blog’s readers think. Are trial periods for new players somehow unfair? Even if they are unfair, are they more unfair than a player who turns out not to fit well with a group being allowed to stay even though he’s ruining the fun for others in group? How do (or would) you handle adding new players who are strangers to an ongoing group?

Randall Stukey

Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund.

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Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

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faoladhTalysmanJoseph BlochRandallravencrowking Recent comment authors
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Not unfair at all, in my opinion. In another part of my life, there are a variety of ways that we can organize groups. Some groups try to operate by open invitation, others by private invitation, and some accept all comers but place new members in a trial period. Of the three methods, the last two are most common among groups that last, while the first tends to result in groups that self-destruct, sometimes spectacularly, fairly quickly. Basically, a group is a type of ecosystem. It requires care to ensure that it doesn't become imbalanced, and the best way, perhaps… Read more »


I think there should be non-tryout gaming, somewhere, mostly in public venues. In your own home, or one of your friends? Maybe tryouts are a good idea, more for non-gaming reasons than anything else.

If you hadn't said "there will be try-outs" and then he turned out to have very different ideas about gaming or had a personality conflict with another player, and you'd asked him to leave, I wonder what he would have done.

Joseph Bloch

Yeah, I'd say that reaction in and of itself constitutes failing the tryout. I'd tell him to piss off.

It's somehow "unfair" to want to make sure that a new person fits in with the rest of the group? Somehow waiting on a list guarantees acceptance? Utter nonsense.

Don't you feel even a momentary twinge of guilt. The guy is a self-entitled doofus, and you probably spared yourself a lot of grief by tossing him out before he had a chance to disrupt the game.

Joseph Bloch

Now, this sort of tryout would be awesome…


For the record, I don't feel guilty and I agree that this person failed their tryout before it even started. I was just wondering if I was so out of touch with "modern gaming" that I was not aware that a "try-out" period had become "badwrongfun" or something.

@Joesph: That's my favorite scene in The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, our try-outs aren't that awesome. 🙂


Waiting on a list is not an effort, and you owe nothing to anyone for being willing to consider them. You need someone who will mesh with your group, not someone who wants the group to change for him. In the immortal words of Dan Savage, DTMFA.


Our problem tends to be folks who drop out for normal life reasons, and then want to come back after we've replaced them. There is only so much room at the table, particularly for some GMs and games (we tend to rotate games ever 2-3 months of weekly play). I kinda wish all our B-teamers would get together and form a second group.

Adam Thornton

Your table, your rules. Simple as that.


Good science no! I mean, look. We are entitled to get our needs met. You are talking about a life interaction and commitment. You are upfront and clear about the process. Rejection is difficult to take. Behavior like the rejected player's behavior means what exactly? What's he say? 1) The group should conform to me. 2) Being judged on my interpersonal chemistry (which is really his merits and natural ability) is not equitable. 3)That because he has requested something, that means is entitled to what he has requested. Well, that's absurd. Life isn't fair. People are under no obligation to… Read more »

Paul Thornton

Your table, your rules, sums it up perfectly. I game with a large society a lot of the time, and although I can exercise some control – a certain individual with whom I have butted heads in the past will never be in a game I run – everything else is about getting people into the game they want to play. Sometimes this can cause problems, but if handled maturely, there should be no problem. When the game's at my place, I only invite people to play who I know everyone will get on with., and you should be free… Read more »

Edgar Johnson

I've never had so large a group that I had to shut out new players, or waitlist them, or whatever else. That said, I have had players invited by others in my group who ended up destroying my group, pretty much. It was an odd situation, one in which three of the players were sleeping with each other. No need to go into that dynamic, other than to say that what one did, they all followed. So, when the new guy decided he wanted to GM his own campaign, he absconded with two of my other players. The point is:… Read more »


Does he not know that he doesn't need your group to game?


I guess I should add I'm not completely on board with the *waitlist* aspect. Trials? OK. Waiting before you are even allowed to try? I guess I need to know what the conditions that lead to him getting placed on a list were. If you advertise for players and then tell the people who respond that there's a waiting list, that doesn't seem right.

Dak Ultimak

Yeah, silly. Joining a gaming group is a commitment, and warrants a test run. Waiting list? I wish I had the demand to have one.

Rach's reflections

I've never had to do anything like this myself, though if I had enough people interested in one of my games I'd definitely see the value. Is this wilderlands game face-to-face, or via chat, or what?

Philo Pharynx

Friendship is not transitive. I have people that I love to game with and I enjoy spending time with, but they do not get along with each other for various reasons. Different groups have different chemistry and sometimes a new person will disrupt things more than they improve it. I'd explain it that if the chemistry doesn't work, they'd pass on him anyway. You're just being upfront about it. His reaction is not a good sign. In gaming there's lots of times when things don't go your way and dealing with it is part of the experience.


@Talysman: I can fit (barely) 9 players and one GM in my Living/Dining Room. I've had the maximum number of players (nine) playing for a long time now. The wait list is for people who want to play but can't due to lack of physical space for more players. When a player opening happens, the person who has been on the wait list the longest gets the first chance at the spot. This isn't an ideal situation but since I only have time to run one game a week and only have physical space for nine players, there really isn't… Read more »


One more voice in the chorus of "Of course you can tell people you want them to try out with the group." Who would WANT to play with a group that doesn't like them or that they don't like? Sheesh. I'm guessing this guy has been kicked out of other groups already. Having said that, I learned from one of my players that somehow it's gotten out among 9younger) local gamers that people have to try out to play in my game, and they think it is odd. So maybe there are groups with an open door policy. I played… Read more »


It's not unfair to have player tryouts, but it is a bit pretentious.

Seriously, all we're doing is rolling dice, eating cheetos and pretending to be being elven princesses. If it were some thespy WoD sort of group it might make sense, but you're playing old school stuff. Relax, mate.