When your group is short and you’re considering letting a stranger join your game, how do you decide if they’ll be a good fit? I interview them — and I know at least two other GMs that do the same thing.

That might sound a little weird at first, but it works! Don’t think of it as a job interview — think of it as a gaming interview.

I’m picky about who I game with, and you probably are too. Over the years I’ve found that it’s better to put in a bit of time up front, rather than waste time gaming with people who you don’t really get along with (and we’ve all done that at some point).

So how do you conduct a gaming interview? Here are a few things that I’ve found to be useful:

  • Meet in a public place
  • Take someone from your group
  • Don’t just talk about gaming!
  • Tell them about your game
  • Talk about gaming likes and dislikes
  • Don’t decide on the spot

The first one’s pretty obvious: despite the fact that most gamers are pretty nice folks, there are some nutjobs out there. I grew up in New York, so I might be a bit more paranoid about this than most people — but I’d rather Joe Random Gamer not know where I live before I find out if he’s an axe murderer. Gaming stores make pretty good meeting places in this context.

Taking along a friend is good if you get nervous in interview situations, but the main reason to do this is that you’re going to want a second opinion. I know of a group back in Michigan that takes this several steps further, and interviews prospective players with the whole group in attendance. That’s a bit formal for my tastes (and I’d worry about scaring people off), but it might work for you.

“Don’t just talk about gaming!” might sound counter-intuitive, but it’s the single biggest factor in determining if the interviewee is someone you could be friends with. I don’t know about you, but I get tired of folks who talk all gaming, all the time pretty quickly — I’d rather spend time with more well-rounded gamers, particularly because the folks in my groups tend to become friends.

Telling them about your game and talking about likes and dislikes are pretty intuitive: you want to know if this will be a good fit in both directions, and it’s best to put that out on the table from the get-go. You’ve already gotten an idea of what they’re like as a person — now find out what they’re like as a gamer.

Lastly, don’t decide on the spot — that’s why you brought a friend! Go grab lunch or otherwise take some time right after the interview to talk things over with your friend, and see if you both got the same impression. Then sleep on it, talk to the rest of your group, and get back to the prospective player in a day or two.

(Edit: Shank pointed out in the comments that it’s best to follow up the interview with a “test drive,” and I agree. Once you’ve accepted a new player, make it clear that their first session with the group is your chance to see if they fit into the group, and their chance to see if the group is a good fit for them.)

Don — a fellow GM and part of my gaming group (as well as a TT regular) — and I have used this approach several times over the past year, and I’ve used it on my own before that. It works, and its well worth a try.

So how does your group handle this? If you’ve interviewed prospective players before, what are the highlights of your approach? Would it bug you if you were interviewed before being allowed to join a group?