Pick-Up or Drop-In games are a common occurrence at game nights and conventions, and are a great way to build the gaming community. In fact, most of the D&D players I know were introduced to the hobby in this way, and left that first game completely hooked! Having been both a player and a GM in these types of scenarios, I know it can be intimidating to sit down with people you’ve never met before and put yourself in such a vulnerable position as role playing a new game. At first, it can feel a bit like finding a place to sit in the cafeteria at a new school (I remember that transfer student life…it’s hard to start over in an already-established social environment), but rest assured that there are others around the table that feel the same way. Once you realize that, the Pick-Up game can be one of the most rewarding ways to play!
Here are some things you can expect next time you sit down at a new table:
For New Players:
As a new player, you have the best job at the table…just have fun! Come to the table ready to learn and don’t be afraid to ask questions. No one expects you to know all of the rules, and even people who aren’t new to the game might forget things now and then.
You also don’t have to be a perfect role-player– acting skills aren’t a prerequisite, after all! Approach the game with an open mind and work with your GM to figure out what your PC’s motivations are, and go from there. If you’re feeling stuck, you can always play off the other characters in the party until you find your style.
Games like D&D can seem pretty complex at first, but as long as everyone is having a good time, that’s all that matters!
For Experienced Players:
If you’ve played before, try to come to the table prepared. New players may look to you for help with the rules and character creation, and you’ll be a valued partner-in-crime for the GM. You’ll likely have the opportunity to step up as that seasoned adventurer and help bring the story to life.
When it comes to playing the game, know your spells and abilities (especially if you brought a pre-made character to the table). That isn’t to say that you have to have all the details memorized, but at least familiarize yourself with the abilities on the character sheet and be ready to pull up some quick reference tools. Pick-Up games often have a time limit, so knowing what your PC can do will help things go much more smoothly, especially when it comes to combat.
Finally, try to avoid becoming a “Rules Lawyer” or telling the other players how to play their characters. There’s a difference between helping and micromanaging game play. Absolutely help with recalling rules and mechanics (my players often help with this when I’m GMing for Heroes of Iyastera) but, at the end of the day, your GM will thank you for backing them up in their decision making.
For Game Masters:
Be prepared. Whether you use a home-brewed or published adventure, take some time beforehand to familiarize yourself with the plot, NPCs, and key encounters the party will face. You don’t need to commit scene descriptions to memory or anything like that, but be sure you at least know the progression of the story. It’s also a good idea to have some quick reference materials handy, like conditions, potion stats, and costs for common items (many pre-made GM screens already have these charts printed inside).
If running a timed adventure, be sure to keep an eye on the clock and be ready to move things along if you need to. Unless you want character creation to be party of the session (which is a great idea if you have a lot of brand-new players), consider using pre-generated characters. This cuts down on table prep and, even if you do want to cover some PC basics, it ensures that you have a framework ready to go.
Have an intro pitch or synopsis prepared for the start of the session. This is a simple way for you to give a quick description of the game, the system you’ll be using, and your GM style– Do you prefer a combat-heavy dungeon crawl or do you tend to emphasize role playing? Do you have any house rules the players should be aware of? This also your opportunity to provide any content warnings for themes that some players may not want to be exposed to (this is particularly important for horror-themed adventures). All of this is important to set the tone for clear communication and trust around the table.
All in all, the Pick-Up game is a great way to meet new people, try out new character builds, or play test an adventure for the first time. You have a lot of flexibility that you won’t always find in an on-going campaign, so have fun with it!