First, defining terms: “con” stands for “gaming or science fiction or fantasy or comic book convention.” “Adventure,” in this context, means “a roleplaying game (RPG) adventure designed to be played in one or two multi-hour sessions by a bunch of people and a gamemaster (GM) who may or may not know each other and who may or may not see each other, ever again.” As you can see, this is one time where we’re making the words really work for its pay.
Anyway, geeks like to play RPGs, so it’s reasonable to encounter somebody willing to run a pickup game at a con. Or perhaps it’s a sponsored game set up by a gaming publisher to spark interest in a new RPG or supplement coming out. Or maybe there’s some sort of competition going on… the point is, a bunch of people show up and play on the fly. The game starts; the game runs until it ends or everybody collapses; there’s no further development past the adventure, done, thanks for playing. Done right, a con adventure is fun; done poorly, it’s excruciating. And whether or not it’s done poorly is often not entirely or even primarily the fault of the poor, hapless GM. And while I’ve seen articles on how to run a con adventure properly, I’ve not seen so many on how to be a good player at these things. So, here goes:
- You are here to play a game with real, live people. Do not be antisocial. Do not play an antisocial character, either. No brooding loners at a con adventure.
- Read the ground rules that the GM gave out ahead of time. If the ground rules say “characters will be provided,” accept the pre-generated character. If the ground rules say “Experienced players only,” don’t play if you’re not experienced – even if the GM himself has a sudden attack of desperation and needs a warm body. One exception to this rule: if the ground rules say “Anything goes”… double-check that one. They don’t always think that one through.
- Nobody wants to hear about how things are done in your campaign at home. …Well, sometimes they do. If you have a funny story and can tell stories well, they’ll want to hear it. Only, most people don’t tell stories well, sorry – and the ones that do are often the GMs at these things, because storytelling is part of a good GM’s skill set. At any rate: the helpful, unasked-for advice often offered at these things is often not helpful at all. Don’t be that person.
- You are a guest at the GM’s table. No, seriously. In the great social obligation web that makes up society, the GM is clearly your host when you sit down at her table. Sure, you both paid to be at the con – but she has spent some time setting up the adventure, fiddling with it, blocking out time to run it. All you did was show up. So you’re under the social obligation to respect her books and dice, stay polite to the other players and audience, and generally not be a public embarrassment.
- Respect the other players. First off, don’t be creepy. If you are playing a game with an attractive member of the opposite or desired gender present, privately note that fact all you like. But do not act on that information while sitting at the gaming table. Second: many times a pickup game will have a couple of people who know each other. If you are in that situation, be extra careful to include the players who are not part of your nascent clique. And if you are buddies with the GM normally, do NOT take advantage of that. Third: don’t monopolize the GM’s time… WHICH YOU SHOULD NOT DO AT HOME, EITHER.
- Don’t be afraid to have your character be folded, spindled, or mutilated. Or humiliated, vaporized, shanghaied on the Plot Wagon, or any of the other indignities that can involve a player-character (PC). Seriously, why do you care? If it’s not your PC, it’s not your PC; you have no emotional energy invested in that character. If it is your PC (because the GM said you could bring him/her), make a photocopy of the character sheet and run that photocopy through the metaphorical wringer. Because It All Turned Out To Be Just A Dream. Very liberating phrase, that.
- When in doubt, give the GM the benefit of it. This can range to not sabotaging the GM’s plot, to not flying off of the handle because the GM said something that you didn’t like. If you have a legitimate condition or issue that you think might be a problem, tell the GM ahead of time so that you both can figure out whether you should play in the game or not. If you don’t tell the GM ahead of time, don’t get upset when it turns out he can’t read your mind.
Finally: you win when everyone has fun. EVERYONE. The goal at the end of any con adventure is to have a GM who will say afterwards, “Wow! That was great! I can’t wait to run another one at the next con!” So think of this one as… enlightened self-interest.