You’ve spent the week preparing for your session and you eagerly pull up to the house hosting the game. You’re excited, not only because you’ve got great plans in mind for tonight’s adventure but also because one of your players, the host, is making his signature chicken curry. Your mouth waters as you exit the car, enter the house and say “hi” to the host working his magic on the stove.

You walk over to the table and start to get ready. Beyond the table, you see three people chatting. “Excellent,” you think, “we’ll get started right on time.” You start to exchange pleasantries when you realize that your fourth player isn’t actually here yet. Instead, there is a stranger amongst your other two players.

“I hope you don’t mind,” says your curry-making friend, “but Anna works with me and we got talking about RPGs during our break today.  I invited her to play.”

If you’ve been GMing for any significant period of time, you’re going to have to deal with the unexpected player. There are many reasons why a new player gets sprung onto the group at the last minute, but in all cases it forces the GM into an uncomfortable position. The GM doesn’t have time to prepare for or anticipate the new player.

This was a far bigger problem in my early gaming days, when voicemail, email, and texting were practically non-existent. Today it’s more likely that the “unexpected player” is more of an “imposed player,” someone forced into your game before you’ve had time to vet or prepare for them. Still, it can be an awkward situation, especially if you like the group dynamic the way it is.

So, this week’s hot button asks the question: How have you handled unexpected players? What factors go into your decision? Has your decision (whatever it was) ever gone extremely well or badly for that session?