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How to Build a Successful Long-term Gaming Group

Rating: 11 votes, 4.64 average.

ďOnly a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.Ē

- Otto Von Bismark

As the popularity of online tabletop RPGs explodes, so too does the collective frustration of all the new players who canít find a game. I have been successfully playing RPGs online for over 10 years now and want to share some hard-earned wisdom that will help you improve the odds of having a great experience.

Many of you have come to realize that it can be a constant struggle to find games. Even when you finally do find a game, the majority of them are soon abandoned or have trouble getting started. That doesnít have to be you though! My advice isn't the only way that works, but it does work well. These days I almost never run into the common issues that most players struggle with - I went through those growing pains years ago. I've been a fool learning from his own mistakes enough for both of us. Here's what I have learned:

You must be a GM first and a player second Ė but you will still play plenty.

Letís get to the tough love up front:

If you arenít willing to GM, you will live in a world where you constantly struggle to get good games. If you are willing to GM then you will live in an entirely different universe. You can play whatever you want, whenever you want and with whomever you want. Itís that simple.

There is a ton of advice on being a first time GM that you can find online, so I wonít cover that. Here is the Big Secret though: being a GM doesnít mean you will never get to play. You actually get to play a lot *more* in the long run. I play all the time instead of GM, because I help build long-lasting groups that rotate GMs. You can too.

Change your perspective Ė donít start a campaign, start a group of RPG friends.

Donít start off with the idea that you want to run ďthisĒ campaign using ďthoseĒ rules and recruit players for it. The game and its details aren't that important. Most likely, your goal isnít to just play a specific RPG with a bunch of random strangers Ė what you really want to do is make new friends online that are good people, fun to hang out with, enjoy the same kinds of RPGs you do and can meet on a reliable basis. Shift your focus away from the game you are running and towards finding people that you enjoy playing with, and everything will start to fall into place.

If you build a good group of people that get along, have similar RPG interests and can meet on a regular basis - the actual gaming bits will be the easiest part.

Make all of the major decisions yourself before you start.

As a GM, you are a valuable commodity. Whatever you decide to run, you will have to beat players off with a stick once you announce it. It's important to make all of the major decisions before you start looking for players, based on what you really want and what works best for you. This means the initial rules system, the time, day, frequency, style of game, software used - everything. Don't compromise just because you are excited to get a game going - you are just hurting your chances of long term success. Even if you are flexible on some of these areas, you are still better off making those decisions ahead of time to build a strong foundation. You can always tweak them down the road if necessary.

Scheduling and reliability are *far and away* the most important things.

You might have the best friends and greatest players in the world, but if they can't play at the same time as you or only show up for one-third of the sessions, it won't matter Ė your game is doomed. The schedule always comes first! Do some soul searching on what works best for you and then stick to it. Nothing will kill a campaign faster than poor attendance or a changing schedule.

Start your campaign with strict rules on attendance and enforce them. Keep a waiting list of other players ready to join your campaign and remind current players of the waiting list. Let them know there will be no second chances for the first few weeks. If a player flakes out, replace them. You can do all this without being a jerk about it; just let the players know how important it is to a successful start.

If this sounds a bit harsh, keep this in mind - reliable players want to play in reliable groups and will appreciate that you are strict about attendance. It's the players that are unreliable who will have an issue with a strict attendance policy. Better to scare them off before you even get started. After you have a built a reliable group that is off to a strong start, you can relax and be more flexible when real life interferes.

Recruit players by running one-shot adventures.

GMs get excited about wanting to start a campaign, but this slower approach works really well. Once you know when you want to play, start off by running one-shot adventures in the exact same time slot you have planned for your campaign. This has two major advantages: first of all, you get to start playing and making new friends immediately! Scratching that RPG itch right away can stop you from making poor long-term decisions because you "just want to play" as soon as possible. Second, itís a great way to build up a circle of friends that you enjoy gaming with that can play at the same time as you.

Let players know that you may start something long-term down the road, but you don't need to make any commitments yet. Use the opportunity to just have fun and become familiar with software or rules that are new to you. One-shots are also a great way to test out various options you may be considering, like different rule sets, voice software, etc. Once you have run a few one-shots you will be comfortable with everything, know what kind of campaign you want to run and most importantly, will have a nice long list of new friends to choose from!

Make rotating GMs mandatory!

Even the most dedicated GMs burn out after a while Ė itís pretty rare that a group lasts long with a single GM. As you begin to contact your players about joining, let them know that your primary goal is a long-lasting group of friends playing RPGs and that means rotating GMs every once in a while to give each other breaks. Ask for volunteers as you recruit and during group e-mails as you organize. You may get a volunteer or two easily, but if you donít bring it up in the first meeting. ďIím going to run something for us for the first two months, but then Iíll need a break. Whoís willing to give it to me?Ē I guarantee you at least one player will step up. There will be a good chance you have players who have GMíd before, or who are interested in doing so but werenít comfortable starting their own group. If they are experienced great; if they are new let them know that you and the whole group will be support them and that it will be a lot of fun.

Build on a string of victories.

I don't suggest starting off with grand ideas of long running campaigns, even if that is the ultimate goal. Instead, start small and build on a string of success. Run a multi-session adventure that may or may not turn into a longer campaign. If it struggles, fix what is wrong and start again. If itís a success, build it into a mini-campaign with a definitive end-point, like say 12 sessions or two months Ė at which point someone else will need to GM for a bit while you take a break. Nothing says you can't continue the same campaign after that, but aim for smaller goals and achieve them first.

In my experience, the classic start of "I'm looking for a long-term campaign with reliable players" is most likely going to fizzle out, but a practical short-term approach that you can build on will exceed expectations. Most gaming groups start something they never finish, so actually finishing an adventure Ė even if itís only a few sessions Ė is a really big deal that will help solidify the dedication of the group.

Forge relationships, new and old.

Continuously build on the relationships you created. Keep in touch with your circle of players, even if you aren't playing with them currently Ė you never know when one of the players in your group will have to drop out and you will need to find a replacement. Add them to Google circles, friend them on Steam and play video games with them, chat with them on your favorite communication software. Send them a message every once in a while to see how they are doing and what they are playing. Play in random one-shots with them. You get the idea. For some people that's easy and comes naturally, but for many it needs to be a more deliberate practice. Remember that your real goal is to build up a circle of friends and players over time. It will be your most valuable asset when it comes to gaming long-term.

Finally, donít get stuck in a rut with your old gaming buddies - add new players to your circle as often as you are comfortable with it. One of the greatest joys as a GM is introducing new people to role-playing games! It will inject new life an excitement into your gaming group. If the GM has their act together, it's easy to cultivate good new players. Those new players are going to have a better experience and are more likely to become a permanent member of the hobby. Help them develop good habits and values that are important to GMs and other players. There are a lot of new players who get excited about learning and playing tabletop RPGs online, but get turned off from a poor initial experience and wander away back to the land of video games. You can change that for a lucky few.

Hopefully you have found this information useful and will use these ideas to start or renew your own journey. In the end your process wonít look exactly like mine; figure out what works for you and file away the rest in case you need them.

Good luck and enjoy the process; I'm excited for you and for the fellow players you will find!

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Updated August 23rd, 2017 at 11:04 by Answulf



  1. dmkevin's Avatar
    Really great and clear advice Answulf!!!

    I believe existing GMs can also take a lot out of your points made.
  2. Myrdin Potter's Avatar
    Keeping to a schedule is extremely important. If the GM can commit to a time and day, the larger than slots available demand will help you keep it going.

    I agree that you need to make most of the decisions in advance. Rule system, time and day, adventure you plan on running initially. Once you have a group going, the rest follows.
  3. LordEntrails's Avatar
    Well written and very I formative. I too agree with the importance of decisions being made upfront. It always amazes me how many GMs post without a time. GMs are in demand, and can easily find players for almost any time slot.
  4. mhorgunn's Avatar
    I like all your points .. especially the one about that you can always tweak it down the line.
  5. MarianDz's Avatar
    One of the [I]"must read"[/I] blogs! Thank you for it "[B][I]Answulf[/I][/B]"
  6. Pandar's Avatar
    After reading a complaint from someone about how bad the DM(s) are from Fantasy Grounds, there was a link to this post by LordEntrails and I am glad I took the time to read this post. It not only is very informative but, really explains the whole process if one is inclined to DM themselves. Thank you Answulf for such a thoughtful post.
  7. Answulf's Avatar
    Thanks for the feedback guys - I hope this info helps you get some great gaming started!
  8. LindseyFan's Avatar
    This needs to get a sticky to the FG start screen!
  9. LordEntrails's Avatar
    It's listed in my GM Advice thread. Which is stickied. Blogs themselves can't be stickied, but you can vote on tem so that when someone looks they can find highest rated blogs.
  10. Asterionaisien's Avatar
    Dear Mr. answulf, I would like to express all my most sincere thanks for your advice! I followed it, almost literally, and I finally assembled a group. Truth is, patience is needed, a lot of it, but neverthless it worked!
    I started advertising about my one shots on almost all possible Italians rpg channels, and after I've run several of them (about 7-8) got, out of about 20 people about 5-6 reliable people. No one of them has the inclination to be a DM but hey, I love to DM , so the thing works anyway.
    You, Sir, literally changed my life, and i can be happy again DM'ing after a long string of frustrations and thoughts about quitting this awesome hobby.
  11. Answulf's Avatar
    That is awesome to hear Asterionaisien !!!

    That is exactly why I took the time to organize my thoughts and write that out. I'm so glad it helped you.
  12. JohnD's Avatar
    Excellent advice.
    I use a "3 strikes" rule; 3 missed sessions consecutively with no communication, no voting in the game calendar and I remove the person. You are better off as a DM having an unfilled spot than a spot filled with someone who you can't rely on.

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