"Learn From My Mistakes Series" Issue 03: Creating and Maintaining a Group of Players

Over a year ago I worked on this series that I called the “Learn From My Mistakes Series”. It was a decently popular series that I wrote on /r/DndBehindTheScreen. However as I look back at it now, there are a lot of things that could have been improved upon in that series. So for the next couple of weeks I will be working on revamping my original articles, and adding a few more articles to the original series. If you are interested to see the original articles and the discussion around them, you can find them here.

https://www.reddit.com/r/DnDBehindTheScreen/comments/44wqt6/learn_from_my_mistakes_series_issue_01_puzzles/

Dnd is a fabulous game full of many exciting possiblities and adventures. But one of the struggles that many DM’s go through is actually not a part of the game itself, but instead outside of it. And that struggle is creating and maintaining a group that is able to meet consistently enough in order to enjoy a campaign. Scheduling and organizing groups is a skill that not many people would consider to be a part of the Dungeon Masters mantle, but it is a vital skill if you want to be able to enjoy any campaign for an extended period of time. This post will go into the details on how to create and maintain a consistent group of players, and other things you can do to work around inconsistent schedules and players.

Getting the Right Players

Many people when they first want to DM will simply get a group of their closest friends and start up a game. While this will work more often than not, and can lead to a very successful campaign, there are some red flags that one should watch out for both before your at the table and when you are. If you accidentally invite the wrong player to your group you could be impacting the fun of everyone at the table due to the actions of one person. This is why it is important that you at least have a general idea of who you are inviting to your table.
Disclaimer: It is not impossible to start up a successful Dnd game with a bunch of random people you have never met before. In some cases it can even be preferred as you will get to know a lot more people and will become close friends with a lot of them. I personally started up a game of Dnd at my college without knowing anyone, and by the end of the week I was already good friends with a large group of people. However, if one player is ruining the fun of all the other players you must have the discipline to kick that player from your group. It is your table and you are responsible for the fun of the group as a whole. If someone is disrespecting your rules, or another one of your players talk to them first about the problem, and kick them if things don’t change. 
Here are some things you may want to watch out for when inviting new players to your group.
Red Flag 1: Inconsideration

This kind of player will cause trouble both in and out of game. If they are inconsiderate of the time you have put into preparing for your game, they will likely miss entire sessions without notice, and will feel no regret over it. On top of this they are also likely to become characters whose interest is only upon themselves, they might become the Lone Wolf character. An inconsiderate person is a terrible team player, and a terrible fit for the team based game that is Dungeons and Dragons.
Red Flag 2: Apathy

An apathetic player is someone who will barely pay any attention in your games. They will constantly be on their phones and will always ask you to repeat everything when their turn comes around. They will not be invested in your game, and will not provide any substantial benefit to any team focused task. They are the kind of player that is only there because they were told to show up. If they aren’t going to put any effort into the game that you spent a lot of time on, then they don’t deserve to be there.
Red Flag 3: Rude

A rude player is someone who will not get along with anyone else. These are people who have their own personal agenda, and if slighted in any way will cause huge problems for your group. These are the kind of people who will get upset if you the DM do your job, and make the encounter a challenge. They will feel insulted and will get upset and angry about it. They will argue with other players, and show no respect for anyone in the group. These players do not promote a good environment, and don’t belong at your table.
Red Flag 4: Dominant

If you know someone is a very dominant person, then they might not be a good fit for your table. A dominant person will try to control every aspect of your game and of the other players. They will declare that everyone is doing something before an agreement can even be met, and will frustrate the other players. They may even try to control the game that you are running and declare that things exist when they really don’t. They will get upset when the dice don’t go their way, and they will do everything in their power to make things go their way or no where at all. 
Red Flag 5: Irresponsibility

An irresponsible player is someone who is quick to blame anyone other than themselves. Often they will find themselves in trouble and will quickly point fingers at the closest person, thus upsetting that person and creating more problems. They will fail to learn from their mistakes and often put the party in situations that most of them would never want to be in. They are also likely to miss sessions frequently and will be hard pressed to help when they are needed. 
Disclaimer 2: That is not to say that players with these qualities should never be allowed at a Dnd table. If you do happen to invite a player with one or more of the above qualities it is not impossible for things to work out. Just keep in mind that these players can be more difficult to handle, and may have to be kicked out of the group at a future point. 
The above list is not comprehensive by any means but they each share an important quality. Each one of these problem players are terrible team players. Dnd is a team based game where you have to work together, and if anyone is upsetting that balance then problems can and will emerge. Most of these problems should be able to be spotted before they join the game, but sometimes you won’t know these qualities about that player until they sit at your table. In any case, when inviting players to your game be careful about who you are inviting.

When a Problem does Arise, Talk About It

Whenever you are experiencing a problem with your players or group one of the first things you should do is address the problem by talking about it. Many people make the mistake of trying to dance around the issue instead of talking about it. They will punish the player in game, or will hope the problem will simply disappear and it always ends up badly. You are the person in charge of the group, it is your responsibility that any issues are resolved as quickly and painlessly as possible. And the simplest and most effective way to do this is to simply talk it out with your players. If someone is causing an issue simply pull them aside in private and talk to them about the issue. Tell them that what they are doing is not ok, and ask them politely to stop it. The key word there is to be polite. Don’t be rude towards them, or try to punish them for what they did. Simply ask them to stop in private and see if that resolves the issue. 90% of the time it should. However sometimes they will continue doing it. Talk to them again this time in front of the whole group, and if they continue doing it anyways, then you might just have to kick them in order to maintain the integrity of the entire group. 
One of the most important parts of being the leader is knowing how to stop problems. Always talk out the issue before you do anything else. Otherwise you may ruin the game, and your friendships. If the game falls apart because of a problem player, it is also your fault because it was within your power to stop that. You are responsible for your games, so it is important that you step up for them.

Maintaining a Group of Players

So lets say you finally get a wonderful group of players who are great team players. The next step is insuring that they will come to as many games as possible. Doing this requires proper scheduling and working with your players to discover the best times for your game. A lot of games full of otherwise great players will fall apart if the schedule is not done correctly. The easiest way to ensure an ongoing game in my opinion is to establish one day of the week/month that you will play and not deviating from it. By saying that we play Fridays from 4-8 every week, ensures that your players will know exactly when you are playing. They will then be able to plan around it and ensure that they won’t have to miss on that day. If the time you meet is all over the place, it will be impossible for your players to plan around that day and they will be much more likely to miss. 
Another thing I like to do is to tell my players a day or two in advance when Dnd is. I will also ask my players if they can tell me if they will be able to arrive. I will typically send out a group text saying “Dnd on 4 this Friday, please let me know if you can’t come that day.” By saying this I remind my players of the day, and open up a discussion where my players can tell me if they are going to be absent. Most of the time, your players will not tell you if they are going to be absent or not, so be productive and ask them in advance. That way when they don’t show up on Friday you already know why they couldn’t come. 

Conclusion

Dnd is not a game without your players, so it is important that you work with them in order to create and maintain a good gaming group. By choosing the right players and working out any problems that may come up, you ensure that your players will be happy every time they come to your game. Proper scheduling of your sessions also makes it easier for your players to plan and be prepared for your game. Next week I will be talking about how to prepare world instead of plot in your games. Have a great week, and an amazing Tuesday!

 





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