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I have been playing D&D-5e for a while with my friends and a lot of times, when they say they are completely sure they can come to a meet, they end up not coming. I would at least like to get them to let me know before I waste time going to the meeting place. They don't even have a good excuse, they just change their mind at the last minute. I can't find the right thing to say to get them to actually come. All I need are good ways to get them to agree to a time and place and actually follow through on it.

Do people have a technique they have used at their own table that has worked to solve this issue?

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    \$\begingroup\$ A few details that might help here: What is the age range of you and your players? How many people are in your group? Do all of them show this issue or is it a consistent subset of them and the rest show up if they say they will? How often does this happen? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 27 at 14:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ What are the players' excuses (whether those excuses are good or not)? Do they just say "I changed my mind"? Do they make something else up? Do they say nothing at all? It would help to understand the motives of the absent players. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Feb 27 at 15:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you talked about this with them directly? Or is it just on a case of "Yes, we're all set for Thursday" and then folks cancel last minute and now you're asking here? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 27 at 16:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are these old friends that are blowing you off, or a group that you just met, like on meetup.com? \$\endgroup\$ – RobertF Feb 28 at 1:58
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A Frank conversation with big Curt and little Josh

This title sounds totally corny, and maybe it is, but I use this phrase to remind myself when I need to have an honest conversation with someone (I'm going to be frank) and I need to be straightforward (I'll be curt) and it's ok to bring a little humor into the conversation to keep it light (I can josh around a little bit).

I find this approach works particularly well when I need to have a conversation about something serious with someone I have an established relationship with. For example, when I'm collaborating with friends on a project and an issue has come up, when I'm checking in with a student I have a good rapport with about low performance in a class I'm teaching, or when I talk to my children about a poor decision they made. I GM with friends often, and this approach works well when I have a concern with a player, a group of players or even the whole group of us.

Don't Sally about, and meet with Grace.

Ugh, I know, the name puns have to stop! This phrase helps remind me to not wait around (sally about) for a problem to solve itself and approach the problem with compassion and grace. It's a good reminder that not all problems are as I see them, and especially when other people are involved. There is usually a good reason those people are acting the way they are. I find it helpful to approach a situation like this by giving the other person the opportunity to express themselves.

Bringing it together

So how do you apply these approaches to your situation? You've already started: You noticed the problem and you want to correct it (you're not sallying about). And you've come to RPG Stack Exchange to find a good way to do that (go you!). The next step is going to be a little harder: You have to talk to your friends.

I would suggest speaking to each player individually, in person if possible or by phone if that's not possible. Texting and other typed conversations often lead to misunderstandings when resolving interpersonal issues, I strongly suggest you avoid these. Tell them what you've noticed:

Hey, I noticed you haven't been able to make it to a lot of our games.

(Yeah)

Tell them what happens when they're not there:

When you're not there it's really hard for the group and the story to function properly. We all know you're the best at kicking orc butt (or whatever they are actually the best, or really good at. This shows them their value, and they are valuable - that's why it sucks when they don't show up, because you value them, make sure they know this). It also makes it really hard for me to GM if I expect you to show up and you're not there (these both show them the consequences of their actions).

(Oh bug, I didn't realize)

Ask them their ideas:

What do you think we should do about this? (you could/should also add:) Is there anything I can do?

There's a lot of responses that can come out of this. They may tell you Tuesdays actually don't work so well for them. They may say actually the game isn't what they thought it would be and their not that interested (and that's ok). They might say they've been feeling out of place because they don't really understand how to play, or that roleplaying makes them uncomfortable. They could say they suck at keeping track of appointments and they just plain forget. These and any other answers are all good to know and can lead to resolution.

Whatever their response is, listen for the underlying issue and respond to that. If it's something you can help them resolve, then do what you can to help them. You'll have to determine for yourself what you're willing to do to help them, but don't commit to anything that is not realistic and doesn't feel right. If it's not something that can be resolved (like they have no time) let them know that you really appreciated their presence in the group but they can't really play if they can't show up. There are of course a spectrum of responses, you could also let them know it's ok if they only come once a month, you just need to know before hand when they will show up.

When you've come to a resolution be sure to seal the deal:

I'm so glad we worked this out. You can count on me to text you two days before each meeting to remind you the time and place. (or whatever you decided you would do.)

(ok, cool)

Can I count on you to get back to me the day before to let me know if you can or can't make it? (or whatever you decided they should do).

(yeah, sure)

Ok, cuz if you don't, no more Orc butt-kicking for you. Seriously, I can't let you be a part of the group if I don't know if you'll show up.

(alright, fair enough.)

If you feel the issue has been resolved say something like:

I'm glad we worked this out. or I'm sorry this won't work out for you, let's hang out sometime when you have more time. or whatever seems appropriate - this is a good opportunity to be funny and end the conversation on a light note.

What if they respond with "I don't know."?

You've asked them what they think should be done and they respond with the dreaded, "I dunno." What now? Keep the ball in their court, but remind them you're available to help. Something like:

Ok, well let's keep this convo going. Can you think about it and get back to me before the end of the week? (or any timetable you think is reasonable here) We'd all really like for you to be a part of the group and I'm available to help make that happen if possible. I really need to know if and how you can be a part of the group so I know how to prepare the campaign each week.

If they don't get back to you, make sure to call them and check in near the end of the week, or whatever timetable you agreed on. If they still don't have a response you'll have to be firm:

Can you think about it and let me know when you're ready to talk about this? In the mean time, I'm going to ask that you don't attend our sessions until we can work this out. I can't plan the campaign without knowing who will participate.

Hold each player (and yourself) to your agreement with them

Whatever you end up deciding with each player, hold them and yourself up to your part of the deal. If you said you would text to remind them the day before each meeting, do it. If they said they would let you know when they can't show up at least a day in advance and they don't do it tell them that's not fair to you or the group and they can no longer be a part of the group.

This approach can work with as many people as are behaving this way, whether it is one person or the whole group. However many people it is, talk with each person individually. Approaching the group all at once may be overwhelming for you as the GM, as each person may have their own reasons for being unreliable, and it could quickly devolve into a situation where you are feeling attacked by the group.

If you end up having to drop a player or two, or even all, don't worry, you can find new people to play with. Playing with unreliable people is generally a lot more trouble than it's worth. There are ways to create a campaign with players who come and go, but that's for another question.

Don't forget to breathe. You got this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is amazing advice for general feedback, even outside of D&D \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Feb 28 at 8:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I dunno... it kind of reads like an alien wrote a book entitled "How to Convincingly Engage in Appropriate Human-to-Human Conversation". I could see it being posted outside of the human resources office—which is, technically, outside of D&D. :D \$\endgroup\$ – AmagicalFishy Mar 1 at 3:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @amagicalfishy that's hilarious. I often feel like an alien on planet earth, so maybe there's something to what you're saying ... More than you know ... (x-files theme song) ... \$\endgroup\$ – lightcat Mar 1 at 5:13
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If they are not willing to put in the effort, it may be time to consider ending the game.

This does not just apply to RPGs. What your players are showing you (indirectly) is how much they care about playing and the time that you as the GM have put into this. When I ask my players for a small back story, yes it can be useful, but what I really want to know is if they care enough to put any work into making this fun.

As the GM, you will put in exponentially more work than then players (usually). If they can't be bothered to even tell you they won't show up, why are you putting in the effort? Any trick or tip we can give you to make them show up will not change the fact that they are not interested in playing the game.

My advice to you would be to set up a session - if they don't show up tell them the game is over. When they ask why, explain all of the effort that goes into prepping the fun they get to have and tell them you do not have the time to do all that prep if no one will show up. This could play out a couple of different ways:

  • It will prompt discussion about why. Maybe the players are bored with the way the story is going, or they aren't interested and they are too shy to say anything.
  • Maybe they just don't realize the effort that goes into prepping and after seeing how much work you put in, they will put in more effort
  • Maybe they are just disrespectful and honestly don't care. In that case, find a new group
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Get other players.

Granted, that sounds provocative (and is a little exaggerated, you should always talk with people first), but it's really all it boils down to. If your players don't bother showing up to agreed-upon sessions, without giving excuses, then they apparently value other things more than D&D and the effort you put into preparation.

In my experience, if players don't show up to a session without an explanation, that's because of one of two reasons. Readers other than OP: remember that the issue at hand is not people that miss sessions because of valid reasons such as work or illness.

One possible reason is that they have a major reason why they couldn't come, but which they want to keep secret (at least from you). Examples could include a cancer diagnosis or pregnancy which they don't want to announce publically yet. Obviously, this situation is a rather rare case. Either way, if this is the case with (some of) your players, it might help to talk to them about it, and potentially ask them to take an announced break from D&D if they're not gonna be able to show up anyways. That way, at least, you don't have to cancel sessions because half the people decided not to show up.

The other possibility, which is more likely in my experience, is that they didn't want to play. This might be the case because they simply have other hobbies which they enjoy more and prioritize higher, in which case there's no real point in attempting to include them in your session planning. Whether or not you let them stay in your group and just don't let them participate in session planning is up to you.

However, the reason why they don't want to play doesn't have to be necessarily connected to them having better alternatives per se.
In my first D&D group (which I'm still playing with), I've had issues with the DM pretty frequently, which both of us were responsible for. Eventually, once we were done with LMOP, another player started DMing, and it's been much better since. Anyways, before that happened, another player who was rather sensitive about quarrels between other people (such as me and the DM) and also generally prone to depression decided to leave the group because of our arguments. We only found out later that this was the reason why he left, otherwise we would have probably done something about it. Either way, I think this is a good example of another reason why someone might not enjoy playing in your group.


Bottom line: talk to your players, and figure out why they decided not to show up before you kick them out.

If it's because of a reason they can't tell you or if they have issues with some of the more disruptive people in the group, try to work with them. If they simply have better things to do, put up with it as long as you're motivated, otherwise, kick them out. It's probably a good idea to talk with the reliably present players first, though.

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I was previously part of a group which would get together for fun activities, in a context where a lot of people were known for being flaky and not showing up.

The solution was to impose a cost for no-shows via a deposit system.
When the organizer announced a date, anyone who wanted to participate had to give the organizer funds, equal to about three hours' wages for the typical group member. When they showed up, they got that back.

When spots were limited, this mechanism also provided a way to allocate spots, which went to the first n to make their deposit.

This was an effective solution (and today, would probably be done with an electronic form of payment or maybe even a "smart contract" and cryptocurrency depending on the crowd...the key is to make it easy). It was made relatively easy for participants, who also trusted the organizer to do a good job in record-keeping etc. (and in any case the organizer usually added more value for the participants than the amount of the deposit, on top of the fact that the deposit was returned, for those who showed up).

It may or may not be an effective solution for your group- maybe your current players just don't care anymore and it's time to have a conversation about if they would like to end the game. Other answers here have value and are worth reading.

However, this is a solution that worked effectively for a group I was part of, so I contribute it here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This could work really well for the right group and be disastrous for the wrong group. I'm definitely keeping this in my GM toolkit as an option for the future. Great idea! +1 \$\endgroup\$ – lightcat Feb 28 at 0:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 28 at 2:08
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This sort of rudeness (failing to turn up to an agreed meeting without any warning nor even a good reason) appears to be increasingly common.

Change the "organizing a session" game; the way you're doing it is part of the problem because sufficiently inconsiderate people have no reason not to treat it as optional. There's a number of ways to do this. Here's some example suggestions; the first few put the ball in the players' court.

  1. Move to a West Marches style of organizing times -- the players have to sort out when they can play and tell you. If they manage to offer you a time that also suits you, then you will prepare something and turn up.

  2. "New rule": any time a player fails to turn up without advance notice, they have to organize the next session (and if you're playing at people's homes, perhaps to host it). Let them suffer your angst over players who ditch and they might not be so quick to do it to you. Having to take the responsibility of organizing the next one is not so onerous that it should be a big problem for someone who had a good reason not to make it (like car trouble).

  3. More extreme version: a player fails to turn up without advance notice runs the next session; they have to prepare and run a one-shot for everyone. However, the DM of the session they ditched gets a "free ditch" and can flake on them without penalty.

  4. Introduce some small form of "pre-commitment". e.g. Point out that there are costs involved with running D&D and explain that from now on, at the end of each session you will ask them to make a small up-front contribution (cash, say a couple of dollars) to the next session. [Such funds should be used to purchase minis or other niceties to buff the game experience, so the players are really contributing to their own enjoyment. If you don't need any minis, maps, modules, etc, consider munchies]

    People tend to see an expense that they don't take advantage of as a loss, and typically try to avoid them.

  5. Have a "session 0" style meeting, where among other things, the players themselves work out a solution to dealing with the problem of people who flake. If they won't take dealing with it seriously, you need to find a different group.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: #4 Note that whilst this is a very commonly believed-in strategy, actual research says it makes things worse. It appears that by assigning a material cost to ditching, you remove the social cost. People think "well, I paid them my $x so if I choose to not turn up that's now just my choice to waste $x". IIRC the original research was around a daycare centre, if you want to try to find it. \$\endgroup\$ – Brondahl Mar 1 at 8:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi, thanks for your comment. The size of the amount is important. For example, research shows that people's responses involving moral judgements are quite different when token amounts are involved than when economically realistic amounts are. (e.g. People will often be very honest when being paid a dollar to do some job and they are asked to "cheat" in some fashion - but will be much less so when paid a wage). \$\endgroup\$ – Glen_b Mar 1 at 8:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oooh, Cool! Did not know about that additional nuance! Do you have keywords to search for so that I can find that research? (Or a link even, if that's possible?) \$\endgroup\$ – Brondahl Mar 1 at 11:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll see if I can dig it up, but I wonder if you could also provide some more details so I can take a look at the specific study you mention. \$\endgroup\$ – Glen_b Mar 1 at 11:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Will likewise go digging :) \$\endgroup\$ – Brondahl Mar 1 at 11:55
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I have played in groups that fizzle out and groups that continue for prolonged campaigns. In my experience, the groups that stay together the longest are comprised of people that enjoy each others company beyond the game table, whether this friendship is preexisting or is formed via the game itself.

Playing a roleplaying game is a weighty time commitment, and it is common to eventually prefer staying home on your day off instead of traveling to sit at a table for several hours waiting for your turn. The only cure to this entropy is not only to make the game itself enjoyable, but also the ancillary experiences associated with this commitment should feel like an overall beneficial social experience that is worth the investment.

So, consider the following, in addition to whether or not your gamemastering skills are captivating enough:

  1. Do the players get along, or do they only know each other during the game and it's awkward?
  2. Is traveling to the site of the game cumbersome?
  3. Is everyone being properly fed, or are they skipping meals to play the game?
  4. Are the rooms, tables, and the chairs you're using conducive to relaxation?
  5. Is alcohol being served or prohibited against the wishes of some participants?
  6. Did the players not prepare enough by prereading the rules (or never bought the books) and are now feeling overwhelmed?
  7. Is somebody holding a grudge against another player based on that player-character's past actions, that player's personal behavior at the table, or just simply feels like that player is "a jerk" (arrogance, annoyingness, hijacking other players' agency, displaying prejudicial behaviors, etc.)?

In my personal opinion, the seventh (7th) item on my list is more common than you might expect, and it can be difficult to detect while you've got your nose buried in your notes during the game. Cliques and cabals can form after even a single perceived slight or insult between players, and it may be the case that one or two of your players are repelling the rest who are too polite to tell you.

And if all else fails, bribe the players with dank pizza and overpowered treasure.

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