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I have recently tried helping my DM organize a campaign. It isn't going well. We've had one session thus far, and players are really being flakey, and using their social loafing skills religiously. Here is an example of our two attempts at sessions:

DM: Hey, so how would Sunday work for everyone?
1: I cannot go; I have a funeral.
2: I am out of town. Let's do an online session.
3,4,5: I can go.
DM: Yes, we'll meet up and build our characters, then do an online session together.

Result: DM, 4, and 5 all meet up to make characters, then have an online session with 2. 3 is not there for the online session. 1 and 3 are nowhere to be seen.

DM: So, would Monday at 3 not work for anyone?
24 hours with no response ...
DM: Alright, see you guys at 3 on Monday.
2PM Monday ...
4: I cannot go; I'm out of town.
DM: Okay.

Result: DM and me (5) meet up. 1 is a ghost. 2 is still out of town, and we knew this. No fault there. 3 we end up messaging; says they don't want to participate unless everyone's there. DM and I nearly toss him out of the group then and there. We both know that's not happening. 4 is not there and gave us a 1 hour notice.

We ended up hanging out and whatnot instead, and came up with 3 solutions to what we call "Flake hell".

  1. We invite many people, and cull out those who don't arrive. Rinse and repeat as players stop arriving.

  2. We work with the players on an individual level and prevent social loafing. Make sure to call them physically on their phone, make it a personal commitment for the players.

  3. Invite strangers to play with us. Not bad, but it's a real wildcard.

  4. Abandon the project.

We really don't want 4, but if no players show up, the group will just fade away. What strategies could we use to market our campaign to people, and further more increase the retention of players? Are there other options that I have not listed?

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There are a few details that may help, as some have already mentioned:

  • Set up a Doodle poll to find when everybody's free. Do this far enough in advance that people have several days to respond, then you can make a final selection and send it to the group, who can then make sure the time remains clear.
  • Have a consistent meeting time.
  • Make it easier to attend by getting dinner, moving the location, setting up carpooling, etc.
  • Explicitly delegate the group-wrangling to someone else - just because you're the one DMing doesn't mean you have to be the one sending out reminder emails. (I recommend doing this anyway just to spread out the work.)
  • Have enough people that you'll still have a quorum if one or two people can't make it (this is key; life happens.)

But there are really two fundamental things that make people show up in my experience.

Get aligned on expectations

If you're playing (most) videogames with friends, it doesn't much matter who shows up - you can still have a good time. D&D, while it has some flexibility, really requires a certain number of people to work, and if you've tailored the story to people's characters, may require particular people to be there for a given session in order to go smoothly.1

If you have first-time players, they may not understand this. So talk to your group and establish the importance of showing up every week. If you have enough serious players, you may collectively decide you only want people who can commit to being there every session, barring an emergency. In most cases, you'll have to be a bit more flexible, which may affect what type of game you can play as far as the strength of the connections between sessions. See The Open Table Manifesto for an example of episodic-style gaming that doesn't require the same players every week.

Make the answer to "Are we meeting today?" a permanent YES

This is my number 1 super-secret trick. Once you've established a regular meeting time, make it clear that absent specific information otherwise, you will ALWAYS meet for games at that time. If you don't have a quorum for D&D, have board games or other activities ready instead, suitable for any number of players. It's a nice change of pace, and prevents situations where everyone vaguely thought it wasn't happening because so-and-so couldn't make it - only to discover that so-and-so's situation changed, and they're the ONLY one who made it, when you could have had a full group. Making something fun happen every time, instead of calling the event off when someone can't make it, fixes the expectation of going into people's minds and schedules.

1Aside: when you're missing a key player, I've had good success with assuming people will live through a particular scene and skipping it, then doing a flashback later, as long as you can resolve everything before the next session or so. YMMV depending on game type.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for Permanent yes. We do this with our group, we meet every 2 weeks no matter what. When schedules change for individuals we all try to work together to find a new day. There's many groups that I've played that floundered after 2 or 3 sessions because of attendance, and it's not fun, for anyone but especially me as the GM, if you can't agree to a weekly/bi-weekly schedule, then you can't be part of my campaign. Maybe a 1 shot here and there, but that's it. \$\endgroup\$ – John Grabanski May 24 '17 at 13:22
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Some methods I've had luck with include:

  1. Set up a recurring night that all can commit to
  2. Use a weekday night (since people tend to be busy on weekends)
  3. Set it for every other week (weekly can sometimes be too much)
  4. Serve (cheap/easy) food so that players can have dinner while playing
  5. At the end of each session, confirm that everyone can make it to the next session
  6. Use an email group (or something similar) for communication
  7. Send a reminder the day before each game
  8. The first session should be fun and exciting, so handle character generation beforehand (on their own, via email, or use a pregen) and let them adjust later
  9. Cycle through players until you obtain reliable ones (as you mentioned). Of course, "How to find more players" is a different topic, but I mainly ask players if they have friends that might be interested, or go to public games and find people I like.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem with every other week is that if you miss one session it's now 4 weeks between games. Weekly means at least if you skip one occasionally you are still playing reasonably regularly. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B May 18 '17 at 9:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ If your schedule allows weekly, then go for it. But many cannot, which could lead to flakiness. Same with propagating the expectation that skipping sessions is ok. I normally reschedule a missed session to the following week. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Vincent May 18 '17 at 17:06
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One of the goals of my current campaign is to allow players to drop in and out easily. This goal was driven by our previous campaign fizzling out due to the concerns that you have - we were hesitant to play without a full player count. At the end of each session we would try to schedule the next, which could be on a random day, or a long time away. There were times when we would cancel the day of the session. It was pretty terrible.

We're about six sessions in with the new campaign, and it's going very well despite rarely having a everyone there.

These are the core strategies that help with this:

Consistent meeting time

As mentioned in several answers, this helps people plan and know their availability well in advance. I recommend a poll like @SirTechSpec suggested. Knowing that the game will continue at a steady pace with or without them puts some pressure on players to want to attend.

Large player count

Also mentioned in several answers, this helps mitigate the impact of no-shows. We have 7 players but will play with as few as 3. I wouldn't recommend inviting more players than you can handle if they all show up on the same day - turning someone away is no fun.

Encounter scaling

With varying player counts, you'll need to do some work on the fly to keep things reasonably balanced. I usually just add or remove monsters.

Milestone leveling

This prevents players from being punished too much for having busy schedules. They're still missing out on loot, which is plenty mechanical punishment.

Ignoring appearances and absences in universe

The characters of players that aren't there are ignored or assumed to be doing something else, like hanging out in town, foraging for food, or following along without much impact. When the player shows up, the character is treated as if they've always been there. This takes some suspension of disbelief, but it helps reinforce the idea that we're all busy adults, and missing some game nights isn't a huge deal.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Well reasoned and (mostly) well presented. Welcome to the site. One change I did make on your behalf was turning your bold-faced faux-headings into real headings. They're helpful for people using screen readers and other assistive technologies. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. May 17 '17 at 15:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. Thanks for the edit, I wasn't aware of that markdown syntax! \$\endgroup\$ – Carl Kevinson May 17 '17 at 15:27
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Commitment is certainly the hard part of getting a good gaming group going. Some people enjoy the idea of gaming, but aren't interested in putting in the time it takes to participate in a formal campaign.

Considering that you've flagged this as , have you considered Adventurer's League play? It's effectively option 3 on your list, with the caveat of some pre-built structure.

If you can find a decent venue to run games in (Googling in your local area, or resources like Warhorn can help), your DM should never be lacking for warm bodies - DMs are sometimes in higher demand than players. Some locations, like retail stores, often give the DM special benefits for running.

The AL format also explicitly supports drop-in-drop-out play, allowing people to come and go as they can. Admittedly, there are issues playing together when crossing certain level tier thresholds, but there are also ways around it (like DM rewards or a built-in tier-bump option for characters who are close). You can use the AL format and AL rules in home game, but the real point of AL is character portability (you can take them to any other AL format table and use them). It also has an explicit three-player minimum rule (DM+3, that is) for the session to be AL-legal.

It could be an upside (for ease of burden on the DM) or a downside (for lack of control by the DM), but all AL play uses published modules. There's plenty to choose from, and a smart DM can weave them together in interesting ways, but it is a factor to consider.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ We have, the nearest one is pretty far away; is it possible to start one? is it easy? \$\endgroup\$ – tuskiomi May 16 '17 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've added a bit about using AL for a home game, but I'm not sure what you're asking... Is what easy? Finding an AL-based group? That depends on area - I live in a reasonably high-density part of the US, both by population and gaming popularity. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. May 16 '17 at 18:47
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Sometimes it can help if you make the group larger, that way, it's not fatal if a couple people can't make it to a session. Of the two campaigns I'm playing in, the one with 8 players is consistent and regular. Most of the time everyone shows up, but sometimes someone can't and we play anyway. The other one only has 3 players, and so if someone can't make it, it's a real problem. We're trying to add a few players to that one.

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I assume that you are not in school/uni anymore, but hard-working fellows with other commitments, maybe even families.

The only method I have ever, ever witnessed which works to get a group of adults to meet regularly:

  1. Pick a time and a place; this needs to stay the same each time. No spontaneous meetings, no online meetings, no shifting whatsoever. Put it in stone.
  2. Put up a doodle or whatnot for your next one or two sessions and have people confirm their attendance.
  3. If, a few days before the session, you still are below a critical mass of attendees, the session gets officially cancelled.
  4. If the session is happening, people who said that they'd attend cannot bow out unless it's for life-and-death reasons.
  5. If you have people who regularly do not show up, no matter whether they bowed out in advance or just don't appear, they have to leave the group and are no longer part of future sessions. This needs to be quite firm; make it 2-3 times missed or so. Missing an acknowledged session must be a "huge deal", not something which just happens every other week.

Reasoning:

"5" makes it so that people only acknowledge the next session if they have a really good probability of turning up; they are also encouraged to shift their other stuff around the session. "3" makes sure that you don't just hang out with 2 people. "2" is a constant reminder about the next session. "1" makes it a "jour fixe" which is easy to remember and plan for (make a recurring date in your calendar app / Outlook, whatever).

This may sound harsh and unfun, but again, I have never witnessed any adult group staying together for any amount of time unless this is done. If it turns out that few people ever acknowledge the next session, then it just wasn't supposed to happen, anyways.

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I would recommend trying methods 2, 1, 3, and 4 in that order.

There's a minimum of information here, so I'm hesitant to answer, but I can offer some advice based on what's provided.

  1. Trying Option 2 - Tabletop gaming is a collaborative effort and the sort of thing that all involved need to contribute to the success of. Right now, your group isn't making a full effort to participate. I find this frustrating as well because while I'm sympathetic that real life intervenes, I don't like hearing that DnD got bumped because somebody decided 'real life' was more important that day; DnD is real life because you're really playing and socializing with friends. If you're playing on Wednesdays, then write it into your schedule in pen. There's always exceptions (like funerals) but when last-minute cancellations to just skip game night because something better came along, it's profoundly rude to your friends whom aren't going to get to enjoy 'something better'. I would make sure you reflect this point of view in any discussion you have when pursuing Option 2. I will say that it's important to be aware of people's schedules. Depending on your age, time slots fill up fast. I am 33 and can almost never do anything with only 24 hours notice. Sometimes, even if I can, I will decline for no reason other than I don't want to set that precedent. A consistent day that's been agreed upon at least a few days in advance is my preferred manner to account for folks' schedules.
  2. Trying Option 1 - If your friends group is broad enough to support this, I recommend it. We've had to resort to this for a game we're running right now and it's worked reasonably well provided you can suspend disbelief a bit to justify why different characters are there one week and not the next. If the disbelief is a major issue, ignore the rules about people suffocating in bags of holding and start stuffing bodies in one. Alternately, make up some sort of in-game magic item that justifies it. One game we had, the group had encountered a magical painting where the people in it would animate periodically and step out to join the party then step back in; it was a handy means to justify people coming and going as we were all just magical objects.
  3. Trying Option 3 - Always a crap shoot, but if it gets this far your friends may not be as good friends as they should be. Sometimes it just comes down to only you and one other person are really serious about tabletop gaming and for everyone else it's a passing hobby. If this is the case, then expanding your friend group isn't a bad idea to include others who share your passion on a comparable level. As TJL mentioned, AL games are a good way to engage this option.
  4. Trying Option 4 - This is inevitable for all games and we must accept it.
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A lot of people have been suggesting a large group. That works if you're okay with characters floating in and out, but if you care about a coherent narrative, I'd suggest at least considering going smaller. Three or four can work pretty well together, and it gives you some space to trim, while you look for people who can and will commit.

Additionally, make sure that your fellow players actually want to be in the same game you do. You sound like you want to have a serious, story-driven game that requires a degree of commitment, and at least some of your fellow players sound like they aren't really interested in that. They seem to want a "have an excuse to hang out sometime, when I feel like it" game. If that's the case, you have three options. You can change your objective, you can change their objective (not trivial), or you can find new players.

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Even the people that play in stores near me use Meetup.com for organization. I would strongly suggest you do the same especially if as you say there's few options in terms of nearby venues to play at.

You could get some solid feedback, people can verify they're going and you can get a few wait listers. The top 1 or 2 wait listers can show up in the hopes of getting a seat and if not might stick around just for food, conversation and watching the game. This is how I got into my first few games.

It'll do all of the notification and reminder stuff for you too.


As far as keeping the players showing up. Realize things do come up. Some are better than others. Work schedules may change, classes if in college, etc.

Make the game fun, keep everyone engaged, and they'll want to come back. Beyond that they still have to have the time to do so.

Like a lot of groups I see want to play on Fridays, Saturdays or Sunday evenings. This seems bizarre to me. I'd either make it a Monday-Thursday evening or Saturday/Sunday starting between 11 to 2 and certainly ending by around 5 so people can make dinner plans.

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