by Mike Shea on 23 May 2016
Note: This article has been updated from the original published in September 2012.
Of all the difficulties facing our desire to run D&D games, the greatest difficulty will always be finding and keeping a great group of players. It is the great limitation of this hobby. Some groups manage to stay together, living through adventures, for decades. Most of us, however, have to actively and continually work to build and keep our groups going as long as we can.
We face a continual struggle to scrape time away from the rest of our lives to play D&D. We ask the same for each player who agrees to take time away from their families, their work, and their other responsibilities to join us and become a kid again. Sometimes the very location we live limits our ability to find and retain players.
Times have changed as well. The ways we find groups, organize groups, and even the environment in which we run our games has changed along with it. In this article we're going to look at some ideas for finding and retaining a solid group of D&D players. As always, if you have your own ideas, tips, tricks, and stories, please share them on Twitter or in email.
We live in the age of the nerd. Electronic gaming is a bigger industry than the motion picture industry. Movies and shows like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, and Walking Dead has built huge groups of fantasy and science fiction lovers all around us. Many of these lovers of gaming, science fiction, and fantasy are easy marks for potential players in our Dungeons & Dragons games. The easiest way to find out is to talk to them about it.
Most importantly, we shouldn't fear discussing and describing our hobby to anyone and everyone. We don't have to hide our hobby in the closet anymore. Wearing our love of this game on our sleeve is a great way to draw out others who share our interest and love.
Friends of friends also make for great potential D&D gamers. Even if our direct acquaintances aren't fans, they might mention it to someone who is. Word of mouth is a powerful tool to find new players.
The D&D Adventurer's League is a great way to find local game shops that run regular D&D games. Their Facebook page is a great place to hunt down local groups looking for players or players looking for a DM. These public play games are also fantastic ways to meet new players and perhaps recruit them for your own home games. Not everyone feels safe or comfortable at gaming shops, however, so make sure to do your part to make it as safe and comfortable an experience as you can make it for everyone who shares our love for the game.
Running a D&D game online was never really an option until the last few years. Now, with fantastic tools like Roll20, groups can get together and play D&D from anywhere in the world. Running online games is a topic all to itself and one likely better written about by those who spend more time on it than I do. It's a fantastic option, however, for those who can't easily organize a local group or simply prefer running online. Give it a try.
There are a lot of online resources for finding players. Meetup.com runs a popular Dungeons and Dragons Meetup Group website with over 200,000 members, mostly in the US and UK. Message forums such as Enworld are also potential sources to find local players.
As you feel out new potential players, offer to run one-shot games or short campaigns so you can all gauge whether the chemistry of your group is right for a longer commitment. Most people will have a hard time committing to a regular weekly game, but if you get the energy behind it, they might end up in one anyway and loving every minute of it.
This also give us a needed chance to feel out our players and ensure we have the kind of group that will bring the most fun to us all. If the chemistry isn't right, you aren't committing to a big campaign, just a one-shot game.
D&D 5e is built around the idea of four PCs and four players to run those PCs. After hundreds of games, I've come to the conclusion that four to six players is the sweet spot for the game. Fewer than that and the creative synergy isn't as awesome. More than six and each player gets too little time and attention of the whole game. It's also much harder to manage the game and balance encounters with more than six players. For this reason, we might consider keeping the size of our group to between four and six players.
If we find ourselves lucky enough to have a group but end up with more than six interested players, we might consider talking to a couple of them to join as "on call" players. Often there are people who want to play but cannot play regularly or people who want to join after we already have a core group of six regular players. If they're willing, we can put them on the "on call" list and invite them when a seat opens up at any given session. This isn't a perfect solution, but discussing the topic openly and ensuring everyone understands how this works can prevent hurt feelings. In some cases, players are happy to be on call because it means less of a commitment for them as well as us.
After our group is solid we still might meet new people interested in playing. We can add these to our on-call list if they're interested or offer to run some one-shot games with the new group so people can still get a shot at rolling some dice. We never know if these on-call players will end up becoming regular members so it's always worth keeping the option open.
Finding players for our D&D games is a continual struggle. Sometimes we find ourselves lucky enough to have a core group of players for many years but other times, as the river of life twists and turns, we find ourselves seeking players to fill out the table. Options are available to us but there are no easy answers. When we find our good group, we owe it to everyone to enjoy each and every game as much as we can.
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