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Interviewing New D&D Players for Online Games

by Mike on 18 July 2022

Getting and keeping a D&D group together remains the hardest part of this hobby. For general tips on this topic read my previous article on Finding and Maintaining a D&D Group.

Things have changed. In October 2019 roughly 70% of DMs and players I surveyed on Twitter played primarily in person. That's dropped to 26% in 2022. This doesn't necessarily mean less people are playing in person (though that'd be no surprise given Covid-19); it may mean many more people are playing than ever before and most of them are playing online.

Either way, more people are playing online than ever before and this changes how we find and maintain a group. For one, there's a bigger pool of players online than there is for local games. And, as always, there are more players seeking a game than there are DMs willing to run games.

This guide assumes you're a DM looking for players. It's harder to offer advice for players seeking a game opposite. Your best bet to find a game is to run one.

The Player Funnel

Finding players for online games is different than finding players for in-person games. The pool is much larger and the barriers to entry are much lower. This is good and bad. We have many more players we can survey which means many more players we'll want to filter to find the right players for our game.

To do this, we need a funnel with a bunch of filters. Here's what these filters look like:

Layer 1: The Wide Net

First, we have to find those huge swathes of players. There are a few often-recommended locations for finding players including:

Following whatever rules these forums have, put up a post seeking players focusing them down on the second layer: the application.

Layer 2: The Player Application Form

You may get a lot of players from layer 1 so you want to filter further to find the players most likely to fit well into your game. We can use Google Forms for this to create an online application for new potential players.

Writing a form like this is tricky. We don't want to fill it with a bunch of obvious questions with clear "right" and "wrong" answers. We want to use the form to find the players who best fit our game. Your own questions may vary but here are a few example questions that can help:

Add any other questions that help differentiate your game from other D&D games. Do you use theater of the mind for combat? Be sure to mention that. Do you use a particular technology stack like Roll20, Foundry, or Owlbear Rodeo? Mention that. Do you focus more on story than combat or vice versa? Mention it. Anything that sets apart your game from the rest is worth putting in.

You can also put up a list of your own table rules and ensure applicants have read them and agree to them. If not, no problem. Not every player is a good fit for every game.

Get them to agree to each of these in the form so you know they saw it and accepted it.

Your job here isn't to sell your game. It's almost to sell them off of your game. This is a filter, not a sales pitch. You want only those players who you think will really like your style of game. Make that clear.

This application process might seem arduous but it's a great way to filter out a bunch of people who really aren't committed. If they can't fill out a form, how committed will they be to the game itself?

Mention in the form that you want to have an online chat with them, leading to layer 3.

Layer 3: The Online Interview

You've gone through respondents to your form and chosen players you think will fit well into your game. Next, it's time to talk to them. Schedule a time to meet with them online and chat with them as close to face to face as we can (video helps a lot here). Get them talking. Don't start blabbing on about your games. Get them to talk about their games. Ask them questions. Use the answers from the survey to dig deeper.

Getting them talking helps you not only get answers to your questions but also helps you see how comfortable you are with them. These are people you want to be friends with. You're going to have to manage them when you're running your game. Keep in mind they may be nervous themselves so give them some leeway but really ask yourself if they feel right for your game. We do have some nasty subconscious biases that can get in the way here so be careful. We tend to like people like us which might be fine for a D&D game but it may expand our game quite a bit more if we keep our subconscious biases in check when talking to people not like us.

The main thing to ask yourself is: Do you like talking to them? Did you feel comfortable with them? Did they make you laugh? I know this sounds like speed dating, and in some ways it's exactly that. But these interpersonal connections matter when it comes to someone we're going to run a game for every week.

If things work out well, time to invite them to layer 4: the one-shot game!

Layer 4: The One-Shot Game

Next, run a game! Get your new players into a one-shot game. Maybe it's a two hour game you've always wanted to run. Maybe it's a longer game. You can run a multi-session game if we want to. This is the best way to see if you all fit well as a group. One thing to keep in mind is that, while a player might be the right fit for you, you might not be the right fit for them. You have a style. You have things you like to do. They may not dig it. That's totally fine. Best to get the right people to the right table even if that table isn't yours.

Run the game, see how it goes. If all goes well, time for a longer campaign!

Skipping a Step

It's possible that, after carving through a couple of these layers, you have a good feeling about someone right away. It's fine to skip step 4 and go right into a campaign. Just be ready for them to either step away or for you to have to have a hard conversation about the player not being the right fit if things go south. Many people have run games with players who didn't fit or work out. It happens and it's ok. No harm. This is just a game we're talking about.

Early Hard Work for Fantastic Long-term Friendships

This layered process for finding players can seem arduous. It's a lot of work, both for you and the player. Finding the right people for the right DM at the right table is worth the effort. Fixing problems later takes a lot of energy and can disintegrate an entire table if things really don't work out. Take your time, get to know your potential players, and, as a result, you may enjoy adventures you'll remember the rest of your life.

Last Week's Lazy D&D Talk Show Topics

Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:

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This work includes material taken from by Michael E. Shea available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

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