Game groups come in all shapes and sizes. Some groups consist of the same 5-6 people that have remained largely unchanged since the Reagan administration. Other groups get together and, like a supergiant star, glow bright and burnout fast. Some perfectly aligned groups have the good fortune to agree on everything - from the games they play, the content they like, and the game night that works best - while other groups can't even agree on where to meet. We all agree that game night is a blast but getting there together can be tricky. Lets explore the who, what, when, and where of game night to see if we can help you out.
Before we get started, you might consider using our Game Group Questionaire. Once you have a list of people interested, this will help you figure out things like what games they've played before, their experience level, content they don't want, the types of players they are, and when they're available. Essentially, it can help you take care of the what, when, and where all at once.
Back in the 80s and 90s, asking a group of people if they'd like to meet up with you to play D&D had roughly the same social implications of asking a group of people if they'd like to get naked with you and jump into a vat of warm butter. Luckily, D&D and game night is not just socially accepted today, but a popular, non-taboo hobby. Dungeons & Dragons is a household term and as popular as it has become, there are still a lot of curious people who haven't played but are open to it. If you don't already have a a gaming group but you want to start one, your first tier option is to ask the people you already know. Family members, coworkers, classmates, and neighbors are gaming group members in waiting. If you're lucky, you won't have to look further than the people you already know. If you get a few people who'd like to join but you still have some open seats, ask those people if they know anyone to invite. Once you've exhausted your established social circle, you can try to meet new people by looking for new members at your local gaming store, on Facebook gaming group, Reddit, or even Craigslist. As with everything, just be careful when meeting people online. Getting a gaming group of 6 dedicated players is great but I've had some amazing campaigns with 4, 3, or even one-on-one. This is definitely a quality over quantity matter.
Now that you know who your gaming group is, you need to figure out what you're going to play. You may have already established this when recruiting people. If the selling point was "I'm going to run a D&D 5e campaign of Curse of Strahd" then you can probably skip this step. However, if you haven't decided what your group will run, now is the time to do it. And more than just the system, you'll want to consider the content of the game. Gaming groups who have been playing together for decades generally have an unspoken understanding of where to draw lines regarding content, but this can be a tricky - and even deal breaking - step for new groups. I highly recommend Monte Cristo's Consent in Gaming form. You might feel like starvation is a taboo subject but for someone in your group, it could be the difference between having a great game night and not. You could print the consent form and discuss as a group but a better way to handle it might be to have players fill it out and leave them anonymously for you. Anonymity promotes honesty.
If you're working with a group of inexperienced players, they probably don't have a horse in the race as far as what they play. If you're the GM, suggest the game system (and explain picking it up as a player is pretty easy) but offer some say as far as the campaign setting. And if its a truly inexperienced group, starting with a one-off adventure with no initial long term commitment is a great way to test the waters with the group. If everyone has fun, great! Start talking long term. If it wasn't everyone's cup of tea, offer to change it up next time. Or perhaps TTRPGs just aren't for them. And that's okay.
Okay, now that you got the easy part out of the way (wait, what?) now it's time retrieve the ceremonial baton, burn the required incense and sacred herbs, and sacrifice a sufficient quantity of virginal mammals. That's right, it's time to talk scheduling. In a recent survey that we conducted with our audience, we asked "If you had a magic wand, what would you change about game night?" Far and away, the most common response had to do with scheduling, reliability, and tardiness. Beholder and Liches may be the stereotypical big bad bosses for many D&D campaigns, but many of us know that the true villain on game night is scheduling conflicts. It's such a glaring issue that our very first D&D 5e Campaign Setting seeks to provide a creative solution to the problem. While there is no silver bullet to the problem, I can offer some advice that's worked for me.
Coordinate - Do the best you can to find a time that works for everyone's schedule. In my group of 30-40-somethings, nearly all of us are parents, many of us juggle multiple jobs, and have other time commitments. Our Game Group Questionnaire can help find that unicorn 3-5 hour window that works for everyone. However, if you have all the other kinks worked out and just need to iron out a time, I would recommend using the free version of Doodle. Just send it to everyone's email and hope that the stars align.
Be Consistent - Once everyone has agreed to a night, I've found that it's best to be consistent. Even if it's not totally ideal for you or for one of the players, push to be consistent and meet even if your tired or wrung out from a rough week. Believe me, I've been there. But there is absolutely an immeasurable factor of inertia. Once the group meets 3-4 times on a consistent night, then it becomes habit. People expect it and plan accordingly. Meeting on game night grows easier with repetition. In my game, if one person can't make the game, we still go on without them. If two people can't make it, that's more of a judgement call, but I often still press ahead without them. Better to keep forward trajectory going than to start stalling. And if someone begins showing up late, address it early with the old, "I know you're busy and have a lot going on but when you show up 15 minutes late, that's taking 15 minutes away from everyone else at the table..." speech. Addressing things like that can be uncomfortable but dealing with it early before it becomes a pattern will pay in dividends for the health of the group in the long term. And of course, you can use my trick of "The character of anyone who shows up more than 5 minutes late will contract 1d4 STDs." Keep it light, keep it fun, keep it consistent.
Be Understanding - Now, having said all of that, occasionally you do have to cancel game night. Don't let cancellations become to norm but accept that they will happen and recognize when it's needed. When this happens, I still encourage my players who can to hang out. We'll chat about our lives, have a couple drinks, and maybe talk about other games we want to try or reminisce about the campaign we're playing. Ideally, your gaming group are your friends and even if you're not playing, you've all set aside the night to hang out anyway. Meeting up for a beer is a great way to keep the inertia moving even if the campaign is paused.
Where you play will start with the broad question of virtual vs in-person. Most likely, this will be determined by your group. Does everyone live in the same town or at least the same county? My group is spread across multiple time zones so it's Discord and Roll20 for us. If everyone can meet in person, then you just need to see who volunteers to offer space. Many groups rotate who hosts for the sake of equanimity and to share the burden/responsibility. I'm actually skeptical of this approach. I recommend picking one location and sticking with it for the sake of consistency and momentum. If one player hosts, others can pick up the slack by bringing in snacks, beverages, printing handouts, and helping with cleanup after.
Do you have any tips or tricks for making and maintaining a gaming group? Let us know in the comments below!