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Getting The Best Players For Your Online Game

If you DM exclusively online through Roll20 or other virtual tabletops, you’ll have noticed that it’s very much a Dungeon Master’s marketplace. There are way more players than DMs.

While this pretty much ensures that you’ll always be able to conjure up a game, even at short notice, it does mean that you’ll be left to try and pick through the deluge of applications to find the right players for your game.

And that right there, is a minefield.

Roll20 in particular isn’t known for the overall quality of it’s applicants. Games are so oversubscribed that many players apply to multiple games on the basis that if they make enough applications one of them has to be accepted. Basically, the scatter gun approach.

Sometimes however, they find themselves accepted for multiple games but for whatever reason only decide to continue the character creation process in one of them. Often you don’t discover that until it’s too late to replace them.

Other times, players just don’t show up or when they do are disruptive or just don’t fit with your style of play or the group’s.

So how do you make sure that the players you are recruiting are serious about your game and can be relied upon to play the game in the spirit you want it played?

Don’t recruit exclusively through the Roll20 LFG function

Use the Roll20 LFG function to fill the gaps in your group, not to fill the main bulk of your group. Instead, use existing communities where you have already built relationships such as D&D/RPG Facebook groups, online forums and even real life friendships. Then use Roll20 LFG to supplement that. That way you’ll expose yourself to less of the problems that come with random recruitment.

Be clear about what you expect from your players in game

In the Roll20 listing, list the requirements you expect of players at your table. If you have objections to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, sexual harassment etc (and you should have) then be clear on that. Make sure they know that no warnings will be given. They will be booted from the table immediately. Making this clear in the recruitment listing means there can be no excuses later.

Also, if your game is LGBTQ friendly then state that. That can go a long way in opening your game up to people who may otherwise have been wary about playing with strangers online.

Ask lots of questions in the application

One way I’ve found to focus the mind of players is to ask them a number of questions in the application forums.

  • Age
  • Location
  • How long they’ve been playing
  • What they want from your game

I also find it really helpful to ask them to confirm what they think the starting time of the game will be in their time zone. You’d be amazed how many players apply for games that start in the middle of the night their time, simply because they can’t do you the basic courtesy of checking the start time in their timezone, despite Roll20 automatically calculating it for them.

I’ve even had someone insist that a 3.30am start time is perfectly normal for them and that they are a “night owl”. That may well be the case but unless I’m really desperate for players then I’m unlikely to take the risk that when their alarm goes at 3am they may just roll over and go back to sleep, leaving me a player short for the session. Or even worse – fall asleep in game.

Watch out for red flag behaviour

My personal red flags include people who provide 10 page backstories and full colour character art in the application for a one off game and (as previously mentioned) those who suggest, somewhat unconvincingly that they play D&D in the middle of the night like some kind of Vampire. People who endlessly want to discuss character options and builds are also on my naughty list and probably won’t make the cut. This is especially true for one-shots where I’m really not inclined to pander to one players neediness at the expense of the group.

Engage with your players in the run up to the game

Make sure you touch base regularly with your players through the game’s own forum in the run up to the game. This is a subtle way of determining whether players are still interested in playing. If you don’t hear from a player in the run up to the game, send them a direct message asking them if they are still on for the session. If you get no response to that, kick them. Preferably with enough time still left to recruit a replacement.

These are some of the things I’ve learned in the past two years of recruiting online games. Anyone else have any other tips?

Return of the DM View All

I am a 40 something DM/GM located in Scotland. In 2016, I rediscovered the joys of tabletop role-playing games. This blog documents my journey back into the fold.

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