GM Advice: How to Herd Your Players to Your Game

One facet of running a successful campaign is actually meeting up and playing. While it might sound stupid and incredibly basic, in today’s busy world sometimes just managing to meet up to play a game can seem like a Herculean achievement.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


A successful GM makes certain he has enough players to run a game. He also makes certain the players know when and where the next session is taking place. As with many things in life, the key to organising a campaign is consistency:

  • Play on the same day and at the same time wherever possible. Getting your players to keep every Wednesday night free (for example) enables them to plan ahead and to fit the session in with their other commitments.
  • Use the same method of communication to organise each session. Include only relevant information and highlight any changes to the set-up, time or composition of the session.

When it comes to organising a session, not all communication methods are created equal. Some of the best for coordinating a gaming group include:

  • Pre-Session Email: One of my friends sends out a weekly email a few days before each session reminding the players of the start time and venue. He also often includes comments about previous or upcoming sessions, a relevant picture to whet the players’ appetites and information about any new rules sources he is now allowing in his game. This is a great way of making certain that everyone is on the same page. Emails are particularly handy for large information dumps – like handouts – that text messaging cannot handle.
  • Text Message/Whatsapp: Everyone’s got a mobile phone these days and even the most basic model can send and receive text messages. More advanced phones can run apps such as Whatsapp (or other messaging apps). The beauty of such communication methods is that the recipient doesn’t have to log onto a computer to get the message. This makes it virtually impossible for the recipient to miss the message.
  • Facebook Page/Google Circle: Setting up a Facebook page or Google circle (and making certain all the players are subscribed) is a great way of keeping your players informed.

Case Study: In my Campaign

For my campaign, I use a mix of emails and Whatsapp messages to coordinate the herd of recalcitrant cats that are my players. I use Whatsapp to answer questions about sessions, characters and so on, taunt them mercilessly about their upcoming horrible deaths and generally keep them up to date with any sudden changes to the schedule. Emails, I reserve for sending out campaign documentation such as handouts, updated house rules sheets and other stuff too big to handle in a short Whatsapp message.

Help Your Fellow GMs

Do you have any tips to help GMs organise their sessions? Do you do it differently? If you do, leave your thoughts in the comments below and help your fellow GMs play more!

This post is part of a week-long celebration of my 10-year-old son starting his first campaign for a group of his friends. He’s been slaving away over his dungeon for weeks and hopefully, they all enjoy themselves and become life-long gamers. I also get to play in the campaign, but of course I’m playing the cleric…

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

14 thoughts on “GM Advice: How to Herd Your Players to Your Game”

  1. Feedbaging – This is more of a sub-bullet of your same day advice, but I find working other needs like food and its inclusion or exclusion helps corral folks to the table. Some people don’t have time to logistically work in game time and plan for dinner. Others have dietary needs that just aren’t going happened with Jessica’s paleo, Dan’s vegan, and Joe’s “must have meat and potatoes to be a meal” mentality. And yet others can’t afford to chip in for pizza. The point is know it and work it. Some nights we have some of us meet a sports bar, others we do magic and eat something I cooked (often accounting for multiple dietary needs), and yet others the understanding is EAT BEFORE YOU come. It should be noted that the games that have regular shared meals or cooking before them ALWAYS have more stable attendance.

  2. Do you have any advice for a GM that is extremely limited on game time? By this I mean that my group usually meets every other Friday evening. Start time used to be 6pm but is now 7pm, and no one wants to play past 10pm. Is there a way to cram more game into a very limited timeslot like this? I have tried doing downtime via e-mail but I only have 1, maybe 2 players who will participate.


  3. If everyone has internet access, sign up for Dropbox, make a folder for game-related files, and share it with everyone in the group. Anyone who lacks an account will get an invite, and you get more room if they use you as a referral. When you get a map, character sheets, or other useful file, just drop it in the shared folder and everyone will get it.

  4. Whatsapp, eh? I thought I was too old for such things and have been relying on messenger pigeons 😉

    I always send out a pre-session email just to make sure no one’s forgotten we’re playing!

    1. Whatsapp is awesome for two reasons:

      1. You can do group chats, unlike with text messages so everyone can join in the conversation.

      2. It’s the only communication medium I possess which has no spam whatsoever. Every message I get, is a message from a chum. This is unlike email, texts, letters etc. It’s rather liberating.

  5. I tend to let my players pick the day as we play remotely. This makes sure that we have a mutual convenient time especially because the group happens to be a bunch of touring musicians. Then I use Obsidian Portal to roll out the invite, and keep all the game data there so they can look at it. We also have a running google hangout we use between sessions when the characters are camping of at an inn. The later part is good for you Tom Reed because it allows interaction when you guys aren’t around the table and you can keep that ancillary stuff here and save the action parts for the table.

  6. The best tip I can give: cliff hanger.

    If your players are so interested in learning what’s going on with the story, they’ll do anything to get there next session.

  7. From day 1 we got a FB Group on with a FB Messenger Group as well.

    FB Groups is a fantastic way (and FREE) to organize your campaign; you can upload images, notes plus it is in an environment a lot of people know and visit.

    The same more or less goes for the FB Messenger, and this is what we use to schedule our meetings.

    Meetings take place always on Wednesdays evenings, thus our group is called The Midweek Heroes. We had pre-arranged this since a while back as we are all a bunch of teenagers (or less) in an adult bodyshell LARPing as responsible members of the society and Wednesdays work the best for all of us.

    My only problem is that not all of my group visits the FB Group page, so not all of them are up to date with some stuff I upload there and when I copy the link to that on the FB Messenger Group, it is later on lost on other conversations.

    Anyhow, not all tools work the best, let alone free ones.

  8. I would say that having an option like Fantasy Grounds or Roll20 in case you have some players who travel a lot for work would be an excellent way to allow them to stay in the game. We have several players who frequently travel a lot (we are almost all expats working in Asia) and Fantasy Grounds in particular has been a great boon to us keep our group together.

  9. I’ve been having a lot of success recently going back to a Gygax/Arneson approach of assuming a variable player group, and each session is a distinct delve into the Stonehell megadungeon or similar short 1-session adventure. So no cliffhangers and no pressure; PCs are back at home town at the end of each session. Sessions are about 4 hours play time and I use 5e D&D, though pre-3e or OSR D&D and similar fast systems would also work for this – not 4e D&D, but 3e/PF up to level 5 might be ok.

    Basically I wanted the exact opposite of the endless Paizo Adventure Path, and it has worked brilliantly well.

    1. I’ve been wanting to try a similar approach for some time. A couple of years ago we ran a pickup game called the Deeping Halls of Arbitrary Doom which essentially used the random dungeon generation tables from the 1st edition DMG to create a dungeon as we went. At the end of the session, everyone was assumed to return to town so it didn’t matter who could or couldn’t make any given session. Good times!

  10. This is great advice. The one thing I’d add is to communicate the expectation for commitment. Make sure that all the players understand that you are trying to arrange a committed time; since many groups won’t play with players missing, remind them that everyone will be setting this time aside, and that they would ideally only cancel if absolutely necessary.
    This of course applies to whatever degree of commitment you want, you just need to make sure everyone is on the same page.

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