Conflicting schedules are a reality with Dungeons and Dragons games. We’ve got five ways to hopefully negate some of the attendance issues you may be facing and get your players to your D&D session. Let’s get started.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
Improve D&D Session Attendance
Everyone wishes they could cast a spell and make their tabletop group meet without issue. Life, health, and other responsibilities often get in the way, but there are a few things that Dungeon Masters can do to help increase attendance as much as possible.
1) Maintain Schedule Consistency and Show Up Yourself
I will speak to this one first, because it was a personal issue for me for a bit.
Having a routine for your players is really important. When they know they can rely on showing up for a game regularly and they are enjoying themselves, they’re more likely to work around it instead of prioritizing other aspects of their lives (when that’s possible). It becomes part of the fabric of their routine and they expect to play.
I got a case of long COVID last fall, and on its way out it gifted me a terrible sinus infection, as well. I was really sick for about four months. This meant I struggled in almost every aspect of my life, and my mental health suffered terribly because of it as well.
During this time, I was cancelling our weekly games at least half the time. Sometimes more. I am lucky that my players stuck with me through it, but since I’ve recovered, we’ve been meeting consistently and the routine has been reestablished.
How I Handle Busyness… and Business
I am pretty busy, and I know how overwhelming running D&D can be, mid-week, when everything else is going on.
I live by my planner. It’s a nice one, and I love that it’s not dated so if I miss a week that section isn’t wasted. Also… it comes with stickers. Here’s a link to it (Amazon) if you want to check it out. They come in a ton of colors. I got mine in purple, of course.
Regardless of whether you use a nice planner or a free Google Doc, I find that keeping a record of my responsibilities and planning out when I’m going to take care of tasks specifically for my Dungeons & Dragons games helps me stay accountable. It also helps me avoid procrastination. My games are better when I do not procrastinate. I imagine that’s the case for most of us.
Player Frustration With Inconsistency
I’d be skirting the truth if I didn’t admit that this time period was frustrating for my group. One of my players told me they were considering leaving the party because of the inconsistent meeting arrangements.
Sometimes, life does its thing and there’s nothing we can do about it. But, when you have the option, prioritize meeting even if you’re tired, if it feels inconvenient, or even if you’re not quite prepped enough. It’s infinitely better to cut a session off a little early if you’re tired than to not have one at all.
D&D Session Flexible Meeting Space
If you’re an in-person group, consider hosting sessions online to make them more accessible for players that have difficulty attending. A mixed attendance table isn’t ideal for most Dungeon Masters. If you’re someone who does this regularly, I’d love to hear about it below.
Having one or two virtual players at an in-person game can work really well in a pinch if someone is out of town, not feeling well, or if the roads are unsafe. My table is in Colorado, which means occasionally in the wintertime we plan to play online instead of in-person to negate that road safety issue.
2) Engage Between D&D Sessions With Texts, Social Media
Create a social media group or group chat for players to communicate and build excitement for upcoming sessions. The best way to do this is to lead it yourself, Dungeon Master. I am really great with this some weeks, and others, not so much.
If we can consistently engage with our players between sessions, it’s similar to advertising for our games. We are reminding them of the fun times we’ve had and getting them hyped about what’s coming.
At the very least, I try to ask my players one question a week. If they have a good answer for it either pre-session or when we start playing, they get an inspiration die to start the game. I usually ask them on topics having to do with our current campaign story or puzzle. Sometimes I pull in their backstories. The questions are always about their characters, to help my players get to know them a bit better.
3) Boost Session Enjoyment With Snacks, Cliffhangers, and Manageable Length
If food is a motivator for your table, have players either contribute cash or snacks each session. If that doesn’t work, a rotating schedule can be implemented, too. Dungeon Masters typically aren’t expected to provide food, but if you enjoy cooking or baking, I’m sure your players would appreciate the love.
I am something of a cookbook collector. If you’re running a science fiction or Star Wars-themed game, I cannot recommend this cookbook enough: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge: The Official Black Spire Outpost Cookbook (Amazon).
We haven’t made everything in it yet, but what we have made has been outstanding. There’s also a little story from the “chef” under each recipe title which is fun. It is actually becoming my favorite cookbook regardless of the theming. If you enjoy cooking interesting meals, I recommend it.
Be Cognizant of Your Players’ Scheduling Needs
Keep the sessions manageable in length to accommodate players’ schedules and avoid burnout. We’d all love to have epic, 8-hour long games (and lots of you do) but that’s just not feasible for a lot of people. When spouses, children, or jobs come into the picture, an 8-hour session becomes a lot more challenging to maintain.
Keep this in mind when you’re making a schedule request of your players. If you are a free soul, working flexible hours, unmarried, no kids, and living in an apartment, your responsibilities are likely going to be a lot less demanding on your time than someone who owns a house, has a spouse who doesn’t play D&D, has young children, etc.
A two-to-four hour game can fit into most people’s schedules. If you’re trying to run crazy long games and are having trouble with consistent attendance, consider shortening the length. You can always run a second game with a different group to get your fix.
End on a Cliffhanger
Another great way to get players to return is to end the D&D session on a really interesting note. This isn’t always possible, but it’s nice to have something exciting waiting in the wings for them the moment they return.
A cliffhanger avoids ambiguity. The party knows exactly what situation they’re starting with next session, whether it’s a dynamic roleplaying event, combat, or the start of a new story arc. This gives them lots to mull over between sessions. They can talk about it, too, keeping them excited for the next meeting.
Sometimes I will end a little early for a nice, neat cliffhanger cutoff. Here’s a list of potential cliffhangers to work into your game:
- Beginning combat, with a spicy complication
- An exciting plot point or twist was just revealed
- Arriving or leaving a location
- Someone new is introduced into the scene
4) Offer Space for Other Players, or Other Incentives
This one is a bit controversial, but I do know some Dungeon Masters who like to offer incentives for attendance. It can range from secret side quests, extra experience points, inspiration, or even items in-game. This is a personal choice. I occasionally reward punctual members with an inspiration die, but that’s as far as I’ve taken this one. If you have experience with it, I’d love to read about it in the comments below.
Invite Family Members or Friends to the D&D Session
You may also want to consider allowing additional people into your game, especially if there are significant others who are interested in playing. If you’re having issues with attendance due to people wanting to spend more time with their loved ones, maybe invite them, if you have the room.
If you have a good party balance and don’t want to upset the chemistry, this one can be tricky. I’d say to proceed with caution.
5) Talk With and Listen to Your Players
One of the most important, and sometimes, most challenging things you can do as a great Dungeon Master is to make time to talk to and listen to your players. Player feedback can help you make adjustments to improve the experience for everyone. This is especially important if you notice attendance starts to be a consistent issue with someone at your table.
Reach Out to Them First
Recently, I had a player who was beginning to routinely miss sessions. Of course, the first thing I think is they aren’t having fun, that I’m not doing something that they need, etc. I think it’s pretty common to have these sorts of self-doubts, regardless of how long you’ve been playing or running games.
I asked this person, directly, if they were still interested in playing, and if everything was okay. I did it privately via text. I didn’t want to put them on the spot, and I wanted the conversation to be just between the two of us. I found out this person has been having some unrelated complications in their life lately. It had nothing to do with our game. Since then, this person has come to our sessions every time. Early. That never happened before. They didn’t realize they were sending me a message that they weren’t interested, so they changed their behavior after I talked to them about it. Sometimes people just need to know.
It probably won’t always work out so nicely, but it can only help to be honest, compassionate, and straightforward. Isn’t that what you would want?
Player attendance can be a headache, and there’s no magic fix. Creating an engaging game and remembering that your players are humans first and players second can go a long way in attempting to prevent issues.
Ultimately, if you have a player who isn’t prioritizing the game and it’s affecting the rest of the party, it may be time to find a replacement. Not an easy decision for you, but you’ll need to decide if it would be better for everyone in the long run. If you’re dealing with player conflict as part of the issue, check out my guide on that here.
Have you found the secret sauce to perfect attendance? We’d love to read about it in the comments below.
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