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First Time GM: Looking for Group

First Time GM is a series of articles dedicated to the newly-minted game master, making his or her first tentative die rolls behind the screen. Today’s article deals with finding a group of players, deciding on a time and a place to play, and ensuring that everyone is on the same page once the game starts.

Finding players

Some GMs are lucky enough to inherit or adopt a fully-developed group of players. But some poor souls are truly at the beginning, and have no idea on what to look for in a player – or more importantly – what to look out for.

Most RPGs have a ‘sweet spot’ for the preferred number of players, generally about four to six. I strongly advise that new GMs pay attention to this number, and would even recommend that they aim for the low end of it. Your first games will be slow; more players will only make them slower. Besides, it’s easier to fill four seats than six.

One of Martin’s most popular articles on TreasureTables.org is Ways to Find RPG Players [1]. The article and associated PDF [2] are still excellent resources, if a bit dated. Some new options: Facebook, Twitter, and whatever forums and mailing lists that support your preferred gaming system.

New GMs may want to look for more players than they have seats, in case of scheduling or personality conflicts. If so, make sure that all the prospective players are aware that they are not guaranteed a seat at the table.

A common situation is players who try to bring friends into the game. This can help fill a table pretty quickly. On the other hand, these friends will almost certainly form a clique, and may try to dominate the table.


One school of thought on gaming groups is that you should only game with people you’d want to hang out with. There’s something to be said for this, but novice GMs probably don’t have a very long roster of potential players, and will have to pick and choose carefully.

One of the best ways to do that is the player interview. Also on TreasureTables.org, Martin Ralya wrote a nice article [3] about that, as well. I would add that gamers should clearly define their terms when discussing gaming, as not everyone has the same definition of ‘cinematic’.


Once you’ve got a list of prospective players, either start a Yahoo or Google group, join Obsidian Portal [4], or just start a mass email, and start looking for a time to play. Resist the temptation to accommodate everyone, and make sure that your players are truly available at the agreed-upon times; “getting off work at 6:00” does not mean “available to game at 6:00”.

Four hours makes for a good session, but the whippersnappers among us can handle far more. I prefer to play on Thursday nights, as it’s easy to make it through Friday if the session runs late, but you’re not interfering with weekend plans.

I have found it easier to schedule if everyone is roughly the same age or has roughly the same job. This is not a necessity, but college kids can game all night; professionals can handle 6:30 to 10:30; waiters can game on Monday; etc.

Finding a Place

If “the kitchen/dining room table at my place” isn’t an option, check with your players. If they can’t host, try your local gaming stores. If they can’t work with you, perhaps a library or local college has rooms available. If that’s not an option, coffee shops are a possibility, but remember to tip heavily; consider it “rent” for their table. Heck, some gamers play without a table [5]! (But others [6] may differ [7].)

Once you’ve found a place to play, and have a few sessions under your belt and a better idea of who your players are, consider the seating arrangements [8]. Small changes in the seating can make drastic changes in the atmosphere.

Did I miss anything? Got any more ideas for finding players, scheduling a time, or finding a place to game? Sound off in the comments and let us know!

Up next: Establishing the Ground Rules

3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "First Time GM: Looking for Group"

#1 Comment By dizman On June 3, 2010 @ 8:56 am

Well best way for new GM-s to find new players is to get new players to the game. One new GM does not want anyone at the table to start giving anoying remarks about his favorite GM and how he handles “this” particular situation. So getting a small group of new people is for me best way to start.

About scheduling sessions, well its easy, know when you have time, know when your players have time, be on time, players can be late use that time to talk to players who were on time about current adventure. GM is never late. And if by chance you are late give at least SMS or something that you will be late or if something comes up give at least 6hour heads up.

Location, if you are new i think the best place is the place you feel most confident. If it is your kitchen-be it, if gaming club be it. Remember you are in charge.

Hope this helps 🙂

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On June 3, 2010 @ 11:43 am

If you can make space, I strongly suggest that a first time GM host the game. That keeps you in your comfort zone and aligns with social expectations. (People are used to hosts having more discretion in dealing with social issues– relying on that familiar framework prevents awkward disputes between “a GM’s not in my game” and a host’s “not in my house”.)

Dizman has a good point about creating a new group: as a first time GM, you don’t have to go into it thinking about it as a year long commitment. Pitch it like you’d pitch a poker night, an evening of board games, or any other fun evening. If you have fun, then you can set up the sequel.

#3 Comment By evil On June 3, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

I like the idea of interviewing new players. Recently I’ve started sending out a six question sheet that players have to answer before they are okayed for the group. It’s mostly simple questions (are you a rules lawyer, which games have you played, etc.). For all new players, I suggest you meet them in person in a neutral territory before inviting them to your place to play. Sadly enough, there are some people out there in the world that seem nice enough online, but you wouldn’t want them in your home. Safety first.