D&D General Running online games for strangers: your experience and advice?


He / Him
This next year I'm thinking of running a 5e D&D game online. For the first time, I'm planning on running a game for strangers instead of my friends.

The reason for this is that my friends I used to play with (for 20 years) are now in different time zones and busy with their lives. My own life is busy too, so it's nearly impossible to play with my old gang anymore. I've organized some local in-person games, which has been fun, but I haven't yet met folks who want to get as into building lore and house rules as I do.

I've run D&D and a few other systems on Roll20, using Dndbeyond for character sheets and Discord for voice / video. Though Roll20 has its limitations, I've spent some time learning it and prefer it to other systems. So I'm not looking for advice on what Virtual Table Tops to use.

Instead, I'm interested in your own experiences playing games online with strangers! How did you attract players who match your own style? Did you have difficulty with folks committing to a weekly game? What are some of the challenges, and how did you overcome them?

My dream is to find a group of like-minded players who want to play weekly, and also want to collaborate on building up a custom campaign setting. I think it would be really fun to create a kind of "campaign bible" together, and maybe even trade off running games in the same shared world. Is this an unrealistic dream?

Thank you in advance for sharing your own experiences and advice!

log in or register to remove this ad

Realistically, you're going to spend a year or two filtering through bad and mediocre players before you get a healthy stable of solid players. One of the most common things is being ghosted - players will show up for a few sessions and then simply never show up again with zero notice. Others will present as strong candidates, and turn belligerent when you tell them "No". A few will be perfectly okay players who have done nothing wrong, but simply are not operating anywhere close to some of the better players out there. But if you stick with it, you WILL gather together some great people you can befriend and run enjoyable and lasting games with. Good luck!


Hey, good to see you on here again!

I was in a similar boat in 2020 when I moved. Rather than do the fast method of posting on R/lfg or Roll20's boards or wherever, I went really slow. Discord was really helpful for me.

I got acquainted with my new FLGS – they had a Discord server, but the D&D groups didn't interact that much and mostly it was parents looking for someone to GM/babysit their kids.

I chatted with folks for about a year on a couple different Discord servers that I was a member of. Eventually, I started running one-shots in my own Discord server, by invitation and light screening. Generally I preferred not to leap into playing with somebody blind, and when I did it was in the context of a one-shot so I could then cut ties if it wasn't a good fit. Personally, I would never rely on the "interview/questionnaire" approach – I've got to play with you to know whether we can play together longer term.

My setup was usually Discord voice/video, along with minimal VTT in Owlbear Rodeo, a Miro board, or just theater of the mind. Several of the GMs I've played with really like Foundry, but it's definitely a learning curve.

I'll be running some more one-shots over the summer too (various systems), which are meant to be a "break" for forever GMs, an intro for new players, and a way to connect GMs and players looking for groups. So far I've run 7 of these "open table online" games since 2021 (mostly 5e but one Old School Essentials cause my friend wrote the adventure). Been really lucky to connect with great folks doing this. I've got an AD&D1e adventure I'll be running, maybe some White Hack, maybe a higher level 5e one-shot, oh and OD&D F'chelrak's Tomb!

Happy to delve into more specifics or connect you to folks by PM if you want.

I love running games for strangers off the LFG sub reddit. I think its a good experience for a DM. In some ways, I prefer it. It feels different to running games for friends.

There are two main reason I prefer it. I find it more rewarding, because there is no doubt as to why the players are there. No friendship to hold them to a game they don't otherwise enjoy. I, also, find it more relaxing. I have nothing to lose. A random off reddit thinking I'm bad at the game means less to me than a friend doing the same. Having to kick a stranger for behavior, is much easier than doing so to a friend.

However, I have three bits of advice. Be very specific in the kind of game you want, especially if DMing 5e. You will, likely, get flooded with responses. Be selective about your players. This means don't just take the first four that apply. Question them. You, as the DM, have all the leverage and using it will save you time and frustration. And run an extensive Session 0, and then hold your players to that. My session 0 outline is 7 pages long.

I've had a lot of fun running games for strangers, and I've even made some friends who I play with years later. If you end up with a forever DM who hasnt played in a decade in your game, you will see pure joy and that is a really cool feeling.


B/X Known World
I have a lot of negative experiences with running games for strangers online. Especially with 5E.

The single most important bit of advice I could give is make sure you and your players are on the same page in regards to tone and style of play. This is the single biggest source of problems. Explain it, explain it again, then explain it again. Don’t hesitate to talk to the players and check in to make sure things are on track. Assumptions kill games.

If you just want to run modules, say so up front. If you want to use house rules, say so up front. If you love or hate backstories, say so up front. This will save a lot of time and wasted effort.

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads