You’ve probably heard this phrase a lot. Other DMs will tell you - schedule organisation is one of the worst/toughest/soul-destroying parts of running a D&D game. We all have one of those pesky life things happening. Work, school, hobbies, clubs, TV, even just plain old emergencies can make scheduling a D&D game a nightmare.
My own schedule for games is intense. I run games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in my own homebrew world, I run two Curse of Strahd campaigns on alternate weeks on a Thursday night (So every Thursday I’m playing a CoS game, but the groups experience the sessions fortnightly), I run in person sessions every other week at my local gaming club, I have a family game that we get together every month or so to play, and I’m setting up a play by post Discord server for people who are either unable or unwilling to play in person or by voice chat, so they are able to play a text based D&D game in a safe environment.
Because I run so many games, something I have done in my groups to avoid burnout is to schedule a week off every month for the two homebrew games. My groups knew from the outset that the first week of the month is going to be a break week, so I get time to relax, catch up on writing the arc going forward, and don’t get too overwhelmed with how much I have to do. Some of my players are now stepping up in that break week to run oneshots, which is brilliant!
Depending on how you play D&D, and who you play with, scheduling games is made easier or harder. If you are running a oneshot, then you only need to find one time when people are available to commit to that game. Starting a campaign? Well… you’re going to need to work out how frequently people can commit to those sessions and hope they are often enough to keep the momentum of the story going. You’re going to need to decide how you are going to tackle this challenge before you even get to Session Zero.
If you’re setting up a new campaign, either online or at a gaming club, or starting your own weekly club, theoretically, it’s easier. You decide a time that works for YOU, and then post about it in relevant places, and watch the applications fly in. Which is mostly true. Some people will beg you to change times to slightly earlier, or later, or another day.
Set expectations early, and stick to your guns. DMs have enough to worry about without becoming the group’s Personal Assistant. You’re not there to manage their schedules. If you’re going to give warnings to people for dropping out, and/or kick them from the game if they can’t commit, make this clear at the start. Decide how many people are going to be the absolute minimum for running the session. If you have a 4 person party in your campaign and 2 drop out, is it feasible to continue to run the story that session with the other two? Could you run a sidequest or oneshot instead?
Decide how much notice people should be giving you before dropping out of a session. Obviously if there is an emergency, then it can’t be helped, but generally you should have notice so that you can make a decision on whether you want to cancel or reschedule. Some players are flakier than others, are you happy to allow that at your table? It might be that you have a good friend that is an amazing player, but they sometimes have other things going on and cancel at short notice because that’s just how they are. You might be okay with that and be able to work around it.
Don’t be afraid to put scheduling back onto the players. If they want to reschedule, tell them the times you’re available to run the session, and then make it clear that it’s up to them to organise themselves and let you know when to join them, else there will be no session. And don’t be afraid to just not have a session if people can’t get organised. Sometimes it needs to happen to make people realise that you aren’t going to be doing all the running.
Most importantly though, and a theme I will keep returning to in these articles, is communication. If you and your players all talk to each other outside of the game, scheduling and other issues will be much easier to resolve. For my online games, we have a discord server, and we are always hopping in to check times and notify each other of schedules, as well as just chatting about anything else that comes to mind. We were strangers at the start of this campaign, and we've now built up a good friendship group outside of the table.
To sum up: You’re not the groups PA. Although the DM role is to adjudicate and ostensibly run sessions, you are also there to have fun and play the game too. Everyone needs to shoulder the responsibility of scheduling themselves for a game. And don’t be afraid to take a break if you need to. It’s better to take that break and avoid burnout, rather than pushing on and potentially making your group, and yourself, resent the game you are running.
Hope this helps, and I’ll see you soon for another article!