Any facilitators out there?


This is kind of odd-ball/tangential. Does anyone here work in the facilitation/change management business? I’m thinking about how as GM’s we’ve been collaborating in virtual spaces for years, and I feel like it’s time to step up and share what we know.

  • What are your best practices for GM’ing online?

  • How do you keep group cohesion?

  • How do you focus your players?

  • How do you keep it orderly?

  • What is the biggest challenge in playing online to the interpersonal dynamic?

  • What was the best online play experience you’ve ever had and why?

Thanks, y’all. I appreciate you very much.


Best practice: Clear communication of expectations upfront. Zero sessions take out a lot of the disappointment of the game not going the way a player expected. Also, having a pre-meeting meeting on game (or in your case project) parameters means that players (or team members) approach the game with the right research and focus. Everyone who has played more than a couple of games knows the frustration of coming to a ranged battle with a dagger. Or taking on a magical creature where only magical weapons work when no one thought to have a weapon with magic damage.

Group cohesion: It is the job of the GM (facilitator) to find the common threads in the group. Little reminders of the importance of each person’s role helps everyone see where they fit in the overall objective and how they can use their skill set to help each other. For example, the Meat Shield runs into the center of a group of Orcs but doesn’t take them all down. A gentle reminder of the need to keep the Meat Shield alive might motivate the Sneaky McGrabby Fingers character from wasting a turn stealthfully looking for loot and get them using that mad Sneak Attack to lighten the Meat Shield’s load. Snappy McSparkle Fingers can then be reminded of the need to prep that healing action. The very roles of a standard fantasy game play out nicely as a symbolic representation of how each person in a team can leverage very different skill sets to accomplish an otherwise unreachable goal.

Player focus: The mission needs to be planned with challenges that require the use of EACH of the core Stats. Knowing this ahead of time, players can coordinate to ensure each character addresses at least a couple of these Stats. There should be some overlap, as one player may be down or occupied while a task needs to be accomplished (Fighter is holding off guards as Thief picks lock). Hero Coin those that creatively attack problems with synergy between characters.

Keeping it Orderly: A small hourglass (30 seconds) used in turn-based order. If the action can’t be described and executed in 30 seconds, forfeit the turn and move on. Each member should have enough knowledge of their own skill set and enough focus on the action at hand to be thinking ahead of time multiple ways in which they could contribute.

Interpersonal dynamic challenge: A lot of times, and with the current pandemic more often lately, we find ourselves playing with folks who we haven’t had any interaction with ahead of time. Without that initial session to set expectations, we may miss cues to different play-styles that could greatly enhance the experience. I’ve found that, without the pre-mission meeting, having a post-mission AAR (After Action Review) gives each player the opportunity to freely discuss likes and dislikes. Incorporating the feedback of the players is what really helps GMs grow as facilitators (storytellers).
Best Online Play Experience: The absolute best experience is GMing a game of GMs who are both respectful and open with feedback.

Hope this helps.


Definitely everything Sweenie said.

The biggest thing that addresses most of your questions is clear expectations and intention. Getting everyone on the same page early pays out huge in the long run.

The other huge thing that goes a long way is the ICRPG concept of turn order. Going around (the virtual table) and giving each player a section of time to address and respond to inputs is clutch for online play. It really helps control the chaos and focus people when they may not be able to read physical cues due to the medium.

The biggest hurdle I have experienced in the last two weeks of online play is focus. It is even easier to get distracted and lose focus when you can’t see people (I run mostly with no video). My above statement addresses this very nicely.

And really the biggest thing you can do is get time in. Do it, learn it, and do so with proper intention so you can grow and make the best experiences possible for your group.


Helps a lot. Thanks for your thoughtful, thorough and detailed reply. Iots of food for thought in there.


Here’s the text for what may go in our training manual. Feedback is welcome:

How Dungeon Mastering Prepared Me for Virtual Facilitation

I discovered Dungeons and Dragons in the fifth grade. It was love at first sight. The funky box art, the spooky, mathy dice, the idea of a story lived and a world discovered through the power of pure imagination, all took me in and never let me go. Through Dungeons and Dragons, people like me began creating outstanding virtual experiences for their friends long before Zoom, the internet, and even personal computers were part of daily life.

A true virtual experience doesn’t live on a screen or a cloud server; it lives in the minds of the participants. They cast visions together with their super-power of conceptualizing things not yet manifested. Their ability to imagine collectively creates unique interactive and problem-solving opportunities.

A truly virtual experience must provide a sense of agency. When participants cannot affect change through meaningful choices, their experience is passive or vicarious, not virtual. Engagement, investment, and synthesis characterize optimal virtual experiences. In Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) the choices the participants make shape their outcomes. The Dungeon Master (DM) describes the setting and situations, but the players decide the actions of their player characters (PC’s). What emerges is a shared virtual adventure that can be as enjoyable and memorable as an actual experience.
The players’ ability to visualize the DM’s descriptions make virtual experiences possible. The players and DM create a virtual world together, each one seeing it from a different perspective. They experience the outcomes of one-another’s choices, and feel the thrill of risk and danger as they search for gold and glory.

A good D&D session is a highly curated experience. The DM considers lighting, sound, and insists on the all-in presence of the players. Everything the DM does is intentional and aimed at immersing everyone deeply in their virtual world. Distractions must be minimized; table rules for players’ behavior are as important as the rules of the game. Cell phones in a basket, people! There’s no texting in the Fever Swamp.

To be a good DM, you must be a rules expert, a compelling narrator, and a master of description. As the rules expert, you need to know how the game works: what the characters can reasonably do, what they absolutely cannot do, and how to determine the outcomes of their decisions. What makes D&D a game as opposed to a cooperative storytelling exercise is the welcome element of uncertain outcomes. Just as in facilitation, the DM knows the rules of the game but not how it will turn out. The more a DM or facilitator is invested in a particular outcome, the less meaningful participants’ choices are. Without the skill and courage to manage agency and uncertainty, virtual experiences are boring at best and destructive or divisive at worst.

To help the participants make the most of their agency, they DM or facilitator will need to master skillful narration. Narration for DM’s and virtual facilitators means describing action in a way that optimizes the pace and momentum of the session. D&D players lose focus if they are out of the action for too long or if the narration seems irrelevant to them. The DM solves this by keeping narrations short, punchy and vivid, and once a players’ turn is resolved, directed at the next player in order. Quick summaries, frequent reminders of critical information, and occasional over-cuing are tools DM’s use to keep the players focused and the game moving forward.

Finally, the DM must master the art of succinct, evocative description. This is different from storytelling. A story resolves a question, and that’s the PC’s job. The DM’s job is to evoke a shared story-space full of meaningful choices. In an RPG, as in a facilitated session, the outcome is unknown; the story emerges as the participants engage with problems. Because the focus is on surfacing critical content, the DM’s job is to make the situation as clear as possible: what are the stakes, what are the dangers, and what resources are available to the PC’s? Selecting just the right details to bring the environment, situations and setting to life is the hallmark of a varsity GM. Description should always enhance player agency.

When working in a virtual environment, it’s important to remember the actual needs of the participants. Taking turns so everyone gets some attention, using music to transition between scenes or activities, and stretch/bio breaks are all critical for comfortable, cooperative participants.

Great DMs and great facilitators have the following traits in common: they are patient and eager to serve their attendees, they use “Yes, and…” to keep the conversation going (excepting the times when only “No” will do), and they visualize various outcomes before the session to anticipate what they attendees will need next. The RPG luminary Hankerin Ferinale creates binary nodes at critical decision points: if A, then B happens; if C, then D happens. Thinking ahead and planning for both success and failure won’t provide the exact answer for whatever your wiley attendees decide to do, but it will give you a set of options that you can recombine or synthesize with new information to create the next node of your adventure quickly and seamlessly.

The quality of a D&D session can be measured by how vividly and fondly the attendees remember it. Do they carry the experience with them? Do they reminisce about defeating the red dragon or the blood plague or the zombie invasion? Do they make art or write stories about it? Does their behavior reflect something they’ve learned through play? These are responses to deeply impacting, moving experiences. If your players change their thinking, to consider new possibilities, make the invisible visible, or create lifelong friendships, you have done more than entertain them. You’ve given them a memorable, meaningful virtual experience.


You need to change the “they” to “the”.


I would say drop this sentence entirely. First, because of its passive nature. Second, you say essentially the same thing in the following sentence.

But I digress as I don’t think you came here for editing.

You’ve done well in describing a style of DMing that relates closely to virtual facilitation. To make it more accessible consider the verbiage. The title “Dungeon Master” could be substituted with “Game Master” or “Facilitator of Collaborative Storytelling.” Not sure which would better engage your audience but I am aware of some lingering preconceptions related to what we do. And there are other, more adult, venues that embrace terminology such as “Dungeon” and “Master” which may skew your message. Although one could argue that BDSM incorporates the same skill sets required to be a good DM. :wink:
Great job on demonstrating the marketable value of what used to be considered a weird (and Satanic?) past-time.


Thanks, Sweenie, both for the edits and the feedback. I really appreciate it.


Also, “Dungeon Master” (in its RPG context) is generally restricted, in their texts, to D&D. Game Master considers many more games, even though it will not take in everything as well (Judges, Storytellers, Keepers,…)