computerSo you’ve finally decided to take the plunge: you’re going to GM your first online session.  Maybe you’re a little nervous, concerned about getting all the details right.  This article will give you some guidelines to help you make that first session start smoothly.


  • A virtual tabletop – The virtual tabletop (VT) allows you and your players to interact.  You can load maps, background images, and tokens.  I use, but there are a number of other free (or free trial) ones out there.  A quick search will get you a number of listings.  Most are browser-based, which is great for a first session.  However, some require both the GM and the players to download the program onto their machines.  Another option is a free, online whiteboard like Twiddla.  You can upload maps and tokens, and the site is very easy to use.  We used it for over a year before switching to a VT.
  • Audio – Some VT’s have their own audio functions, but you may want to go with Skype or Google Hangouts.  Odds are that many of your potential players will already have accounts with one or both of these.
  • A Headset With Microphone – Don’t rely on the built-in microphone on your computer or webcam.  They generally pick up too much background noise.  Even a cheap headset is a much better option. I got mine for ten bucks at a discount store and have used it for three years.



  • A Map – Keep your map simple: no more than 5 rooms or encounters.  A first session is not the time to plan a megadungeon or galaxy spanning campaign.  Use a map that the players can reasonably explore in the time allotted.
  • Tokens – You’ll need tokens for your PC’s, NPC’s, and monsters.  Tokentool is an excellent resource, or you can find many available online.  Also, any graphics program will let you take an image and make a square or circular token.  For some programs, holding down the shift key will let you select a perfect square or circle from an image.  Also, if you use circular tokens, save them as .png files and you won’t get a white or black square background when you load them to your VT.
  • Session Notes – Again, keep it simple and be sure that your players will be able to meet some objective by the end of the session.  You may need to omit an encounter or two if you’re running up against the clock.  Speaking of the clock, I recommend a 2-3 hour session.  Trying to run a 4-5 hour session is exhausting and may not work for most people’s schedules.  Often people playing online are trying to game while managing the rest of their adult lives.
  • Pregens – Use pregenerated characters for the first session.  Rolling up stats online is death.  Pregens let you get playing almost right away, and you can always tweak or change characters if it turns into a campaign.  Plus you can reuse the stats any time you start a new campaign or run a con game.  Many VT’s let you post the character sheets, or you can put them on a blog or free website.  You might even email them to the players.
  • Load Your Stuff – If possible, upload your images well before the session time.  Some VT’s allow you to place tokens on a hidden or “GM-only” layer.  You might even be able to type in hit points or other stats right with the token.  You can set up the entire session at your convenience.


  • Places to look – Meetup, social media, and online forums are great places to look for players.  This is especially true if the forums are geared toward your intended game.  As always, consider your online privacy.  Don’t post your email address if you can contact interested players through the website’s own means.  Don’t forget friends and family as potential players.  I’ve had good luck with folks who have brought someone along to later games.
  • Things to communicate – Be sure players know what they’ll need to play, the length of the session, and where they can find the character sheets.  You’ll also need to provide them with any audio or campaign links they need.
  • Get back to them in a timely manner – As much as possible, be prompt in your replies.  Don’t keep people waiting or get back to them a half-hour before the session.  You want to project the image that you are professional and enthusiastic about your game.  They are more likely to show up, and maybe they’ll want to come back.


The good news is that once you are playing online for a while, things get easier.  You’ll know how to use your VT’s features easily, and will figure out the best way for you to prep your sessions.  Online gaming provides a good way to get more gaming into your life, and helps you develop your skills as a GM even when you can’t meet face-to-face.


How about your thoughts?  What did I forget in this checklist?  Let us know below (I won’t mind).