How important is an ad, really? A lot of prospective GMs put a lot of work into coming up with the campaign, the world, and the encounters, then write up their ad in about five minutes. The end result is that they look utterly slipshod and slovenly and fail to communicate with their players, beginning a chain of miscommunications and underwhelming potential applicants, a complete and utter failure to hook the players and draw them in, a failure to convey what sort of game the players should expect, and ultimately, a game that had so much potential, which someone poured her heart and soul into, dying a slow and painful death.
We're here to avoid that.
A game advertisement is an extended exercise in the single most important factor in all of gaming: Communication. You have a lot of information to convey, and you have to do so in a clean, neat, attractive manner to get players interested in your game and to let them know what kind of game you intend to run. If the ad is unclear, you could be planning a highly political and subtle plot, yet get a great many players who come in expecting to slaughter the greenskins and take their stuff, or vice versa.
So, how do you go about making an ad? Well, before you can make an ad on Myth Weavers, you need to create a game. To create a game, just hop on over to the Games tab at the top of the screen and click the "Create a Game Now!" link. The first thing you'll need is a name for your game. Put some thought into this, because a poorly chosen game name can hurt you, so be careful.
Once you've made the game, go to the game profile. There should be a button that looks like a megaphone. That's the link to create a game ad. Click it, look at it, become familiar with it, and then close the window. Do not type up the ad in your browser. Rev up Word or whatever word processor you prefer. Make sure it has spelling and grammar check. Save frequently. This process will not be brief. Be ready to spend a couple hours, or maybe a couple days, working on the ad and making sure you say precisely what you mean and mean precisely what you say. Not only are you looking for players to apply to your game, you are applying to get their attention, effort, and membership. You have to make sure to put on your best face. Make the thread organized. Make it look pretty. The ad is liable to be the single largest chunk of writing you put together in the entire campaign unless you’re doing in depth world development.
As you go along, there are certain things you need to cover. These are mostly in order. Also, I’m making some assumptions for simplicity’s sake. I’m kinda focused on D&D 3.5, and I’m assuming the idea behind the ad is to draw more applicants than you intend to accept, which you choose from at the end of the selection period, making applications competitive. Also, I’m essentially presenting the rationale for a very specific ad template- my own. There are many other ways to format your ad that are equally as effective, or perhaps even better, but most good formats will include all of the following information.
Start with the num nums. Generally, you want to start with some sort of in-character flavor text to get folks’ attention. Narrate a battle, have the generic old dude spout off ancient myths, have the bartender lament the decay of his town. If you’re not using a published setting, this is a good place to introduce folks to the setting a bit. However, the main point of this section is to give folks the flavor of the game, so make this blurb yummy. This is a writing sample from you to the prospective players, to let them know that you have the raw writing skills required to lead a story.
Hello, my name is Viletta. Second, you want a little introduction to basically say hi and give a few basic pieces of information that can be summed up in about three words each. These include the system you’re using, the number of players you’re looking for, and a super super brief description of the type of campaign you’re looking to run. The system is pretty self-evident and should be obvious, but restate it here anyways.
The number of applicants is very important in that you may be tempted to accept a lot more players than you planned on into the group, to the point where their numbers throttle the game. If you have a lot of good applicants, and you can’t bear to cut any more, split the group and essentially run two campaigns or the game is liable to collapse in on itself.
And finally, the super brief description. This is something like, “dark, gritty war campaign,” or “plane-hopping exploration,” or “mercenary troupe action,” or “kobold urban survival,” and so on. Keep it pithy, so that the folks looking for nigh bloodless political intrigue stay away from your pure combat dungeon crawl.
You are here. Third, setting. Here’s where you go into depth about where the campaign is taking place. If you’re using a published setting like Eberron or Forgotten Realms, this could be little more than stating a city and year, though more details can help. If you’re not using a published setting, give as many details as you’ve developed. Quite frankly, this is a feat unto itself and can be a great deal of the work if you have a large setting you’ve developed, so I won’t go into it in detail. However, make it clear where you’re starting and where the campaign is likely to go. If you’re starting in Sharn but may wander the entire world by the end of the campaign, that’s a very different campaign than one that is permanently centered around Sharn.
This is also where you cover the essential NPCs. If the campaign focuses on the party doing various jobs for King Rotgut the Drunkard, let the players know a thing or two about King Rotgut the Drunkard.
And one more thing that may or may not be necessary in this section is the level of freedom you’re willing to give the players with regard to adding things to the setting.
Who are you? Four. The group template. This is, quite likely, the single most important part of the ad, yet most ads either have this scattered erratically in bits and pieces throughout the ad or don’t have it at all. The group template covers the basics of who the party members are, what they’re expected to do, and what they can expect to face.
If you have four random characters and the only thing they have in common is that they were all in the pub when the barkeep put up a bounty on kobold tails, you are going to have problems keeping the party together, fostering intra-party relationships, and fostering roleplay in general. In this situation, we have four people who have nothing to do with each other, no compelling reason to stay with each other, and absolutely no attachment to each other. The end result is usually that the party and/or game either falls apart or simply implodes.
In general, you need a common thread to tie the party together. Is the party part of an established mercenary troupe? Are they all servants of the king gathered by their liege for some mission? Are they all a part of the same thieves’ guild? Are they all young friends from the same small town? Pick a common thread to link the party together. If the group is just ye olde ragtag, vagabond adventuring party, then it’s even more important to come up with a compelling reason why they are all staying together. You could simply state that the characters have all been working together for a long time, and say you’ll hammer out the details of personal history and connections in the characters’ backgrounds after they’re accepted in order to serve the same ends, but if you go that route, make sure you actually do it.
As an extension, explain what kinds of characters are and aren’t appropriate. If this is a shiny, happy, big damn heroes campaign, state that evil characters are inappropriate. If the party is a band of thieves, point out that the overzealous paladin simply won’t work. If the party members are supposedly idolized by the populace, being a necromancer complicates things. It’s not insurmountable, but it brings to the fore certain issues that must be dealt with in order to make the character fit with the rest of the party.
This is also where you go into detail about what kind of campaign this is. If it’s a combat-heavy, bust down the door, slaughter the monsters style of campaign, then make that clear so that players know to come with characters appropriate for boisterous monster slaughtering. If there’s no place for diplomacy or sneaking, and it’s more focused on open battlefield combat against large numbers of enemies, make that clear so that everyone is prepared for open battlefield combat against large numbers of enemies.
Also, there’s the question of what subtypes of problems the party can expect to face. If the campaign is about the orc wars, make it clear that they’re going to be fighting lots and lots of orcs, meaning a character who is mechanically designed to go up against orcs with a personal vendetta against orcs is appropriate. If there are going to be lots and lots of zombies and constructs in D&D 3.5, you have to let the Rogues know since those shut down their sneak attacks completely and tend to render them completely useless in combat for most of the campaign. People aren’t happy when they’re rendered completely useless for most of the campaign, especially when they weren’t adequately warned.
Also, this is the place where you put in things like your philosophy on rules, game flow, intra-party relationships, drama, powergaming, and all those little things that people can use to craft a more appropriate character that fits in with the game and the group as a whole better. This is a real meaty section.
Let there be heroes. Section five is where you put the crunchy bits. This is the character creation part of the ad. Pretty much no systems have perfectly static character creation rules that never require any sort of GM decree. You have to lay down the law. The exact contents of this suction vary from system to system, but all the mechanical decisions on precisely how to make characters go here. This is not about the fluff. This is about the raw rules. In D&D, this usually means the starting level/wealth, ability and hit point generation methods, and allowed sources/races/classes. Use your better judgment, and ask yourself what you would need to know to make a character if you were a player applying to your own game.
There is one common misconception that I’d like to comment on, however, and it’s one that comes up very frequently with new GMs. Often, a new GM for a system with a lot of supplemental material will decree that the game will be core-only to make things “simpler.” However, this does not make things simpler. If you’re running a level 1 game of D&D 3.5 and you’re accepting four players, you have up to four races, four classes, and maybe eight feats if you’re dealing with mostly humans, along with anywhere from zero to over a hundred spells depending on how many casters there are. This is the same whether you’re doing core-only or a free-for all. What’s more, sometimes the non-core material can be simpler than the core material. A Warmage will always be simpler than a Wizard, for example. As a general rule, whatever material you’re comfortable using as a player, you will probably have no trouble GMing for.
If you want to keep things simple, I suggest making K.I.S.S. a rule. That’s, “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Make that rule zero and slap it across the top of the character creation section.
I want in. Alright, now that you’ve laid out all the goods, it’s time… For paperwork! The character application form. This is the information you ask from prospective players about their character. For most games, this includes name, sex, appearance, personality, and backstory. In D&D, this also includes race and class. Some games may have unusual sections for the application, like a “clan” segment for a campaign about dwarven politics or other highly campaign-specific tidbits.
The players are generally free to make their characters however they please, with reference to your guidelines, and the process is largely out of your control. However, two points on backstory: First, don’t pressure players too much. You don’t need a grammatically flawless novel just to accept a character. Second, you want things you can actually use. It’s hard to hook a character who’s lost everything he ever cared about, has just enough money to comfortably retire, and has long since stopped caring about the rest of the world, even if the story of how that character got to such a miserable point is completely awesome. To that end, it can help to require three things that can help you hook your players: If you require players to include one relative/dear friend, one enemy, and one driving passion, it becomes a lot easier to create situations that character will actually care about and draw them into the story once the game starts.
Ask for what you want. Don’t ask for what you don’t. If you have no need for a piece of information, don’t ask for it. There’s no need to give the players irrelevant busywork.
Two-headed titans have three heads in this game. You may or may not have an array of house rules in your game. If you do, they should be mentioned in the ad as well, and perhaps given a section of their own so that folks know precisely how your game differs from standard rules. This could also go in character creation, particularly if you’re only using one or two houserules, or it could be a standalone section unto itself. If you’re not using any houserules of note, the subject needn’t be broached at all.
Oh, yeah. I forgot. The last section in your ad should be addenda. This is the stuff you forgot to put in the ad proper. After you post your ad and start getting interest, there will inevitably be questions about stuff you didn’t cover. That’s natural and inevitable. Make sure you answer these questions, and do so in a timely and clear manner, to the best of your abilities. If you don’t answer folks’ questions, that’s a major red flag in most peoples’ minds. Then, when folks ask you for rulings on various issues and you respond, make sure you also edit your answer into the addenda section. For example, if you only post the information I suggested in the character creation section for a D&D 3.5 game, you’ll probably inevitably get question about Unearthed Arcana variants, level adjustment buyoff, and maybe a couple homebrew classes that you’ll have to answer on. Hint: The right answer to homebrew classes is usually, “No.”
After the addenda, outside of any fieldsets or spoiler tags you may have set up, as the very last item in the advertisement, put a link to an application thread and a roll thread (if applicable) within your game. Just go to your game, make a thread for each, and link them here. Having a thread in your game forum explicitly for applications is a great boon to keep you from having to wade through a dozen pages of ad come time to decide who’s in.
Make it pretty. Just having all the content divvied off into little sections is not enough. You have to make it pretty. Bolded headers, fieldsets, and spoiler tags are excellent tools for making it easy for the eye to navigate the ad. No matter how well-written it is, an ad without any tags of any sort is going to be hideous and it will turn folks off.
I’m going to assume everyone knows how to bold text. However, using bold text as the primary method of divvying up portions of the ad (like I am for this ugly article) tends to be ugly. It’s better for differentiating between subpoints within the individual sections, like bolding the fields in the application form.
There’s more to consider in making your ad look pretty. Be wary of your paragraph breaks, so that you don’t have any real walls of text or endless strings of one-sentence paragraphs. You may want to lead with a pretty picture, like mood-appropriate scenery as a backdrop for the game name in big, flowery script. I don’t do that one, myself, but it can certainly get attention. Make sure you actually used that spelling/grammar check in whichever word processer you’re typing the ad up in. Once it’s all typed up and pretty, you’re ready to copy, paste, post, and roll. Good luck.
My Template: If you just want to use the template I use outright, you can just copy the following code outright and use my template for your ad.
Fear the Boot, episode 2: Group Templates. This one's a half-hour podcast, though they tend to discuss other more general topics for half the episode before getting to the main event. The real meat of the episode comes in at 19:00, so you can just listen to the first couple minutes then skip ahead. Note that this podcast is about face-to-face roleplay, and there are some serious distinctions between face-to-face and play-by-post; a great deal of the communication in the crafting of the group template falls directly on the GM's shoulders because there is no group to discuss the group template with until you have the ad, group template included, posted. And you may want to listen to some of their other episodes. They have a great deal of DMing advice (and gaming advice in general) that can be of great value to you.
Group Template PDF: This is a very small, very simple little pdf that lets you lay out the bare basics of a group template. It's far too rudimentary to be a real must-have tool, but it's a nice, system-neutral place to start.