Sitting down to play a table top RPG can be a ton of fun. Devising strategies, plotting actions, and finding loot can be great in terms of both the reward for your character and also in social terms with the other players you are interacting with. But what if you add another 2 players? Or four? Or six? The game just gets too wild with that many people right? Maybe. I’ve been on both sides of the DM screen for many years with a large gaming group, and while it’s a bit more effort, I can tell you from experience that there are some things you can do to help make it work. And so I submit to the tabletop community some of the tips I have learned to help remedy some of the common problems encountered when playing with large groups.
Game problems include:
- Turns take too long
- Can’t get the whole group to coordinate
- Loot does not go to the most appropriate party member
- Status/additional effects are forgotten
Social problems include:
- Shouting over other conversations
- Rushed through or missed turns
- Confusion / lack of direction
- DM must repeat dialog/exposition
Now, I have met a couple of DM’s that prefer run games flying by the seat of their pants, and if that’s you you’re going to run into to big challenges with large groups of players. While the organic nature and spontaneity of rolling with whatever horrible activities the players dream up in the moment can be a hoot, letting your louder or more dominant players rule the show isn’t going to be fun. The more players you add the more voices their are and things are either going to come to a grinding halt with friction, or devolve into a mob bent on one objective usually without reasoning or logic. I’m not saying that your game needs to be on rails or anything, but a bit of structure can go a long way towards getting the PC hoard all working toward the same goal. I recommend going into it with either a familiar scenario that you have experience running before, or put together a good list of bullet points for each scene and make it clear that the group will need to choose one of the diverting paths. Additionally if you decide to go with my second suggestion it may help to have a voting process (perhaps taking into account leadership stats if you want to get fancy). Pre-generated materials such as loot tables, encounter generators, and pre-made descriptions can be your best friend here. Keep in mind that the larger the group is, the slower it moves. So you may not need quite as much material as you would otherwise as all of your players will want to weigh in on the analysis of each situation they come across.
Once your PC’s are ready to step across that line in the sand and go toe to toe with the monsters of your world your organization scheme should morph into battle mode. For many the real meat of the game rests in the battle sequences and so to ensure that these types of players have a good experience you have to make sure that this portion runs as fast and as fluidly as possible. For starters I recommend using a good personal dry erase board instead of notebooks or scrap paper as you will be amazed at how much you will need to keep track of and how many changes will need to be made on the fly. Try to put as much work as you can on the players, making it there responsibility to remind you about modifiers or status effects on NPCs and so on. Not only will that free your mind up it also will reward their focus on the game. You may also want to incentivise quick turns with small bonuses or even enforce a time limit if rounds are taking too long. Think about having your NPCs deal preset amounts of static damage instead of having them roll each individually (I do this to save time frequently). If you’re running with models and a playing grid it may be helpful to designate one person to move the models, depending on how difficult it is to get everyone crowded around the same board.
- Stuns, slows, sleeps or anything that knocks a PC out of combat for a bit. Spread the effect around, it will keep your players on their toes and more importantly lessen the turn cycle.
- Incorporate skill checks or other necessary non-combat related multi-turn actions. This allows PC’s the option to effect the scenario in some meaningful way while removing them from the turn cycle temporarily.
- Allowing rampant use of summoned minions or abilities that grant extra turns. The turn cycle is going to be long enough without someone spamming Summon Monster I. I mean what are all those Dire Badgers going to accomplish anyhow?
- Complicated or numerous enemies. Solo-monsters or situations with harsh environmental effects are better suited to larger groups of PCs because they are easy to keep track of mentally. Obviously the story is key, but try to lean this way when you can.
One of the most effective strategies that can be employed in both a combat situation and in a social or non-combat situation is that practice of team objectives. The idea is that one team must rely on the other’s progress or success in a simultaneous action to complete the objective. An example of this could be team A has to raise the drawbridge while team B must defend against enemy hordes until this is complete. Or perhaps Team A must sneak their way through the engine room shutting off the poisonous gas to allow team B to enter the next area. If successful you will have each side rooting for the other and create a much more dynamic scenario.
One thing that you might want to experiment with is the idea of having a sum-DM on hand to help you run this kind of scenario. If you’re with a gaming group that has other qualified DM’s that you trust, this can be a real boon to cutting down on the lag time between turns. The trick to this is giving your assistant great notes about what he/she should touch on in game, and setting up milestones to pause at, so that one group doesn’t get to far along and experience events before the rest of the group can. Players will generally understand the point of this, and will respect the fact that they will have to pause for a second before the game resumes for them (A small delay here is much more tolerable than moving the whole game along at a snails pace).
- Allow team members to jump between groups, it keeps things fresh, and gives characters that have doubled up on roles a chance to work together.
- Allow a paused team the ability to help the catch-up team in a small way, like bonuses to hit or damage. It will allow for some degree of interaction, and help get the team together faster so that you can move onward.
- Make it a competition. No DM wants to be accused to favoritism, and you will quickly lose the vital sense of camaraderie among your players.
- Handing out rewards before both groups reach the milestone.
So there you have it, hopefully there are some ideas in there that will help you better manage your large gaming group without losing them to boredom and distraction. What is the largest number of players you have ever played with? Have some techniques that were not mentioned? Please feel free comment below.
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