Saturday, May 29, 2010

Does Size Really Matter?

Somebody recently brought up the question of how I decide the amount of people I let into my group. This is an interesting question because I think size is an issue too frequently overlooked, especially amongst teenage DMs. All too often when starting a new game you mention it causually to a couple people..then on the day of the event ten PCs show up at the door causing a mini heart attack.
My group at the moment contains 7 PCs, a very large amont for a group. The original number wad an unheard of 8 players. There are certainly a large lists of pros and cons associated with different group sizes.
I decided to let so many people into the group simply because there was a large group interested. My goal was to expose as many girls to dnd as possible. And the experience has been rewarding. It allowed the group a chance to bond, giving them a common connection to talk about in their everyday lives. Having a big group also allows a lot of diversity to come to the table. Great players can mix with the not so great, there is a wide array of pc personalities, and many different story access points for me to use. Similarly it makes the social aspect of dnd very rewarding because it's a big group gathering.
On the flip side large groups can be very difficult to manage. I personally combat this issue by drawing on my experience as a director combined with Machiavellian principles outlined in "The Prince." large groups aremoreprone to disruptive bouts ofconversation and joking that keeps anything from getting done. Keeping sessions regular is also more of an issue. Trying to scedule a day that works for 7 people is significantly more difficult then doing it for 3 or 4. We combat this issue by establishing a quorum rule. The "rule of five" states that we can play if at least 5 PCs are present.
Two days ago I DMed my smallest group ever. Two of my PCs had their own adventure within the adventure. There are definite benefits to groups this size. The game flows more quickly, is easier to control, and easy to scedule. My favorite thing about small groups however, is how truly personal the game can get. DMs can more easily make plot lines that tie directly to PC backstories, making the game all that more interesting. It becomes a pleasure to create situations that cause PCs to question their characters morals and motives. And their is no better feeling then making your pc so attached to their character that they physically tear up or gasp in horror.
In any case, most people have a perfect number that works for them. Every individual though has the ability to make a game perfect for the party size.


  1. My 'sweet spot' as a GM is 2-4 players. I can handle 5-6 players (probably from years running convention games where 6 players was standard), although I think my skills suffer slightly with a larger crowd. Anything with 7 or more players is a no-go... I once made the mistake of trying to run a game for 9 players - NEVER AGAIN.

    (word verification: MULTU - the name of a robotic servant form outer space from a chap 50's SF movie you've never seeen)

  2. Once upon a time, we had a massive campaign run by my friend's brother that had an unheard of number of PCs... 14. We ran it in two groups, one of six, another of 8... one group was my friends and I, one group was the DM's slightly-older group of friends. The theory behind this was, our group was an advance scout group, in search of someone, the other group was the "heavy support" following the clues we left behind. As I recall, we only had about a month of this particular session before it petered out, but it was a blast, trying to leave cryptic clues the other group could figure out, without giving away to the myriad enemies around us what was happening.

    Then there was the 12 player TWILIGHT: 2000 campaign that ran fairly smoothly for several months.... insane. 8)

  3. Big groups can be incredibly fun, but it definitely requires a special set of skills, especially if you have players who aren't very focused on the game. In the old days some groups used to define one player as the "caller" who would officially communicate the party's actions to the DM, but I've never seen anyone do this in reality.

  4. I used to think that huge D&D groups were more or less an unmanageable mess. I've played in groups of 7 or more that've actually stayed on task, though, and my opinion has changed.

    Really, it depends on two things:
    1.) You need good players, who're able to balance messing around with staying on-task
    2.) You need to have a good DM :) Running for a large group is definitely different, but I feel as though enough experience will allow you to pull it off.