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Beagle

Too many players (RPG)

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Last Summer I started running a Call of Cthulhu campaign after 15 years away from roleplaying games. I was a little concerned that it would feel awkward, especially as I knew only 1 of the 4 players. But that wasn't the case, we've gelled, the campaign has gone from strength to strength and we've attracted other players along the way, all of whom are keen and are sticking with it.

 

On Halloween we started the epic Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign. It's going really well, we're through the Peru chapter and just about to conclude the New York chapter, but I've come to the difficult conclusion that eight players is too many and I need to get back down to a maximum of six. I reasoned at the start of the campaign that a couple of players would be unable to attend each week and so the numbers issue would not be a problem, this has not happened.

 

Has anyone else been in this situation? What did you do?

 

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2 hours ago, Crowley said:

Can you split them into 2 groups of 4?

 

Ouch.  I actually tried that once before, for a pulp-era game (I was using Deadlands classic rules, but changing the time period and location), with 9 players split into two groups, alternating weekends ... and I just about burned out.  If you are already the sort of GM who's used to running a game EVERY weekend, then alternating weekends for two groups might be doable, because once-every-two-weeks is (at least for me) doable.  However, if you're already in the mode of running a game every two weeks (because, hey, it's nice to have a free weekend every once in a while for OTHER things), then splitting two groups can be problematic in my experience: If you try to split them out and still only run a game every 2 weeks, then that means each particular group is meeting only once every *4* weeks.  That's far enough apart that players have a lot of trouble remembering what happened last session (let alone several sessions ago), and it's far enough from a regular routine that you get players saying, "Oh, whoa, I forgot that was this week" -- so sending reminders to everyone is essential.

 

And then on the flip side, if you were accustomed to running once every other weekend and now you're suddenly running EVERY weekend, it's twice the work.  I might've been able to manage that sort of thing back when I was in college, but not with my present-day work schedule.

 

Just for the sake of brainstorming (I won't pretend this would solve all problems), I suppose you might check and see if there is anyone in your group itching to be a GM?  Maybe you could encourage that further: If everyone wants to play the same campaign, then if you've got two GMs, you might be able to combine your efforts to help each other out, since you would -- at least at the start -- be running pretty much the same thing.

 

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Talk with your players and explain how this is affecting you and the game.  

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I wish I had this problem. I avoid big groups because scheduling is difficult. If you like all the players, could you ask them to be more orderly to make DMing easier, before culling the herd?

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This is all good advice. I think the sessions are manageable but at the back of my mind I know the sessions are not as good as they could be because I have less time to spend with each player. 

 

Maybe we need two GMs as Jordan says but maybe we run two different games on a fortnightly cycle with 4 players prioritised for each game, any vacancies at each game can then be filled by the back up players who have priority at the 'other' game. Does that make sense?

 

I just need to find someone else willing to GM

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We got up to 11 regular players at one time. So we split into 2 groups with 2 DMs. We kind of ran parallel and split the group each week based on who wanted to do what. We'd start all together, get the 'hooks' and then split into separate rooms. We took breaks together and we regrouped at least once more each session. 

The problem started because one of our DMs was significantly more fun to play under. He kind of went rogue from the plan they had come up with originally, and it started to get sticky. 

Eventually it all imploded and the group kind of split. People who liked one started playing at their own time and game, and our group kept playing our game. It was sad, but it worked out better in the long run. 

We still saw a lot for them for a while. And everyone was always welcome at the other games. 

 

I don't know what a good answer would be. I hope y'all figure it out! 

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After [looks at calendar] decades [Yikes!] of gaming, I still find that four players + GM is the sweet spot for the balance of role playing and action. And generally speaking, most published adventures are designed for four players.

  • At three players, the game moves extremely fast, with very good engagement, but is easily at risk of a TPK after just a few bad rolls.
  • At two players, the game feels very personal as you're part of the action constantly. Good for deep story telling, bad for combat action.
  • At five players, the group's survivability is much greater, but the pacing starts to suffer when you want to give everyone a chance to participate outside of combat. During combat, if the number of foes or their abilities isn't re-balanced, battle can feel like a cakewalk for the characters. Due to economy action, a single foe made more powerful may still not compensate for the extra actions an additional player can add in the same way as adding one extra enemy of equal strength as the characters.
  • At six players and more, you start getting people less engaged in the overall scheme, easily distracted and not really paying attention. Or you get great engagement from everyone, but with a GM running on overdrive in risk of quickly burning out.

I've run the full gamut of number of players, be it home games or large tournament groups, and four to five players is still my preferred group size, be it as a player or GM.

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1 hour ago, Beagle said:

 

 

I just need to find someone else willing to GM

 

I this might be an answer.  We are fortunate in my group that of 7 players there are 5 who are willing to GM and we rotate regularly.  We have a long running Supers game, but take a break every 3-4 months and someone else runs a short campaign. Last summer I ran Cthulhu. Right now one of the guys is running a steampunk adventure.  When you have that many players there's no reason YOU should be the sole GM.  It's time someone else took up the mantle for a while.  People who claim they can't/don't know how get a chance to learn and contribute to the group. 

 

 

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I did put my foot down when we last shrunk to six to stick with that. Before that, similar story to yours: was afraid I wouldn't get enough players, got to 4, started, players told their friends and brought them to the game, we grew.

 

Question is: is this actually as big of a problem to your players as it is to you? We have two players in our six person group who don't participate as much as the others, especially in RP. I saw that as a big problem, and something I had to solve, but talking to them showed, that they enjoy being more of a spectator and don't want to be put on the spot to get them to RP more. Not something I can understand from personal experience, as I like to talk a lot in RP, but we're all different. No idea if all of your players are engaged equally, and if not, if the less-engaged ones are so by choice or by necessity.

 

Besides that, well-gelling groups of adults might prefer to play with all their friends, even if it means less spotlight on them. One really impressive thing about Critical Role is, that they constantly are at least 6 players, and they still have very good character moments, without other players pushing to the foreground. If there is a storyline/NPC/situation tailored to one character, then the other players support or shut up. 

So players might be okay with the compromise of not getting to be as "important" as they would have been with just 4 characters involved, if that means playing with everyone. Just make sure they understand they sometimes have to take the back seat.

 

No idea how big a part combat is to CoC, but implementing turn limits really got my players to think about their turn before it was their turn. 

Having players take over hosting and/or organizing, including snacks and drinks, can really take a load of the DM as well.

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I'd ride it out. Suck it up and run with however many until the conclusion. If various individuals go off in too many directions at a time, set a rule that the players must travel as a minimum of a pair at a time which only gives you 4 different areas to manage at once. Or let them know that they have to be in groups of 3, 3, and 2 at a minimum. Try also offloading certain responsibilities off on players; initiative tracking, etc.

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I run a group of 8 players.

 

It is...a lot.

 

As you expected to see, I usually only have 5 or 6 on any given night, but we don't "vanish" the absentees, we just hand them to other players. So combat is still pretty unwieldy.

 

For combat, there are a few things I do to streamline things, maybe this will help...(if combat has a lot of weight in your sessions)

1. Initiative is run on a board in full view of the players. Our tracker is a magnetic dry erase board with magnetic strips labeled with PC names and generic "monster 1," "monster 2," etc. tags that can be placed in order.

2. One of the players is in charge of the initiative board. I have enough going on that calling out "Dar?...Darren?...DARREN!" every few minutes is not helpful to anyone.

3. Everyone's name (including enemies and NPCs) is called for "on-deck" and "go." So a call would be "sixteen: Darren, on deck. Kinnara, go." 

4. Any status effects the whole table knows about are also noted on the board, so if Kinnara shoved a lit torch under the bugbear's kilt on her initiative last turn, the caller might say "sixteen: monster 1 is still on fire, Darren, on deck, Kinnara, go." That tells me to roll fire damage and sets the players in motion. The caller will also note a number of rounds on statuses that care.

5. The caller should rotate between combats or sessions, as often as the current caller wants to rotate. I have two players that love calling, but everyone has had a turn. It's also best that the caller is NOT a magic-user, because the caller rarely has time to look up spells.

 

I also have a chess clock for combat, but I only had to use it once. We were averaging 60 to 70 minutes per round for combat, and it was awful for everyone. I started using the initiative board as above and we dropped to around 50 minutes a round, which still wasn't great. There was a lot of cross talk, getting up from the table right before a turn, that sort of thing. The initiative board helped the players stay on track and let me concentrate on the flow of action rather than bookkeeping, but there was still a lack of focus.

 

I used the chess clock for one session, giving the players 20 minutes and me 10 per round. If the players ran out of time, the monsters got another turn before the bottom of initiative went (or vice versa if the monsters ran out). After two combats of monsters consistently getting two turns for every PC's one, we got our rounds under 30 minutes. The players and I hated the clock, but I still have it just in case... The threat has meant, so far, that I haven't needed it.

 

Outside of combat, I try to keep my exposition succinct but evocative, and if any RP is going on that people aren't in the room for, the players are happy to go get food from the kitchen or talk amongst themselves.

 

I'm also lucky that a few people in the group are interested in DMing... So even though I run most games, I can take a breather sometimes.

 

Hopefully some of that is useful to you.

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1 hour ago, Cranky Dog said:

After [looks at calendar] decades [Yikes!] of gaming, I still find that four players + GM is the sweet spot for the balance of role playing and action. And generally speaking, most published adventures are designed for four players.

  • At three players, the game moves extremely fast, with very good engagement, but is easily at risk of a TPK after just a few bad rolls.
  • At two players, the game feels very personal as you're part of the action constantly. Good for deep story telling, bad for combat action.
  • At five players, the group's survivability is much greater, but the pacing starts to suffer when you want to give everyone a chance to participate outside of combat. During combat, if the number of foes or their abilities isn't re-balanced, battle can feel like a cakewalk for the characters. Due to economy action, a single foe made more powerful may still not compensate for the extra actions an additional player can add in the same way as adding one extra enemy of equal strength as the characters.
  • At six players and more, you start getting people less engaged in the overall scheme, easily distracted and not really paying attention. Or you get great engagement from everyone, but with a GM running on overdrive in risk of quickly burning out.

I've run the full gamut of number of players, be it home games or large tournament groups, and four to five players is still my preferred group size, be it as a player or GM.

 

What he said, except that I would lump three players in with four.  At five things start going downhill rapidly.

 

As a long term solution, I'd just stick it out with the following management additions:

 

-- Let natural attrition winnow down the group size.  And don't admit new players.  This requires the ability to say, "No."  If you can't say, "No", then you're on your own.

 

--Only the DM can admit new players.  Just bringing a friend along is fine for spectating, but they will not be allowed to play.  This requires the ability to say, "No."
  If you can't say, "No", then you're on your own.

 

-- Set up a waiting list for new players.  They'll have to wait until a playing slot becomes empty.  See the above for "No".

 

-- If a current player misses n weeks, then that player drops off the active list and, if they wish, goes to the end of the waiting list.  N weeks should be, typically, 2 or 3 weeks.  No matter how good the excuse.  Even work. 

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Lots of good tipps from Sanael regarding combat.

 

We just have a tracker (little papers with names on them draped over my DM screen) and that already helps a lot. The caller also sounds like a good idea. I already try to call out the people that usually take a while to get ready before their turn, but sometimes I forget. Also, sometimes I forget status effects and concentration. I might steel that for my game. I also like the idea of timing the whole group, instead of individual players, since the amount one needs really varys between classes. 

I have no problem if the druid needs a moment until he got his own turn and that of his creatures in order. I also don't have a problem if the cleric needs clarification on a spell she rarely uses. I do have a problem if the player just starts opening their book or folder thumbing through 20 spells and 30 animal forms when I called their turn though. :lol:

 

In my experience, combat suffers the most under a big group. No idea how much my D&D experience compares to Beagle's CoC though. Other systems might be better suited with faster paced combat. 

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28 minutes ago, Nunae said:

I do have a problem if the player just starts opening their book or folder thumbing through 20 spells and 30 animal forms when I called their turn though. :lol:

 

In my experience, combat suffers the most under a big group. No idea how much my D&D experience compares to Beagle's CoC though. Other systems might be better suited with faster paced combat. 

All of this. We have one player that was really bad about starting to plan her turn ten seconds AFTER her initiative was called. She's much better about it now, but it was a big problem.

 

CoC, to my understanding (I haven't played with the system), uses combat a lot less than D&D, so the initiative tricks might not help. But I guess the big takeaway is that the DM can outsource certain things to the players. Having a player calling the initiative order really takes a huge drain off my brain as DM. If CoC your whatever system has other things that are traditionally handled by the GM but are otherwise transparent to the players, outsourcing those functions can free brain space for the GM and build a sense of player buy-in (which increases focus). So, I agree with @Adrift, who posted while I was typing earlier.

 

@Highlander seems a bit more draconian than I would be, but I do agree that a DM needs to be able to say no.

 

I also seem to have missed @Nunae's post (I'm typing on my phone, at work...), and I pretty much agree with their post 100 percent. I also have players who love participating as spectators. It would make the whole table very sad if I either pushed for more active role playing from them, or if I booted them from the table entirely.

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