Remember when the “perfect” D&D group consisted of 4 PCs? Fighter, mage, cleric, rogue. As long as you had that core dynamic, you were ready to whomp some orcs, disable some traps, and heal the resulting damage. It was a fast, efficient approach to dungeon crawling.
But sometimes big groups happen. Actually, they accumulate. It all starts innocently enough, with a few friends getting together to draw up characters. Then another friend stops by and wants in on the action. Then an old friend comes back to town, so you invite them to join, too. Before you know it, you’ve got a really big gaming group on your hands.
Some game systems were designed to accommodate large groups of players. Unfortunately, D&D wasn’t one of them. Once you pass the 6 player mark, things can start to get tricky. (Note: that number is totally arbitrary. You might have a different idea of what constitutes a big group.) Worse, combat can take forever while you wait for everyone to look up rules, roll the dice, and resolve their actions. My own DM once ran an 8-person game in 2nd Edition. Combat rounds took an average of 45 minutes. Does this sound like your group? If so, here are some suggestions for streamlining your game sessions.
4E formally introduced the concept of D&D as a cooperative game, but plenty of DMs have enlisted the help of assistants in the past. If you’d like to give your big group a more immersive game experience, but just don’t have the time to incorporate every PC into the storyline, put out the call for an assistant DM or two. They can help you develop plots and storylines that take every PC’s background into consideration – no matter how many PCs you have.
Big groups run differently than small groups. If everyone wants to keep the party oversized, it’s important to set up realistic expectations right from the start. If you have a party of ten, each player will get roughly 10% of your attention at a game session. Also, out-of-character chatting and rulebook consultation should be kept to a minimum. Encourage your players to use “cheat sheets” that contain rules for all of their spells and powers. You could also agree not to pause the game to look up rules except in deadly situations.
The Law of Averages
In Dungeon #159, Stephen Radney Mac Farland advises a 10-person party to cut down on their dice rolls by using average damage. The PCs do their average amount of damage on every successful attack roll. If they roll a crit, they can either deal average crit damage or roll for it.
If the players are happy with this sort of give and take, then it’s a good idea to use averages. If the players don’t like it, then it’s a bad idea. The bottom line: you want to run a game that your players enjoy. Most players would probably choose average damage rolls over 45 minute combat rounds. However, if they don’t like this solution, it might be time for more drastic measures.
Split Up the Group
Sometimes it just has to be done. When the size of the group and the length of the combat rounds start to detract from player enjoyment (and your own enjoyment), it might be best to split the big group into smaller ones. Just make sure you have enough time to plan and run two campaigns. You might lose a player or two in the shake-up. Then again, if the groups dwindle, you could always merge them again later.
Do you have advice for managing a large group? Share it in the comments section.