Dealing With a Full House

I don’t envy my DM. This week she hosted six players. My preferred GM to group ratio is 1:4. Our group and the standard 4e rule book handles five players. And, in my experience, the organized play events fit 6 players to a game.  This week our group had to deal with just about every difficulty 6 players presents: physically fitting everyone around the table, getting turns in the skill challenges, long time between rounds in combat, and difficulty engaging with the GM.

Fitting Everyone Around the Table

We play on our DM’s dining room table, so we were physically limited by the size of the table and the room. This week the last person to arrive had to sit away from the table, and stood up in the corner during combats so he could roll. This situation sucked because there was a little bit of personal space issue, and I imagine that he didn’t feel entirely included in the group.  Unfortunately, I don’t know what we could have done differently. It’s nice to be able to host guest players, but if this became a regular issue, I’d probably ask for a hard limit on the number of people to be invited, even if I had to occasionally sit out.

Getting Turns in Skill Challenges

This is a general problem for my group. At first I thought it was character based, but since we played new characters last night, I’m going to go with it’s personality-based. Like any group, our has a complex dynamic, and some people are better at getting their way and making the rolls during a skill challenge.  With six players the issue is exacerbated in that there are a fewer worthwhile actions to go around and the challenge might be resolved before someone gets to act. On top of the physical layout made it harder for everyone to participate.

I realized these issues at the time, so I feel like I could have been more assertive about encouraging others to participate. We also could have spent more time discussing each challenge with the DM instead of immediately taking actions; in particular, I think I should have asked for a list of available actions, at least as a starting off point to make sure all the bases were covered.

Combat Takes Awhile

No matter what tricks are done to make a combat last fewer rounds, there’s just a minimum amount of time each person needs to analyze his situation, come up with the character’s actions and execute them. It seems harder with a larger group to do some of the usual tricks, like buddying up with someone to discuss strategy or plan one’s turn farther ahead. In fact by the time my turn came around, my plans and next two backup plans were already invalid!

With a large group it might be fun to have two judges run the monsters and split the party (in the same encounter) so each round has two simultaneous parts. That might get tricky, if the two groups are right on top of each other, but if the groups are in two connected rooms or floors, that might work. But as for our particular situation, patience and understanding were the keys for getting through it. The tough part is that long downtime makes it easier to drift off into side conversations or cyberspace.

Engagement With the GM

This is hard for any GM, and I can’t fault ours for how she handled things. It is just a fact of life that people have limited attention span and so we all have to compete for some of it. I think that with four players, getting a 25% share of the GM lets you accomplish a lot in character, in either role playing, skill challenges, or combat. With 6 players, you only get 17%, and it makes a big difference. It’s also stressful to the GM who has to make sure everyone gets his fair share at the spotlight. Once again, I don’t have any useful advice here, other than to be concious of it, be ready to give up the spotlight, and help the GM out where you can.

How do you deal with large groups? Anyone game with more than 6 players? I once DM’d for 10… that was a mess.

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2 thoughts on “Dealing With a Full House

  1. I’ve played 7 once. I don’t want to do that again (and in fact the last time I had the 7th player play one of the Elite monsters).

  2. The current group that I have been with for the last two years (I’ve been with the group longer but it has been the last two that the group has been this size) is 9 to 10 players (depending on whether one of our players is in town for a visit which happens roughly once every month to two now but used to be working in the area and was a regular).

    We got to this size from a group that was three guys, the DM, and his wife. I was the new guy to the group which had done gaming for many years before that but hadn’t done anything lately until they brought me into the mix. We’ve been gaming now almost every weekend for four years.

    From the original group of five, we have all ended up inviting at least one other person to join the group. Current mix is six guys and three gals.

    Game night starts usually with general chat as those with kids work to get them settled for the night (The DM and wife have two with a third on the way and another player has a kid). There is then a general set up time and snack time as people get themselves sorted around the gaming area and the DM gets his stuff ready. Players needing to fix up levels or handle OCC stuff get it done at this point with general chit chat on life.

    When the game gets going it is pretty big but three of us could just as easily DM as our DM (and have in other groupings) so we help a few of the more rule challenged players. We also help out with stuff like leveling of characters and anything that less number crunchie types want.

    Physical combats aren’t much of a challenge because iniative order ensures that everyone gets ‘face time’ with the DM. Non-combat situations are more of a challenge as there really is only so many people that can talk to one merchant at a time. It also gets a bit silly for the ‘Aid Other’ rules when you have a group ‘pack attack’ a skill (all those +2s really add up fast).

    Our DM is getting better at it but he’s found it a challenging to handle combats too. You need to do several things when you have a bigger group besides just have more of the same and not create one single crazy tough opponent that creams everyone.

    I use the Pathfiner rules (as does our DM though he tends to stick closer to the CR rules while I toss them to the curb as they really don’t work well unless you keep in some very narrow assumptions) and run a group with five players.

    I do though take lessons on making sure there is more stuff for the players to fight from DnD 4e. I do though make it easier for the players to hit the things by setting the opposition defences often at around 75% success rate for my players normal attack types. They like hitting and I prefer them to hit as they get a kick out of it rather than have them wait longer for the more regular 50% of success to come along. A slight change in the math of the hit points and it works out pretty much the same in the end as far as challenge and difficulty but the players are happier to roll damage then be told they missed completely.

    With using monsters and a larger group. Set the cannon fodder hit points low so the players have a good chance of eliminating them in one to two hits. Bigger stuff has to be figured to need to deal with damage from the whole group and usually for multiple rounds. Again, keep the AC and defences on the lower side to help make sure that players don’t run into a large amount of wiffing which is frustrating to the players and slows up the game.

    This is the biggest thing when it comes to fights and large groups. Every round of combat takes time to go through as each player needs time to declare actions, movement, and complete actions (roll dice, roll damage, saving throws, mark damage). Average 5 min a player and you got almost an hour per round of the table (3 min is better but the DM turn can get long and fills out the player time). Keep the hit points down to have the combat get done in only a few rounds. You can balance the danger to the players by increasing the damage from the monsters ( I aim for damage in the 10 to 20 percentage of maximum hit points).

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