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What was the largest group you have played with in one game? What problems came up, and what did or would make a larger group work?


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Lev
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I don't have a great deal of experience with playing in large groups. The largest was 8 players and a DM. I liked playing in a larger group but I couldn't be the GM (I just don't have the skill and/or confidence). Our biggest problem was getting everybody together at the same time. But during long weekends and holidays we were golden, golden I tell you.
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Probably six players. The biggest detraction is side conversations happening during down time, not so much for the persons talking but because it is distracting to folks paying attention. The group was a mix of proactive and passive players so it wasn't too hard to keep the action straight, although I imagine that with six aggressive players I would be a little overwhelmed keeping track of what everyone wanted to do.

I would rather run a four player game and let each player take additional characters or hirelings.

I would love to run or play in a West Marches style campaign where PCs drop in or out every week based on availability. At the end of our last D&D campaign we ended up in this mode because we could never get a full compliment on the same day. This was a four player group and it was a little lame to run essentially two separate games for 2+ players each. Eventually we just let it go.
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I think I discussed this before, but my largest group was 18, but that is not entirely true. I get back to this event is a second.

Actually, my largest was 8 and I ran it at a youth center in Europe. I was hosting a D&D group and the group grew over the weeks until I had 8 players at the table (with two more soon to join). The adventure required significant updating to keep it a challenge for the large group. The side bar discussion were not too bad (there was usually a fair amount of commotion in the youth center, so we were used to it) and most everyone was already ready for their turn. But that was the problem: waiting for their turn. Now, this was back in the 4E days, any low level characters had LOTs of things they could do on their turn. So each turn took a while and there was a lot of idle time. Too much for my taste. When the turns went fast, it was usually because the first few characters resolved the crisis before any other character got to act. That felt unsatisfying. I broke up the group into two table next time (since I had enough to made two groups of 5 and there was an extra DM available).


One holiday, I was asked to host a D&D event for some families. There was going to be 18 players! There was no way I could manage that, even if I broke it into two tables. To give everyone a chance to play a full session, I created a three part adventure and ran three sessions for a group of six. As the first session ended, it naturally transitioned to the second session, with the new players and their characters (transmogrified by a magic artifact they found). Then they played, and at the end of their session, they transitioned to the next group and their characters (transmogrified by a wizard at the heart of it all). It was a long weekend for me, but everyone got the full D&D play in and they all shared in the victories of defeating the evil in the adventure.

I did have one player who played in all three groups (I think). He liked the idea of changing out the characters. It gave him a chance to try out different classes and races without committing to one for a campaign.
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18-20 in a D&D campaign shared amongst several groups. We got to a point where two groups met up so we shoved our tables together. Luckily, it was only at the tail end of a session. No one could hear anything and the two rounds of combat we did took entirely too long.
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I had 11 players for the final session of a game I was running. The fight at the end was awesome, and everybody stayed engaged even when it wasn't their turn, but getting there...

The biggest trouble was making sure that everyone had something meaningful to do, contribute, or participate in. Keeping track of that many players is hard. I much prefer 3-5 players, with 6 being something of an upper limit on what I feel I can reasonably handle. I'm never doing that many again.

As for how I ended up in that situation, I had a core of about 3 or 4 players who were always there. There were several other folks who dropped in and out, and I usually had one or two of them show up for any given session. But for the finale, everyone was able to make it.

I'm kind of proud of that session, but I never want to run a game with that many players again.
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Alain Curato
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I played twice in groups of 13 with a single gm. Half the players barely said or did a thing, instead commenting on what the active players did.

I also played L5R once in a group of 15, with two gms. Supposedly, each of us was part of a faction of 2 or 3 players. But everybody was so tired that half the players dozed off - effectively leaving the awaken ones with no allies and lacking strengths. Then, the one player who did not have any allies, and thus did not have to rely on them, won the day for his Clan.

A large group may need a special system of rules that rotates action between players. Not sure it is worth it, though.
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I've ran some convention games that had at least a dozen or more. Usually they were all one offs with pre-gens and a specific goal set.
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The largest group I played Pathfinder with was eight (7 PCs + 1 GM). The problem was we all still relatively new to the game and just turned 2nd level. All were busy looking up and debating rules. Also with 7 PCs there were too many options available. After a couple of sessions the GM split us into two groups and we played on alternate weeks. I think hat was a good idea.
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6 players, plus me as GM.

The issue was more the public venue, which differed from, say, a convention, because it was a big club event. And it's an outgoing, social group for a boardgaming club. So everyone knew everyone, and people were coming and going throughout. I doubt I had everyone's attention at any single point. I wasn't going to be the angry teacher and force attention when we were socializing, drinking, etc. So I just tried to enjoy it for the sloppy, long session that it was. But I wouldn't do it again.

There's a diminishing return on player involvement after about 5 players for me, though. Sometimes even after 4, though I've had lots of practice w/5 players. I get that there are plenty of ways to keep everyone involved. And also times where player count isn't a choice. But in the 98% of the time where you do get to determine it, when you can have a high level of engagement without jumping through the "50 tips for making your large games work" gauntlet of hoops, why wouldn't you? Maybe there's a "unicorn" group that works best with - say - 7 players. But give me 4 any day.
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I believe the biggest group was 10-11 players plus the GM for 1e AD&D back in high school, but it was far too hard to have everyone participate during a ~1 hour lunch period. There was a tendency for groups or 3-4 characters wanting to split off and explore different paths through dungeons. The GM would then have to jump back and forth between each scene that was unfolding. Attrition due to boredom whittled the group down to 7-8 regular players. Once we had multiple GMs the group grew again, topping out at 6-7 players per table. 7 players is probably the most I’ve ever handled during a game, but I much prefer 4-5 at a table these days.
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The biggest group of players I ran a game for consisted of 7 people, excluding me, and a "co-gm" who handled female NPCs. It was difficult to have everyone pay sufficient attention and involving everyone sufficiently in the action.

Ideally I run 2-4 players and one GM. 2-3 players is my sweet spot. 5 is OK, 6 sort of doable but that's the absolute limit. Having a co-GM act out all the female NPCs wasn't something I want to try again either.
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It was AD&D. It might have been around 12-14 people. It was rare numbers got up that high and it went OK. It was D&D so not the most involved game. They would decide collectively what to do and then I would resolve things. Occasionally someone would not go along and I would have to keep multiple decisions in mind.

For awhile, I would say a regular game had 7 players I think. Usually it was more around 5. The biggest issue was intragroup conflict driven by outside game issues. I do not think this had to do much with the size of the group, but the size of the group increases the odds of that happening.

I think 3-5 players is ideal for at least non-fantasy games. I think it allowed good interaction between the PCs and as well with the game world. It allows more complex development and plots. It allows more active participation.

I have been in groups where one or more players tunes out until it is combat and it is their turn. There are many reasons for that which have nothing to do with group size. However, with a smaller number of players it is much easier to keep everyone involved and interested.
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Geoffrey Burrell
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My group is capped at 7. One GM and 6 PCs. We use miniatures so combat can last a long time depending on the situation.
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At Gary Con a few years ago I played in a Castles & Crusades game, with the creator GMing, that had 21(?) people playing. This didn't faze the GM--he had intentionally not capped the open slots in the event listing, after all--and despite having a board room (literally a board room) full of people, he managed it all pretty adroitly. The problems were 1.) there was extremely little room for individual characterization, just action; 2.) progress came very incrementally--I don't think we got past the first encounter over four hours; 3.) even if you had your action in mind, at any point one of the twenty people in front of you could do something that would make you have to jettison whatever you had planned, leading to last-second fumbling.

Again, the GM managed it all like a pro (which I suppose he was), so it remained pretty coherent and engaging throughout.

Second place was maybe twenty years ago, when I once walked in on a popular GM I knew running a Wheel of Time campaign for a long, overstuffed table full of 10-12 enthusiastic college kids. Apparently he had a waiting list of people who wanted in on the campaign.
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For traditional games involving an actual table, I think the largest for any single session was eight (plus the GM) for D&D 4th edition. It was a weird session in general, and I think the weirdness was exacerbated by the size of the group. I think combat especially really dragged (which was generally my experience with 4th ed, though this was worse).

I don't personally find larger groups all that much fun for traditional games. Once you get into stuff like Sea Dracula or Cthulhu Live it's a different story, though. I haven't played in any really huge larps (or parlor larps), but a dozen or more for sure.
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Dan Conley
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Years ago, I got back to running Call of Cthulhu (2nd - 6th Edition) at my FLGS after a break. First session was 13 players and myself. I believe all of them stayed for two sessions, then attendance gradually dropped off as folks realized they weren’t playing D&D. Ended up with 6 after quite awhile and it was great.

As others have mentioned, the challenge is to try to involve everyone and find something interesting and meaningful for them to contribute. I found that practically impossible for 13.

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Jeremy Peet
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I played a 5e one-shot with eight players once (my only experience with 5e to date). Where the socializing aspect of the game was fun the game had substantial lag time. There was not much actual role-playing involved and it was combat focussed (that took a long time) but DM did a good job of keeping it together all things considered.

I think the biggest problem was just that there was just too much table talk and too many actions to go through and this caused a bit a chaos. Most of the players were new to the game (and RPG's) and so there was a fair amount of explanation from the DM going on as well. The DM had to railroad the game to move the story forward with that many players.

I'm not sure how to make a game with eight players play well, the games I have run usually have 2-4 players (3 is the sweet spot for me). Perhaps if a majority of the players were experienced and familiar with the system (enough to help the other players) it could be pulled off. Maybe there are games out there that do better with larger numbers but I have not yet experienced such an RPG. Perhaps something rules-light?
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yosemite wrote:
Years ago, I got back to running Call of Cthulhu (2nd - 6th Edition) at my FLGS after a break. First session was 13 players and myself. I believe all of them stayed for two sessions, then attendance gradually dropped off as folks realized they weren’t playing D&D. Ended up with 6 after quite awhile and it was great.


Hah, a Cthulhu funnel.
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William Hostman
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13 players & a harlequin, with me GMing.

Problems: you can't run groups over 8p the same as groups of 3-4.

That large group had a lot of in-character RP, and the Harlequin allowed me to have more and more distinct NPCs... provide the Harlequin the relevant facts available, and what triggers are needed for them, a personality sketch, and trust them not to cut your plot off at the knees.

that 13p, 15 total people, game with over 20 PC's (2 per player standard) was a star trek campaign.
opening act... I picked who was in scene.
Act 2: Departmental meetings to come up with approaches. ends with briefing the senior staff.
Act 3: various tests
Act 4: either the away mission or the combination of approaches.
Act 5: final resolution... or not...

Because of the way things worked, I could rotate during the departmental meetings - which were done semi-larped - and have players make needed rolls at those points, or, occasionally, my harlequin would (based upon prearranged difficulties for various obvious approaches.

The players picked who did the away and testing scenes. So, the final elements were often 4-7 players involved, rather than all 13.

Yes, that campaign had 25 PCs... so everyone had two ways to get a character into the action. (The requirement was 2 characters, different departments, and not both senior in the department...)

Was a great way to do certain stories; sucked entirely for others.

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Ryan Ahr
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Ah, this is a very timely thread for me. I DMed for a group of 8 just last week and will be doing so tomorrow. The biggest problems I had were keeping things moving at a good pace and keeping track of both the digital maps for my online players and physical maps for my in-person players. Fortunately my ADD has the use side effect of making me an effective multitasker, thus making the latter more manageable, and, after 2 years, all of my players are pretty competent save for one guy so things moved along really well.
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I think it was 8 + GM. In my mind, I can see the tables pushed together in a T shape, and I think there could have been another player there. If so, it was a rando.

Our GM is really good with table management. I don't remember any issues. We were just a bunch of young people wanting to have some fun with D&D, so we were all rowing in the same direction.
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The DDEP - D&D Epic Adventures scenarios are all designed to be played with multiple tables, with cross-table inputs. I'm not sure that counts as one group, though? A lot of LARP games are built for large numbers of players - again, not sure that counts as a single group for the obvious intent of this QotD, however.

I've played in "single table" groups up to about 11, but I personally find that more-or-less useless. My optimal size is DM + 3-5, and I find anything 8+ players to be frustrating and/or boring.
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3rik wrote:
yosemite wrote:
Years ago, I got back to running Call of Cthulhu (2nd - 6th Edition) at my FLGS after a break. First session was 13 players and myself. I believe all of them stayed for two sessions, then attendance gradually dropped off as folks realized they weren’t playing D&D. Ended up with 6 after quite awhile and it was great.


Hah, a Cthulhu funnel.


Well played, good sir! laugh
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Danny Stevens
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I often end up with tables of 6 to 8 players to DM at my D&D open table if lots of players show and some of the other DMs don't. A couple of times I have done 10 and larger groups are sometimes catered to in Call of Cthulhu or Paranoia where the crunch is lower.

Cross talk and drift are the big problems. I iron that out with various efficiency procedures such as having initiative pre-rolled. After an encounter they then re-roll initiative.

During combat and similar action scenes I get very harsh about time to declare your action, narrowing down to a few seconds or your character is confused. Later in the initiative, less time to say what you are doing. Keep it rapid fire.

Spokes person in encounter scenes with NPCs. Other players can kibbitz but keep one player only in focus, the one with the highest charisma character.

Frequently allow split groups. One group plans while the other acts and then flip. I don't sweat keeping each groups situation secret from the other, too much hassle.
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