GM-ing and Playing in Large Groups

In my opinion, the ideal size for a Role-playing group is 3-5 players.  Sometimes, however, we GM’s end up running games for larger groups.  I’ve run games in groups as large as 10, and played in groups as large as 20.  Running larger games, and indeed playing in them, requires a different set of skills and techniques, and many GM’s and players are never made aware of them.  So, here are a few tips for running and playing in high player-count games.

GM Tip #1: Delegate

This is unintuitive for a lot of GM’s, as it requires relinquishing some control of your game.  In order to do this, first, forget the words “your game.”  Role-playing is a collaborative experience, and with a large number of players, it makes sense to delegate some responsibilities to your players.  Delegate someone to track initiative, to ensure nobody falls through the cracks.  Delegate someone to keep the quote log.  When the group is split, hand a player the combat notes and let them run the combat, while you deal with the other half of the group.  When running scenes where not all the players characters are present, pass out note-cards containing  information on NPC’s in the scene.  The cards should contain the NPC’s name, a short description, their motivation, and whatever secret information they will be using to achieve their motivation.  Not only does this lift some weight from your shoulders in terms of NPC’s that you have to portray, but it allows players who are not in the scene to still be involved.

GM Tip #2: Be hands on

With small player-counts, it’s often great fun to sit back and watch your players squabble, or let the players drive the pacing.  With high player-counts, players will accomplish little if left to their own devices.  Arguments take longer, combat can drag, and tangents run wild.  In large groups, you must always be asking for actions, demanding roll results, and keeping a tight hold on tangents.   You must drive the pacing.  The players trigger fewer events, and you trigger them when they need to happen.  Wield the plot bat with impunity.  This will be tiring.  Sometimes, you will feel like a jerk for cutting tangents off, or demanding a course of action, but for the sake of the story as a whole, it must be done.

GM Tip #3: Big Scope, Wide Focus

Games with small player-counts lend themselves to a more intimate feeling.  Three people can develop bonds much easier than ten, and they can easily work together on specific tasks.  Large groups need more and bigger things to do.  A small, investigation-focused mystery is wonderful in a small group, but large groups must be saving the world impressively and often.  Large fights will very likely form the centerpiece of each session, and the enemies that the players face will be many and powerful.

Player Tip #1: Understand the Nature of the Beast

You will have less screen-time.  It’s not personal; It’s math.  There are more people sharing the same screen, you will get less time in the spotlight.  Brevity is key.  Be as pithy as possible, when you have things to contribute.  When you have nothing to contribute, don’t.  The GM will want to cut tangents off early, and you should not resist them.

Player Tip #2: Pay Attention

This is a short one.  The fewer times the GM and other players must repeat themselves, the more you can get done.  Don’t waste everyone’s time.

Player Tip #3: Help Your Poor GM

Running a game with so many players is a labor of love.  Do everything you can to make it easier on them.  Show up on time.  Be prompt with your rolls.  Keep the noise level down.  Bring beverages.  Bribe your GM with food.  Help with the logistics of setting up or tearing down.  Whatever you can do to help, your GM will appreciate it.

Large games are different, but they still hold the potential for great fun.  With some effort, GM’s and players can pull awesome roleplaying and high hilarity out of a difficult situation.  Happy RPing!

3 thoughts on “GM-ing and Playing in Large Groups

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  1. I currently run 4E Ptolus campaign for 8 players. I’m relieved if only 5-6 players get there, as the game, especially combats, starts to slow down easily. I use all kinds of tricks to quicken the combat, but if even 2 players think long during their turn what to do, the others have to wait for ages. And then there’s all the rolling and calculating damage.

    Storytelling -focused games or other rules-light systems work better, but if possible, I try to run for 5-6 players maximum. I may take more in the game if I believe they’ll never get all to play at the same time or they’re friends who have always played together.

    I’d never advice games for over 10 players. People stop paying focus for the game or everyone keeps waiting for their turn and get upset for having to wait for long.

    I’d like to make an addition to delegating. If you’ll really have to run a game for a lot of people, combats are the place where different game design should be needed. Make a tough attack and take one of the pc’s out of game, create a situation where the group must split and then offer the currently idle player bonus xp if he can take another pc down by playing a monster – you being referee if there’s conflicts between your ‘deputy’ and his players.


  2. As the GM of the game Mati is gathering a lot of these insights from, let me say, I never meant to have 13 players! But I ended up with them because I couldn’t bear to give any of them up. To add on to the player tips, as well as GM tip #1, let me say that quality of players is 1:1 equivalent with quality of game. The core of this group of players I am happily surfing are several who voluntarily do a lot of work for me, which taught me what kind of work I could ask my players to do. Even the least of this group at least goes out of his way to show up on time and have all his game materials ready, and pay attention to the game.

    So, even though I have 13 players, it’s almost like I have 5 assistant GMs and 8 players. Even the 8 who just act as players are excellent. So if you’re going to run a game for a lot of players, only do it if they’re GREAT players.


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