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OutofCharacter / HowManyIsTooMany

How many is too many?

October 04 2008

The past session (on Oct 04 08) we had the most players log in that we have had for a long time. Just in the last two weeks we had Barb return to the game, a couple of weeks before that Guy, Kaz's husband started looking in on our game and already this year we have added Vicki as a new player.

It is a great feeling to have that many people interested in the game. It can be a challenge to keep the game flowing at the same time. With more players comes more characters, less spot light time for each of them. Some like not being front and center, some want more spotlight no matter who else has 'had a turn'.

I think that I have a good mix of players in the game right now. If only a couple show up they can easily cajole and entertain each other with excellent roleplaying. When everyone shows up most people understand that there will be less roleplaying and more action - although that does not always work out.

One thing that I would like to be able to do better with my players is to help guide them better in that timing. Barb in particular has always had a knack for that. She will be quiet and in the background but at what always seems an appropriate time she utters one or two phrases that helps tie her character into the action. Lorie is almost the opposite in some respects. She is an outstanding roleplayer, and when there are fewer people in the game she really shines. But she seems to have problems in the larger group by pulling back to hard on the reins and disappears from view totally. I wish I had a better handle on how to help show her skills in both cases.

I strive to change the adventures I run for the group based on the number of players attending rather than the number of characters or type of characters. I know that I will have about 6-9 players attending over the next few weeks, so I tweak the adventures to match that sort of input. Large complicated puzzles don't work with too many minds as everyone does not get a chance to participate. There needs to some opportunity for inter party roleplaying more than interacting with NPCs because again the funnel gets too tight with too many people players.

(Another time I will write something about why you should create stories for players and groups without worrying if they have the right levels or skills to solve it. )

So back to the original idea - How many is too many?

In my experience there is no upper limit where things totally break down, but when they do get over a dozen players the group dynamics are such that one person as the DM can not keep everyone actively interested four hours a week, week after week. The same can be said at the low end, if the normal number of players dips under four for too long then stories loose some meaning.

That still gives us a wide range of players from 4 to 10 participating each week. Add to this the reality that not everyone will be in on time, or stay all night.

So how to handle that? I try to plan for each night to have a set interaction with someone outside of the group, a set interaction between two characters in the group, and movement between two plot points. {see Trade Wars Plotting and Planning for thoughts on that part of the process.

So as long as I gauge my players right I can have some spots where they laughing and others where they are on the edge of their seats waiting for what will happen next. So I pick two or three things that I want to see accomplished that session, and push the players who are there at the beginning of the night to work on that. Then later on as people are working through things I will nudge a person if need be to bring out what I want for the next point. How fast i can type to integrate each person is how well the night goes sometimes.

No one night can be a masterpiece that stands on its own, but as long as I have the problem of being popular I think my game and campaign can continue to go for a long time.