Running Large Games

Role playing is taking off in my area and there is not a day goes by that I do not get some sort of request to join a group or run a game that people have wanted to play.  The issue with my games being a private affair to being games that get run in a public space during the opening hours of the store means I have had to open the comfortable 5 player game up for others to join, and join they have, with me now running a large D&D Princes of the Apocalypse game.

Large group of players for Princes of the Apocalypse
A large group has joined in to play this module

Last night saw nine people (inclusive of myself) sit around a couple of tables as the players began to build their first level characters using the optional 6th chapter of Princes of the Apocalypse.  Granted, only seven of those present were players, but the extra “observer” has decided to join in next week.  He is a person that had not played much since 1st and 2nd edition but gave the game last night the two thumbs up rating and wants in.

But what are the issues of such a big game?  There are several that you have to take into account.

  1. Noise
  2. Space and Comfort
  3. Stagnation

Noise

With multiple people across the tables there is a good level of noise.  You have those moments when everyone wants to speak and also those moments when one person is talking and the others start up a non related conversation.  How do you work this dynamic so that every voice is not drowned out and everyone has their say?

This was a major issue last night.  One that I did not handle terribly well really though I know what I should have done.  I just needed to do two things.  First have a conversation about this with the players.  They will soon realise that if they can be the loudest they get heard the best, but it is a matter of respect for everyone at the table.  Last night I had one player to the left of me that simply gave up at times trying to speak so I had to single them out to hear their point of view.  This is not a great situation and so prefacing the next game where there will be 8 players and myself will be a conversation about respect and off-topic discussions.

Secondly, everyone has the right to be heard in a role playing conversation and so there needs to be a level of control from the DM (and I again put my hand up and say I did this really poorly last night) to make sure that this happens for everyone, and that they feel safe in offering their ideas.  You could instigate a “talking stick/idol” idea where those that have it have a 20 second window to get their reactions across or simply ask the players one by one, calling for quiet from others, what they are doing, thinking or saying.

Space and Comfort

8 players and a DM is a large number of people simply to accommodate.  I am lucky in that I run a gaming store with multiple tables so we cleaned X Wing off of a table and combined two so everyone could sit comfortably around the table with room for snacks and characters, dice etc.  Prior to this though a number of 8 players would be hard to squeeze in and you need to think about this when running a game.  If players are going to be sitting squished together and be bumping each other in a game they are going to lose focus and get annoyed.  They will become distracted and soon lose the love of the game for want of a breath of fresh air or just some room to roll a dice.

Plan for this.  If you have a large group it may be better setting up some card tables or playing in the living area with coffee tables and bean bags for more comfort.  Though RPG’s are tabletop games that does not mean everyone needs to sit at a table.  There are plenty of trays for dice rolling out there now.  Just make sure you have the space for your players and that they are comfortable in it.  It will make your game better.

Stagnation

Everyone has the best idea for tackling an encounter.  Just ask them!  This can run into major issues when everyone has the best idea and none want to back down.  Or perhaps there are two good ideas but neither camp of adventurers will yield the table.  This happened last night and I used the impatience of the half-orc barbarian character to break the stale mate.

Stagnation (or the Shadowrun effect as I like to call it) is where something simple is turned into a monstrous complex machine with many moving parts or simply that stubbornness takes grip and players will not back down for the sake of the game.  Last night there were some bandits and bears that needed dealing with and it broke down.  There were a number of good ideas but no one wanted to back down and say OK – let’s give this one a go.  They all wanted to lead it.  That is also a starting group dynamic, they are trying to work out who are the ideas people and who are the action people.  After twenty minutes though the issue was further from resolved than it had been at the start.  So I pushed the barbarian button who had stated he just wanted to charge in.  With little prodding he did just that.

Keep an eye out for this style of stagnation.  If it is just a fact that people will not give in it can turn personal and as a DM you have to get in and act as a negotiator to come to a conclusion.  Even just putting a time limit on a decision can do just that.

I want the decision in a minute from… NOW!

That sort of ultimatum can get one or two to back down for the good of the game but if it does not go in with some extra information to help mediate a resolution.  If it is the case that the players are overthinking a plan and coming up with some kind of impossible machine as the best solution offer in a thought e.g.

Sure, but where are you going to get Killer Whales from in a desert, and it is just a door.  Isn’t that what Barbarian’s shoulders are for?

It may be just the prompt they need.  But if they push ahead with the insane plan, let it play out as it should.  Do not molly coddle the players or it will encourage that behaviour.  Be straight up and treat the results straight down the line.  If the impossible machine falls to pieces then failure can be a great motivator and learning tool.

Conclusion

I did not perform perfectly last night as the DM.  I enjoyed the game but saw the opportunity for running it better and so I have listed a few of the ways to do that above.  I am also really keen to hear from other DM/GMs about their groups.  I know I have a reader somewhere that used to run Dungeon World with 12 players!  Talk about herding cats!  So share your ideas of how to handle things and also let me know if there are other things I should include on the list.  Keep rolling!

6 Comments


  1. I often run groups of 12 to 15 at a sitting. I employ a special sand timer that is 1 minute on its side and 3 minutes vertical.

    I also use character/round cards (large index cards or custom printed 4×6 cards if I have the time ) and hold them out with the characters name indicating it’s their turn. The order is only shuffled when they roll new initiative for an encounter. This way I can “push” the players alongby holding up their card and asking for a response. But only if I need to.

    I have their stats written on the reverse side for quick reference so I don’t have to ask every time I need them to roll as well.

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  2. I DMed a large group sometimes up to 9. I had them elect a leader who had final say on the “plan”. Everyone would voice their opinion and the leader would decide.

    Speed things up a lot.

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  3. This, a thousand times when you are running an initiative-free system like Dungeon World or Blades in the Dark and everybody’s plan is vying for the vote.

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  4. I have to say I’m a little bit outside my comfort zone being in such a large group. I guess it’s something I’ll get used to though…. I hope…
    I’m not a fan of everyone having to shout to be heard, everyone yellling out their idea and no one listening to any other players’ ideas. I certainly got to the stage where I thought, “Well, what’s the point of even trying? No one’s listening. I’ll just throw my pencil in the air and sit here.” I do like the suggestion in the comments about having a group leader/spokesperson. At least everyone can feel like they have a say, even if their idea isn’t ultimately the one chosen. Of course then you might have the problem of everyone (or almost everyone) wanting to be leader but you could get around that by having a roster: Bill this week, Ted next week, etc.

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    1. I saw the frustration in you that night too Michale. It is one of the main reasons that I need to give this some thought. I like the idea of the decision maker being rotated but that does need another layer of organisation. We will discuss this before the game next Tuesday.

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  5. Im a player in this group and I don’t know what all the fuss is about.We moved from playing at my familys service station as a small to medium playing group and jumped to marks new game shop.I am enjoying the fresh start at the shop.its going to take some getting use to(gold fish bowl) everyone that walks past looks in lol.We have a lot of new players and we are all trying to get to know each other and play our game.it will settle down.Michael you was our captain in the pirate campaign and did a fantastic job. You have my vote if you want lead these guys. It will bring you out of your shell. and give you a say.cheers Fewer Cracker

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