View Full Version : DMing a large party

2007-03-31, 05:36 PM
So, I've been DMing a campaign for about 8 months now, and it's been going quite well, with 4 to 6 players. It's my final 10 weeks at college (where I'm running the game), and I've told a couple of other friends who wanted to play that they are welcome to. Long story short, within the next 2 weeks, my 6-strong party of PCs will swell to 9. Am I a little bit crazy? Yes. But that's beside the point. The point is, I have never run a game this large--some one-shots I've run have been 6 or 7, and the campaign has been at 6 members, but this is rather more.

Does anybody have any advice for running sessions with this many PCs? Combat particularly--how do I balance encounters/foes to account for the Party's 50% increase in power, what tricks should I use to keep combat moving quickly, how do I keep combats from being ridiculously long, or is that just a given?
Beyond that, are there any problems likely to occur in large groups that don't in smaller? What should I be watching out for?

(The PCs are all level 8, by the way, so things aren't too obscene; plus, the players are all generally good gamers--I have had few personality/gaming style conflicts so far, and the newcomers are likely to fit in well too.)

2007-03-31, 06:39 PM
I've been with the same group for about 2 years now, and we've had 8-10 players near constantly. We balance out a lot of combat by splitting the group and doing 2 turns with them then switching. Splitting the forces makes things easier all around. If we do get into combat as a massive group, we roll attack and damage at the same time, to optimize combat. For those with multiple attacks, they have more than one D20 and damage dice which are color coded. The current DM and I use a baseball approach to handling the encounter for streamlining it. "Ariel's turn, Dedrah's on deck." ((We refer to each other by character names at the table for immersion and because its kinda fun being something your normally not for a night.)) This way, the person who's on deck can pay attention or plan their next move.

Taking things slow, and planning more traps and puzzles rather than combat is your best chance of not spending an hour or more fighting the same encounter. We fought a goblin nest a few weeks ago, 5 higher powered goblins, which we could crowd control. The BBEG was in a trapped room and invisible half the time. It was a fun fight because it wasn't something we'd normally encounter, and he put out a decent fight until our Knight got a challenge off. Then it became a straight tank and spank. With that many players, we've all taken precise shot so we don't kill each other when we mob something.

Black Hand
2007-03-31, 07:25 PM
I did a group of 9 at one point too. It did have to be handled differently than the regular 3-4 people games that I was used to. I think the main difference was that everyone had to be more organized on turns and talking, so everybody doesn't speak at once and create confusion. I found ye olde grade-school form of raising your hand to speak worked well, and chit chat had to be subdued during combat rounds except for the one taking turns. Otherwise there'd be 10 minutes of babble for one round.

It actually worked quite well. I wasn't a Nazi on the organization as when people tried it they realized we were able to keep things going at a fairly reasonable pace.

El Jaspero, the Pirate King
2007-04-01, 10:28 AM
I'd also suggest recruiting your players to help you out; get someone to be your "initiative master" in fights, so you don't have to keep track of who's next while you're trying to figure out how the BBEG is going to make his dramatic escape. If you use a lot of terrain and/or cover, get someone else to manage that. If some of your new players are new to the game and/or the campaign, maybe another of your veterans would like to mentor them.

As for encounters? The deal with big parties is they can swarm one or two foes even faster than the usual 4-6 member group, so things like difficult terrain and ranks of cannon fodder are going to be even more useful than before.

I've also found that it's tricky designing large-party games where everybody has something to do. Granted, with a party of 9 it's not a TPK if the bard just hangs back and sings...but is his player having fun? Keeping everybody involved and entertained is just as hard as putting together a challenging encounter.

2007-04-01, 10:53 AM
*Ick!* 8 players? Each with familiars, animal companions, cohorts, summoned monsters, etc. I shudder. I mean, the thought of what they'll do to adventure scaling alone makes me wince.

Simple eggy solutions:

1) Split the party in two, send them off to fulfill different elements of their quest requirements (hey! it worked for Tolkein, Eddings, etc.). Essentially treat them as two parallel groups who can swap characters when they meet in-game. This might work out better for pace, character 'screen time' and XP than your current '40 man raid' set-up.


2) recruit a co-GM/helper monkey to help with the numbers intensive stuff (combat). You'll want the person with the encyclopedic rules knowledge for this.

Oh, if you don't already use initiative cards (http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=645) (for they are teh aewsum) to keep track of turns, and expect a 6 second round to take an hour to adjudicate.

2007-04-01, 12:40 PM
Does anybody have any advice for running sessions with this many PCs? Some of it has been said, but one of your biggest challenges is going to be the length of time it takes to complete a combat round. You will need to do things to minimize it. Some suggestions: Initiative Cards are good (I like the Game Mechanics version), always let people know their turn is coming up 2-3 turns ahead of time, and limit the amount of time used figuring out what or how to do something during their turn. The last is very important...and when you've let them know their turn is coming ahead of time there's no excuse for still trying to decide what spell you're going to cast when it is your turn.

Combat particularly--how do I balance encounters/foes to account for the Party's 50% increase in power, what tricks should I use to keep combat moving quickly, how do I keep combats from being ridiculously long, or is that just a given? Remember, you may have increased your party's numbers by 50% but you did not increase their power by 50%. The easiest way to balance encounters is to increase adversary numbers by a similar amount. Avoid increasing a single opponents CR to compensate for party numbers, that results in fast deaths of either party or adversary...some times both. The problem is, you've got ~9+ individuals attacking your single BBEG, anyone they can hit they'll probably kill in a single round. And when it does get around to the high CR BBEG's turn, he can probably kill any single PC in a single turn.

Beyond that, are there any problems likely to occur in large groups that don't in smaller? What should I be watching out for? You'll need to talk to the group and get their cooperation when it comes to focusing on the game. It's far too easy for that many individuals to end up in 3+ extraneous conversations.

Have fun!

2007-04-01, 12:58 PM
I recommend not rolling monster initiative. Set it to 10+ their initiative modifier.

If you do feel like running a single BBEG, make it a multi-part BBEG. If you've seen the Beholder revised on the WOTC forums, it gets a normal round and also a "barrage" round. You could similarly have an evil cleric with a talking face on his armor that cast his spells for him, while he waded into melee, or a giant with an eye laser which fired independently of his normal attacks.

2007-04-01, 02:28 PM
I run a group of 10 people currently, and I made a thread about speeding up combat- just type Speeding Up Combat into the search bar; it's the name of the thread. I was able to yank some great ideas off of that thread to incorporate them into my game; I think you'll find it helpful as well.

I wouldn't recommend splitting the party up; just because it worked for Tolkien doesn't mean that it'll work for you. I think it makes things much more drawn out than they have to, taking twice the table time to do 1/2 of the work. Plus, you're DMing one game, not two, and when you split them up like that, it essentially becomes two. That might me just yelling from my soap box, but I'd never split up my group unless they did it voluntarily.

I do have a lackey. Whoever is unfortunate enough to sit next to me during my sessions gets to be the DM-monkey for the day; gather up everyone's initiative rolls for me while I fill out the grid; and other miscellaneous things that I have on a list for them.

When preparing combat, remember that either A: You give them a lot of things to fight or B: one big thing to fight with a typical 4-6 person party. Now there's 9. Solution? Mooks. Mooks, mooks, mooks, mooks, and mooks. If they're all 8th level, then don't throw in a....let's say a Rast, but because of the group's ECL is higher, give them two. Give the Rast mooks instead, it moves things along more easily.
-Mooks are going to be your best friend ever in making things a challenge for your PC's, because with so many of them, they can swarm over things extremely easily, as you'll likely discover during the first session. Two of my PC's actually took Swarmfighting from CW to fit in the same square when fighting, :D; so just make the mooks of an appropriate level for your PC's. Recently, my group (7th level) fought a Nimblewright and 6 Pulverizer Automatons at the end of the dungeon I had them at. It was a pretty even encounter, and even a couple of them dropped.

Something else I've also discovered is that in order to give them appropriate challenges, it gives each player an extremely increased amount of experience than what you will probably expect, if you use the experience-gain chart in the DMG. After they dinged 4-5 in a single session, I decided that there would be no more of that, and started giving Adventure Experience instead, it works much more easily.

Also: Watch your magic. With so many, giving appropriate magic gear will turn your party into the Kingdom-Slayers. So, what I've done with my group is turned down the magic ever so slightly to compensate. I've also increased the market value of priced items in books by 5% to compensate for this, and make them spend a bit more for the items.

I hope this helped, good luck!

2007-04-01, 02:32 PM
Not sure if anyone else has mentioned it, but there is a good article on just this subject in the most recent Knights of the Dinner Table.

2007-04-05, 06:36 PM
Thanks, everyone! I like these ideas, especially the system of having a PC 'at bat', non-rolled bad-guy initiative, the no-frivolous-chatter-during-combat, and the gm lackey. I already use initiative cards, with space for vital stats, noticeable loot, and hp for the mooks. And it looks like the campaign may only be 7 players after all, which isn't as frightening an increase as 9.

2007-04-05, 07:27 PM
You can also pre-roll initiative and pre-set tactics for any bad guys you've already prepped. Instead of going 10+init modifier, just roll your d20 for him as you're getting him ready the day before or whatever. (If you expect the same guy to be involved in multiple encounters, roll multiple d20s for his initiative.) And instead of sitting there thinking "what is mook #3 doing in round 1?" have each mook's actions pre-planned to some degree... "go after something that looks squishy" or "cast area spells" or whatever.