View Full Version : DM Help Advice on dealing with a large group

2015-08-25, 10:15 PM
As the title says, I'm currently running a game with a grand total of (count them) NINE players. It's my first time running a game, and it's not going too badly (despite a number of things) I've mostly been doubling the number enemies to keep the players from steamrolling encounters, but that makes everything very, very slow. Especially since we game in the evening after work, we can really only get through one encounter per session, which seems too slow to me.

Does anyone have ideas about how to speed up encounters or keep the players from steamrolling encounters without risking accidental character death? (One character already got killed by a spiked log trap. Yes, on my very first session running.) There will also be encounters later where doubling the number of enemies wouldn't make logical sense.

The adventure path I'm running is Reign of Winter for Pathfinder, if anyone has general advice about that path, I'm more than happy to hear it.

Broken Crown
2015-08-26, 12:00 AM
As you've discovered, one of the biggest pitfalls for a large group is that combat rounds take forever. Past a certain point, players' attention wavers, they lose track of whose turn it is, they start chatting amongst themselves, when their turn comes up they don't know what's going on and have to be brought up to speed before they can decide what to do... and this problem just compounds itself until the game practically grinds to a halt.

One approach would be to use an hourglass or other timer, to give each player a strict limit on how much time they have to decide what to do. If they run out of time, they lose their action. This has two advantages:

1) It necessarily puts an upper limit on how long the turns take, speeding up play. This reduces the opportunity for the players to get bored or distracted.

2) (and more importantly) It keeps the players involved in the action, because they have to be ready to declare what they're going to do as soon as their turns come up. This encourages them to pay attention and plan even when it's not their turn.

Other than that, the biggest problem I've encountered with large groups is that less assertive role-players tend to fade into the background and get overshadowed by the more active players, since there often isn't enough face time for everyone. Some players are fine with this, and are happy just to chill out and watch; others may feel bored or excluded.

Character death is a thing that happens, especially if you use tougher enemies rather than more numerous enemies to compensate for the PCs' large numbers. What system are you using? Most versions of D&D are fairly forgiving, in that an attack that will knock a character out of action will usually not kill them. There are also lots of ways to incapacitate characters without injuring them at all; if you find frequent PC death is a problem, consider using opponents with more disabling attacks.

How are your players' tactics? Do they charge ahead, heedless of danger, or are they more cautious? In my experience, as the number of players increases, the probability that one of them will do something suicidally stupid approaches 1.

2015-08-26, 12:03 AM
1. Split.

2. Play a system that handles large groups better.

It Sat Rap
2015-08-26, 02:26 AM
6-second-rule: When a player is next in initiative, count to 6. If the player doensn't know what to do in this time, move to the next player.

A player landed a hit with his sword, but is searching his pockets for the damage dice? Move to the next player.

A player wants to check how his new feat/speel/ability works? Let him check in the book, but delay his turn and move to the next player.

This makes the game a lot quicker and keeps the concentration of the players up.

2015-08-26, 03:53 AM
You can use ways to quicken the dice rolling, like rolling attack and damage at the same time and stuff. Previous posters have already commented on this.

You can also use ways to quicken the combat. Using a wound system where every wound imposes a penalty on every roll to the character instead of a hit point system makes combat a lot quicker, especially in high levels. It's also a bit more dangerous for the playing characters, but not excessively.

2015-08-26, 05:14 AM
1-appoint your most organized or knowledgeable player as Co-DM, and give them one or more things to keep track of in the session. Something along the lines of "look up rules if we need them" or "keep track of initiative". Give them appropriate authority to handle their task.

2-six second rule and/or sixty second rule.
six second rule- A player has six seconds after their turn is announced to say *something* indicating they are taking action. If they fail to do so, they hold their turn until after the next person in line.

sixty second rule- a player has one minute to declare actions, roll dice, ask questions, or look through materials as part of their turn. If they have not figured out what they want to do after sixty seconds, or have not rolled dice, their turn is held or skipped.

3-a rule limiting the use of animal companions, summons, mounts, cohorts, and controlled undead. "Pets" do not get their own initiative, and an overall cap on the number of things following the party at any given time are a good place to start.

4-if a situation calls for large numbers of weak enemies, treat it like a Skill Challenge instead of combat. Roll initiative as normal, but change action economy a little. Have players declare a course of action. If nothing would prevent it, set a DC and roll dice. Set a "win" and "lose" condition for the overall situation and inform the players of both.

5- Consider having them roll initiative outside of combat. Especially if the party has split up to investigate or something.

6- forbid crafting and purchases "on the road", but set aside Downtime Games. Downtime games are entire sessions devoted to crafting, purchases, research, and similar activities. They have zero content other than what players need or want to get done. It's up to you whether you limit how much can be done during this downtime.

and finally
7- Anything that reduces the number of rounds spent in combat is a Good Thing.

If you can split the group into two smaller ones, do it. If not, the above tips should help a little.

2015-08-26, 07:22 AM
"5- Consider having them roll initiative outside of combat."

Or, ignore initiative altogether. Set a fixed turn order for everyone, decide whether the PCs or monsters go first.

Kol Korran
2015-08-26, 08:50 AM
I would also second splitting the group. Sure, some of the above suggestions can help speed up combat (Even for smaller group), but they don't quite deal with a few major problems:
- Not enough screen time: As have been noted before me, some players will get "pushed aside" somewhat. but even if you do get everyone to act, the proportion of how much they act compared to how much they DON'T will get many people frustrated, upset, and then they'll either zone out and lose interest, get angry, get disruptive, or leave... These kind of interactions don't hold well with groups so big, unless quite a few like to watch, and participate less.

- Group Dynamics: Groups these big often tend to naturally sort of divide into sub groups within themselves, especially when the game is basically build for 3-6 players. You WILL most likely have 2-3 groups,, just sort of working within one group, and dynamics can turned difficult and tricky, depending on how mature and cooperative your players are. Most likely some will be more dominant than others.

- Complexity and decision making. Already your game is slowing, and you're only on your second session, and from what I gathered you're probably level 1-2 or so? The game so far doesn't have much in it to make decision making complex, interactions difficult, and so on. And the mechanics of the characters, their abilities and so on are currently simple. ALL of these will get more and more complicated as you game. And then? Then the arguments and discussions begin. A group of 4-5 players trying to come to an agreement can be a hassle, but 9 players? I don't envy you. Again, my guess is that in most cases some players' opinions will be voted over/ ruled out/ trampled by more persuasive/ dominant players.

Sure, you can have rules to limit the decisions and discussions (10-15 minute's decision), but that can take a lot of the game (The decisions are a major part of the game), and feel very artificial.

Split the group. Find someone else who'll DM. These are just too many players. Do it sooner than later, when people are not too attached to the current game, and they don't feel like they've spent a lot of time playing it just to be moved to another group.

2015-08-26, 09:57 AM
Use minis. Or facsimiles of them. Like coins, chess pieces, green army men, or salt shakers. It's otherwise impossible to figure out where everyone is standing.

Use pooled initiative, as indicated below, rather than rolled initiative.

Use a dice-rolling application rather than physical dice and have one person assigned as the roller.

Assign a scribe/co-GM.

Consider pooled stats and rolls both for enemies and players for the less important fights. Yes this tips your hand as to what is and isn't important, but it will keep you from killing yourself.

Consider alternate methods of rolling/skill checks. If you really have a 50/50 chance of something, flip a damn coin.

Honest Tiefling
2015-08-26, 04:18 PM
1-appoint your most organized or knowledgeable player as Co-DM, and give them one or more things to keep track of in the session. Something along the lines of "look up rules if we need them" or "keep track of initiative". Give them appropriate authority to handle their task.

Going to quote this, because in the past having a player keep track of initiative has helped a lot for games I have been in. Also! a note taker is a good idea. Players keep forgetting what happens in many games I have been in, so a session recap person can be invaluable especially since you have to run games when not everyone is there.

And also going to double up on the 'You have 10 seconds to declare an action' idea that so many people have suggested. If others are new, encourage more experienced players to help them to keep things rolling. The action declared doesn't have to be precise if they need clarification from the DM, but things like 'I wish to attack, what is the DC to move past this obstacle' is a lot more concise and quick then 'Um...'.

Consider banning or using electronics. They can be a boon as they are faster to look up things for certain people, or a huge detriment if people are easily distracted. I like that I can just hit a button and get my spell damage quite quickly, personally as I can make a 10d6 button. A rule to keep them face down unless looking up rules is a good one from personal experience.

Grab some note cards. Personally, I have hearing issues, so having three people talk in the same room is a problem for me. Having five I assume is a problem for anyone. This way, players can ask questions of the DM and other players without noise being an issue.

How many of these players are newer, by the way?

2015-08-26, 05:46 PM
All the above advice is good, I have a pathfinder game with 10 people. Here are the things we have in place:

1) Co DM. Our resident rules lawyer puts his skills to good use fielding rules questions and organising initiative.
2) Scribe. A separate player takes notes and holds all the prop documents our DM gives us.
3) Backup. I hold at least 3 other player's character sheets in spreadsheet form on my laptop just in case. I also perform backup rules and initiative work and have a decent memory so we have redundancy in case of absences.
4) Absences. We frequently run with less than a full compliment, down to as little as 4 players on some occasions.
5) Pairs. Each veteran player has a green buddy that they gravitate towards in order to help out when they want to do something or it's their turn. It is not a coincidence that most of these pairs are couples.
6) Timer. not very well enforced, but we tell people who is coming up on initiative and hurry them up for their turns. It helps that the people that get stuck can usually be resolved quickly (they don't have many abilities to worry about or will probably be using the same things most times).
7) Combat Tweaking. Our DM advances our enemies more often than he adds creatures, less things on the field makes things quick. He also takes out or handwaves inconsequential fights so we don't bog the game down fighting a few random animals and instead can focus on the big, important combats.
8) Communication rules. Again not well enforced, but try to have only one or two people talking at once. Notes can be used for less (or more) important things and communication discipline keeps everybody focused. Be careful not to inhibit players speaking among themselves, but when combat is happening put aside discussion on what they are going to buy when they are in town next.

Additionally, I'd recommend changing system from Pathfinder to D&D 5e, using the same adventure path. Conversion isn't much of an issue with a good DM (& co-DM) but most importantly combat is so much quicker and simpler. There is only so much you can do to speed up Pathfinder combat.

2015-08-30, 10:04 PM
Additional advice!

Spell and ability cards: Or some other way of reducing an option into summarised or point form. The less flicking through the books the better.

Monster stat cards: as above, but applies to DM

Average Damage Rolls If you are desperate to find ways to shave time, taking the average damage of rolls is quicker than tallying it all up. Better for players with lots of dice to roll, forgetful of bonuses or not the strongest at math.

Important Info: Stick it to the back of your DM screen, or on the front if its for the players. Have a whiteboard or something where people can just look up and reference without asking or looking through books and character sheets.
This may or may not include things like enemy stats and HP depending on your playstyle, it saves players asking 'do I hit him?' and 'is he dead?' every turn.

Alternative Initiative: Just go around the group clockwise, starting with the highest roll. If people cotton on and start abusing the system (which means they are paying attention, kudos to them) decide to go counter clockwise every now and again. Don't forget to add a second 'DM' somewhere between people for different things you are running to shake things up.

Early Curtains: If the outcome of combat is a certainty (in the party's favor), don't bother to finish rolling it out. Just get them to describe how they hand their opponents asses to them and move on.

2015-08-30, 10:45 PM
Related advice (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?437848-Help-with-slow-combat-(newbie-DM-question)). Found in the 5e subsection, but much of the advice there applies to general gaming as well.

Also, I was under the impression that 'curtains' referred to something intimate that (usually) happens between a female and a male... :smalltongue: