Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Juggling Geese, or GM-ing a Large Group

Image unrelated

Last weekend was spent in a cabin with all of the players (seven all told), playing heavily. According to my calculations, we managed about 22 hours of gaming in two days. My brain was severely over-heated by the time I got home on Sunday afternoon, and I've been watching the recharge bar climb slowly back to green since then. I have to tackle the chapter-post(s) at some point over the next week, but I still need some time to marinate before I get started. I do have a few other posts to write as well, as we've gotten a brand new faction on the board since last week -- I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out. I'll give you a hint: Spirit Courts.

So how did it go? It was bloody brilliant, is how it went. I over-planned, but I usually do -- with my group, I never know where they'll end up taking a given scenario, so I tend to lay down a massive ground-work. I also knew GM-ing for seven players would be hard, and it was. The really difficult part is to get as many of them involved as much as possible. Here I think I could have done a lot better. With three dominant players, I think I tend to rely on them leading the game a little too much.

At one point I came down pretty hard on one of the players who were following up a solo-scene while the rest were waiting for the wrap-up. I could have handled this better, but hindsight is, as they say, 20/20. Another thing I regret is not providing a hook for one of the guys so that he could've gotten into the action in a more exciting manner. As it was, he ended up playing technical support for the group for most of day two.

Still, I think everyone had fun, and while I'm not sure I'm ready for another weekend just yet, I'd definitely do it again.

My question for you guys is whether you have any advice for running large groups.

[Picture source: Oscar Perez]


  1. I tend to seat large groups around the table by highest to lowest dex, to make it easier to deal with initiative.

    Also, I tend to point to each player and ask them what they want to do, then let the group decide after that, at least everyone has to throw in their two cents.

    I find groups of 7 or more very challenging.

  2. I think a more structured approach to the game is something I definitely should think about if I ever do something like this again. Perhaps more refereeing, and a little less storytelling would have been in order.

    As for the group-size, my favourite is actually two or three. But I'm not complaining, mind you.

  3. I got nothing, hell we are having issues handling four people. I can't imagine a game higher than seven people. The biggest We've ever played in was a group of six.

  4. Wow. A weekend would kill our group- I can tell you that there are too many personalities to handle each other more than the 8 or so hours we play each session, about 2x a month.

    The ST in our game starts a queue for people that need downtime things solved, personal storyline answers, information, experience expenditures or other ST attention. He gets that out of the way pretty fast and then throws a story, hook, problem or suggestion at one group or another. They scramble to figure out what to do and things fall into place from there.

    For the most part, the game sort of runs itself. People interact with each other and move plots along (or don't) and they get resolved (or don't) almost always with very little ST involvement.

    Anything deeply personal, emotional, difficult- morality, humanity, clarity, harmony etc rolls- those are directed by the ST. Large scale combats, climactic moments and any opposition forces are also directed by the ST. He rarely has to get involved with a lot of combat or opponents as the group generates its own drama and problems without his help! He almost never has to do anything to cause a headache or impediment to a player- but our group is also MASSIVELY lower powered in comparison to other groups.

    I think this is largely in part due to the SIZE of the group, but our ST is a little stingy, too. He likes to have a lid on how powerful the players can get- and then mess with them when they get close to "breaking moments" to set them back or divert their attention from reaching a point where they might break the game.

    Does any of this help?

  5. @Islander:
    Our usual size these days are four to six, and I think I've gotten that under control.

    How many people are there in your group on a normal day?

    As for whether your advice helps... I'm not sure. Yor game-play is radically different from the way we do things, as far as I've understood it. Whereas you play around in a relatively limited setting with a large group of players, we have a much larger setting, and fewer people.

    The power-balance is a factor though. In hindsight, capping (or at the very least slowing down) the epic earlier would probably have made the weekend easier to handle. Then again, it would have been a different game alltogether, and I like this one. Still, there's no doubt that less epic equals less headache.

  6. Harald- we usually have about 20. Sometimes it's as high as 25 (RARE) and sometimes as low as 12 (also RARE).

    As far as limited setting- that's sort of true. I'm aware that several members of our group have explored past the standard "map", but those are few and far between. However, we're dealing with additional realms such as Deadlands, Arcadia, Spirit Realms, Underworld and so on which make the map "wrinkle" at times.

  7. You know I've taken a different approach. Have a lot of players? Split the group up. While Group A is doing something, the players of Group B play thugs or henchmen. Then I switch it.

    I normally play with four players, though it's swelled to seven. Players have to be flexible with this approach though, as they don't play their main character 100% of the time. It does keep the game moving though.

    Group Initiative is a must. One player rolls for the whole side. I also tend to throw puzzles that demand teamwork. Just last session, the group was on a lift that was rocked by the Annandraga, this giant worm with huge tendrils. I called for Dexterity checks, which were failed, and then Strength checks, to see who could hold on. The scenario ended with *every* character holding on to the other, with the last player clinging to the lift's console.