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DMing large (10+) groups

Mercurius

Legend
In another thread, [MENTION=6789971]bedir than[/MENTION] mentioned that his/her group is 10 but individual sessions include 2-5 players. I personally have found the sweetspot being 4-5 players, with 6 being doable but 7 really starting to break down. This got me thinking about the idea of running a campaign with tons of players (10+) that swap out for individual segments, quests, even split-party sessions. For whatever reason I find the idea intriguing with lots of interesting possibilities. For instance, the DM could blind copy email people who are scheduled for the next session and the players wouldn't always know who is going to show up.

Anyhow, has anyone done this? [MENTION=6789971]bedir than[/MENTION], can you tell us more?
 

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The quick and dirty version is that planning time for people of various ages and jobs is hard. So my goal is have each 3-4 hour session be an episode of a larger story. We have a fairly regular schedule (every Sunday that doesn't have our local soccer teams playing because most of us blog about those teams) but there are still vacations, weddings, movings, etc that get in the way. As soon as the one session is over I ask who can come. There are also two groups at this time, because a selection of people who hadn't played DnD ever decided to join several sessions in.

Those that can't are sent emails or digital chats about what their character is doing during their offscreen time. This Sunday I'm doing a double session so that I can get all 10 PCs on the same calendar. Group 2 is going 1st. Group 1 is 2nd. Here's a practical example.

Group 2 is currently nine days behind the rest of the campaign. These three characters are on a scouting mission and will discover a huge new hook separate from the others. That hook will almost certainly force them to flee, at some point. And they'll back to the current "base." This is only their second session and only 1 character has leveled up so far. The others are like 50 points out.

Group 1 is the other seven. Only three are making this session. They are chasing two major hooks and a side mission. I have all three sketched out enough that they will choose their own path and continue those storylines.
Samul, Saffron and Behn are the only ones that will be active on Sunday. Each has some clues that they've gotten through play or offscreen conversations.

Let's take the others into account.
Aamar is researching through a library and a Lorebook why magic is lessened and what's up with this group that kept the Kin (the peoples of this land) from having magic for thousands of years). This relates to one of the major hooks.
Maurice is trailing Parun, an ambassador for a slave nation who knows that the Group has a Lorebook and protected one of his escaped slaves.
Mansaray is the escaped slave. He separated from the Group when a crazy Scholar blew up a volcano. He doesn't know that Parun is chasing him, but he does know where the group is. When his player can return there are ways to get this Ranger back into the story.
Shonie started the early sessions, but due to the player moving out of town IRL is now a key NPC. If the Group has to flee the town they are in she will go with them and offer her services as help whereever they go.

One of my keys to managing this is to maintain the story-blog. All the session recaps are there, so that what is public knowledge is there for everyone. Also, rules that go from test to active are there too.

Another key is the calendar. They don't get that, though one player keeps his own. But here I track key events. In this case Group 2 is about to discover that a volcano a few days travel away will erupt. How they act when that happens is up to them. These kinds of tricks from writing epic fiction (think Wheel of Time) help the world feel more alive.

Third, characters that are offscreen/table are discussed when appropriate. Parun mentioned Mansaray, even though that character wasn't in play for many sessions. During the last Group 1 session Aamar's studies were recapped to all present, so that they knew that the character was still active.

Lastly, keep the drop-ins involved via email, chat, twitter. Make certain they read the session recaps and ask them a couple questions about how their character behaves during their X days of downtime. Maurice also used a scroll that created a transmutation stone, similar to the Abjurer ability. Things like crafting, or social discovery can help them maintain a connection to the game, even while their real life interferes with the game sessions. When they come back they'll still believe their character is part of the group, even if the player hasn't been.

It's a lot of administrative stuff, but it adapts what happens in my favorite epic (length) fantasy fiction in that the party splits up and remixes regularly. They are all working towards shared goals and personal goals. Sometimes those overlap and others times they do not.

I've been struggling with how to write this up, but I think this made me think more about it, so thank you for asking.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Wow, sounds great and very interesting. I'm wondering how it would work with a less epic campaigns, something more sandboxy and exploratory. It might be easier, even, especially if the PCs had a home-base that they could come back to. But I imagine the trick would be coordinating quests/forays so that they end each session in a way that a PC can re-join the group in the next session.
 

Wow, sounds great and very interesting. I'm wondering how it would work with a less epic campaigns, something more sandboxy and exploratory. It might be easier, even, especially if the PCs had a home-base that they could come back to. But I imagine the trick would be coordinating quests/forays so that they end each session in a way that a PC can re-join the group in the next session.

I think with a sandbox it would be pretty easy. The hardest part is getting enough done in 3-4 hours so that the next session starts at home, or that you know it will take 2 so you need that small of a commitment. But there are techniques if that doesn't happen. They can be a bit cheesey, but having a companion ride to the rescue is a useful trope in sessions like this.

Or having someone get sick, or thankfully the Barbarian took himself to level 3 exhaustion and wanted to sleep it out while the others adventured, so they put him in a cart and took him with.
 

On Sunday I ran both groups and both groups had a last minute drop (G2 for an illness, G1 due to forest fire). For G2 that wasn't an issue. The story worked with that PC guarding animal companions rather than have a horse try to swim a river that was raging with an ash flow.

But in G1 it meant only 2 active PCs of the 5 that mostly show up. And they decided that G1 needed to flee town, so they did and they left instructions for the other three to do the same. To attempt to force this issue they took a main story-point magic item with them.

Looking back I don't like that I had a minority decide for the majority, even though it was perfect for the story.
 


Bleys Icefalcon

First Post
Over the years the magic number for us has settled on one DM and 4-5 players. Anything less, and there's not enough ideas - and usually not enough player characters. Anything more and it almost immediately gets bogged down. A few years back we had a steady group of eight players and a buddy of mine named Russel and I sat at either end and co-DMed. It ran fairly well, sharing different duties... occasionally he and I would get up and huddle, etc.
 

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