Experience with 4 players vs. 6/7

Toledo

Explorer
I was wondering if my group's experience is a lot more different than others due to number of players. We've got two active campaigns, and we either have 6 or 7 players weekly besides the DM.

I've been reading some other threads where someone commented that with heavy type armor for a medium battle usage cleric (so not hiding like a typical wizard, but not in the front like a fighter/barbarian) the Magic Initiative feat (and Shield) would likely be very adequate.

My thinking is that one casting of Shield is almost useless for our cleric, who always has foes up in his face. Our magical gear is typically better than Xanther's or the DMG would suggest. So the group hits very hard, but the return retribution is extreme. For example last week, our 7 party members (levels 11 or 12) had to fight a CR 19-20, two CR 10-11, 8 CR 5-6 foes at the same time. We can dish out the pain, but the amount of damage and effects coming back at us makes one Shield seem completely insignificant.

I realize the game is theoretically set up for 4 players with DMG/Xanther's item progression. Logically a group of 4 players that has someone go down is in worse shape than a group of 6 or 7 which has a character drop. Often that is the case for us; however when the extreme groups of foes come at our characters, I'm finding a much larger swing than what I read in the forums (I'm assuming most groups are 3-5 characters). We're at the outer extremes - we can handle foes if our tactics/first turns/decisions are fortuitous but often we're in real bad shape if there is one bad player choice.

Using the formulas in Xanthers, our "normal" easy fights are in the lethal range and our tough fights are 2-3 times greater than lethal, with me factoring in tougher battles for good gear.

Oh, our DMs frequently use the non-Monster Manual supplements put out there, and those monsters seem tougher CR vs CR than the Monster Manual itself.

I was wondering what the opinions are for those who have a lot of experience with both 4 person and 6-7 person parties.
 

Dausuul

Legend
My group only has 3 players most of the time. But taking Magic Initiate to get shield seems just as pointless to me as it does to you.

This isn't about large groups versus small groups, it's about whoever made that suggestion not understanding what makes shield a good spell.
 

Quartz

Explorer
Way back when, the simplest way was to just increase the boss monster's HP. I'd be very careful about increasing the boss' offensive power; increasing the defensive power is much more controlable. So increase HP, add in Resistance vs whatever, Legendary Resistance, Legendary Actions. Putting in high level powers like Wish and Meteor Swarm is just going to end in tears.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I always thought five was the prototypical party size.

Four and six are both pretty close to that, making a difference but not a huge one. Three is a bigger difference, seven and eight are even bigger, then two. One and nine+ are so individualistic I won't try to rate them against each other.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
My thinking is that one casting of Shield is almost useless for our cleric, who always has foes up in his face. Our magical gear is typically better than Xanther's or the DMG would suggest. So the group hits very hard, but the return retribution is extreme. For example last week, our 7 party members (levels 11 or 12) had to fight a CR 19-20, two CR 10-11, 8 CR 5-6 foes at the same time. We can dish out the pain, but the amount of damage and effects coming back at us makes one Shield seem completely insignificant.
Wouldn't having multiple enemies in your face make shield better, not worse? You're getting +5 AC to a whole bunch of attacks, then, not just one.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Wait... 5E assumes a 4 person party? I don't think I've ever noticed that anywhere.

Anywho, my experience is that the number of players in a game has a dramatic impact on the best type of game to run. With a smaller group, role-playing is best, since everyone can easily participate without talking all over each other. Larger groups often work best in exploration and combat, since it nominally allows everyone their own time to shine.

As for party composition vs. enemies faced, that can vary greatly. Power gamers* can handle a whole lot more than regular gamers, because of player skill in character creation and strategic/tactical play. The CR system is wonky, with quite a few creatures worth more experience that you'd think, but others (especially shadows) can cause a TPK against parties well above their level. Something else to consider is that the DMG suggestion for encounter building based on number of enemies isn't balanced at all; there was another one that was put out, but I don't know if it was just UA or XGtE.


*I've stopped using Power Gamer as a pejorative, since there's a difference between a min/max optimizer and someone that just builds solid characters. I take my character concept, then build the most powerful version of that concept within the available options. I may not make the most optimal choices, but I try not to make any bad ones either.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
Wait... 5E assumes a 4 person party? I don't think I've ever noticed that anywhere.
The guidelines for assessing difficulty of encounters treat a party of 4 or 5 the same (and treat them as the baseline) but I believe there are at least a couple of places that specify that 4 is the baseline asssumption.
 

dnd4vr

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
We only have three players currently, but we each play two character so the party is six strong. Sometimes the DM has an NPC making it seven. It makes encounters run differently and we're able to tackle things a 4-character party would have a hard time with. With some of us at level 6 and a few at level 7, we just defeated a vampire (although it was a scary battle).
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Six is where the game starts to break down around level 5 to 7.

By breakdown I mean steam roll the encounters.
 

Stalker0

Adventurer
There is a very big difference between 4 players and 6. 6 players are at least 50% stronger just from that increase in actions, but I find it tends to go beyond that, just because of the inherent synergy of 5e. My players rip through over CRed encounters like butter. But the few times players couldn't show up and we were down to 3-4, it made a huge difference in their ability to handle encounters.
 

Nevvur

Explorer
95% of my games have been with 4-5 players in the tier 2 range of play. I'm rebooting an old campaign next month that will involve the original 5 plus 2 new additions, so I'm in for a 'treat.'

The other 5% was Adventurer's League, and those sessions usually had 7 players. Honestly, things just didn't feel that swingy, but that scenario is pretty far removed from what you're playing (different players each session, mixture of experienced and new players, obligatory encounter maths, etc).

For the reboot, my plan is to feature more fights where HP attrition is not the primary goal. I did this somewhat regularly in my 4-5 player sessions, and felt like it presented more interesting challenges while simultaneously reducing the need to observe CR considerations, XP budgets, etc. With 7 players, I'll be focusing on this more.
 

Horwath

Explorer
I like 6 player groups as it removes the stress of making default archetype characters.

With 6 characters, players do more wacky builds as more than one player can pitch in for a single task.

But, also you must add more monsters, not stronger ones as CC will get more powerful against a single BBEG. More mooks, more mooks, more mooks.
 
4 is fine, 7+ is too many, less assertive players will find it difficult to get a look in. 3 or less can sometimes be too few.

Sweet spot is 4-6.
 

dnd4vr

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Six is where the game starts to break down around level 5 to 7.

By breakdown I mean steam roll the encounters.
Yeah, the raw DPR with our party makes most individual bad guys not a huge threat compared to if we only had 4 characters. But the DM adjusts the encounters so we face opponents that would TPK a group fo 4 characters.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Shield spell becomes nearly useless after level 10.
I am Adventure League dm. It appears you have the same group. Heavy on the magic. Some good combat builds. AL generally increases the monster mob by 2 for 7 players. Your problem is what is suppose to be an easy fight is a hard fight.
Talk to your DM. Ask them to vary the difficulty level.
Early in my D&D career I did try to make all combat deadly. Also in my game store we have a bad killer dm. He always bumps the fight up 1 level of difficulty. People have walked away from his table.
You also are killing monsters groups way out of your league. So the dm is having trouble running the monsters.
 

ART!

Explorer
In recent years as a GM I've had a "never turn away a player" rule, so we've had as many as 9 players at the table, but only once or twice. Usually it's 5-7, sometimes only 3 or 4.

I won't GM for fewer than 4, because it puts too much pressure on me to entertain, and for whatever reason I don't handle that pressure well. We do have one player who is always engaged and invested and tends to generate his own story, so if I know he'll be there then I will game for run it for 3 players. With more players the story kind of generates itself with or without him.

Part of why I have my "never turn away a player" rule is because I know that it will be rare that everyone will show up.

I gave up technically balancing encounters a long time ago, but I've been running games for a long time so I have a feel for what level of challenge the group needs on a case by case basis.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
My two current groups both have 7 players and the nights when everyone shows up... the combats definitely end up in the party's favor, much oftentimes to my chagrin. But now having done this through 5 different year-plus campaigns, all with 7-9 players... I've accepted what have become true facts regarding our tables when it comes to combat:

- The more players at the table, the longer each individual round takes. Because obviously there are more PCs, but also because I need to put more enemies on the table just to try and give a bit of combat parity.

- The longer an individual round takes, the more the players are exceedingly happy when their turn produces a substantial result. If they have to wait 20 minutes for their turn to come around again, they want to really do something cool with the turn they have. Which means me accepting and not getting bothered by my enemies dropping like flies. Because heaven forbid someone like a spellcaster uses their turn to make a Spell Attack and then botch their attack roll. At least the weapon-users usually have 2 or more attacks to do something in the round... that spellcaster who up-casts their one spell and then rolls a '4'? They don't even get the satisfaction of at least doing half-damage... they instead end up having waited an entire 40 minutes (on both sides of their turn) wherein they have done absolutely nothing. That is not something I enjoy doing to my players by any stretch.

- This has led me to believe that the true enemy during combats with 7+ players is not the monsters I throw down, but actually is BOREDOM. As a result... I accept that fights will really be steamrollers for the party because the challenge they all want is remaining engaged with the scene, and not specifically the fight mechanics itself. Especially when you add in the fact that with 7+ players there's going to be probably at least 3 or 4 characters that have healing at their disposal, so any damage I attempt to do to them to make the fights "challenging" are going to be wiped away every round anyways.

At the end of the day... interesting and compelling "combats" occur much more readily at my tables when I have people absent and there are like only four PCs. Because then I can throw more enemies down on the table so there will be more damage thrown about and more chances of really getting hurt (without it being wiped away so easily from massive amounts of in-combat healing). Plus the rounds will still go by fast enough so that each player can get several turns in pretty fast succession, thereby keeping them all engaged with the fights despite the large numbers of HP both sides have to burn through.

Given my choice, I'd prefer to just play with four people and 4 PCs because it allows for faster and more challenging combats... but I just have a lot of very interested friends who all want to play, so I feel an obligation to give them all chances to play. And I just I presume that my less-than-lethal combats at 7+ players does not actually bother any of them, since they all keep coming back to play in my games.
 

Toledo

Explorer
Wouldn't having multiple enemies in your face make shield better, not worse? You're getting +5 AC to a whole bunch of attacks, then, not just one.
I meant that with all the crud thrown that +5 AC for one round of combat seems like a waste of a feat, especially as you don't know when the best time to take it is. You might even use it at the wrong time (our DMs don't let us know what their rolls are, so you are guessing whether Shield will prevent that big hit).

I know that the Toughness feat gets a bad rap relative to adding +2 to Constitution, but it was a life saver for me a few weeks ago. My L8 fighter took Toughness, and my HP went from 75 to 91. Without those full HP, my character would have dropped versus the aforementioned Drake, and we would have likely had a Total Party Kill. Those extra HP were worth the feat just for that adventure.

Some have mentioned the problem of slow rounds and getting enough character time. I've noticed a big jump in that issue in our 6 vs. 7 person campaigns (it isn't the individual people, 5 of the slots are fill by the same weekly players). I think the sweet spot is 5 players...a little bit under the 6, but enough characters to fill the tasks, and if one goes down, your effectiveness only drops 20%, not 25%.
 

Mort

Community Supporter
I meant that with all the crud thrown that +5 AC for one round of combat seems like a waste of a feat, especially as you don't know when the best time to take it is. You might even use it at the wrong time (our DMs don't let us know what their rolls are, so you are guessing whether Shield will prevent that big hit).
Played that way, yes shield is less useful because it cannot guaranty turning a hit into a miss.

3e beat me out of keeping track of players AC (AC could change round by round and could vary depending on the type of attack), After that I announce the total number and the player lets me know if it hit.

5e isn't nearly as fiddly - but the remnants are there, and I've found just calling out the number significantly speeds up play.

On the large group topic - isn't the DM keeping track of AC a timewaster? My group is typically 6 people, and that would certainly slow me down.


I know that the Toughness feat gets a bad rap relative to adding +2 to Constitution, but it was a life saver for me a few weeks ago. My L8 fighter took Toughness, and my HP went from 75 to 91. Without those full HP, my character would have dropped versus the aforementioned Drake, and we would have likely had a Total Party Kill. Those extra HP were worth the feat just for that adventure.
Yeah, in theory the +2 CON is better, but in practice the +2 HP level has a truly meaningful impact.

Some have mentioned the problem of slow rounds and getting enough character time. I've noticed a big jump in that issue in our 6 vs. 7 person campaigns (it isn't the individual people, 5 of the slots are fill by the same weekly players). I think the sweet spot is 5 players...a little bit under the 6, but enough characters to fill the tasks, and if one goes down, your effectiveness only drops 20%, not 25%.
I've noticed that I can run a very tight ship with up to 6 players. 7+ starts to get difficult and I have to be MUCH more mindful of the flow of the game - which can make other aspects of my DMing suffer.
 

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