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Number of players

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
So, lately I have acquired half a dozen new TTRPGs. Can't wait to try them. In the meantime, I've been reading them. I'm obviously not done, but for several of them, I jumped around looking for one information I couldn't find: the recommended number of players.

The number of player is something I've been thinking about all year. Firstly, because I've been making so many plans of "of we'll play this, oh we'll play that once the pandemic will be over" and everything was TTRPG starved and asking to join and I had to put my foot down and limit the size of my groups. I never take more than five players, and even then, I much prefer four than five.

I've also ran D&D for two players multiple times before, and it was a ton of fun! But it was much harder to balance encounters. Action economy and all that.

I've also taken interest in games that are solo games and realized that there's really few games that are sold on the concept of one on one games. I would have loved a game like that during the pandemic. I did acquire a solo game or two, but I've yet to try them. I'm waiting for my vacations from work.

So, I don't have a specific angle to the topic, but I wanted to maybe exchange some thoughts around the idea of number of players:
  • I tend to prefer smaller groups. More time to give to every individual player.
  • Most TTRPGs that I've seen seem to tend toward the classic 4-6 recommended player.
  • The challenges of running smaller groups (action economy, etc).
  • Why is there so few two players games or solo games? What are your experiences with them?
  • Is the "recommended number of player" an important information that shouldn't be omitted from rulebooks?
 

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prabe

Tension, apprension, and dissension have begun
Supporter
I think some of the player number is about personal preferences, though I can see how some games might work better with different group sizes. Even talking about 5e--which that I know of doesn't have specific recommendations, other than some guidelines for adjusting encounters--I know some DMs who won't run for more than three, and I know some DMs who won't run for less than five. As very strong preferences if not absolute absolutes. Personally, I kinda prefer larger groups, but even I have a pretty hard upper limit as far as being able to keep a table focused.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I like 5 players myself because if one cant make it, we can still play. Thats for D&D/PF traditional fantasy games. Though, I dont like going higher than 5 in any game because its hard to move the spotlight effectively and not have multiple characters essentially good at the same things. Just too much toe stepping in large groups.

I dont think there are too few games capable of groups of 2-3. They just dont enjoy the popularity of traditional fantasy games. My experience is when you get away from D&D combat focused games, having a team of roles covered becomes less of an issue. Either the story only requires two PCs, or its very easy for two players to run multiple PCs.

I think it is very important for a rulebook to at least give a paragraph to instruction on what to expect at various group sizes and what is optimal with the system. I've seen both well covered rulebooks in this regard, and those that dont mention it at all. /shrug
 


TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I think it is very important for a rulebook to at least give a paragraph to instruction on what to expect at various group sizes and what is optimal with the system. I've seen both well covered rulebooks in this regard, and those that dont mention it at all. /shrug
I take for granted that we're talking about 4 to 6 players or something close to the traditional D&D/PF way, but all boardgames specify that stuff right on the box.
Three players is the magic number for me.
Three players is really sweet. When you get to four (five including the DM) it becomes a large group in my mind. It's the same difference as between having two people come have a drink at your place (it's more intimate, you can have one flowing conversation) and having four people at your place for drinks (it's a group setting, multiple conversations going on, etc).
 

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
Three players is really sweet. When you get to four (five including the DM) it becomes a large group in my mind. It's the same difference as between having two people come have a drink at your place (it's more intimate, you can have one flowing conversation) and having four people at your place for drinks (it's a group setting, multiple conversations going on, etc).
Exactly! It is more intimate. Less channels of communication. No one feels left out.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Exactly! It is more intimate. Less channels of communication. No one feels left out.
Its nice for sure. Problem I run into is logistical. Getting 4 people to reliably show up every session. Not talking about flakes either, but folks who really want to be at the table but got real life stuff stopping them on occasion.
 

Solo games seem to be making a comeback, with stuff like Thousand Year Old Vampire. And there have been a few two-player games and adventures out there. But in my experience, the game experience gets less rich once you get below three players. You start to miss the alchemical element that happens with the interplay of a full group.

  • Why is there so few two players games or solo games? What are your experiences with them?

I think it's mostly going to be the same thing throughout most modern RPGs (that 4-6 range), but it's still important to include that information, because it's always best to assume that a game could be a person's first time running a game, and they're going to need to know that. Of course, even experienced GMs can find themselves with tables of 2 or of 10.

  • Is the "recommended number of player" an important information that shouldn't be omitted from rulebooks?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Exactly! It is more intimate. Less channels of communication. No one feels left out.

So, I think it depends on what you're trying to accomplish in your sessions.

If your game is, for lack of a better description, strongly focused on achieving tactical objectives, that tends of favor aiming for groups just small enough to fit all the roles needed for those objectives.

If your game is more focused on drama and social interactions, that will tend to favor larger groups, because interaction with dedicated players who are each playing a single well-realized character, will generally be more rich than those presented by the GM, who has to wear so many hats and does not have time to develop any one of them deeply. The higher end of this is up in live-action role playing games, where it is entirely possible to have 80 players in one session, but only a handful of GMs. Indeed, most larger live action game delegate the NPCs to a cast of NPC players, so that even those roles are more rich than could be presented by a GM who has to handle 27 other things as well.
 


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