So I’ve recently let the size of my Pathfinder group get larger than I am typically comfortable with. The group started at four, and then a player left, and then we got a new player to put us back at four. Then one of my friends wanted to play, so we were at five. Then an old friend who I had previously invited changed his mind about wanting to play so we were at six. Now the player who left at the beginning is back and one of my oldest friends and gaming compatriots is back in the picture as well putting us at eight. This seems like the ideal time to talk about the importance of keeping a group’s size within your comfort zone. Some GMs like to keep their group small, some prefer their groups large. My comfort zone usually maxes at about five players for numerous reasons.
Pacing: It’s a lot easier to keep combat and interactions flowing when you have a smaller group. Less people and variables to keep track of and less chance of anyone feeling left out during social interaction. This leads us into…
Participation: When a gaming group gets too big, it becomes more and more difficult to make sure that everyone is active and able to do stuff. It becomes way too easy to let people fall into the place of background character. For an example of this, we’re going to play a game. Quick, name every member of the dwarves adventuring party from The Hobbit. I’ll wait. Now unless you’re really into Tolkien, you probably got Thorin, Bilbo, and maybe Fili and Kili. There were fourteen characters in that adventuring party, and that made it extremely difficult for all of them to be important.
Communication: Even in small adventuring gaming groups, someone will try to talk over someone else eventually. The more people you get, the more likely you are for this to happen and be/feel disruptive. You also get a lot of different people with potentially different minds and it’s possible for those people to clash with each other.
Personal Experience: Alright, so here’s what has had me more wary than anything else. The first time I ever ran a game, back when I was fifteen, the gaming group got out of hand. That wasn’t just size though. There was a lot of non-game related tension that came out at the gaming table and it got real bad real fast.
So with all of these factors some may ask why I let my group get so big again? Well, part of it is that I think I’m much more ready and much more in control than I was when I was a teenager. Another thing is that this time there won’t be any strangers at my gaming table. Everyone who is playing now is someone I’ve gamed with before and who I expect to interact with each other well. I still advise GMs, especially new ones, to try to keep your groups small and grow into your comfort zone rather than rushing into a large group.