Tabletop Tales: Large Groups Revisited

A while back I made a post about RPGs with large groups.  The other day I had my first session in a long time with seven players and I decided it would be good to revisit the subject.

A big group is daunting for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the sheer volume of actions the GM has to keep up with.  I talked to a friend of mine who is a much more experienced GM than myself, whose groups are regularly much bigger than even the one I’m running now.  He gave me some very good advice:  have a plan for what’s going to happen and keep people taking turns.  The turns part is probably the more important part and also the more difficult to keep going.

It took me a while to get things into an orderly format.  Part of this was that I just wasn’t used to having to keep that sort of order in smaller groups and part of it was that the initial setting was a meeting room where the players were being addressed by an NPC and it felt weird to have him taking people’s comments in a specific order.  On top of that, it was also the first session of a campaign and those are always a little weird in my experience because I, as the GM, am trying to make sure I don’t lead players along a railroad and the players can find themselves waiting for me to give them a more concrete direction.  Eventually we find a balance but that’s a topic for another post, the point here is that I think that balance takes a little longer to find in larger groups than in smaller groups.

The way to do it, as my friend had told me, is to treat any task resolution as though there were a turn order going on.  Start at one end of the table and go around, letting people declare their non-combat actions just like they were declaring combat actions.  This way you don’t have seven people (or more) throwing ideas at you while trying to filter declared actions out of jokes and aside comments.  This also helps the players separate the actions that it is most important than I hear (What they’re doing and trying to accomplish) from stuff that’s in character that goes on primarily to be funny or otherwise amusing.

After Sunday’s experience I’m glad I let my group get as big as I did.  Not only because the player base is good, but also because I think that I’m developing a lot of good game mastery skills.  I’ve gone from feeling daunted and a little overwhelmed to entirely optimistic about this scenario.

Update:  The size of this group did eventually overwhelm me and I had to cancel the game. This was quite some time ago, but I figured given the optimism here that I should reveal the outcome.

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