Swords & Wizardry Light - Forum

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Does Size Matter? How Large a Party Can You Handle?

I know I've written a bit about this in the past, but I'm thinking there's a point where larger party =/ more competent party. I'm including NPCs in this to.

I know back in the Golden Days of gaming, parties with 10+ players plus henchmen and hirelings were not unheard of. My personal first experience with that was being invited to a game that had about 18 players and 2 DMs. The regulars in the group each brought 2 or 3 henchmen with them which put the party numbers well north of 50 trudging through some dungeon. It was also my first experience with a party caller (and 2 DMs at once). I couldn't tell you what the session was about as I was totally confused and lost. I don't even recall if I ever rolled dice that night.

Now, in my current AD&D / OSRIC game we have six steady players, which means six PCs at most. Well, except that I have some open invites out there and have had guest players when we were below our regular numbers. I fully expect to run a session with 7 or 8 players at some point ver G+ Hangouts.

If we added NPCs to the mix, even just one per PC, we'd have a dozen or so characters to worry about during the session. I work without combat maps, but if we go much beyond 6+, I'd probably have to whip them out, just to have an idea about character placement. As you can guess, I'm loath to do this.

I suspect that the largest total party size I could run is 8 before play would suffer. Maybe more if it's less players and more henchmen, but it's still a shitload of moving parts to keep track of. All that and the added downtime for the players that are not engaged in the action at that very moment - the more moving parts, the longer the gap between each character's actions.

Besides, how can a large party effective traverse a dungeon? The sheer numbers get in the way at some point. Wilderness travel I can see how large numbers would be effective in keeping away the troublesome riff raff, but that doesn't translate well to a dungeon environment.

How large a party are you willing to handle as a GM? AS a player, at what group size does the enjoyment of the game start to decrease for you?


  1. I DM from 9 to 14 at conventions using S&W (Core rules, equivalent to OD&D LBBs + GH). 9 is still very smooth, and then it degrades very fast to the point where 14 is an absolute maximum and I tire out fast.

    I handled up to 9 with AD&D during middle school, and could do that, but I was an encyclopedia back then and I no longer have anywhere close to that kind of mental command over the AD&D rules. Maybe ... 6 at a max right now?

    Even the jump up to S&W Complete (all of OD&D) would probably cut back the maximum number, although I don't have any experience to quess where it would fall.

  2. I've never expirenced large parties. I don't remember ever having a session where henchmen where used. Players with 2 PC's is really common but thats it. 8-10 PC's is probably the largest I've gamed with.

  3. I've never expirenced large parties. I don't remember ever having a session where henchmen where used. Players with 2 PC's is really common but thats it. 8-10 PC's is probably the largest I've gamed with.

  4. Our group of six PCs + anywhere from seven to ten henchmen just kind of disintegrated, in part under numerical pressures. Probably would've worked fine down at dungeoneering levels, but in ACKS at domain / wilderness levels with everyone doing their own stuff, the complexity was murderous. I don't think I'd've been able to keep the game going for nearly as long as I did if I hadn't been writing scripts to automate a lot of the work for me, which probably should've been a warning sign. We're looking to pare down to four or five players, probably.

  5. It's not the size of the party that matters, but how you murder each and every member in the most demented and asshole-ish way possible. :P

  6. Another important question is where the sweet spot is. I'd tend to put that at 1 GM and maybe 3-4 players, but that is just because recently that is the size of groups I've mostly played with and things ran pretty smoothly.

    1. Some of my best sessions have been with 2-3 players for that intimate feel. OTOH 6+ can work great, especially for the epic showdown.

  7. As an experiment, I once ran a dozen folks through a TOON feature film at a convention. It went incredibly well, but I've never tried to duplicate it. I was EXHAUSTED by the time it ended.

  8. I think I'm at my best at 6 or less. Most tables go best with 5, plus GM. I usually run at cons with 6 max.

  9. Party size or playing group size? I like large nos of players myself. Its fun to Dm for 10+ players. Adventures write themselves with a large no of players, give em a little loose rope and the actions of the players keep things moving.
    Large player count campaigns don't tend to come to a screethcing halt when one or two players can't make it to a session.

  10. I like 6 as the most players if we're doing anything but mechanical killing, and then 10 is the max.

    I explain dungeon crawling (and underdark adventuring, and going into any sort of really hostile terrain) as requiring adventurers for two primary reasons. One is needing people who do not need to be ordered to go, because it is so dangerous. Two, because you need to condense the maximum violence in the minimum package. You need four people who can pack the violence of a small army into corridors that negate the enemy numbers, and resist the same constriction on behalf of foes.

    Good stuff.

  11. My experience is that if I know the ruleset then the most players I can handle at the table is 9 (with an unlimited number of simple NPC retainers). My Loudwater 4e D&D campaign has 7 10th level PCs. My Punjar Saga Beginners Campaign kicked off last Monday with 8 1st level 4e PCs, but the full group will be 9. In both cases I went with the largest number I thought I could handle, having GM'd 3e D&D successfully for 9 in the past. No problems so far.

    I once GM'd at Gencon UK for the '2002 EN World Meetup' and I had a max of 14 players at any one time, I think 17 over the whole session. Playing level 4 PCs in 3.0 D&D; it was OK, but really too many players.

    I think online games are best with fewer PCs BTW, a maximum of typically 4-6 depending on the campaign is typical.

  12. I could handle maybe up to 9 maximum, but it would be a drag. I'd prefer 4-6. I'm playing in a group now with 8 PCs and 6 NPCs and combat encounters are a slog.