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Reefcon 06: The Magic Number

I forgot to mention one other thing I took away from Reefcon: There is such a thing as too many players. The fact that there were seven of us for the Friday night session contributed to the general sense of chaos, especially when one player got a bit of spotlight time (the rest started feeling either left out or that the module had become stuck), and although the Saturday session was okay, I have the feeling that managing six players was one of the factors that contributed to the session going a little longer than it should have.

In terms of what I'm looking for out of gaming, I have the strong feeling that the "sweet spot" group is three to four players. If you want to give a decent amount of spotlight time to each player in the group and you have five or more players, then you need to be an expert at aggressive scene framing and keeping the pace moving (which I'm definitely not yet) or else you'll wind up with one of two situations: A player or two hogging the spotlight, or The Classic Party Mentality, where individual characters are just extensions of the overall party, character-based decisions are subject to a half-hour of argument over whether they endanger team safety and nobody gets any spotlight time.

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Rob Farquhar posted an interesting tidbit on Imagines recently:

There is such a thing as too many players. The fact that there were seven of us for the Friday night session contributed to the general sense of chaos...

Our gaming group has found that the optimum number of players is four or five, plus one as the GM. When we experimented with larger groups, we found that the level of noise rose exponentially, as people became bored waiting for "their turn". We have had up to seven players at a time ... now THOSE were loud nights!

The first problem with more people, as Rob mentioned, is that there is only so much limelight to go around. It is hard to keep people focused when their gaming comes in little packets, surrounded by several minutes of idle time. This is not only a problem during roleplaying vignettes, but in combat as well, as people can only perform their strategic actions at a certain pace. If people aren't entertained, or get bored, the side conversations and/or nervous die rolling start, generating a lot of background noise.

In addition, we've found that adding more people puts a huge strain on the GM. Keeping an adequate balance in the game, as we found during our foray into Exalted, is very difficult. The way I have handled it is to keep some surprizes in reserve, to be used if the players are having too easy a time. Or, alternately, reinforcements or a "lucky break" or two if the players are getting slaughtered. My enemies will often have a trick up their sleeve, whether it is powers, equipment, or allies that the players don't know about. Then, if they're not needed, nobody is the wiser :)

Finally, several game systems seem to be built around a minimum number of players. There are certain primary roles in the adventures that only certain classes may fill. For example, try Tomb of Horrors without a Cleric and a Rogue ... ouchie!


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