Group Size, Enjoyment, and D&D


Different dungeon masters have different tolerances. Some can handle ten, fifteen, or even twenty players at a time; others have a maximum of two or three players. Recently, I discovered what my limit was, and had to take a few unfortunate measures to remedy the problem. ‘Twas necessary. Since performing this surgery on one of my Dungeons and Dragons groups, my enjoyment of that particular campaign has gone up immensely. I no longer dread playing with that group, thinking, "I am the one solely responsible for keeping each and every one of my players entertained for four to six hours." Now, I can focus on making each player feel special, among other things.

Regardless of my limits, from my personal experience and conversations with others, there’s a couple of boons from playing with large groups. But truly, small groups reign supreme. This week, we’re exploring group size and how it affects our enjoyment of D&D.

By the end of today’s article, I hope you walk away with a good idea of how to handle a big & rowdy group, why a small group is better for pleasant play, and how enjoyment based on group size is utterly subjective. Let's roll.

Large and In Charge

From experience: Big groups are rowdy, allow little time for character moments, and usually rife with disagreements. Unless everyone at the table works well together and have meshing personalities, the former statement is nearly always true. However, you can stabilize a larger group using a few different strategies. Be warned: Some of these strategies upset certain players if they’re used. Yet, if you want to ensure the table remains the same size, utilizing one, a few, or even all of the tenets described below will help you accomplish that.
  1. Turn Timers: Encourage players to know what their characters will be doing on their turn in combat. If players take too long on their turn, begin to use a turn timer with a limit of 30 seconds to 1 minute. When folks spend 10-15 minutes deciding what they’ll be doing on their turn, there’s a problem.
  2. The Talking Wand: If your group is experiencing issues with people speaking over one another, enstate ‘The Talking Wand.’ While the Wand is in play, only the person holding it may speak or converse with NPCs. This gives everyone (hopefully) a chance to speak and lets everyone hear what the person speaking is saying. If no one can hear what the wizard is telling the angry rakshasa, it will negatively impact everyone’s experience.
  3. Decision Democracy: When players have fierce disagreements over which course of action their characters should take and it leads to constant party splits, enforce democracy. If an important decision must be made by the party, hold a vote. The party must go with the majority’s decision; those who refuse can leave the group. For D&D to work, there cannot be constant party splits. Half the group can’t travel to the orc encampment while half decide to sail the longship across the river.
From what I’ve ascertained, the key to running a successful, sizable group is to use the aforementioned strategies, make sure everyone is on the same page, and, most importantly, to be able to take lead as the dungeon master. If you want to get anywhere during D&D with an enormous group, you’ll need to be able to drive the story forward. Players will get off topic, they’ll play on their phones, and they’ll have side conversations; this can put a dampening on the entire night if it goes too far. Sometimes, I see it as a domino effect. One player will whip out their phone, another will wander off into the night, a third will begin to talk to another player, and on goes the chain. Thus, another responsibility of the dungeon master (or an astute player) is keeping everyone engaged. This, arguably, is the most important part of D&D: Keeping players engaged. With giant groups it’s hard, with smaller groups, it’s easier. This is a huge topic itself, so we won’t be delving into its rich and profitable mines today, but know this: Keeping many people entertained, especially in a turn-based game, requires the dungeon master to think up new and interesting ways to keep everyone’s eyes on the table. For example, during battle, constantly use effects that affect an entire area, ensuring everyone gets to roll before/after their turn. The earth splits, belching out thick dust! Flames burst from the fire elementals inner being! Waves crash onto the stone platform from the surrounding sea!

If everyone at the table is engaged, you’re doing what you’re supposed to; and, I stoutly believe, it is much more difficult with a large group. Some people may be up to the challenge and the stress involved; others won't.

Small but Steady

Little groups are intimate, let characters develop, and progress at a more satisfying rate than large groups. I may be somewhat biased since my experiences with larger groups have been mostly negative, but from speaking to a bunch of other dungeon masters, I think my thoughts are generally correct. The argument for playing as a small group can be made with a few, simple points. The most important of these is play-time; while playing with a small group of players, everyone gets many more changes to roleplay, roll dice, and interact with each other and the dungeon master. This leads to everyone being far more engaged in not only the gameplay, but the story as well. Building on this, more time to play as their character gives their character more depth and development.

When playing with little groups, ensure your story isn’t completely based on a plot of your own design. Instead, it should be built around the player characters. Their background and actions should have a substantial impact on how the tale unfolds. With a tiny group, basing plot elements on parts personal to each, individual character is far easier for both the dungeon master and the players.

Enjoyment

Group size and enjoyment levels during D&D are completely subjective. Some folks enjoy sneaking through a kobold’s lair, arguing geopolitics with wealthy aristocrats, or sailing across the Elemental Plane of Water with colossal groups of six to fifteen people. Others savor exploring the ruins of an elven village, explaining simple economics to a hill giant, or assaulting the infamous City of Brass on the Elemental Plane of Fire with more intimate groups of two to five players. I’d argue that this game that we love to play, Dungeons and Dragons, is vastly more fun with smaller groups. These parties allow everyone to speak & play more, on top of giving more time for their character to evolve. But you might not agree, and that’s fine!

If you’re on the other end, let me know why, I’d love to read other folks’ perspectives.

In Summary

Large and small D&D groups have a variety of varying characteristics. I hope today’s article helped you outline a few:
  1. Large groups are usually rowdy, difficult to plan with, and rarely progress through the story or campaign at a reasonable pace. To make them work, you’ll need to enstate rules.
  2. Small groups are intimate, progress at whatever pace the group prefers, and allow everyone to participate.
  3. Every dungeon master has a different tolerance for group size; some can live and thrive with groups of fifteen people, some can’t. Don’t go above your limit, and don’t stress yourself out attempting to please fifteen people in a game meant for four to six.
Until the next article, farewell!
_____

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Comments

  1. Nice outline, have always had a much more enjoyable game experience with 4-6 players...once I am in a game or running an adventure fun factor goes down after 4 players, 6+ gets unplayable for me. Keep it up really enjoy your articles and insights!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I completely agree. When too many people are participating, everyone gets to participate too little.

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