Since it’s a social game by its very nature, in order to play D&D, you need people to play with. A DM usually has the unique problem of either not being able to find enough players or having too many people who want to play at once. You suddenly find yourself in a position where more than 5 people want to play. While it’s great to have a lot of interested friends, having a large group comes with its own share of difficulties.
Group Size Matters
There are a lot of issues that come with having a large D&D group. For starters, most pre-made modules and monster CR are calculated for about four players. If you don’t properly tweek your encounters, either your players will cut through your hordes like paper or you’ll constantly be inches away from a total party kill.
When Group Size Gets Out of Hand
Having a sizable party also means two things. First, combat is going to take much, much longer. All those issues you have with players being ready on their turn only multiply when you add more players to the mix. If it isn’t a players turn, they’ll often not be paying attention to what’s going on. This will add even more time with players trying to figure out their battle strategy on their turn instead of before it. More players often also means more enemies which equals longer combat and more you have to keep track of. Secondly, having more players means that many players will be struggling to stand out. You can’t expect eight different PCs to be able to talk to an NPC at once. Outspoken players are likely to take time away from quiet players and space cadets.
Game mechanics aside, scheduling a time for everyone in your group to play is a nightmare. Just getting four people together for a few hours is difficult, and that only gets harder as your players get older. Work, school, and family all take priority over gaming. When you try to get party together that’s double the normal size you may find that you go months without playing.
Splitting the Group
Breaking a large group into two smaller groups might be the easiest way to fix your problem. Smaller groups are more manageable, players will get plenty of opportunity to feel heroic, and you won’t have to turn away anyone who wants to play. There are only a few downsides to breaking into smaller factions. The first is that it’s going to add to the headache that is scheduling. If you thought making plans with one group of people was hard, wait until you’re running two or more games. Also, some of your players may have a preference to who they want to play with which can leave some groups uneven. As a DM, your job is slightly more difficult in that you’ll have to remember what’s going on in more than one campaign.
All on Your Own
Whatever, though. You’re confident you can pull off DMing a large group. And you’re probably right. That doesn’t mean that you should go into gaming sessions the same way you would with a smaller group. There are certain issues you need to be aware of that crop up when you add more players. Being prepared for them will help the game run faster and help you avoid any headaches.
During a combat encounter for a large group, it’s important to streamline as much as possible. Otherwise, encounters will take up most of your game time. Have a visual reminder for your players on where you are in the initiative. You can use sticky notes, index cards, clothespins, or a whiteboard. Speaking of initiative, have your players gather and put in order everyone’s roll totals at the beginning for you. Then all you’ll have to do is plug in where your enemies go.
Since your players will know exactly when it’s they’re turn, there will be no excuse not to be ready. Set time limits to players turns. Discuss with your players what they feel is an appropriate amount of time to decide on an action. Use a phone app or a minute hourglass timer, like the ones found in board games. If someone isn’t ready at the end of the time period, move to the next player. Let the player jump back in when they’re ready, but only do this once per player per encounter.
Roll play can be tricky with large groups. You may find that the “face” of the group tends to do almost all the talking. Players with higher Charisma scores have a greater chance of succeeding on their Persuasion and Deception rolls, so many players may not even try to engage in role play. It’s important that you engage each player and not let just one or two players monopolize NPC interactions. Specifically single out group members to have interactions with. Turn to them, maintain eye contact, and ask them questions as an NPC. If another player tries to interrupt, feel free to chastise them as the NPC. A simple “I wasn’t talkin’ to you, sonny!” can go a long way.
With large groups often comes unintended interrogation sessions. Each character might have a different set of questions for an NPC. Instead of it feeling like a conversation, it can turn into a rapid-fire question asking session. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s ok to have your NPC vocalize that feeling. NPCs might also be unwilling to answer the players’ myriad of questions. A king will decide when he has entertained enough and politely tell the adventurers to get lost. It isn’t necessary for you to answer all of the players’ questions. Just be sure to give them enough information to get to the next plot point.
Alternatively, you could get yourself a friend. Wait, isn’t that how this whole giant group mess got started in the first place? In this case, adding another friend helps you not by adding another player, but by adding another DM. Utilizing two DMs per game will take many of the burdens off of you. This way you can focus on other things.
There are many ways to split up tasks when co-DMing. We’ve found the easiest way is Story/Mechanics. Typically, one DM will be responsible for all aspects of the story: quest lines, plot hooks, encounters, and all aspects of world building. The other DM is there to supplement by moving enemies around during combat and keeping track of initiative, looking up rules, cataloging choices the players make, and generating people or objects when improvising. This setup requires that the DMs act as a team. They must plot everything together, be prepared together, and come to a consensus on where the game is headed.
This might be difficult for many people to do. Sharing the responsibilities of creating an entire world and the rules that govern it can be stressful. There may be aspects that both DMs want to do. You may disagree with certain story aspects, monster choices, or even the way NPCs act. If you do end up getting to a point of unsolvable disagreement, don’t despair. You can always split the group up between two DMs. Then you’ll each be free to pursue your own narratives as you so choose.
Having a lot of friends who want to play D&D is a great problem to have. Issues brought up by having too many players can be mitigated by planning ahead and being prepared for your players to behave in a certain way. Make sure to streamline combat as much as possible. Be sure that all of your players are getting a chance to engage NPCs during role play moments. Get a friend to help you out if it gets to be a little overwhelming. And if it gets to be too much, don’t feel badly about having to split the party.