Running your large D&D party

Posted on August 2, 2009 by

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I’ve been running a large party since I started DM’ing 4th Ed., and while I appreciate the fact that I’m able to play and have friends willing to play with me, running a large party has its ups and downs.  In this article, I hope to give you several tips to manage the table filled with eager players of all types and personalities.

Preparation

This is key.  An unprepared DM is wasting everyone’s time.  It’s hard to get people together to play a 4-5 hour game, so it’s your responsibility to be prepared.  With a large group, even more so, because your time is to flesh out a story and encounters is reduced.  With that thought, I’ll give you this tip:  Since you are looking at the possibility of running 1 or 2 less encounters that what you’d normally run with a regular sized party, do your best to spice them up.  Be over-the-top, be creative, and make these encounters pop.  You may only run 2 encounters due to the party size, so make them memorable.  Make them so interesting that your players will not complain about how little they may have advanced the story!

Encounter Area

This is important.  Adventurers don’t like crowded spaces.  7 or 8 heroes with swords, axes, and fireballs plus 7 or 8 enemies with their own weapons and claws in a tight little space don’t mix well.  Open it up!  You have to give all these people room to maneuver.  I recommend using a 1″ gridded easel paper pad for making battle maps with large encounter areas.  These are large enough to accommodate many combatants comfortably.  Pre-draw these ahead of your session to save valuable time, and you’re good to go.  Since you are pre-drawing, take the time to really make the areas pop.  Think of nice terrain and other fantastic features that’ll make your maps interesting for your large party.

Initiative

While this may seems silly to some, the way you handle initiative can be a time saver when you DM larger groups.  I ask for initiative rolls clockwise around the table.  I’ve also recently begun using a system I learned from fellow blogger SlyFlourish.com, it consists of hanging folded-over index cards with everyone’s name over the top of the DM screen, in intitiative order.  That way, everyone knows who’s next in the rotation.  It’s working out great for us.  Of course, there are many different tried and true methods of keeping initiative, so ultimately you’ll find one that works best for your group.  One trick I have is to pre-roll the monster’s initiative ahead of time, and fit the player’s around them as they roll.  I am also going to be reviewing an initiative and condition tracker I found on the net, so be on the lookout for that in the coming days.

Combat Length

And here we get to the one thing everyone seems to complain the most about 4th Ed., combat.  Is it long?  Yes.  Is it even longer with more players? Oh, hell yes.  Is it really?  Yes.  So, then, what can we do?  Okay, like I wrote above, pre-draw your maps, and pre-roll your monsters’  initiative.  It will save you time.  Have your minis or counters clearly labeled so everyone knows who is who, and you avoid the “Who is the purple skittle again?” type questions.  They bog down game play.  Make your players’ actions timed.  Use an hourglass at the table. The sand spiraling down, making its way towards the bottom of the hour glass may even heighten tensions at the table, in a good way.  Have a :60 or :90 one, and limit players’ actions to the time allotted.  They go over, they are skipped.  Some come in neat designs that may even feel D&D-ish enough to not stand out too much.  Some player’s may not like this house-rule, so speak about it first, looking at its pros and cons.  Also, read and re-read how your monsters behave.  You don’t want players looking at you numbly as you stumble your way figuring out how the goblin behaves.  You need to know your monsters ahead of time.  Don’t learn them during the big fight.  Unacceptable.

Communicate

The DMG points out the different types of players that play D&D.  This is a great read for us newbie DMs running larger parties.  Read this, and identify who in your party fits what description, then use this to your advantage as you plan out stories and ideas.  Also, speak to your players about what interests them, ask them what they get out of the game.  You may be devoting your energy to planning out a cool story arc to a player who may just want to hack n’ slash his way up to level 30th, without caring about a plot or an adventure. “I just want to kill stuff.”  Okay, give him that.  Obviously he’s not interested in playing a large “story-arc” role in your campaign.  That’s a good thing for you, because you can take more time to devoting story moments to the type of player that does like that kind of play.  Talk to your party, you may be surprised at what type of game they are expecting.

Table Assignments

You need some crowd control at the table.  Have one guy be the party spokesman.  When you ask, “What are you guys doing?”, you can’t have 8 people talking all at once.  It’ll drive you nuts.  Assign one guy to be the party voice, telling you what the group is doing as a whole.  Also, have one guy be the rules guy that opens the book when a discussion comes up.  He’s the book reader at the table for rules issues that may creep up, while obviously, you are the final judge and referee.

Me?  I ran 6 players, a pet, and one bad guy.  Piece of cake.

Me? I ran 6 players, a pet, and one bad guy. Piece of cake.

In summary, preparation, adjustments, and communication are the key to streamlining a game with a large party.  It can be done, and it can be very rewarding for all of you.  I hope these tips help you out in your game, and I would appreciate it if anyone had other tips for DMs, to leave them below!  Thanks!

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