Forging an online group can be a tricky task. You may have never met the players face to face to know how they will fit in with the group. Also, adult schedules make it difficult for folks to attend every session. As an online gamemaster (GM), you’ll have to make a decision about how many players you’d like in your game, and there are pros and cons to that choice.
In this article, we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of different sized groups. While some of the points will discuss technical issues, most of them should apply to face-to-face groups as well.
ULTRA-LIGHT (1-3 PLAYERS)
The right combination of players and GM can make Ultra-Light gaming very rewarding. Each player will get a lot of time in the spotlight, and adventures can be tailored to focus on their backstories and goals. With only 1-3 players, between session communication is easy to manage, and there are only a few schedules to coordinate when planning for a session. Just about any audio service and internet connection should be able to handle up to four people without lagging.
The major disadvantage is that if one or two players are missing, you probably won’t want to run a particular session. It can sometimes be difficult to know this in advance as things like work and illness can be unpredictable. Sessions which get cancelled suddenly can be discouraging for GM’s and players alike. Also, when you need to find a replacement player, it may be more difficult to find someone who will mesh with an Ultra-Light group. Lastly, if you are using published adventures, you will probably need to adjust their difficulty for smaller groups.
TRADITIONAL (4-6 PLAYERS)
A group of four to six players is traditional because it has a lot of advantages. Many published adventures are targeted for this group size, so finding something to play won’t be a problem. Also, most of your major classes and roles should be covered. In an online campaign, you’ll still be able to run even if one or two players can’t make it. Also, most audio services should be fine up to about seven or eight people. Lastly, traditionally sized groups are fun. Two or three people is a get-together. Six or seven is a party.
Even with a traditionally sized group, there will still be sessions where you won’t get a quorum. For those nights, you might consider having a back-up game. Also, as group size increases, so does your workload during play. There will be more characters to keep track of during combat, and you’ll need to make sure even quiet players participate during the non-combat moments. If you are a brand-new GM, you may want to start with an Ultra-Light group before expanding your number of players.
LARGE GROUPS (7 TO INFINITY)
Large groups have a number of potential problems, so let’s start with them. Large groups can be tough for the GM to manage, and quiet players can easily get lost in the crowd and chaos. Even very engaged players may have to wait a long time between their “spotlight” moments. In an online game, you can bet that folks will be surfing in the background. Also, at some point you will most likely experience lag on your audio service.
There is, however, one compelling reason to consider a large group: you’ll always run. With a large player base, you can simply pick the day and time that you’d like to run. You stand a very good chance of having enough people available at the time. However, if EVERYONE shows up, you’ll earn your money. (Which is none.) Very large groups might be better for ensemble play, but that’s a column in itself. A good column on GMing for a large group can be found here.
If you are presently running a campaign, you don’t have to make this decision alone. You can (and perhaps should) talk with your players before you decide to expand group size. However, ultimately you should not expand it beyond your capabilities. From experience, I have trouble managing more than six players. That’s my “magic number.” You may wish to try different sized groups to find your own.
Tell us your thoughts on group size, especially for online games, below. What is the optimal group size for you?