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The Online Edition: Group Size

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)bears

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 [1].

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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?

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "The Online Edition: Group Size"

#1 Comment By Scott Martin On May 4, 2016 @ 10:24 am

The same sizes apply around my tables, even though they’re not virtual. My regular group is 5 players, which works well for D&D and Night Witches. But the Dogs in the Vineyard game we’re going to start next week is 3 players, for the intimacy that you mention under ultra-light groups.

#2 Comment By Angela Murray On May 5, 2016 @ 10:17 pm

I’ve found that I prefer smaller groups online. I’ve got two online groups I regularly play with and both have six players. I think any more than that would make it impossible to get a word in edgewise during the game. If I were start one of my own, I’d probably consider keeping it to four players, mostly because it would be a new experience for me.

Conversely, for face to face games, I like running for six, but I can do eight without much issue. For con games, I’ll usually put six slots on the schedule and have two characters as potential walk-ins. It can get a little crazy, but I usually do okay managing them. More than that is just stressful, though. 🙂

#3 Comment By NikMak On May 6, 2016 @ 4:48 am

any thoughts on genre and group size?

i like to run horror games with smaller numbers of players (3 or 4) as i find you get a better vibe

#4 Comment By John Fredericks On May 9, 2016 @ 5:43 am

Thanks for the comments folks. Interesting points on Con games versus home games, and also whether different genres benefit from different sizes. I never considered that angle.

#5 Comment By JeffWalklin On May 30, 2016 @ 6:09 pm

I’ve run a game around a table of 12 people and for that particular game, it worked. But I wouldn’t recommend it. :/

The best size for a party depends on the game system, style of play, experience of the GM and (in face-to-face play) available space. My personal preference leans to larger groups but for certain games I’ll limit players to 2 or 3.

Online I’ve found that, although I’d like a med-to-large sized group for the game I’m running, the demands of voice and video constrict my party size more than any other factor. As the tech progresses we will be able to expand our group size.

#6 Comment By watcher_969 On July 14, 2016 @ 2:03 pm

Not done much online but irl 1-3 is where I have been for several years which have led to quicker combats and some great narrative stories much more than larger groups due to ability to focus. Group also doesn’t split and seems more aligned in smaller group setting.
The traditional group is easier because less prep than ultralight or large group. Run something from book and modify on fly without too much work. Plus game can support loss of a couple of PCs.
I have done 7+ group size irl but tends to be tough – easier to focus on easy combat systems and narrative systems without tons of dice rolling. Largest group was 14 players split into a good group of 7 PCs and evil group of 7 PCs competing against a timeline of neutral party that was tracked by 2 DMs but came down to me to run the epic battle for 15 players at end which was a bit crazy and would not do again.
My magic number is either 3 or 6 due to the reason above.