We’ve talked about solo campaigns and GMing for large groups before on TT, but what about the middle ground?
The “standard” size for a tabletop RPG group is four players. What, if anything, do you do differently with three players vs. four players vs. five players?
3 Players I think is the best size for a group. It allows you to get more in depth with the players, and they tend to form greater party cohesion. 4 and 5 players I tend to notice the players aligning along their own paths within the group, and vying for individual attention more.
With fewer players I try to form tighter more interpersonal plots. With more players I try to build the plot and story along a common line which they can all buy into. That way there is less need to try to be the hero, and they are all working towards common goals. It works out ok with any number of players (except the 8 which I once had, and that was fun in the pull your hair out way).
Most of the GMs I know who insist on running with at least 5 players do it because they expect that not all of their players will be able to make it on any given day and they want to be sure to have at least 3 players on a given night (many GMs don’t feel comfortable running for 1 or 2 players I’ve noticed). In some ways this means it’s still often a 3 or 4 player game. However, it also means you can’t have some of the intense personal long-running plots because you never know who is going to show up. On the other hand, I’ve also found that in most of these games, you eventually find that one or two people show up reliably and it’s only a couple of people who are unreliable. So you end up with, essentially, a 2 or 3 person game that includes personal plots, and a couple of extra party members who don’t get much in the way of personal plots.
Beyond that, for folks for whom that isn’t the case, I think the more players you have, the more you have to make sure you’re moving the spotlight around. If you like to play with personal plots you’ll have to spend more time making sure you rotate from person to person and include folks who don’t tend to create personal plots of their own.
If any of this rambles or doesn’t make sense, it’s my own fault for posting before coffee. 🙂
For the past year, I ran a very good five-player game. A few months ago, as we drew to the campaign’s final chapter, one of the player’s girlfriends decided to join us. This was perhaps the only instance of having six players that I’ve ever been able to run successfully.
After that campaign closed, two more people jumped on the bandwagon. So, just yesterday, we elected to split into two groups. Same time, same place, just two DMs and two parties. I must say it’s worked out well, and nobody protested because we all realized that running one big game just wouldn’t work.
The bright side of this is that, on the occassion that one or more players can’t attend, the group as a whole can elect to play something else. We’re pretty much guaranteed to have enough in attendance to run something, which virtually ensures that a game will be held except on holidays.
As to the core debate, though, I’d say four to five is ideal. It’s enough people to make things interesting and fill all necessary roles but not enough to divide the action too thin.
I find three or four idyllic, myself, because that keeps the group size with the DM at 5 or less…once you get 5 people in a party, plus the DM, complications begin to compound at an exponential rate. I also agree with the comment that smaller groups allow for better integration between characters, and I have always preferred the intimacy that comes with 3 players and a DM/GM.
I’m with most of the posters; a game for three tends focus more on the PCs and their plots and backstory. It’s easier to try experimental systems– or to tailor your game to the specific players and PCs.
I can’t really tell the difference between 4 and 5 PCs– they both seem to have made the transition to group plots, though you can still find individual PC subplots. When you get to 6+, the individual subplots drop away…
Since the release of 3.0 I have become a big fan of the 3-4 player game. I find that with a 3 player game, I am more apt to run a party NPC, to fill in some gaps that the party might have, this way everyone can play the kind of character they want, and not have to worry about making sure they have the necessary classes to be successful.
I think that in that 3-4 player range, I hit a sweet spot being able to really deliver character focused stories and still have group activities that are fun for the party, as a whole.
In D&D I also think that in that 4 memeber party, the scale of monsters you use is more reasonable. In the larger D&D games I have run, larger parties require a scaling up of monsters, which sometime border on the absurd. Just how many dungeons have a room with 2 Blue Dragons….
For a time our group was over 6+ people, so rather than playing one game, we split the group up. Now three GM’s run adventures, that groups of 3-4 play in. Some of us play in more than one game, but everyone has at least one game to play in, and gets good spotlight time, because the groups are small.
I have been DMing for a group that has had at time up to 6 players, but generally hovers right at 5. Its very manageable. I don’t have to upscale encounters too much. Adding one additional foe or a few extra hit points is enough to keep combat challenging, yet balanced.
The players in my group are some of the most consistent I’ve ever met. Only on rare occasions is anyone absent. This can be challenging for me in terms of writing storylines. They’re pretty good about providing character backgrounds, and all want their time in the spotlight.
I nodded a lot while reading these comments — my experience with 3-player groups vs. 4-player groups lines up pretty well with what’s been mentioned so far. It’s a bit more intimate, it does seem easier to focus on PC-driven plots, and a core NPC is very handy. The 3-player Stargate campaign I’m in right now is right in line with all three of those points.
It’s interesting to me that 4 players seems to be the tipping point for transitioning from focusing on individual PCs to focusing on the whole party. I’ve never run a game for 5 players, but comparing it to 4- and 6-players games, which I have run, that makes sense on an intuitive level.
Three player games can be really cool, but scheduling can be a bear because it’s usually not worth playing if someone isn’t able to make it.
Five player games have a nice buffer. You will almost always have at least four players, and you even have the option of still running if two players can’t make it.
But as others have noted, game system comes into play some. D&D 3.0 really starts to become awkward with more than four or five PCs (and since I like to run an NPC party member…). But I have played games like Cold Iron and RuneQuest where you really want more PCs, and the three player game becomes too small.
Good point about scheduling, Frank. My current group is almost religious about our RPG nights, so we have no problems at all with three players. 😉
I actually prefer the 4-5 player table. A 3 player table burns through a lot of story really fast, and I have trouble keeping up with the prep work. (odd complaint, neh?)
A 5 player table can be a handful, but with non-students, 5 players usually equates to 4 players. 5 also allows a much stronger party, with enough wiggle room for everyone to be what they want to be (Example: Bard/Druid/Monk cover the Cleric and Rogue roles). FWIW, I tend to run fast combats, and I never run a GMPC unless absolutely necessary.
Telas: Especially with D&D, I can definitely see where the 5th/”extra” player would lead to a more diverse (and, of course, stronger) party.