Ask The GM: Party Size

By John Serpico on


Dan asks – Hi! I’m putting out feelers to see who  may be interested in an upcoming campaign I want to run. This will be my second campaign. My first was a two year long D&D 5E that started with three players and eventually went down to two. So far, six people said they would want to play, and I haven’t heard from everyone. How many is too many for a D&D campaign?


While I understand the allure of getting as many people as possible around the table as possible, I would warn you against casting too big of a net. The more people that are playing, the more characters in the world. And the more characters in the world, the more the time needs to be divided up among them. Let’s say you have six players – at most, each of the players is only getting one sixth of the “camera time.” The rest of the time, they’re waiting to roll dice, or talk, or let their character do the thing that she wants to do.

Also, it is very difficult to create a compelling story with six main characters. You as a GM will need to balance Kroktor’s quest for revenge with Millia’s desire to find her birth parents, to say nothing of Xar’s dream of running a small business, Borli’s hobby of weapons collecting, Petra’s lifelong pursuit of The Staff Of Mind Subjugation, and Centaur Prince Glul’s ongoing struggles with his sister who wants to usurp his throne. That’s a lot, right? And in trying to give each of those backstories their due, the end result may well be a confusing romp through dungeons without any dedicated effort to resolve any of these story elements.

On top of the camera time and story concerns, there is the very tactical concern of creating encounters for your players that use all of them well. Combat with big parties can look a lot like youth soccer, in which a everyone just slowly moves in a large blob from place to place. Making unique and interesting fight scenes that fully utilize six or eight characters all doing different things is certainly possible, but you’re going to spend a lot of time before sessions and a lot of time in the middle of sessions figuring it out.

For all those reasons, I cap any game I run at four players. That allows for plenty of camera time for each person, combat that can be more creative than “ok, tanks in the front,” and a story that can more easily respect each of the character’s wishes. That said, if you want to run a ten person game, there are things I strongly recommend you do. First, try to create an overall plot hook that would keep everyone invested – tell them they’re playing a group of mercenaries or a group of family and friends from a small town. Second, let the party split up often to allow for deeper focus on smaller groups instead of a wide-angle shot of a big mass of people. And finally, stay as organized as possible to keep your players and characters straight.

No matter what you do, have fun and don’t be afraid to cap the game and run another one another time. You want this to be fun, not stressful. And more people can often lead to more stress.

Happy GMing!

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