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Barney’s Adventures: Lessons Learned November 6, 2009

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, Barney's Adventures, DM.

I learned a great lesson about DMing the other night; there are limits to how many people you can let play in a game. I have frequently heard (read) that 5-6 players is the ideal or target number. If your gaming group meets the following requirements that could easily be true: (a) all, or maybe most, have played before and are thus at least semi-experienced–so as to keep the game from slowing down and becoming boring; (b) everybody actually does want to play. I had a night that was pretty homework free, so I acquiesced to run another game for my bro and friends. I was very excited, because I had planned further in advance for the last time we got together and had thus already done quite a bit of the prep work. I could spend time on further encounters and on fine-tuning the ones for our session. Things looked good until…way more people showed up than expected.

Instead of the 6 that I had planned on (mind you the largest group that I’ve ever run was 4 and that was the very simplified 3.5e Basic Set version), we had 8 people show up (only 7 planned on playing). To top it off, my little bro didn’t tell the three people he brought what we were playing, because he thought they’d say, “No,” because… well, let’s face it; D&D does not always have the greatest reputation amongst the general populace.

Things actually did not go nearly as badly as they could have. It seemed like most everybody had fun, but not everyone had fun for the same reasons (i.e. because they actually enjoyed the game). What was worse is that, once my wife and her friend got back from playing tennis, it was pandemonium. It was very hard to get everyone to focus on the game, because it felt like a half hour for each round to go by. One of the girls in particular grew tired of the wait (or the game)  and began to take that mentality of, “If I’m bored, then the only way to have fun is to sabotage the game.” She decided to attack my little bro on her next turn, and rolled well, dealing a ton of damage. Luckily, everyone really was having a good time, and, even thought my little bro was totally upset at being attacked, he thought it was funny and played into the idea that everyone would be ganging up on the traitor that had just turned on the group.

The three newbies had to leave right after her turn it turned out, so we just retconned that whole attack scene, got rid of some PCs and monsters (to make it balanced for the lower levels) and carried on our merry little way. The whole “add 4 PCs to the party without any making it fit story wise, and then taking those same 4 PCs away mid-battle” could easily make quite a few players unhappy and/or annoyed, but in all actuality, the core guys that I have getting together weren’t bugged at all. They are just starting to grasp the idea of an overarching storyline that exists between and connecting the little one-shot encounters that they thought I was putting together. Now it is starting to sink in that these encounters can expand to cover multiple sessions and a continuous storyline. They seemed excited about that.

So for now I have decided that my preferred PC count is 4. 3 works out pretty much just as well as 4 for me, but 4 allows me enough room to bring in some fun foes for them to face without making it too tough, and it still keeps a great pace to the game. Once my little bro leaves town again to go back up to school, then I’ll try to get my wife back intot he little group of my other three friends and that ought to be perfect.



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