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I haven't been able to find any mentions on party size in the Numenera core book. What I want to know is the ideal size for a party and the practical maximum and minimum party sizes. Is it possible, for example, to play with 1 GM and 1 PC? Is it too unwieldy to play with more than 6 PC?

Please note my use of "ideal" and "practical" and "possible". I really want to know: can I GM for 2 people/1 people/7 people and still have it be fun?

ADDENDUM: After a couple of runs through the Beale of Boregal adventure, I can attest that the game is playable with only 1 PC. The biggest modification I had to make was to the intrusion system, because there was no other player with which to share the extra XP point. I houseruled that by giving 1 XP only.

Apart from that, I had very little combat happen, but the system was great fun to use 1 on 1.

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4 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Numenera is not more strongly tied to party size than any other trad style RPG. Like any trad style RPG, however, it's going to have trouble, or at least require special techniques, when dealing with, in this case, less than three or more than six characters.

Why Less Than Three?

There are three character classes - glaives, jacks, and nanos. In class based systems, unless the GM is specifically constructing adventures to avoid one of the primary concerns, you will often find yourself needing party members with those complementary skills.

Furthermore, in any game with much combat at all, especially when randomizers are in use, you have the "N+1 redundancy" problem. One party member being taken out by an unlucky roll - if there's one character, they're screwed; if there's two, it's still mighty hard for one person to haul another away especially if there's action going on (and what if no one else can heal...).

Of course, the Numenera book has a big chip on its shoulder in the GM advice section and strongly encourages you to tune challenges to the party you have (kinda) and to use fiat when necessary (unless you should be using the dice)... It's a little schizophrenic but the bottom line is "you can craft a campaign that is suited to fewer/non-balanced groups" but that takes a little extra zing on the part of the GM.

Why More Than Six?

Despite claims to the contrary, every tabletop RPG begins to break down with more than six players. Basic human group dynamics form a large portion of why (optimal team size is often cited at anywhere in that range, from 4.6 to "5-7" (which would include your GM).

Since Numenera combat is light, it can go up to six safely (something like Pathfinder or D&D 3.5e or 4e becomes a boring PITA the more people you have) but it still has an action economy, and the more PCs there are, the harder it is to make a meaningful challenge just because you have N "bites at the apple" for whatever challenge is at hand, and the higher N is the lower the chance of failure is, so you have to add larger and more diverse challenges which is doable but is more work.

So Numenera is more tolerant of fewer or more PCs than some games, but as a trad game with defined class roles and action-based combat, there is a natural sweet spot in the 3-6 range where better GMing and adaptation is required the farther outside that range you go.

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+1. Also, with more than five or six players, the amount of "face time" each player gets usually starts to get uncomfortably low. Past a certain point, spending most of your time waiting for the other n-1 players to do their stuff gets boring fast. (Ps. There's a very nice answer by aramis to a related question that goes into more detail on this stuff.) –  Ilmari Karonen Sep 11 '13 at 20:11
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+1 for the "games break down with more than 6 players"; I've run a game for 8/9, and while everyone enjoyed it it really did cause a major amount of stress and it was nigh impossible to manage the group and keep order. –  Kyle Willey Sep 11 '13 at 20:38
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I had asked this directly to Monte Cook and Shanna Germain, and, straight from Shanna's keyboard:

Not at all. It likely depends on how many people the GM is comfortable having around the table more than anything. All adventures can be scaled up or down by adding additional challenges and creatures, or by raising or lowering the levels of creatures and obstacles (even on the fly). Many of our adventures have suggestions for doing just that. Hope that helps!

EDIT: I took advantage of a Reddit AMA, and this is Bruce Cordell:

As to your question, yeah to "play" you'd want at least one player and a GM. Given the Cypher System rules system, that actually works fairly well. However, for an ongoing game, I personally usually find that having at least 2 or 3 players provides more avenues for laughs and interaction.

(the question was "I have one question for both The Strange and Numenera - What's the minimum group necessary to play? Can I play with 1 GM / 1 Player? Is it better to have at least 3 players?")

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Eh, I feel like that's a weak buck-passing answer that doesn't engage well with the question, just tries to sell it as "good for anyone." –  mxyzplk Sep 11 '13 at 22:58
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Numenera is designed for a party of any size

It’s important to note that creature toughness or any other kind of difficulty in the game is a matter of the GM giving meaning to the fictional reality of the setting, not performing game mechanical mathematic surgery. There is no concept in Numenera of “a challenge of N level is appropriate to a party of N+X level characters” or anything of the sort. As I’ve written earlier, PCs don’t get XP based on defeating foes or bashing down doors. So there is no right or wrong.

Source: http://www.numenera.com/author/montecook/

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I am not sure that quote answers the question. It only makes it clear that concepts like "challenge" and "experience" / "level" are not tightly bound together (unlike, say, DnD4). Still the game may be designed for games of a certain size due to the mechanics (unlikely) or the in-game history (unlikely too, I guess). –  sergut Sep 11 '13 at 15:45
    
Thanks! This should have been in the book, I think. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Sep 11 '13 at 16:03
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This is not specific to Numenera but party size in a role playing game has a quadratic effect on player-player interactions. Too few and the game feels dead. Too many and the game gets lost in the players.

The relationship is N(N-1)/2 for N players. Two players have one relationship and three have three relationships (1-2, 1-3, 2-3). Four players have six relationships, five have 10, six have 15, 7 have 21 and so forth. Banter in the party will vary with party size roughly in proportion to this series.

Note that there are other variables that have a significant effect as well, but the quadratic effect makes the goldilocks range narrower than one might otherwise expect.

At some point, for a given set of players and DM there will be an optimal level of banter. My experience is that the optimal banter levels are reached with around 5-6 players. Too few players makes for a game that feels dead, too many and the game gets lost in the noise. However, people routinely run successful games with fewer or more players, so your mileage may vary. I've had plenty of successful games with just 3 or 4 players.

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