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I'm GMing 2 tabletop Changeling campaigns at the moment. One of them takes place in Cambridge, while the other takes place in Inverness. As my birthday approaches, my players asked me to GM a session that will combine the 2 groups into a large one. The campaigns are taking place in the same world and some of the NPCs are actually identical so there is no story limitation.

A little bit about the groups

The group in Cambridge is made of 4 players with one playing an Elemental, 2 more playing Beasts and a Darkling. The second group is made of 5 players with one playing an Elemental, 2 who play Beasts, one who plays a Fairest and a Wizened. The players know each other and actually pass info about the scenes they like more between the groups so there's no point of misinform or bad chemistry.

A little bit about the campaigns

The campaign in Inverness ran for a few sessions more, but the difference in times is only a few days. It revolves around a safe house for the Lost and about the rise to power of the PCs. The themes of the campaign are "rise to power and the emotions of the seasons". The last session ended with a little bit of a catastrophe as an unidentified thing destroyed the main road of the freehold. One of the leaders of the Freehold is dead and the PCs are trying to fill the gap and to help the Freehold return to its proper and original form.

The Campaign in Cambridge is a little bit younger. It started with the creation of a motely of Lost who see themselves as a new kind of family and revolves around the formation of such a strong bond. The themes are "maintaining a functioning family against all odds and life as Lost refugees". In the second session the Freehold suffered from a Gentry attack and since then they're kind of on the run while still trying to stay in touch with the families that they originated from which they had to leave behind.

What I'm asking from you

Right now, I kinda know how to explain why they happen to be both in the same place (the kings and queens of the seasons are kinda friends) and I know where it should take place (in the freehold of Inverness). There's even a source for a conflict (the refugees sorta think that one of the characters from the Inverness freehold is the conspirator behind the Gentry attack). I do need, though, help in the form of tips about how to run it. Have you run a combined-group session? If so how did you run it? And most important of all (at least to me, anyway) what tips and ideas can you suggest for me from your experience?

Edit: Although I'll be glad for any tip or suggestion concerning this problem, there are 2 things that for me are on the head of my need list: 1) Pitfalls that I should avoid, and 2) Ways to sacrifice as little as possible from the personal feel of the campaign so far.

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That's quite a lot of people. Is this tabletop, online or live? –  Rob Feb 13 at 17:33
    
It's tabletop, sorry for not writing it @Rob –  Yosi Feb 13 at 20:46
    
Just helps us help you :) –  Rob Feb 13 at 22:01
4  
"As your birthday present, we decided to give you the opportunity to entertain all of us the whole day!" –  Cristol.GdM Feb 14 at 18:06
    
Is there something you find daunting or an issue you see your group bringing to the table specifically? –  CatLord Feb 17 at 0:46
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2 Answers 2

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While I do have a fair amount of experience with large gaming tables, Changeling is one of WoD games I've worked with the least. So the tips below are more about corralling the table.

Your players need to be part of the answer

From your explanation, you seem to run a game where the plot connects to the individual players. In that case, I warn you about the dangers of spreading too thin. You might want to focus on each group as its own character and try to go for the group goals rather than individual. That said, your players need to be helpful with how you run the game - while showboating is often encouraged, people cannot take the spotlight as much unless the other players endorse it. As easy as it is to let someone take center stage, you now have double the amount of people just watching/waiting. Now something that's had a fair amount of success for me is letting players not explicitly in the scene play NPCs. Experienced players who don't need a lot of time to adapt to a new character can play NPCs in situations where their characters don't belong, which if you give them the right guidelines and they are responsible will streamline the work you need to do as the ST.

Decide if the two groups are working with or against each other

You said you have a lead where Cambridge might be suspicious of Inverness. Your next couple of sessions could pit them against each other in subtle ways - they take operations involving each other where they don't interact with each other in either group's own sessions. Then for the big session, they finally all meet face to face and have to decide what settles the score. Do they have a brawl with each other? Are they now just in the same arena (literal or metaphorical) and are competing for a specific prize/goal? Have they been led to a point where they've discovered a mutual enemy and are banding together? With nine people at the table they need to work together. The comic book approach of "Here's two things, let's make them fight" will occupy the session quite adroitly but not offer any real rich material.


Part 2: I figured it would be easier to add a section than to shift around what I originally wrote. So here goes to address the newly specified concerns.

Streamlining

Timonides has mentioned something rather vital in saying that rolling should be minimized. Ways to accomplish this include:

  • Instantiate a Rule of Cool effect, where if the players create a very reasonable if not downright awesome solution to a problem you can mentally judge how many successes that would be worth instead of forcing a roll.
  • Use the rules WoD gives you. In OWoD they had a rule where if your dice pool was greater than the difficulty of a roll you automatically passed as though you had just enough successes. I believe in NWoD you can assume a third of your dice pool is the average number of successes you'll receive (don't forget suggested difficulty mods on page 124 of the NWoD core). What you need to be careful of is power gamers who try to exploit this and you can either verbally warn them and cut them off, or just tell them they get three non-combat auto-rolls for each type (Physical/Mental/Social).

Micro Adventures

The tree of player decisions is going to fork out quite significantly often so most of your story planning will likely go by the wayside due the entropy of player creativity. Keep a strong backbone to your plot. Try not to railroad them if they wonder off but definitely shrink the size of the sandbox a little to keep everyone in it. I strongly recommend coming up with a two or three action mini-plot for each player to keep them feeling involved. This can be done by playing a notecard game with them on the side. That is, keep some micro adventures on different colored notecards (vital for mnemonics) so if you know you need to spotlight a little, you can throw a micro adventure at the players you need to distract.

Each color is a stack of two or three cards, the first being a prompt for action where you describe a problem (often easy to shoehorn in these extras in a game like Changeling). You then create three cards: Brute force response, social/mental response, "No, that won't work, how about [desired response]". Players can write their response and a roll in some blank space on the card. Yes, this rides a bit of a monorail but then you have the last card which is the reward. Give them a new one time use contact/item that's integral to the story, something that will bring them back to the core plot, or just +1 XP for the session. The micro adventure is a great way (at least the one time I tried it) to give players something to do when their attention isn't explicitly required. There have been a couple times when I see a player getting bored by lack of spotlight that I improv one of these to rope them back into the game.

While the players love tangents and come up with things you never even consider, the above shepherding actions give them something constructive. With enough prep, these can be very personal to the character and you can come up with a "choose your own adventure" style book putting each choice in its own sealed envelope to avoid cheating.

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Let me just qualify my response. Though I have GMd for many years I have no experience of WoD. I have a lot of experience with large tables as I have often run tables of 7-9 teenagers in three different game systems. I hope that that element of my experience can be useful.

Large tables run into some issues:

There are more people and thus more table chatter

This cannot be avoided, particularly as two groups will be meeting for the first time. I strongly suggest allowing for an extensive OOC get-to-know you period before play. Also gently, but firmly, suppress side conversations during player's spotlight time: make an explicit table rule that single remarks are ok, but actual discussions or conversations are rude while someone else is taking a turn.

You must divide your attention among more players

Players will spend proportionately more time listening to other people's stories than being in the spotlight themselves. This can cause them to get bored and start up a side conversation, stack their dice etc. You can do a couple of things about this.

  1. Make turn order fixed, quick and visible. Have a dry-erase board or post-its showing what order people act in. Do not roll every time. Choose the order and then stick with it. That way Bert will automatically start thinking about what he wants to do while Alice is taking her turn.
  2. Put players on hold if they are dithering. If someone does not have a clear action ready, move politely on to the next player and make it clear that you will get back to them.
  3. Minimize time taken for crunch: if there are dice-rolls to be made, ask everyone to have the dice they already know they are going to need ready to hand.
  4. Delegate. Any kind of administration, anything that does not need your personal knowledge and creativity (including turn order if you cannot lock it down) you should hand off to a player who acts as GM assistant.
  5. Be systematic. When no strict turn order is in play, move your attention around the table as evenly as possible. If sometimes keep a little list with the player's names and two columns: Wrath and Spotlight. Each player should get some Wrath, i.e. a big problem, complication or issues to deal with and each player should get some Spotlight, i.e. a moment of looking cool in a way only her character can. You can prep both of those things.

Talk about it

Tell the players honestly that running a large game is challenging and ask them all to help you make the session successful. Specifically they could cooperatively, perhaps via e-mail, work out why the two groups are meeting. They are creative people and will come up with wonderful things that would not have occurred to you.

Above all, have fun

I love large groups, though they can drive you nuts. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a large table of people enjoying your game.

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