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I have a table of six players already, and have more people interested in joining my game. I wanted to consult people who had experience with running large tables to see if running for larger groups is mostly the same or whether it gets complicated or has special concerns.

Specifically in this question, I want to talk about overall game speed and how to keep up a reasonable tempo when there's a lot of people taking turns.

What strategies can you implement to speed up your game when dealing with large numbers of players?

It would seem that there are a probably other possible side effects of running larger groups - greater weight-of-rules complexity in a given encounter, problems balancing encounters, player disengagement, larger weight of disruption and interruptions, engagement issues between more and less outgoing members, scheduling difficulties, the game just slowing down, and maybe more. Those are left for other questions to explore except inasmuch as they are directly relevant here.

Related:
How do I run a game for a larger group? (But focuses on engagement)

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Another option I thought of (besides having PCvsPC duels or whatever) is co-opting some players to assist you by running NPCs and/or divvying up combat allocations so that you could get more than one player acting. Say, have one other player whose character isn't currently acting, take on one of the opponents so that two players going at same initiatve can both toss dice at the same time. –  xanatos chimera May 9 '11 at 19:49
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6 Answers 6

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I blogged about this fairly recently. http://gm.sagotsky.com/?p=225#more-225 Here's a summary of what my post suggests:

  • Time limits per turn.
  • During initiative, call out current turn and next turn.
  • Tell players to gather expected dice before their turn begins.
  • Give out a bonus for players who take action immediately instead of dawdling.
  • Sort players by turn order.
  • Roll enemy initiative and other checks in advance.
  • Appoint a rules lawyer.
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Oh, giving a bonus to fast-acting players could be a powerful motivator in the right group. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 29 '11 at 20:19
    
could you explain further "Sort players by turn order."? –  apacay Apr 30 '11 at 2:51
    
@apacy, it's explained in the link at the top of the post. Basically when you roll initiative you make the players get up and reseat themselves in the order they rolled. I helps show them whose turn it is and lets them take turns without your prompting. –  valadil Apr 30 '11 at 4:40
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On the chance that this doesn't get merged into a different question, I'll go ahead and answer.

Specifically you're asking about ways to speed up play. My group has in the past implemented a couple of rules:

  1. 30 Second Decision time in combat - As in, know approximately what you want to do before your turn comes around, because once it does you have 30 seconds to state your action. If you need more time, delay. This is best with all experienced players, since the newer ones might need more time to get in the swing of things.
  2. No lone wolfing - Unless you have a legitimate (and group approved) reason to go off by yourself (such as a stealth character heading ahead to scout things out), you don't get anything accomplished until your character returns. Period. If you want to go wander out in the woods alone, and the GM has no story reason for you to do so, you go off by yourself and return some time later having gained nothing. This is only meant to punish those who tend to go off alone all the time and for no good reason.
  3. Rules Arbitration - We try to keep arbitrating the rules to a minimum during game time. If you think a game mechanic or rule is being done incorrectly, and you cannot cite specific examples rapidly (under a minute or two), we won't discuss the rule until after the game. Now of course we make exceptions for really serious things (like a character death will occur if the rule is incorrect) and using a bit of common sense.

Other offhand tips include: Sitting around a table helps keep the game focused I've found, if you have snacks make sure that they are at hand so you don't have to leave to get up, and other things that would cause disruption.

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I had 7 players in my last game, so I feel your pain. Here are some things I did.

  1. Let everyone know that things will take a while with so many players. Game actions like combat in D&D can take an age with so many at the table, and it'll take some time for you to "move" all the monsters since you'll need a small horde sometimes to make the fight challenging. If someone can't be patient, perhaps that player needs to find a different table.

  2. For D&D 3.5 combat, I printed 3x5 index cards for PCs and monsters listing all stats and powers, then stack the cards in initiative order. I also had a sheet with HP and defenses sketched out so I could see the full stats of the active being and just the defenses of anyone they wanted to attack. Questions about "who's next" disappeared and we saved some time.

I'll have a couple more ideas on this tomorrow when I have some sleep in me and my brain can string words together again.

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2. Is great. If I might add that if you have a PC who likes to summon things, making them write up the stats of their most common summons before play time is an excellent idea. –  Cthos Apr 29 '11 at 4:04
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There are two choke points that can arise, most of the answers here address the obvious player-as-chokepoint. I'll start with gm-as-chokepoint.

Outsource as much as possible.

You have one brain which is able to process a limited amount of data in a given span of time. Every single player at the table places demands on that one brain. When the demands exceed your mental bandwidth, things slow down and you're a choke point. This gets especially bad when the party splits and you need to manage a subset of your actual group - especially if you favor crunchy realism and want to give the group you just left idle an equal amount of time to take actions, etc.

Giving the players as much autonomy to DM/GM themselves as you are comfortable with removes demand on your processing time as requests that would have come through you, now get resolved locally. Obviously there is a trust factor needed here, but recognize things which are unimportant to your objectives and simply outsource them to the players for whom those actions matter.

Good candidates for outsourcing:

  1. PC vs. PC dueling/sparring/opposed-rolling (they know the rules and their characters well enough, or you can appoint another player to govern that while you work with the people not part of that scene).

  2. Batch skill checks such as... Spellcraft to identify magic items, in this example: Get a list of the items in question, give a DC next to each if relevant, hand off to player and have them note where they succeed while you manage other requests.

  3. Keep a cheatsheet handy with all relevant PC stats on it so that you don't need to constantly hold those in memory. (Most of us do this, but it's the same sort of thing).

And for conventional player-as-choke stuff:

Encourage players to deliver vitals to you:

Consider the following interaction:

GM - Action?

Player - I will step forward and lunge with my rapier.

GM - Roll it.

Player - 17... ummm... plus 4... plus 2... 23.

GM - Nice, hit. Damage?

Player - Hang on... [rolls]... ummm, 12.

GM - Your rapier tip pierces the fellow's abdomen, not likely to stop him but he'll be feeling that one for a while... [GM moves on]

You can shorten that entire process by having your Players frontload the dicing and math before their turn, once they've decided on their action.

GM - Action?

Player - I step forward and lunge with my rapier striking an AC of 23 for 12 damage.

GM - Nice. Your rapier tip pierces... [and so on].

Other suggestions already included above such as putting your players on a clock and rewarding players who are speedy are also good.

Limiting talking during initiative-phase action (or making people actually use actions to talk to each other during them) helps cut down on how long people will kibitz before deciding on an action for their character - this also cuts down on some of the social fun of the game, however, and groups will need some time to get used to working as a team when they can't communicate endlessly. (Or they'll seek out telepathy or other back-doors to communicate.)

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to make big games operate more smoothly, however, is not focus on speed...

Accept the reality of your situation:

More players = more demand = more lag time. Newer players will need more handholding as well, (a thing you can outsource if you have experienced players who can help newbs well) and this will really slow things down.

This is okay! As long as you and your players approach the table with that understanding, and you as the DM schedule appropriate extra time to compensate for the increase, all will be well. There are some games I have no problem running with groups of 10-12 (Battletech/Mechwarrior RPG comes to mind) and it's usually because I know the system well enough that I don't need to look stuff up anymore. Other games (like whitewolf's oWoD) I max out at 6 simply because of how much more hands-on I have to be with each player. Know your limits and plan around them.

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I've been at a table with probably a dozen players before. This is one of the few times when it can actually be beneficial to the flow of the game, to find some way to split the party during combat situations.

First, this does require two DMs. Then, you need find some way to get the party split into two groups and separated enough from each other that one group's actions will not likely affect the other group in real-time. Then, just run the combats separately as if they were two entirely different games.

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I regularly run a one-day invitational with up to twelve players, GMing it by myself; it's 1st edition AD&D, if that makes any difference.

Out of combat, it doesn't matter how long they take. In real life, it genuinely does take some time to get twelve people to agree on anything, even pizza toppings. If some players find the pace too slow, they have it within their power to speed things up within character ("I swear to Heimdall, if that cursed dwarf doesn't stop fixating on how we'll re-cut the Eye of Argon when we haven't even recovered it, I'll stick his axe right down his mineshaft, if you get my drift."). They're aware of a general background pressure of time ("if we wait until tomorrow, then although we'll have our spells back, the reinforcements our spy saw will have arrived"), but it's up to them to decide how to prioritise and trade-off.

If the players don't mind things going slowly when the game logic permits it, and they're having fun, who am I to care?

In combat, it's different. I tend to aggregate monster attacks, simplify their rolls, ignore details which will complicate and thus slow down the play; this is all done behind a screen, so I don't have to justify it to the players.

When it comes to the players' attacks, they're arranged in a horseshoe at the gaming table, and they're used to me sweeping my arm across the party in order (alternating the end at which I start), and as my arm reaches each player, I want a "declaration of intent" within 5-10 seconds. We roll party initiative en bloc on a d6; if we rolled individual segment-based initiatives on a d10, I'd simply run through the integers from 1-10 the same way.

If they don't get their declaration of intent out, they lose that round's action through dithering. If they have questions, perhaps "Could I shout a warning to the elf, drop the broken axe haft and attack with a dagger all in one round?", then a little horse-trading with me is OK: "yes, if the warning is five words or less, and you understand you won't attack until the very end of the round"; the cardinal sin is standing there open-mouthed when the arm points at you, with no clue what you want to do.

Yes, this can be hard on players whose attack is early on; but that's combat. If in the middle of 60 seconds' worth of cut, thrust, and parry, the opportunity for pressing the attack comes three and a half seconds in, and you're not ready for it, well, tough.

I also ruthlessly trim player interaction during combat. Anything you want to say to a fellow player had damned well better be done during your action; players who insist on having tactical discussions "in the background" know that there will be loss of action, -ve xp, and ultimately "the disfavour of the Gods" (ie, you're going to start getting very unlucky).

I'm sure it helps that I'm playing old-style D&D, where the flow of time is fairly simple; one thing that's put me off later editions big-time is the huge complexity of time flow, where players with the right spells/skills can insist on jumping into the time flow.

But on the whole, the players have been fine with this; they get the chance for long drawn-out planning and discussion sections, but when combat strikes, it's going to be fast, messy and disorganised. I've never been in melee combat myself, but my understanding is that it's often fast, messy and disorganised. At any rate, the palpable feeling of relief amongst my players when the last ogre surrenders and the players are still standing, and the subsequent back-slapping, congratulation and general signs of "decompression euphoria" suggests that this works for them.

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