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I always wanted to try playing D&D and recently got a group of friends together to play online with on Roll20. No-one in the group has any experience playing D&D or any tabletop RPG before.

Our first session went very well, we started the Lost Mines of Phandelver campaign. However, two others from my group of friends who I initially asked to play have now joined in once they heard how well our session went. I naively said this was OK as I didn't realize the implications at the time.

Another player also invited a friend of his along from outside our group, as he thought this was OK considering I let the other two players join in mid-way through the campaign. This brings the total number of players to 7.

I could sense that things were beginning to drag along at an incredibly slow pace with 7 party members and combat took an age to complete. My main concern is that I want everyone to have a positive experience and I don't want to turn them away from D&D or similar games due to a bad first time.

Admittedly, it is mostly my fault for allowing players to join mid-way, but other than simply telling the three players that they cannot continue the campaign, what can I do to give everyone the best experience?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do not answer in comments. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - Justice for Monica Jun 12 '17 at 16:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Kind of a duplicate of rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/124/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - Justice for Monica Jun 12 '17 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I'm sorry, I don't know what "answering in the comments" you're referring to. \$\endgroup\$ – Woooooooooooooow Jun 14 '17 at 13:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mean people keep writing answers to your question and putting them in comments, and I keep deleting them and saying "quit it" because on this site, comments are temporary and only for improving/getting clarification on the question. So don't worry, it wasn't directed at you, but at the 4 people whose comments have been deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - Justice for Monica Jun 14 '17 at 18:05
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Ask your players how they feel about it

It's possible they don't feel any slowing down (or are ok with it). Maybe a big group isn't a problem for them.

If they want to stay as one group, ask them to help you to make the game flow better. That include:

  • Knowing the rules. Not necessary all the rules, but enough so that they know what to roll most of the time.
  • Knowing their character and their number. No by heart of course, but they should know where to look for that sudden Natation skill check.
  • Knowing the rules specific to their character like how to use sneak attacks, what their spells do, ...
  • Still being 'active' when it's not their turn, by listening to what's happening and thinking about what to do.

You can also prepare yourself before the session. For instance:

  • Have the battleground and the 'flow of battle' ready before the session

  • Have all informations quickly accessible. I personally have a paper with a short abstract of every NPC to be in the battle. All the attack and defences values, HP, equipment, special abilities... in the same place, always visible to me.

Since you're on Roll20:

  • You can use the macro included in the character sheets (or build your own, or make your player build them) to make the game faster. Things like attacking or rolling for Initiative can as quick as clicking a button and reading the result.

If they also feel they're too many, you can split the party.

You can for instance play the two group in the same campaign, with one group going after one half of a McGuffin, while the other track a group of bad guys wanting to use the other half of the McGuffin to gain power beyond imagination.

An other possibility is to split the party, and run the same campaign twice. It greatly reduce your preparation load (even if they follow very different path, you can reuse assets like map and NPC without the players noticing), but you get other problems like not remembering which team did what in that village, or spoilers from one team to another. Careful note taking and a simple explanation to your players should avoid both those issues.

In both case, you need to see about your schedule. Do you run twice as many games? Will it be one group one week and the other the next one? It's for you to decide as the group.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ ±0 - There are some okay suggestions here, but it feels very generic rather than specifically addressing the situation described in the question. It doesn't focus enough on the elements the querent specified - online, the platform (Roll20), and a published campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jun 12 '17 at 12:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. The entire point of the website we're on right now is to come up with solutions that are applicable in more situation than one. Stack Exchange is not just "Help me with this problem", but rather "I have this problem, it boils down to X, how do I solve X?" with X being something more general than the problem. Helping one person is good. Helping more than one person is great. \$\endgroup\$ – Nzall Jun 12 '17 at 14:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nzall That's all well and true. However, I think this answer goes too far afield and does a poor job of answering the specific question. My comment was intended to prompt some polishing by the answerer, not start a conversation. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jun 12 '17 at 14:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nzall But the answers should remain grounded in the specific problem the OP has. Ungrounded answers float away on the wind. You both want to be grounded (solve the OP's specific problem) and general (be applicable to people who are not the OP). Life is hard. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Jun 12 '17 at 14:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. I disagree. The core problem: the party has grown too big. Solutions recommended: Either split the party and handle 2 campaigns at once, or don't split the party and optimize the gameplay flow. I don't really see how this does not quite answer the specific question. Then again, this question is asked in a pretty generic way: "I invited people midway through the campaign and now the party is too big. What do I do?" I don't really see how such a generic question with no specific details about the party can be given a specific answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Nzall Jun 12 '17 at 14:54
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If you are not a Pro subscriber on Roll20, I would heavily recommend it as a solution to large group management.

Pro gives you a wealth of automation options that are not available at the free or Plus level including:

  • Group rolling of initiative and automatic sorting
  • Automated saves for large groups, including applying damage
  • Automated token numbering for handling mooks
  • Locking tokens whose turn is not current (this reduces confusion)
  • Marking players and NPCs who are active on initiative
  • Automating rests and healing.
  • Tracking of Ammunition
  • and much more that might be specific to your needs. These are the broadest advantages of API scripts.

Since your group is large enough, and a $10/month subscription might be more than you are willing to spend, you could ask for donations from the group to cover the costs. This might also help to weed out a few who are not as committed.

Finally, look at the sheet you are running. It is a small amount of work to switch, but you might find some advantage to running the Shaped Sheet for 5e. There's a bit more work in learning to use it, but its automation features are second to none. You can convert sheet in mid campaign, it's pretty good at updating, but I'd definitely experiment on a copy of your main campaign first.

And definitely, combine this with the many good points of advice on large party management in other answers. This is specifically to address Roll20.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The latest version just says "All". Both Shaped and the OGL sheet (the default developed by Roll20) have multiple tabs. The Shaped sheet info can be found in this thread: app.roll20.net/forum/post/4450188/5e-shaped-version-8-plus/… Not sure what you are meaning by "landscape nor portrait presentation" here. It is HTML/CSS and adapts to window width. It is not formatted for any particular page size or shape. The NPC sheet definitely has a more horizontal layout at the default window size. The number of columns on either is adaptive, though. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jun 12 '17 at 20:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ The previous sheet we used didn't look like this one (it had 8 pages, and did not try to emulate the PHB/WoTC standard char sheet look). I have found a couple of bugs in this one that I am working on identifying to see if it is user error or something I need to bring to Kryx' attention. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 13 '17 at 10:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis does Roll20 require all players involved to be pro subscribers or does it just require the host of the room to purchase it ? \$\endgroup\$ – Woooooooooooooow Jun 13 '17 at 13:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Specifically, only the creator of the game needs to be a subscriber. This may or may not be the actual GM. (I.e. a subscriber can create a game and promote a non-subscribing player to be GM). So if one of your players is a subscriber, you could talk to them about creating a game for you to manage. You will lack some features, like the ability to install a script, but you can use the scripts that the creator installs. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jun 13 '17 at 13:46
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Recruit an assistant DM

This can work if you both are good at Roll20, and both decide on how to labor share. You'll need to do some prep to ensure that your assistant DM has the material needed for reference during the adventure.

  • Experience (at table): We did this in some of the 1e games that got really big back in the day. I was Co-DM for an OD&D campaign that lasted for just under a year with weekly play. One of the best dungeons I played in was an AD&D campaign run by a husband/wife team.

Who does what?

Lead DM for the session: focus totally on interaction with characters. No admin, nor numbers, and unless the combat is huge, not very many die rolls.

Assistant DM for the session: keep track of initiative order, keep track of monster hit die, alive or dead, slowed or hasted, dazed or confused, etc, do most rolls. Keep an eye on player conditions as needed. Do all of the nuts and bolts of combat, and, as guided by lead DM, role play some of the NPC's encountered in the adventure. (Certain critical NPC's have to be played by the DM).

This teamwork approach is a great way to handle large groups because it:

  1. Keeps the pace of play going.

  2. Allows the DM to concentrate on the players and none of the support labor.

    The secondary benefit is that this does is allow the assistant DM to sometimes take on the lead role, or to try out an adventure with you acting in the supporting role. This grows the DM base for your playing group.

The snag

Finding that assistant DM, or the Co-DM. Most people would rather play.


FWIW, back in the day, Gary Gygax had a Co-DM (Rob Kuntz) for some of his Greyhawk campaign. The tradition of having help (for a large group) goes back to the early days, and was less work on a DM than Dave Arneson's black notebook ... though I doubt Arneson ever complained.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious as to how this would work in a purely online game such as Roll20 here. With the more limited communication possibilities between the lead and co-GM, I would imagine this is a far less effective strategy than it would be if it were around the table \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Jun 12 '17 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wibbs Have a plan ahead of time and use the /msg or /whisper function between people the lead and assistant DM. Or, have two different chat clients going: one for the game (roll 20) and one for the DM's (discord, Ventrilo). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 12 '17 at 17:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wibbs We are at the moment going from one to multiple DM's in our group, more shared world than shared DMing, but I intend (in July) to test out a few ideas I have and in so doing may have a more elegant solution than use of whisper \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 12 '17 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for recruit assistant dm. Have had great luck with this in online venues, especially with good role players. \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Jun 12 '17 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Roll20/MapTool/etc already have features to track hp/initiative orders/etc that do a lot of the assistant DM job \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Jun 13 '17 at 12:28
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There are two aspects that become more problematic the more players there are: Roleplaying and Combat

Roleplaying

If the only meaningful interactions are with the DM, players can easily get bored, when they character is not directly affected by what's going on: For example when a NPC is talking with a PC.

To avoid that becoming a problem you should put more emphasis on the group dynamics regarding the PCs. Give them occasions where they have to plan the next steps while you roleplay with another player. Give them extra xp for characters that managed to make the game more interesting by their roleplay. Make NPCs respect (somewhat) the leadership roles they gave themselves.

Combat

Combats can become really tedious when there are a lot of players and some are not fully aware of the rules. But that also gives you an opportunity to introduce the chaos that happens during a real combat.

  1. Encourage the players to learn the rules regarding them, explaining the reasons to do so.
  2. Give the player cheatsheets either to fill or to check when in doubt. That might include the bonus for different attacks, abilities (and whether they used it or not) etc.
  3. Use a map. That will avoid a lot of missunderstandings (that take time) and most of the descriptions of how or where they move.
  4. Give them a time limit for answers: More than 5 seconds to say what the character does means he got confused by the combat and simply got into full defence. At first can be hard for players, but quickly will make them act faster (adapt this to your group).
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I like the other answers here and don't have much to add, but had this happen to me and (in my specific scenario) this worked very well:

Provide a reason for the party to split up.

I had the exact same number (seven) and I got them in a very similar way. We started with four, then someone's brother wanted to play, then someone else got a girlfriend, etc. I'm not one to turn away anybody that wants to play, so we eventually got to seven.

Now in my scenario people were driving from hours away and we were only playing once a month, so it wasn't especially taxing for me to run two entirely different sessions after the party split up to pursue two separate, time-sensitive threats. It worked out pretty neat in the end as they would leave notes for each other and I was able to play up the wake of destruction one group left when the other came up and found it.

This would literally double the work you have to do as a DM, and it may be entirely out of the question given your particular logistics, but I thought I'd float it out there as an idea for you.

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Make your players have their moves prepared

Impress upon your players the importance of knowing what they're going to do before their turn rolls round. A player ooo-ing and ahh-ing about what to do on their turn really kills the flow of combat.

Change System

This is a less than ideal solution, but it is an option. Different Rule Systems run at different speeds and some games are built specifically with speed and streamlined gameplay in mind, such as Dungeon Worlds. Of course the drawbacks with this solution are many. You need to learn a new system, the new system may lack features you like, the new system may be incompatible with modules you are using, the new system may break existing player characters. But if speed is that important to the group it may be worth pitching the idea to your players.

Split the group between 2 DMs and 2 Games

If one of your players is interested in DMing and you're more concerned with everyone having a good D&D experience than playing together, consider letting the budding DM run their own game with half the group, while you run your game with the other half. Plus, if you have the games at different times, this gives some group members the option to play in both games.

Grit your teeth and tough it out

As a last resort you can simply tough it out and wait for the group to shrink on its own. Player Groups naturally change over time, especially when the players are new to the game and are trying it out. If you tough it out, some players will naturally leave due to life getting in the way or finding out that they're not really that interested in the game. This option is far from ideal for obvious reasons (everyone may stick around, players otherwise interested are put off by the dragging nature of the games while you tough it out, etc.), but it is an option I've seen DMs use before and it worked out for them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Timber Roar, and welcome to RPG Stack Exchange. Check out our tour to see how we work here, and when you reach 20 rep, you'll be able to join us in Role-playing Games Chat. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 13 '17 at 9:18

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