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Background

Having previous experience with mostly 3.5e and some 5e as a PC, my friend group is slowly conspiring to install me as a GM for their first TRPG experience.

I have come around to the idea and am planning/preparing to start a campaign in the fall. In my PC experiences I enjoyed roleplaying through the fantastic worlds our GM would invent and loathed the dead time spent looking up stat tables. I don't feel strong about my ability to invent fantastic worlds by myself, but asking a lot of questions to draw out and solidify the fiction of others is almost the basis of some friendships I've had. Based on these facts and a lot of 'research' (reading rpg.se while procrastinating at work), I've chosen Dungeon World over playing some edition of D&D.

tl;dr: First time GM will be running Dungeon World with PCs new to playing TRPGs


Source of potential problems

I am fairly confident in the interest/attendance of 3-5 people, but foresee more people from our social circle wanting to 'give it a try' or 'totally do it,' but be flakes, not being in regular attendance. I want to be able to accommodate last minute additions or subtractions of brand new or returning PCs, as I suspect this will be common.

Happily DW works fine having wildly differently leveled characters. What I don't know about are the challenges of having the occasional 8 player session. I know I am 'breaking the rules, so the system is not guaranteed to work well' in such situations, but I want to be inclusive of friends who won't be great about sticking to a schedule, but might be interested in playing occasionally.


Question

In what ways will having too many players negatively impact a Powered by the Apocalypse game?

Im not asking for solutions, just what the problems are themselves. There will be followup questions about addressing or mitigating these challenges.

I will also accept a recommendation of "OMG! Don't do this, 6 players is a hard cap." if you can back it up with an insurmountable number of issues caused by extra players. I am still early enough in plotting planning where setting a hard cap and turning people down from casually joining without hurting feelings, but this is not my desired outcome.


I most value answers from those with experience in (in order):

  1. PbtA games
  2. Large and/or varying groups across multi-session campaigns
  3. GMing the above
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 2 '18 at 14:22
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A (Practical) Cast of Thousands

On the subject of group size, I would highly recommend not going above four regulars your first time out. Dungeon World is a game that demands a lot of the GM in play - you have to constantly keep in mind everyone's capabilities when you're pitching the setup to them and when they're pitching their actions to you. I've been running it for years now, off and on, and I can maybe take 5 people, or 6 on a very good day. You'll get a feeling for what you're capable of as you go, and a regular group can often entertain each other in ways that successive slots at a convention, say, just can't.

However, if you're anticipating a peripheral group who have some sort of interest in sitting down to play on occasion, I'd consider establishing a Crew, from the sadly-never-released Pirate World. The game was kickstarted and PDFs distributed to backers, but I can't find anywhere to buy it. (If anyone knows otherwise that'll be a nice surprise.) In a game of Pirate World, Crew are more than hirelings but less than PCs, who accompany the PCs regularly on their adventurers. In a game more based around a hub town or towns (and a notable Dungeon or Dungeons), Crew can be adapted to be the colorful townsfolk and friendly monsters and animal companions and such that you may be familiar with. They're statted out about like this:

Innismore, Irascible Alchemist

Hunger: Highly Illegal Ingredients

Benefits: Know something vital about a powerful adversary

Mix up a potion to overcome some obstacle

Loyalty: 2 Resilience: 1

The Benefits are the things they can do for you. When you want one of your Crew's Benefits, spend 1-Loyalty to get it, but first roll +Loyalty. On a 10+, that's the end of it. On a 7-9, the GM chooses 1; on a 6-, they choose 2.

  • You must satisfy their Hunger before they'll help you again
  • You must Defy Danger or otherwise put yourself at risk in order to make use of the Benefit
  • It costs 2-Loyalty instead of 1.

Benefits are very conceptually similar to monster moves; that is to say, they don't have to be anything more than descriptions of the cool thing that you want the creature to do. When the PCs take advantage of them you'll usually have some kind of context to flesh them out (in this case, the obstacle or adversary PCs need to consult Innismore about). You can also define Benefits more strictly, as something to guarantee the PCs they wouldn't otherwise be able to find:

Whitecrush, Lizardfolk Shaman

Hunger: Forgotten knowledge of magic

Benefits: Provide access to a lizardfolk safehouse (a safe place to Make Camp for one night, and folk medicine to cure one debility)

Dispatch a young bravo as a guardian (treat as a hireling with Cost: glory in victory; split 7 points between Warrior, Protector, and Loyalty)

Loyalty: 1 Resilience: 2

The Hunger is the troublesome thing they need PCs to provide them with. When you satisfy your Crew's Hunger out of more than a sense of obligation, they gain 1-Loyalty. Hunger is something to keep in mind when you're offering PCs opportunities - sure you could destroy all the cultists' horrible reagents, but maybe you can smuggle them in to Innismore. Sure, Wizzrobe could copy their ritual notes into his own spellbook, but they'd also be worth bringing to Whitecrush. That sort of thing.

Loyalty is most easily altered through asking for Benefits and feeding Hunger, but it's there to represent how this person feels about the PCs. Doing things they would appreciate or putting them in danger can also bump it up or down, but it's proper sportsmanship to tell the PCs the requirements or consequences if they're making a decision and loyalty is on the line.

Resilience is a rough measure of how much damage they can take, equal to about 1 for every 5 full hit points they'd have as a monster. Each significant attack takes off 1 resilience, and if they get whacked at 0 resilience left their fate is completely in your hands.

Improving Crew is certainly possible over time, as PCs establish more of a relationship with them. If it seems like they'd gain something new, feel free to write some of your own moves that key off Loyalty to reflect these new capabilities - Whitecrush's bravos might get more points to distribute or she might develop some rituals of her own, or Innismore can kit the PCs out to "field test" some alchemist grenades (roll Loyalty and you get hold on low rolls that you can spend to activate complications).

When someone on the periphery wants to jump in for a session, they can pick up one of the Crew. They can use the main benefits as normal - they make the choices about costs instead of the GM - and they can also roll +Loyalty to help the main PCs in other ways, anything an Aid roll might work for. On a 10+ the PC they're helping gets a +2, on a 7-9 a +1, and on a 6- in addition to what the GM says, they feel obligated for letting everyone down and gain 1-Loyalty. In general they won't be exposing themselves directly to danger, but you've got Resilience for those cases where they get caught out.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. I want to play Pirate World now. This Crew solution is great and meshes well with some in fiction plans I had for having the PCs be members of a dungeoneering organization. Crew members == other organization members. \$\endgroup\$ – Will Barnwell Aug 2 '18 at 17:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there any official/semi-official reference material for Crew creation? \$\endgroup\$ – Will Barnwell Aug 3 '18 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately I couldn't dig up a legit place to buy the PDF, but I've added some extra information to the post. \$\endgroup\$ – Glazius Aug 13 '18 at 15:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Awesome, I guess I'll have to do my own research into PW \$\endgroup\$ – Will Barnwell Aug 15 '18 at 9:03
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Firstly, welcome to the GM side, I hope you have fun!

I've been GMing PbtA games for about two years. I usually play with 4 other players; sometimes as low as two, and sometimes up to 5.

I am going to advise you to go no higher than 5 other players, and I strongly recommend you start lower than that. With new players, I've had the best games with 3 other people.

The biggest issue is one that is easy for the GM to overlook because it doesn't affect them directly. That is, spotlight time. As the GM you do about half of the talking: You ask a player what they do, they respond, you say what happens, and ask another player what they do.

But your players have to split the other 50% of the time between them. With 8 players this means a given player may only spend 20 minutes out of a 4-hour session actively participating. It's not the sort of experience you want to show new players.

There are other issues; for example, the cognitive load on the GM of keeping in mind and being a fan of 7 different characters, but honestly, I think the player spotlight issue is the largest, and one you can't really do anything about.

I understand your desire to let everyone participate, but too many cooks really do spoil the broth, so to speak. If you have to turn prospective players away, let them know you're thinking about them by saying it's because they are unlikely to have a satisfactory experience.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you so much for your thoughtful answer, while I accepted Glazius' answer above yours, it was a close and difficult choice. \$\endgroup\$ – Will Barnwell Aug 3 '18 at 20:45

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