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We have a Pathfinder group that consists of 11 people, and has been like that for a few years now. In the beginning we had a great time with such a large group and didn't mind the number, but something in the dynamics has shifted over the last campaign.

Four of them almost never show up (which we can excuse because they never show up due to work/school), but when they do they barely pay attention and end up leaving early anyways, which disrupts the flow of the game. Two of them just... don't seem to be into it anymore, and their non-enthusiasm tends to ruin the mood of everyone else. Plus a ton of personal problems most of the party has with one of them in particular that getting into in detail would take far too long.

The DM wants to reduce the group down to those that show up regularly and actually want to participate in the storyline, which is about five people; the average D&D party size. One of the people who doesn't show up due to work is alright with this due to his becoming disenchanted with roleplaying in general, but we're not sure about the others in the group.

So what I'm trying to figure out is how to politely tell the rest of them that we want to reduce our group? Is it even possible to be polite in this kind of situation?

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Yes, it's always possible to be polite, and what you are running into isn't uncommon. Peoples' lives change.

Two Things to Do, One (Optional) Thing to Try

  1. Address friendship first.

    From your problem statement, these are your friends. This consideration trumps games. As friends, you can do a lot of things together that aren't D&D. Keep doing those things together.

    For those who you think play now and again out of a sense of obligation:

    • First ask them if you have perceived that correctly, (if yes)
    • Then let them know that it's not worth forcing themselves to "have fun" if it isn't fun.
  2. Flexible roles

    For D&D nights, invite those who can only occasionally play to be that evenings' NPC role player(s). It's a varietal challenge that some will like and others not. Keep your core group happy if you want to keep the game going. With each person not in your "core group" the polite thing is to have a friend-to-friend conversation. Focus on the positive of how much you still enjoy the game, and how much the core group still enjoys the game.

    Your message for those who have lost interest is that you are still into the game, and if the game doesn't do it for them anymore, cool: go back to point 1 on friendship being important.

  3. An Option Depending on Space Available

    If game night is a big social occasion, is there enough room for two tables?
    If not, then this won't work.
    If yes, set up two tables.

    • One with the D&D game, and one with something else.
    • That way friends are still congregating, but folks don't feel guilted into doing something when they'd rather do something else.

As to high drama individual ... that is beyond game advice. That's interpersonal relationships, and best wishes.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Very solid advice that I really needed. Thanks! On point one, I needed more polite dialogue and you gave it to me. Point two is an awesome idea, and we don't have enough room for your point three option, unfortunately. Stupid apartment. \$\endgroup\$ – Keylaleigh Sep 8 '15 at 15:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Point two is brilliant! I think it'll be a good idea for people wanting to find out whether it is worth joining the group too! \$\endgroup\$ – Elsi Sep 11 '15 at 4:09
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I had this issue with a large D&D group back when I was living in an apartment in Memphis, same kind of setup you had. There was a core of folks looking for more consistent, "serious" roleplay and there were the folks who, either out of interest or out of conflicts, couldn't participate much. And one guy who was a goon.

Eleven people, by the way, is a crazy insane untenable group size even if they were all present and on time and super on task every single game session. So you have several layers of issues to fix:

  1. Group just plain too big
  2. Casual vs committed members
  3. Specifically disruptive member

What I did to solve #1 and #2 at the same time was, after talking with all my players to figure out what they could do and what they wanted, was to "split the group." I ran a Sunday game for the super committed folks. Then I had a Wednesday night game for the casuals. The Sunday game had group expectations, including "you need to make 3/4 weeks or this isn't for you." I didn't drive this, the players who wanted that kind of RP experience did. The Wednesday game was casual, board games if not enough people showed up, more about getting dinner and talking. I didn't even run it all the time, we rotated GMs (after some prompting by me, because running two games even if one is casual is a lot of work, and I had a job and stuff myself).

Both kinds are OK. RPGs are a lot like any recreational sport. We don't think of it that way because we're geeks, but you might want to read my blog post RPGs as Sports: League vs Pick-Up Games for more. In recreational sports, everyone understands the difference between the various levels of commitment, ranging from "super serious these guys act like it's a pro team" to "pickup games on the local court." In RPG-land, due to Geek Social Fallacies we have issues setting these basic expectations, but we shouldn't.

I will note that I moved away from Memphis 13 years ago now, and that casual group is still meeting to this day! It's not "lesser," it's a different fit that works better for certain folks and their situations.

Now, you shouldn't mix your problem player in with the rest of this. That's a separate issue that has to be dealt with separately. There are other questions on this SE about how to handle that, and since I already mentioned my RPGs as Sports blog series I'll mention RPGs as Sports: Getting Cut which covers the topic.

For both situations - size and problem player - it is always possible to be polite. There's never any reason not to be polite. But politeness is about expressing yourself kindly, it doesn't mean you don't take action to make changes that need to be made. Making the hard decisions isn't "mean" and that's a bit of a psychological/social issue you will need to push through. Make changes to make things better while showing compassion to all involved.

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I run short campaigns (~2 months), and when I start a new campaign I send a new round of invites. Anyone I didn't enjoy playing with in the previous campaign, just doesn't get invited to the new one. Nobody has ever given me any grief about this -- I think it's mutually understood that when I run a game I can invite who I want. :)

Your question uses the phrase "...over the last campaign", so it sounds like you have a similar structure. Can you end your campaign and then start a new one with just your core group invited? That seems like a nice low-drama approach where you don't have to specifically uninvite people.

("Have a frank and open conversation with your less-frequent players about the problems you're seeing and the best way to solve them" might still be the best approach, but I don't always feel comfortable doing that in my group, so I thought I would share what works for me.)

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I used to have eight players in my campaign and I found that as the PCs got higher level it became harder and harder to keep the flow going. The multiple attacks per round and more complicated actions caused the rounds to become very long. Two have dropped out and I am now down to my original six and I intend on it staying at six. The two dropped PCs are now NPCs in the world and the party runs into them from time to time. Now of the remaining six, if someone can't show, I either run their PC as a NPC or come up with something in the story line that keeps them out of the encounters. I typically don't like players playing two PCs, I like them to focus on role playing one PC. I also have two alternate players who will take on the PC of the player that didn't show up. The rest of the players and I do a good job making sure the alternates stay in character. The absent players don't mind having someone else play their PC and I usually write a recap of the session so they absent players know what happened. Do you have alternate players to take over the PCs? Can you come up with a story line to reduce the number of players?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ RPG.se isn't a discussion forum and answer posts are not for general discussion, only for attempts to solve the problem in the question. The questions at the end of this post, its “share my 2¢” style, and its lack of material about how to politely talk about reducing group size makes it look like a forum-style “reply” and not an answer, and suggests that you might have mistaken RPG.se for a forum. Check out the tour for a quick intro to how a Stack is different. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 8 '15 at 17:43

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