I'm GMing a game for long-standing friends. I took over GMing duties last year, and in that time I've noticed that while everyone seems to be having fun and I can retain their interest, half of the players (there are 8–9 at most sessions) get more enjoyment out of the story-based elements I've used (I have an overarching plot and some side-plots going on) and the other half gets more enjoyment out of roaming and more mercenary play (picking up quests from a quest board, finding things on the way to keep them occupied).

To go into a bit more detail about the two types of play I'm talking about

  • I have one group who really want to keep following all the little trails and clues I leave around about the main and side plots, they really want to follow the story I'm creating.
  • The others don't particularly care about the actual plot points, they are just in it for the adventurer and combat.

Its not as simple as crunch vs. fluff, as both sides enjoy both of those, just a preference on how they play. I think it comes down to the point that the group who doesn't really care about the plot points wants that extra bit of player freedom to move around of their own volition, rather than going where the plot is.

So far I've been doing a bit of both types and each party can get some enjoyment out of the other, but I was wondering if there were a better way to bring the two groups into cohesion so they can get more enjoyment in the parts they don't prefer.

I appreciate that a ‘split the group’ answer would work here, but its more of a casual group that gets together to have fun with each other and want to stick together rather than play two separate games. As the GM I want to facilitate that as best I can.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You say some players are "in it for the adventure" but not in it "to follow the story". What do you mean by adventure in that case? \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 23:28

3 Answers 3


I call this "Open World" versus "Story Arc." Obviously both styles are fine but I've seen this problem as well. The sides get a little tired of each other.

If you want to bring your wanderers into the story I suggest you tie some plot points to their characters' history. Or rather, add their history to the plot points.

Examples are to add in mid-crawl bosses that insulted/betrayed them earlier. Or scour their backstories for ideas. Did they know their uncle was a necromancer? That he stole your grandfather's shield from your father? That sort of thing.

The other way I handle this is by using the open-world players to advance the story. I've always felt these folks need to know the whole world is lush and interactive.

So, if they drop the quest to find the dragon's lair to get into the slave trade they'll naturally meet someone that begs for freedom in exchange for showing them a vast treasure. Guess where that treasure is?

Look, people are of course going to get wise to this sort of thing but we all have a tendency to like stories that tie together. Some folks just don't want to follow what feels like a paved road.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This might be the best solution that doesn't in any way involve splitting up the group. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 21:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is definitely something I want to try to get the open worlders more into the story, because the note about adding in the mid-crawl bosses that have encountered the party before really got my brain churning. I tend to play NPC's encountered on the road like real people, which makes them running away in the face of overwhelming odds really easy, so my party has made some enemies I can definitely use for this! \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnomejon
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 21:42
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Dropping the open worlders "carrots" has worked very well for me. Drop something 'juicy' which their characters want, that just happens to lead into the main story. Or steal something from them, that works also. \$\endgroup\$
    – juskom95
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 13:28

I have had more than one group like this, some like the overall "GRAND STORY" while others like the individual choice/freedom aspect.

With a group that large:

  1. You could split up the group, though that would mean more work on your side as a GM/DM.

  2. Continue doing what you are doing.

The best solution I have found is exactly what you are doing, a little bit of both. Some adventures are 'story' adventures and some can stand on their own.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This. There's a reason some authors at the Forge talked about "5 minutes of fun per session" (they were exasperating the problem). The only real solution would be not even starting to play with people with diverse expectations, in order to not having to be there while the other half of the room has its part of fun. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 17:42
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the advice, I'd upvote it, but I'm still a bit too new ^_^ and @zachiel , I'll look up the 5 minutes of fun per session thing myself to get more clarity on what you're talking about. If possible, could you put in a link? \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnomejon
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gnomejon you should be able to upvote now. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 21:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gnomejon I'm unable to find it right now. It might have been "15 minutes of fun". Basically, it's the concept that if players push the game in different directions, they're going to have fun in turns, rather than during the whole session. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 0:02

A group of 8-9 players is HUGE. You can run three games with that many people.

Consider splitting the group

Splitting may be controversial and there are people who would tell you it's more work. It is in fact less work when you have to prepare for a smaller group, but it would be a good idea to find another GM. You group sounds perfect for a standard 2x(GM+4) set up.

Recruit another interested player as your GM-aide

With your group's blessing grab a player who would like some more story authoring experience and collaborate. Let him contribute to the events (while still keeping a PC in the game) and while you are designing the grand scheme of things, let him play out NPCs on the side and take some workload off you.

Start splitting the party more and more.

Again, with your group and GM-aide blessing. Let the story lead the party to situations where a coordinated action of two independent groups is preferable to one huge blob of adventurers. Be frank and upfront about it! Your players need to know they will be alright and will get the preferred playstyle while still being a one group.

Finally, just have a two-table arrangement.

That is a standard deal with many RPG clubs, including mine. You meet all together, you have some initial catch-up, you sit around two tables simultaneously, each playing their own game and after you're done you still hang out as a group. From time to time you coordinate player mixing or a communal or partial change of game (perhaps to something completely different, like Apocalypse World or Numenera or whatever you fancy).

Of course, that's assuming you can get another player to be a GM...

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Thanks for the advice, and I think I'll talk it over with the group, because you managed to make splitting the group sound appealing and an 'in progress' situation, which they might be up for. I think I'll try a couple other options first, and see if they work out well, but I'll definitely keep this in mind! \$\endgroup\$
    – Gnomejon
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 21:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Talking it over is usually the best idea for any social challenge, as long as all parties want to listen. My answer comes from the fact that you already started distinguishing "groups within the group", so a party split might happen whether you like it or not. Best do it consciously and mindfully rather than hoping it will work out on its own. Ultimately, it's your and your group enjoyment and in any case do whatever works best for you :) \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 21:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ The other interesting thing you could do in a 2 DM setup like this is have the 2 groups occasionally meet one another/help each other out or even just see something the other group did (did group A accidentally burn down a town? Group B returns to find the town burnt down.) This requires you to get together with the other DM a little bit and compare notes, but it can be a lot of fun and can actually take some work off you both as it makes the world dynamic automatically. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 11:37

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