Blog for Stephanie Bryant, a writer with too many hobbies and not enough time.

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How Many Players in an RPG

Recently on a forum I frequent, there was a question about how many players is “too many” in an RPG. The context was a player who was hinting he’d like to get in on that sweet, sweet D&D action, into a 5-player game.

First, There will *always* be guys who are interested in your game. There are always more players than there are DMs– it’s the way of the world. It’s like dating, and you are the pretty girl at the dance.

I’ve run games with 2 players, and games with 13. I think 15 is the most I’ve ever run by myself, and it was a con game with a lot of yelling.

LARP (Live Action Role Playing) games have a minimum of probably 8. The maximum is less a maximum number of players, but a maximum GM/NPC-to-player ratio. I am not confident, but I think for a LARP, that ratio is 1:12. I don’t run LARPs (yet)– they’re a lot of work and require a lot of volunteers.

I cannot stress enough how important table size is in D&D.

In the past 3 years of organizing public games at Avatar, I have learned that the table size matters. A LOT. It matters so much, I keep a couple of DM-less adventures in our D&D box in the back room for if I ever have 10 people show up to game and don’t know what to do with them.

In Organized Play for D&D, like Living Forgotten Realms and Encounters, 4 is the minimum table size, because in D&D, it is extremely hard to balance the adventure for a party of just 3 heroes. Thus, there’s a “magic number” (it’s not magic, except in the curse sense) of 7-8 in table top gaming. 7 is too many for 1 table, but not enough to split into two and have one of the players DM (you subtract the DM from the remaining number of players, and now you have a table of 3).

If you have 9 players, plus you as the DM, you could split into 2 tables with 4 players each. If nobody at the other table has ever DMed before, that’s when you hand a module to the best candidate for DMing, and say “congratulations– today is the last day you can say that.” If you consistently get a big group, consider running your adventures in “battle interactive” mode, where you have multiple tables going through the same dungeon together.

There is one other thing that splitting tables does for your RPG group and community, and it’s something that most home GMs never think about, but should.

When you split your tables and say “hey, Bob. Can you run some kind of quick adventure for these guys? I’ve got a side quest you can put them through,” you are giving Bob an opportunity to do something awesome. You’re letting Bob become the DM. Not only is that awesome for Bob, who can now become an awesome DM and move on to bigger and badder things. But you’ve just done something that no pretty girl at the dance ever does. You have increased the number of available pretty girls in your community. You’ve started training a new DM.

But what about Bob’s XP, you might say? What if Bob totally ruins my PCs’ characters?!? What about Monty Haulism?

First, give Bob some limits. “And for this adventure, they can get up to X amount of gold and 1 potion….”


If Bob completely ruins a PC, by forcing them to do things that they would never do, or generally being a dick, don’t worry about it. Rewind those events at the start of the next session as a dream, or they’re fixed by a benevolent patron, or whatever, and pick someone else to guest DM next time.

Of course you don’t worry about XP because, like all sane DMs, everyone in your group levels up all at the same time (yes, even if they miss the game). Right? If you’re not doing this, I highly recommend it. It flattens out a lot of the competitiveness among players. It removes the “school teacher” role from the DM– if someone can’t make it to the game, their punishment is that they missed a night of gaming. Really, isn’t that punishment enough?


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