Sunday, February 21, 2010

Playing in Different Sized Groups

A while ago I talked about different sized player groups and how to run the game around it. This time I want to talk about the same thing, only from the other side of the GM screen.

You may not realize it, but the size of the game can have a lot of determination on how you are playing things. Different character types become more or less acceptable depending on the size of the game, as do different methods of playing your characters. It is those things that I want to look at today. So lets take a look.

There is only so much special for all the PCs
In gaming, there is a general assumption and view that the PCs are special. Why shouldn't it be there to be honest? In an entire world that is run by 1 person (the GM) these people are controlled by someone else. They are the main characters of the story, people with the potential to be greater than almost anyone else in the history of that world. More things will happen to these people than to anyone else over the course of their lives, they will accomplish great and terrible things, and before long will probably also be the richest people in the world. With the world existing for them to play in, no kidding they're special right?

But here is the thing that a lot of players miss when they go into games that are larger than they are used to playing. It doesn't matter if you are playing a 1 player game or a 10 player one, there is the exact same amount of Special in the world for the PCs to have. Essentially the "special" or "Chosen by fate" quotient for PCs is a constant, and it never changes. Sure the GM may play it up more or less here and there, but it doesn't change.

For example's sake, I'm going to say that there is 100 units of special in any story for the PCs to have. Also, when a character dies they return their special to the pool. Now, all the special is spread out amongst the PCs, and I mean all of it. That means if your game has 2 players, each player should have 50 Special each. If your game has 4 players, each should have 25 each. And so on and so on down to if you have 10 players they have 10 each, or however far you want to go.

In other words, the more players you have, the less the story can focus on any one of them, and thus the more like 'normal' people they are. Highly skilled normal people sure, but they are less significant because of the existence of the other PCs. Take a military game for example, in a 2 player game problem behavior will be more tolerated than in a 10 player game because the 2 are more special. They have a larger role in the story as individuals. The 2 player game is about those 2 individuals. The 10 player game is more likely to be about the unit those 10 players belong to.

So what does this mean?
This means that certain characters won't work in the larger game. The best example I can give is the loner type. This is a very popular kind of character, after all who doesn't want to be the loner bad ass like Wolverine in a game? (yes, I see all your hands going up, but let it slide please) In a smaller game this can work, the GM can spend some extra time to get you back into the game and slowly develop your turn around. In a larger game though, the GM doesn't have the time to do that, and you are doing everyone a disservice by making it happen. Being anti-social can work, but going off on your own and demanding your own time means that the other players are sitting around waiting while only you get the fun.

The scene-stealer is also not particularly good to play either. You need to keep in mind that there is only so much special that can go around, and that every player is entitled to a fair share of it. Making a character that demands to be 'more special' than others without your other players being ok with it is a no no. More to the point, just like being a loner and taking the fun, stealing the scenes constantly can also cause problems for the game. Sitting back and doing nothing for 4-6 hours while someone else gets all the GM attention flat out sucks. So, when you are playing in a larger game you need to understand that everyone needs their chance to shine. Take a step back on occasion and let the other players have their moment. If you stand back, and no one does anything, you can step forward and go for it again, but it is important, vitally important, that you give the others a chance to do something and also get their moment in the spot light.

So no Loner and no Scene-Stealing, anything else?
While scene-stealing and being the loner are much much worse in larger games, there is one other thing that while not a "no no" is something that is more challenging in a larger game, and the larger the game the more challenging it is.

That thing is when you play a character who is expert or skilled in something you have no knowledge of. I'm sure we've all tried it, or have seen someone do it before. There's not even anything particularly wrong with it either, Role Playing is about escape, being something you're not after all. However, when a character who insists they're the next Ender Wiggin (a tactical prodigy) but can't figure out a good tactic to save their life it gets rather annoying. The same with the completely anti-social person playing the socialite.

Now, you don't need to be an expert in what your character does, but some knowledge of it in a larger game helps. A general understanding of what it does at least, or what in the field might be insanely bad as a starting point helps.

The reason for this is essentially time and speed. The larger the game, the less time the GM has for helpingout individuals, and as such in larger games more responsibility falls on the players themselves. Meaning that if you are playing a character who does something you have absolutely no ability with you are going to slow things down in a way that can hinder the game.

I'm not trying to say don't experiment, just to be careful in larger games. Though this is a topic that I want to go into more in depth, just in its own entry.

Final Notes
Essentially the thing I want people to be aware of is that in larger games the GM has to deal with a lot more people and play styles need to adjust to that. The GM is, generally, just one person and having to deal with 10 different characters is a lot harder than just dealing with 4. At the same time, making 9 people wait around while you do your stuff is a lot worse than just making 3 or 2 do it. Both because of how much it slows the game down, and the fact that 3 people are more likely to be ok with it than 9.

In a larger game, things that involve multiple people are more likely to get the GMs attention. As such, the way to have more fun really is to involve more people. Meaning don't steal the scene, and don't try to be the lone gunman.

At the same time, if your game is ok with that. If people are fine with and want it to happen. Have at. Just make sure you talk to them first before you try to run the whole show.

Happy Gaming.


  1. As a GM I feel that while there is only so much special to go around, how the PCs handle the special quota really has a big effect on that. If players really step up there can be more to go around. That takes everyone stepping up though. In really good RP groups though this does happen.

    A second thing is I really feel like people are going to feel more amazing, more special in any size group if they work as a group. It is like in the show Leverage, each one of them is AMAZING at what they do. Each one of them is also a total loaner. By themselves they're fairly cool, but working together they're great. Each one does more, gets more, and shines more than they would alone. I feel that this is the case in any type of group, and any size. An example of this in a big group is the Dirty Dozen/Filthy 13 example or Oceans 11. By sharing time each one gets more on camera.

    That spectacular loaner idea, find a reason as a player for him or her to come out of their shell and be part of the group. If the GM has to do it it won't be as rewarding. The whole idea of a game is, how ever you were before you were a PC being played, you are now part of a group. If you can't find a reason your PC should be in the group and really invest in it (how ever they do so) it's either time for a new PC, or to do some re thinking on your character.

  2. What I mean by the special quoata is essentially the amount of Crap a PC can get away with just because they're a PC. So while stepping up can make the PC or the group more 'special' that is something they have earned as a character, not as a way of being a PC, and if it IS something that comes as being a PC then it means another PC or PCs has lost that amount of special because it was taken. Something that may not be bad, but isn't something you always want to be going for.

    Hopefully that is a bit clearer for what I meant by "certain amount of allotted special".