Saturday, 15 February 2014

Handling Large Parties - Part 1 - The Math

This article, and the ones that come after it in this series, concern an issue I have been battling with for a while now, and it has recently come to light again in an ugly way. I have too many players. Specifically, I now have 11 players - 9 of which are in every game I run.

Many of you will have just choked on your coffee/spat at the screen/summoned the Great Devourer to do away for me for such flippant expression of "too many people like my game", but it is causing serious problems. The biggest of which is that some players aren't getting the chance to talk much at all during sessions, as they are drowned out by the conflagration of noise which is my player base, or they're being left with massive expanses of time whilst others are doing their thing. But, this is far from the only problem...

So, this is going to be a pretty technical post. I need to work the math out on this one so I can address it properly. Bear with me, and if you have ANY advice, please let me know (I'm dying here, man).

Also, please note that I am not complaining about my group!I do in fact love them all :) Just, these are the issues that a GM must deal with, and this is the best medium I have to get them out in the air!

It Takes Forever To Do Anything

First up is a simple one. The more players you have, the more time it takes to do everything in the game. This, at first, wouldn't seem like much of an issue, but lets break it down a little bit with some maths. We'll split an RPG session into 2 actions: Discussion and Combat.

I will be taking some liberties here. I am considering an "Average Group" to be 4 players and 1 GM, all of whom are friends who get along well. The times I am giving are very rough estimates, taken from play examples I have witnessed or run.

I am also classing an Average Game Session to be 3.5 hours long, as that is how long my games go for, and have always gone for. Honestly, I can't see a game going for any less having any content, but that's just me.

Discussion

Now, most RPGs have a level of Discussion - players need to plan out situations before they explore them. This is a good thing, as it gets the players thinking about the game and asking questions. Lets suggest that an average group needs to discuss things with the GM for 10 minutes first, and then gives 5 minutes to each player to work out their ideas (or more accurately, for everyone to chime in).

That means, with an Average Group, a Discussion about an event that the GM throws at the PCs will take 30 minutes. Therefore, the GM can safely give his players 7 things to worry about during an Average Game Session with no Combat involved, going from event to event.

Now, with a group of 9 consistent players, a Discussion lasts for approximately 55 minutes, allowing for 3 full events to occur before Combat is factored into the the mess. This is nearly a full third of an Average Game Session where nothing actually happens, beyond player discussion.

Combat

Combat takes even longer. Suggesting that the average turn per character is about 1.5 minutes (including planning, rolling, notation, etc), and that the Average Combat goes for 4 rounds, during which every character, including the enemies (for safe bet, I have made the enemies equal the players in number, to challenge everyone) gets one turn, then we have some startling numbers.

The Average Group takes 12 minutes per Round, and therefore 48 minutes per Combat. This means there is room for 4 full Combat scenes in an Average Game Session before Discussions are concerned.

With a group of 9 players, however, it takes 27 minutes per Round, and 108 minutes per Combat. This means that a GM can only run 1 full combat scene during an Average Game Session, before Discussions are concerned.

This also means that, with a group this size, it could arguably be 25+ minutes between PC actions. This means that a player has a LOT of time in which to get bored...

A Whole Session

If we combine Discussions and Combat to make for a fully rounded session, with at least 1 of each, we get the following numbers:

The Average Group can have 3 Combats and 2 Discussions (favouring Combat), or 3 Discussions and 2 Combats (favouring Discussions). Both situations leave for 6 minutes of downtime and wiggle room, which isn't much, but it means either 1 Combat or 1 Discussion can be planned as less important, and able to be cut if time isn't allowing.

However, a group of 9 players can have a maximum of 1 Discussion and 1 Combat. There is never a chance for more Combat, but they can drop the Combat in favour of 2 extra Discussions. Doing the former grants 47 minutes of downtime, which is a good amount to muck around in and have fun, and doing the latter grants 45 minutes.

Matching To A Campaign

Most Adventures are written following a 3 Act structure, which include at least 1 Discussion and a Combat in the 1st Act, 2 Discussions and a Combat in the 2nd Act, and a Combat in the 3rd Act, then an Average Group will take 1-2 sessions to complete an Adventure. A group of 9 players, however, would take 3+.

And if your Campaign is set up of 3 arcs of 3 Adventures each, then an Average Group will take 9-18 Sessions, and a group of 9 will take 27 at the smallest possible scale. If you're playing weekly, then this isn't too much of a problem, but what group in the history of groups has ever been able to avoid some kind of hiccups to their weekly games?

Conclusion

A group of 9 players, as opposed to an Average Group, will spend significantly longer doing anything, and a large amount of that time will be spent waiting for your turn to come around... This is a MAJOR issue.

Honestly, I don't see much in the way of a solution to this - there simply isn't another way to make time go slower, or speed a situation up at all. Perhaps I could work on something for players to do during another player's turn? Or collaborative character turns? I'm not really sure.

Next in this series will deal with Conflicting Player Types.

If you have any ideas, please tell me in the comments below. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is battling this or a similar issue, so you'd be helping a LOT of people! Cheers :)