DMing for a Large Group

Several years ago if you said you wanted to play Dnd people would laugh at you for being a nerd. However, the times are changing and more than ever people want to play Dnd. If you say you want to play Dnd these days, instead of people giving you weird looks, you’ll have complete strangers asking you if they can be in your game. What this usually means is that groups are getting bigger and DM’s have more to deal with. Today I would like to give some tips on handling larger groups, and how you can make the experience fun for everyone.

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Herding the Cats

The most difficult aspect of handling larger groups is that they can be rowdy. When there are 6+ people all talking over each other it can be very difficult to keep anyone focused on the game at hand. With groups this large you may even start to see multiple side conversations, and instead of the game being one conversation between the DM and the players, it’s chaos. Fortunately, there are ways to combat this issue.

Keeping people from talking over each other is one of my primary goals when I am handling a larger group. Quiet players can be drowned out very easily and you will have multiple players asking “what happened?” every time it comes back to their turn if multiple people are talking over each other all the time. You can fix this by giving players initiative outside of combat. Go in a circle around the table and ask each player what they are doing. This gives them a mini spotlight and lets them tell everybody what they are doing with no one talking over them. If other people do start to talk over the player, ask them to be quiet and give the player their spotlight.

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Giving them Chores

Another problem that larger groups may have is players not staying engaged with the game. When it takes a half hour to get to your turn only for you to swing and miss, it’s understandable that players will get distracted and disengaged. This is bad though because when it finally does come back to their turn, they will be lost and will need you to reexplain the situation. To solve this problem you need to keep them engaged when it isn’t their turn, and you can do this by giving them chores such as tracking initiative. Not only does this keep the players on track, but it also helps you to stay focused. Here are some examples of chores the players can do:

  1. Tracking Initiative and calling out who is on deck (“Baltair it’s your turn, Ava you’re up next”)
  2. A designated rules lawyer (“What does Fairie Fire do again?”)
  3. Battlemap artist (“Who wants the marker?”)
  4. Official mini-mover (“I can’t reach Tiamat, please don’t put her in the lava”)
  5. Notetaker (“Did I really name him bipple-baggle-bottoms?”)
  6. Music player (“Stop playing Never Gonna Give You Up or so help me”)
  7. Distributor of wealth (“I’ll have the glowy sword and you can keep the copper pieces”)

Another thing that I should mention is that once you get to a large enough party size, you should always use a battle map and minis. I’m a big fan of theater of the mind, but having something you can quickly look at to refresh your memory is an invaluable asset to have with a big group.

teach Marketers about Targeting, Where's Waldo Medieval
Where’s Waldo?

Combat in Large Groups

With this many players, challenging the party starts to become difficult. Big ogres that are meant to be intimidating and scary could roll bad at initiative once and be pulverized before they can even move. Unless your players are all brand new to Dnd, one thing I would recommend is throwing higher challenge ratings at them. Dnd players are extremely crafty folk and can come up with ways to win encounters you may deem as unbeatable. Another thing you should do is give the bad guys more actions. You can do this by either giving the big bad monster legendary actions or by introducing a bunch of minions that move independently of the big monster. (You should also give them an auto-20 on initiative just to be safe).

Finally, one of the most important things you need to do with a large group is to keep combat moving fast. If it takes a half hour for a turn to go around the table your players will lose interest faster than a sinking Galeb Duhr. Impose a time limit on turns and have them default to a dodge action if they can’t come up with something in 15-45 seconds. Make your players plan their turn before it becomes their turn, and keep things moving along at a fast pace. It should only take 3-5 minutes to move around a table with as many as 8 people as long as everything is going according to plan.

I’d recommend reading /u/OrkishBlade’s “Keeping Combat Short and to the Point“. It is an excellent article detailing how to run combat simply and effectively and should be helpful for anyone, not just DM’s who have larger groups.

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Conclusion

DMing large groups is hard. Don’t feel bad if you need to turn players away or split the group in half. You can even try out a West Marches style of campaign! But if you don’t want to do that, there are plenty of ways to make the game feasible no matter how many players you try to cram at your table. Keeping them focused and engaged is important. Don’t let the players talk over each other. Give them chores to keep them focused when it’s not their turn. Keep combat fast and to the point, and finally, don’t hold back on your monsters. Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!