DMing for seven players?

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Backstory: About six months ago, I moved to Columbus, OH from Pittsburgh, PA to be with my girlfriend. A group of my friends live between Columbus and Dayton and wanted to try out D&D. We played a few sessions of 3.5, and then took a hiatus so we could all study up on 4e. Great for me, since now I have five regular players and I'm used to playing with only 2 regular PC's and 1-3 sometimes there PC's.

Problem though; my sister and her boyfriend just moved nearby and want to join as well. The rest of the group wants them to play and I had no problem with it, until I realized that I'd be DMing for seven players.

Has anyone out there tested out 4e with that many players? All my other groups are five players and it runs pretty smoothly, but could adding two more players screw up the balance?

More details: I've DM'ed for large groups before, so it wouldn't be the first time. The real problem is this would be my first 4e game as DM. Granted, my other groups refer to me as the 'benevolent yet balanced rules-lawyer', so I can keep the game flowing fairly well because I've studied up on the system, but I'm worried about giving out treasure (the recommended treasure in the DMG only adds magic items, no cash) and balancing encounters (I can easily extrapolate the recommended xp guidelines for encounters, but I know that 500xp of monsters for a 5 PC 1st level encounter is not always balanced, so 700xp for a 7 PC 1st level might end up even more unbalanced).

PC's: Human brutal scoundrel rogue, very defensive dwarven paladin, tiefling staff wizard, eladrin fey-pact warlock, elven ranged archer, half-elf inspiring warlord and one undecided. Only I (the DM) and my girlfriend (half-elf warlord) have any 4e experience. Sister's boyfriend (tiefling warlock) has only RPed once but has wanted to try again for years. My sister (the undecided) has RPed quite a bit but has never played D&D. The rest of the players have some RP experience and are redesigning their old third level characters in my 3.5 game as their new characters.

The real problem I see here is that my group right now is 3 strikers, a defender, a leader and a controller. I'm a little worried about the players getting wiped out; paladins can really only effectively control one target and seven players are a lot for a single warlord to take care of. The undecided was interested in playing either a warlock or a cleric, but could completely change her mind, so I can't count on that.

Can anyone give me some advice? Should I make the first encounters really easy until I get a feel for the group? Should I focus on certain types of monsters and stay away from others? How should I handle treasure and skill challenges? Any general advice?
I would plan the first few encounters to be a little variable - as in design them under the assumption the PCs will wipe the walls. If they do - up the strength in the next encounter by a significant amount until you get a feel for it.

My 3.5 game is in a bit of a situation where I have 8 players, but I might have 4-8 show up on a given night. As such, I've gotten accustomed to altering the numbers of opponents to accomodate them. Honestly though, try out an encounter designed for a standard group of 5 and see how they fare (in terms of teamwork and overall success). In the next encounter, ramp it up to an encounter for 6 and then 7 - maybe even 8 (but give the characters an out).
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Well, when I first started gaming (a month ago) I had 3 players. Then I got 4 more after a single session. So what I recommend was simply split the two parties. One of the players lived with me so he could play both games, thereby having two groups of 4. I had the player in both games role up another character. We would alternate playing weeks, like group 1 this Saturday, then group 2 the next.

After a session each most of the people wanted to reforge the conglomerate. There were two people who liked it separate (other than me the frazzled DM). The two people who didn't want to form up were both annoying and not an asset to the game. So we just told them thery weren't welcome anymore.

I know that probably doesn't help, but it is very rare that I can relate to anything on this site, so I posted. In my honest opinion i think a mystery is more effective than hack-and-slash with 7 people. Throw combat in but not to much, 7pc+Xmonsters can take lotza time.

Hope you the best!
My group is now up to 7 players. I'm finding that it's just too many characters in the mix. The combat is taking a little too long for my taste, and it's harder to balance against that many character options than I'd guessed it would be. I'm considering splitting the groups... but I'll give it another session before making a decision. If I do split, I have two more players I can add (my son and a friend)... and I could have my wife continue to play with my co-workers, giving me two groups of five.
It really comes down to how effective the players are at fighting as a group, so you are probably going to have to ramp up slowly. Have some encounters with some more monsters just behind a door, or in easy trumpet range, that way you can challenge the players if they are doing well or keep something back without it seeing contrived.

Just play it by ear and once you have a little experience with the group you'll find you've worked it all out.
The DMG allows treasure tables to be calibrated all the way up to eight people. The enconter budget only goes to six, but it increases by a predictable amount.

I run a game with six. It works fine as long as I remember to adjust the encounters and treasure. I can't imagine one more person would make the entire system implode.
Has anyone out there tested out 4e with that many players? All my other groups are five players and it runs pretty smoothly, but could adding two more players screw up the balance?

I've run as many as 10 with 4e. It started to bog down terribly at about 8 people. With that many, every encounter was huge and took a long time.

The only thing I really found that I had to watch for is that the level based encounter system breaks down quickly if your group is not a standard one. Go with the XP budget system and things will work better.

The rest is just a question of efficiency in DMing. Keep combats moving, make sure everybody has power cards, make sure you pay attention to all the players.

The DMG allows treasure tables to be calibrated all the way up to eight people. The enconter budget only goes to six, but it increases by a predictable amount.

I guess my real problem with the adjusted treasure table is that, with the party gaining six magic items at level 1, it feels like magic items are just laying around. Show of hands; does anyone think I'd be making a mistake by awarding one of those packets in coins/jewels/art instead of a magic item?

The only thing I really found that I had to watch for is that the level based encounter system breaks down quickly if your group is not a standard one. Go with the XP budget system and things will work better.

The rest is just a question of efficiency in DMing. Keep combats moving, make sure everybody has power cards, make sure you pay attention to all the players.

Luckily, I discovered from one of the games I played in that the budget system works better in general.

Well, looks like most of you agree it can be done, albiet some of you said that two parties was easier, but that's not really an option since everyone wants to play together. I guess I should focus more around the party make-up.

What types of encounters should I avoid? In the game that I was part of a TPK, a horde of minions with shadow hounds and and wraith in a narrow hall killed us, but we killed an ogre with minions and no dailies at first level with relative ease. The party was similar...3 strikers, 1 leader, 1 controller. Perhaps I should focus more on open areas starting out, or fewer enemies with more HP.
When I first started my 4e group of six they had the mix of 4 strikers, 1 controller and one defender. They all got their asses whipped by a solo.
One striker left and a new player came in as a leader (Cleric) and it made all the difference in the world.

But the roles play an important part of the team. Right now we have a defender who just doesn't do his job and the group suffers. So another player is switching his PC to a Defender.

As for size, I do find having that many players to be problematic. You don't get much done. So I design my adventures to be short and varied. They don't need to have 10 encounters every session. Nor 10 encounters per adventure. That gives me a chance to setup roleplaying situations and skill challenges with maybe 1-3 actual combat encounters. That way we get a variation of play time that allows all players to be part of the action (Skill, RP, and combat). And I can usually have a different adventure each session to advance story and plots rather than having them clear out a dungeon that may take 3 5 hour sessions.

I do draw the line at 6 players. ;)
I guess my real problem with the adjusted treasure table is that, with the party gaining six magic items at level 1, it feels like magic items are just laying around. Show of hands; does anyone think I'd be making a mistake by awarding one of those packets in coins/jewels/art instead of a magic item?

I vote for that plan, first and foremost. I know DnD often feels like it revolves around magic items, but I think the DM guide goes overboard. In my humble opinion, the less often you dole out delightful treats, the more important they feel.

If you have an undecided player still, I would strongly urge you to strongly urge them to play a defender type (or a healer if they are really anti-tanking). With large groups like that, the mobs are going to be ramping up in the DPR just like your players, and you don't want your squishies soaking it up. I'm trying a game right now with no healers (save for the warlords one encounter heal), that has five players.

TelinArtho has a good point also, make the first few encounters easier than you think you need to. The party wont mind if the crush the opposition easily, but on the off side your math is wrong, they don't all die. This is my method of beginning a game with any party makeup I'm not familiar with.

This is just speculation and theory on my part, but if my group was that large, I would consider it a challenge to figure out ways to juggle their abilities. Could you make an encounter that required the warlock to be casting a ritual the whole time? That would lower your party's DPR and therefore let you use less enemies. Perhaps your two strongest members need to be cranking a large clockwork portcullis for ten rounds. It's hard to make tasks like these entertaining for the players involved, but it can happen.

Good luck to you, and I hope the experience opens up new things for you as a DM.
I've got seven people I'm DMing for 3 strikers (rogue, rogue, ranger) , 1 controller, 2 defenders (fighter, paladin) , 1 leader (laser cleric). At first because there were so many of them they played selfishly and battles were chaotic. If I had thrown a level +4 encounter it would have tpk'd them pretty easily. I played lower level encounters with good monster tactics and dropped the wizard, rogues and cleric multiple times and hinted that if better tactics were used they would get through the battles much easier. Now the defenders set up a line the rogues work on the flanks and the wizard, ranger, and cleric stay to the back and fire away. I find that they can actually handle more advanced encounters with greater ease than a small group because through teamwork they are greater than the sum of the players and with more players there is more potential for synergy.
When I started my 4E campaign, we were running with 7 players. Two have quit and one new player has joined; we've only had one session where the party numbered less than 6. The game can definitely still run pretty smoothly with a large group; there are of course a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, make sure the players understand that having that many players in the game is going to mean less individual screen time, and that it's important that the PCs do things as a group. If the PCs split up to all go do separate things, it's going to bog your session down tremendously, so gloss over such interactions as much as possible.

Second, and especially during combat, everyone needs to be focused and to help keep the game moving. My group uses a stopwatch in combat; a player has one minute to take his turn and any further actions are lost once the minute is up. I've also found it helps to put a player in charge of the stopwatch, since I have a lot of other stuff to track as the DM. Players need to have their powers organized with all of their attack bonuses, damage rolls, and effects written out so they can be easily referenced. Another trick we use that helps to keep combat going smoothly is we have the initiative order written out on a whiteboard so everyone can see when their turn is coming and plan for what they're going to do.
i once DMed with 11 players!!! :OMG!
I haven't DMed for that many, but I was in a 4E group with 6 people, and many of us were reasonably familiar with the rules though it was the first time playing it for all of us. We had a Ranger, Rogue, Wizard, Paladin, Warlord, and Cleric: a fairly balanced group, I would say. I'll admit were hadn't fully grasped how much 4E relies on team tactics and did have to keep double-checking rules, but even once we got things under control we found combat was quite slow. Even discounting the one player who's ridiculously slow, there was just a lot of stuff on the field.

The other thing, I swear our DM had weighted dice and we really needed all the healing we had. If your undecided player's up for it, I do recommend another healer. If she doesn't feel like being a cleric, there's the Artificer (is that still available for free download?) which is great fun.
I DM for six players currently that occassionally gets up to seven and here's what i've been doing to keep things simple.

1. Plan fewer encounters. Unless you have team alpha strike force that moves like greased lightning you won't be able to go through a ton of fights during the night.

2. Prepare those encounters like set pieces that will challenge each player. Make the terrain important, barrels, a dark alley, jumping from a rope bridge. And make sure it is interactable for the monsters. It doesn't make much sense to put in a column if somebody isn't using it for cover/concealment.

3. Interspace roleplaying opportunities between the encounters that take place between the characters, Captured prisoners what do we do? These rogues were stealing the kings pudding, who should we tell?

4. Identify players to be in charge of most of the bookkeeping, What's the initiative steve? Draw the area affect of your spell Steve.

5. Let non active players in a scene role play the NPC.

Hope that helps!
Wow, i was just about to DM 4ed for the first time this sunday... and for 7 players too.. and i had a lot of questions on what to focus in, and how to handle time in general, so that the flow kept moving... but all the things you guys posted helped me a lot.

Thanks guys!
I currently DM a 4e campaign for 8 players. I do it online, so it may be a bit different from tabletop gaming, but here's what I've learned:

Most D&D players expect the DM to run the show, control everything, and keep everything fun. But with 6+ players, each person MUST understand that it is also their responsibility to keep the game running smoothly, or else they will grind the game to a halt. If 8 people bouncing in 8 different directions, there's going to be a crash. Here is what each of your players needs to understand:

1. They need to pay attention at all times. This may seem odd in a large game, where there is less individual attention, but if one person doesn't know what's going on, explaining it to them becomes extremely difficult. Also, battle will already take forever with so many people, they shouldn't make it longer by not knowing what they're going to do. I'm not strict enough to use a stopwatch system, but most people are perfectly capable looking up what they're going to do while paying attention to the battle.

2. They need to be patient. While as a DM, you should try to keep every player involved at all times, occasionally some people may be receiving more attention than others. Either it's one person's turn in battle, or the diplomat of the group is speaking to an npc, or whatever. If they have ADD, they likely won't be able to fit in the group.

3. Speaking over someone else is never allowed, and D&D is not a race to say more things. Otherwise the session volume will exponentially increase to a shouting match. Worse, the shy, quiet players will never, ever get to speak.

4. Helping out the DM is a great way to make the game go faster. After my first battle with 8 players, the first thing I did was assign one of my players to keep track of initiative. This made combat go 20% faster, and freed up my mind for all their enemies. Even better, he also now keeps track of periodic effects, so when someone's turn comes up, he says, "That's the end of Jane's turn. She needs to make a saving throw to get rid of the charm effect. Now it's Joe's turn. He needs to take his 5 periodic acid damage."

5. The team needs to work together. In combat, if one person in a party of 8 goes off by themselves, they will be surrounded and killed 75% of the time. Similarly, if one person goes off and does their own thing in town, it will occupy the DM's time and slow the game down. Yes, everyone is encouraged to be an individual, but if your character monopolizes the game time, you're not being fair to the others.

That said, as a DM, here are the things that YOU have to realize about large games:

1. You will need to prepare. In my five player games, I could do a lot of the sessions off the cuff, and make stuff up on the fly. With 8 people demanding my attention, I can't take a minute to come up with monster stats. You need to be prepared for all avenues of attack the players can take. Have all your descriptions, maps, and monsters planned out ahead of time. Yes, there will be times when the players do something you don't expect and you have to improvise. But if you're doing this constantly, large groups will soon overwhelm you.

2. Combats will be huge. In order to challenge large groups, you need to challenge them with similarly large groups. You can't just send one solo monster at them, you have to send a solo monster and its lackeys (or perhaps even two solo monsters). In my first adventure with 8 people, there wasn't a single combat with less than 7 enemies. These combat sizes change the game a lot:
2a. Combats will be long. I would not expect to do more than one combat a session with a large group. Assuming you have an average of one enemy per person, with 7 people that's 14 total combatants, half run by you. Even if each combat resolves their turn in two minutes, that's almost half an hour per round. Because there are more enemies, it will require more rounds to take them down. Even a quick, 4-round battle would take you two hours. Doing more than one per session will drain you and your players.
2b. Combats will require lots of space. Everyone needs some elbow room, so a combat with 14 participants will not work in a 10-foot wide corridor. Your average battle space should be a 3x3 square for every participant. This means for 14-16 participants, you need a 12x12 square (or 60ftx60ftroom.) Anything bigger than this will be considered 'open'. Anything smaller will be considered 'cramped'.
2c. Area affect and focus fire will gain much more power. The reasons for this are obvious. With more combatants, the potential targets for an area affect are greater. Also, if every single one of your 7+ monsters attacks one character, even a tank, that character could easily go down in one round. The players will likely pick up on this, and start focus-firing your baddies. Make sure your monsters have tanks and healers of their own to compensate.

3. Conversations will be hectic. When the group is talking to an npc, they must take turns in speaking or the npc (and you) will get overwhelmed. Never allow them to ask a question when someone else's question needs to be answered. There are a few ways of getting around this. The group can elect a party spokesperson. This makes things less hectic, but some players might get bored during every npc interaction. You can use the conch shell method. Or have them raise hands. Whatever you do, don't let them talk over each other.

4. You need to know the party's motivations at all times. Particularly in a varied party, you should know what gets each player excited. If you send them all on a mission to save a temple, and one character is an atheist, that character will gripe for the entire mission. Involve everyone by having multiple reasons for them to go somewhere. Perhaps the temple is under attack, the atheist's girlfriend is trapped inside, and there is a significant monetary reward promised for saving it. Now everyone wants to help.

5. Each player still wants to shine sometimes. Let them succeed and distinguish themselves amongst their peers. Give them magic items tailored specifically for them. Make each character feel special. Just avoid doing so at the expense of the other players. If a player wants to go do something on their own, ask them to coincide it with the end of the session. Then you can have a one-on-one session between big group meets, allowing for mini-side quests that don't take away from the rest of the group.

That's all I can think of right now, but I'm sure I'll think up more advice later. After all, I have to go through this every week. ;)
Just wanted to give a quick thanks to everyone who's given me advice. I especially appreciate the varying suggestions for things I can have the players track. Luckily, I have two programmers, an admin assistant and a historian in my group, so I shouldn't have too many problems with getting help in that area.

My undecided has decided to go with cleric, so the final total is 3 strikers, 2 leaders, 1 defender and 1 controller. Given that that defender is a paladin, healing should be covered now. Though the defender area is a little weak, two of the strikers are the eladrin fey warlock and the elven archer ranger, so they should be able to stay away from the nastiest badguys.

As far as the interactive combat areas, the first session is a simple 'clear out the bandits' scenario that's designed to get them used to 4e combat. After that, they'll venture into a necropolis where they'll get to fight hordes of swarming skeletons up rickety staircases and across rooftops, deal with graveyards where zombies burst from the ground and attack those who step on their graves, battle a ghoulish fighter who uses Tides of Iron to push them into pits and iron maidens and top it off with an encounter at a crumbling temple where they can collapse the terrain onto the pack of wights they've come to slay.

Then they get to figure out how to get out...
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