4e game with big group (8+)

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Hi there,

I wanted to ask, if someone has experience with bigger groups than 6 people.

Don't know if I should ask this in the DM section, but it's not only a DM thing.

The idea was to have a bigger group with more people and switching DMs. The group will meet on a regular basis of two weeks, but it won't be a problem if someones missing, because of an idea I had.
I've created a world, in which guilds are spread everywhere (kinda like in Fairy Tale), and all the players are in one guild, which is fairly new and starts to envolve to a big guild later on.
So for adventures everyone can be the dungeon master and give the guild a new quest.
I've got some other ideas, around the theme of the guild, but it's kinda hard for me to descripe these in english, because it isn't my first language.

Right now we are 8 people. We haven't started, tomorrow will be the first meeting to getting to know each other.

First off, do you think this will work? Maybe you experienced something like that and can give me some tips.
Not everyone is a experienced player, but after a month or so, everybody should know their characters and the rounds shouldn't take this long.  Is there anything else I should think about.

I will give it a try. Maybe it will fail horribly. But I can't know without trying.

Dear Korbi,

I've run games at the table with multiple players, but not because I planned it, it just happened because I was inviting new people to try out the game. My limit was a Low Paragon session of about 10 Players, and a mid Epic level of about 8 Players.

My regular weekly game (now mid Paragon, yay!) has about 6-7 Players coming on average, and sometimes with friendly NPCs taking part in combat there are about 8-9 "Player Characters" on the Table, not counting Enemies, Monsters etc. So I would think it is possible, but not easy.

About the Guild Fluff, it's really about how the Players Respond. If they like the fluff, if they don't like it they may say something. Build your Guild together, since you're all going to be DMs anyway. If they feel unheard, they might not want to stay.


Now, for "First off, do you think this will work." I'll start with Combat since it is more standardised.

Starting at Level 1 Combat with so many Players might actually work, IF
a) you are a experienced DM and are good at making Rule Calls
b) you are a quick thinker and can make sound Rule Calls quickly

And if :
c) they are experienced players and can take their turn quickly
d) they are prepared players who have gone over their powers, can do math quickly, and decide where to be quickly. There are also certain Roles that are more conducive to a faster gameplay.

Now, a) and c) are not likely fully in your control, but what you can do is compensate by using b) and d).


Assuming you are the DM, you've got to familiarise with the Combat Rules.
You're probably not new to 4E, but I'll just assume you are and here are some common notes from common PHB1 issues.
1) Attacks that don't share the same damage roll are separate Attacks.
eg. Twin Strike etc are 2 separate attacks and should be treated as such
2) Ranged Powers always provoke an Opportunity Attack. This includes Utility Powers like Bastion of Health.
3) Defenders generally cannot punish those who obey their Marks.
4) Fighters use an Immediate Interrupt to punish adjacent Shifting. This is NOT an Opportunity Attack and does not benefit from their WIS mod.
5) You can only take 1 Immediate action between the End of your Turn and the Start of your Next Turn.
6) You can take Opportunity Actions every Turn.
7) You can take an Opportunity Action and an Immediate Action in the same Turn.
eg. Fighter takes an Immediate Action and hits, stopping Hobgoblin Archer from shifting away. Hobgoblin Archer, left with no choice, makes a Ranged Attack against (anyone). The same Fighter can make an Opportunity Attack against the Hobgoblin Archer, in the same turn.
8) Paladin's Divine Challenge only affects each Enemy the first time it targets an Ally of the Paladin with an attack that does not include the Paladin. This is errata and may not be in the PHB.
9) A Wizard Zones etc only deals damage once per Turn. This is in errata again, it is not in the PHB.

But that won't be enough, there will always be ambiguous Rule Calls.
Before the game, let your Players know you will make Rule Calls according to what you think best as DM. Following will apply
a) One Person (maybe you) will check up the Rule in the PHB or Rule Compendium after the game and clarify.
b) You may make a wrong Rule Call during the game, and you may revise it later on that SAME session, maybe even in the same Combat. Let them accept that you (or whoever is DMing) is fallible and roll with it.

You may also want to have a Rules Expert at your table. If someone out of the 8-9 of you is more experienced (and fair-minded), try to consult this person on his take.
Take it as a valued vote but don't let his view make you feel pressured to accept his view.

People will forget stuff too. They'll forget they can slide, or that he was marked, etc, or that they can use an interrupt, etc. So make this known before the game too :
Once the Damage and/or Effect has been recorded, it is done. There's no turning back.

Personally, I try to be generous with Interrupts, such that I'm not that particular on Triggers.
eg. Disruptive Strike's is based on "Trigger: You or an ally is attacked by a creature"
strictly speaking, the person would have to declare use of the Power before you ( the DM ) make your Attack roll, before he knows if it is a Hit or a Miss, before they know what the Power does.
I let them interrupt all the way until I declare damage and effects, if there's still no interrupt by then the attack "sticks".
This originates from the "Try to say Yes" DM philosophy, but that said, you don't have to do things my way, just pointing out that not lawyering too much on this will save time.
This also saves time when you make your Attack Rolls. You don't have to ask "Anyone want to interrupt?" before rolling.

Here is also a technique that will make Combat go a LOT faster, which is...
ALL your Enemies act on the same Initiative. Seriously, it will help terribly, because
- you won't have to think so much and its easy to coordinate
- Your Players will have the time (and should) be thinking about what to do once your Turn is done


So that's it for the DM part, the next bit would be dealing with
d) they are prepared players who have gone over their powers, can do math quickly, and decide where to be quickly. There are also certain Roles that are more conducive to a faster gameplay.

Basically, for this make sure that everyone comes to the table knowing
a) Attack Bonus for Class Powers. For most part, all their Powers should have the same Attack Bonus.
Try and dissuade people from mixing Weapon & Implement Attacks, unless they're an experienced Player. If not all the Attacks are made from a single Weapon / Implement, it is going to slow down the game as it generally has differing Attack bonus.
b) Attack Bonus for Melee Basic Attacks. At low levels everyone will probably have the chance to make an Opp Attack, even that Wizard with no STR. Make sure he has it precalculated out.
c) Damage Bonus for Class Powers. For most part, it is just the Attack Stat Mod + Enhancement
d) Dice at the Ready. Another reason to stick to 1 Weapon / Implement, it just saves a lot of time.
e) Know your Immediate Powers. Not many Powers are immediate at low levels, make sure your Players know them.

Establish a Protocol for the Turn.
a) Select your Target. If you don't have to Move, don't Move, otherwise you Move.
b) Use Minor Action if you wish to.
c) Attack, determine if it Hits.
d) Calculate Damage, if any. Some Characters, especially those with many dice, take a while at this.
e) Move if you haven't moved.
Notice that the DM only has to be involved from Steps a to c.
If e) doesn't provoke any Opportunity Attacks, once c) is done quickly move on to the next Player.
d) and e) can be something left resolved alone. If there's 8-10 players, try and trust them to some extent.

In my Epic Games, I have players pre-calculate their Damage, but not their Attack rolls. Before the Game, I remind them that if they don't, well the Enemy doesn't take the damage until they have finished calculating. Until then, whatever the Enemy does, happens. eg. Bob hits the Shocktroop Warder who has 50 HP left. He didn't precalculate damage, and takes his time doing so.
The Shocktroop Warder goes next, and hits Marley twice. He deals 70 damage altogether to Marley, and pushes him off the edge of the bridge. Marley fails his saving throw and takes 5d10 falling damage as he plummets onto the rocks below.
As I'm about to roll falling damage, Bob says, "I'm done! The Warder takes 70 points of damage.
I nod and go "Great, the Warder dies / bursts into flames and burns to ashes."
Marley asks "So, do I still get hit?"
I nod and say "As mentioned earlier, please preroll the damage or whatever happens, happens."
I then roll falling damage, and Marley falls unconscious as a result.

I may have been a bit of dick to do so, but it certainly makes Players take their Turns more seriously.
You can be assured that even if Bob doesn't care to preroll his damage next time, Marley (or someone else under attack from Bob's likely target) will remind him.

So, the important thing for the DM to do is to Tell the Players in Advance.

Apart from that, Roles and Classes matter a lot. In general:

a) Controllers take the longest time. Aside from having Area Attacks, making multiple Attack rolls, planning what effects to use in combination, and being careful with themselves due to having low HP, Controllers take the longest.

b) Close behind, and close to Controllers, Defenders take the longest time to take their Turn. Being Melee based, positioning means everything, and Marking the wrong target may not be a big deal to the DM, but the Defender probably doesn't feel good about it.

c) Healers take some time on their Turn, especially if they have someone to Heal and/or are taking fire from the Enemies. If you're DMing right, both these conditions should be true.

d) Strikers take the shortest amount of time. Strikers that use Melee Attacks and Area Attacks typically take longer, for positioning and multiple attacks respectively. Strikers that use Ranged Attacks take the shortest.

So, communicate with your friends, and set up the right mix for an efficient game so hopefully no one will have to wait an hour for their turn (and it might still happen at high levels if the Encounter gets tough)

For a party of 8 : 2 Healers, 1 Defender, 1 Controller, 4 Strikers work very nicely.


Whew.. I'll add a bit more shortly on Skill Challenges and Storytelling effects.

I am Blue/White

Zyraen's post is very good, and you could do a lot worse than to follow his suggestions.
I will just add a couple small things while we await chapters 2 and 3 =)

The hardest part of running a large table is keeping everyone engaged.  Even if a player can knock out his turn in 2 or 3 minutes, there can be a lot of waiting while 7 other people and a bunch of monsters take theirs.  It's sometimes lost on the DM because you participate in every turn, but the individual player might only get to go 1 or 2 times an hour.    

Delegating out some of the DM tasks to the more savvy players helps.  An initiative board is handy, so everyone can see where you are in the order and who goes next without having to interrupt the DM and 'active' player.  Let a player run it, and in addition to saying who is up, make sure they say who is on deck so the next person can start planning their turn out.  At our table, we have one player run the Initiative board (they keep track of monster HP too), another player tracks the duration, placement and movement of effects (like zones) and conditions, and a 3rd jots down notes (cool maneuvers, loot, kill list, and the Book of Grudges), so in any given turn we have 4 or 5 people paying pretty close attention.

It also has the side effect of making a few players rules experts a little faster, since they are involved more than just their turn.  And it doesn't have to be a chore - one of our Encounters DMs came up with the popular idea to award whoever picks up one of these tasks a reroll for the night.

Second, if you make any rulings, write them down.  This goes for either houserules or heat of the moment arbitrations.  There are few things that can bog down a game night than a rules debate.  If it is a houserule your group wants to use, writing it down keeps 8 people from remembering it differently and also keeps it consistent from DM to DM and game to game.  Plus you can amend it or expand it as needed, and everyone stays on the same page.  

If it's a quick in-game ruling, write it down and then figure it out after the game so you get it right for the next time.  Unless a character's instant, permanent death hangs in the balance, there are very few rules worth stopping play to argue over.

Last, if you have multiple DMs and you can make 2 viable groups, 2 groups of 4 is a lot more forgiving than 1 group of 8.  Lots of times you won't have 2 leaders or whatever role to make 2 solid groups, but smaller groups tend to run smoother.  Particularly if you are running or adapting published adventures, because they are generally calibrated for the 4-6 player 'sweet spot' on everything from the size of rooms, placement and number of monsters and terrain, etc

INSIDE SCOOP, GAMERS: In the new version of D&D, it will no longer be "Edition Wars." It will be "Edition Lair Assault." - dungeonbastard

Oh yeah thank you FL Avatar for the mention on the initiative board keeper. Sorry tend to forget that, my bad :/

One more Note :
Because I collapse Mobs in a single Init together, I also give the first Player after the Mob a little bit more time, since he gets the least time to study the situation.
I've found that expecting Players to declare what they do in 5-10 seconds is pretty good, and making that expectation known before the Start of Each Session.

A declaration of roughly who they attack and what power they use is pretty much solid, and more often than not you'll find them reaching over to the battlemap and moving their Char into position (where required).

On the other hand, if the Player is not able to put it in words within 5-10 seconds, I usually just skip to the next guy and he goes on Delay. Usually before I run the Mobs, I will ask the Delayed persons his Turn, again if there's no reply I go straight to running my Mobs. My house rule I use for this is if you Delayed due to not figuring out what to do, you cannot interrupt the DM's turn running the Mobs by coming out of Delay.


Splitting the Table
I heartily agree with FL Avatar that 2 DMs with 4 Players would be better overall experience.
However, unless all 10 People (including DMs) are regular attendants, soon 1 or 2 tables gets left with 3 players.
Playing with 2 other Players is really not quite the experience it could be, so make sure the 2 DM's coordinate the story and progression so it is still an option to combine the two tables when there are less folks, so no one is completely lost.

Battlemap Space (thanks FL Avatar )
You will generally need a large space for 8+ Characters to manuever in. As a rule of thumb, you can increase the dimension of a room in the books by about 1 square (length and width) for every 2 additional players or so. This may be less of an issue if more of your party is Ranged.
Space constraints are most felt by Players who use Melee Characters, so try and limit those to no more than 2-3, which is what my large groups have been working with.


Skill Challenges

Skill Challenges are a really tricky thing with many Players.
As any DM will tell you, at any given table there'll be Players that respond differently to Skill Challenges.

In general, here are the Individual types that I've seen
- Unengaged : They just roll when told to, using the skill that they're told to. Apart from that, they try not to say anything and lie low. Many Unengaged Types actually enjoy Combat more than Skill Challenges.
- Figuring Things Out : Can I use this Skill? How about this instead? What about this? If I do this, what Skill would that be? Good thing is that usually once they can use the Skill that they're good at, they'll just keep using it until they can no longer do so.
- Aider/Improviser : I don't have the Skill at this Challenge. How can I help someone else? Grant +2 or -2. Or I really don't have the Skill for this, so I'll just use this weapon/item and say how well it would work.
- Descriptive / Detailed : They'll describe to sometimes agonizing detail what they're trying to do. They'll even let you, the DM, figure out what check is appropriate. Sometimes, they'll ask for Check bonuses due to description and RP. Sometimes you will want to give it to them. even when they don't ask. Yes, they can be that good.

Each presents its own problems, but in a group of 5, a Skill Challenge hopefully won't take too long. It's a bit easier to try and identify each of the time that composes a "Group"

Note that I've never met a group of Descriptive / Detailed Players, only individuals. Usually 1, max 2 persons will be this way. If your Group is large (8+), try to remind them to keep it short, before they start, since everyone else is waiting.

Most of the Group is usually either Unengaged, Figuring Things out, or the Aider / Improviser. For these, sometimes I just make things fast by asking for who is Trained, say "Who is trained in Arcana or Thievery?" Then they make Skill Checks.
If it is a Group Check and enough Successes are accumulated (ie the Group would pass even if everyone else failed) I move on to the next stage without having those who did not roll do so. If other rolls are still needed, I just ask see who wants to go, and once enough Successes are done I move on.
For those who improvise when it's obvious that they're not good at that, I give myself a general Mental rule of you beat Easy, Medium, Hard DC respectively on a 10+, 14+ and 19+.

If the Skill that is applied to the Challenge is not one that they're good at, there'll be those who won't think about going. To save time, don't force them join in the Skill Challenge, but before you start a new Round (usually a new stage) ask them if there's any thing they think they'd like to do, so they know that you're not forgetting them, but give them the choice to pass their Turn.

So far found the most success in engaging everyone is by mixing a Skill Challenges with Combat. Having a few enemies show up help to keep those who don't like Skill Challenges involved in taking out the enemies. It also adds more urgency, especially if the number of successes reduce the number of enemy reinforcements, assuming you use Minions or Mooks. This won't always work, of course.

Trying to open a lock could have alarms sounding and (weak) guards coming. On a more sneaky situation, I've found triggered Constructs like tiny Spider constructs handy without raising the Alarm, especially if they can reconstitute themselves (ie regain 1 HP after being reduced to 0 HP) while the Skill Challenge is going on.

If you intend to run a Skill Challenge, remember to look over the Classes and Skills of your Players. I once had a Skill "mishap" where I expected at least 1-2 Players to be good at Athletics, since there were so many. However, none of 7 Characters were trained in Athletics, and only 1 Character was STR based. Naturally they failed. No one particularly enjoyed that, though they remembered it.

Here's a common Skill for each Stat - Athletics, Endurance (usually least used), Thievery, Arcana, Perception/Insight, Diplomacy/Bluff.

If you can figure out a use in your Skill Challenge with at least 4 out of these 6 you generally won't go wrong. That's not to say the DC for each is the same, you could put a -2 to -4 penalty for a Skill that is not that "core" to the Challenge.

Oh and, do KNOW your DCs beforehand, write them down.
Instead of using it like in the modules, just take note of 1 DC, and adjust it from there.
eg. Module recommends Perception DC 30, Diplomacy DC 28, Bluff DC 33, Arcana DC 30, Thievery DC 32, Athletics DC 30, Religion DC 27. Remember your players probably are never going to know these exact numbers anyway. You have
28 : Diplomacy, Religion
30 : Perception, Arcana, Athletics
32 : Thievery, Bluff
You then get DC 30 : Athletics, Arcana, Perception, Bluff -2, Thievery -2, Diplomacy +2, Religion +2
Simple and easy, and you only have to remember 1 DC at the table. You take the number behind and add it to the Character's roll.


Storytelling / Narrative
This comes into play multiple times, and will also apply for Skill Challenges. Except for a few points, it isn't really very different for a big group.

When you describe, you have to be short and concise, give the key details. Focus on Actions, what the NPC is doing, avoid Colors except for uniforms etc, and explain Military Flags and Holy symbols directly if you think the Players would know it.
eg. "The red haired peasant girl with ruddy bright cheeks and a fine pointed nose, and she had an hourglass figure wrapped in a green dress and with a white apron. She was cooking some beef with butter and oil at the same time, looking about her late teens." is a quick way to lose players' attention, try to go with "A peasant girl was cooking some food."
eg. "a red flag with the sun and moon and 3 stars on it and a diagonal blue slash across the middle" is a terrible substitute for "the flag of the Vyssikians, known to be raiders and pirates from the far north"
eg. "a purple eye with a curve beneath and what looks like a stalk" is much better replaced by "the symbol / emblem of Ioun" and if they don't know who Ioun is, add "Goddess of knowledge etc etc"
It comes with practice, and f you're an experienced DM you know it, if not you have to pick it up. There's not really much help here.

Voice Volume Matters, especially when there's more Players. Make sure everyone can hear you.
You know that low raspy whispering voice that you had been planning for that guildmaster thief or someone? Practice such that it is loud enough. Yes, a Loud Whisper. And if it isn't loud enough, Don't Do It at a Big Table.
Not every Voice and NPC effect works when you use a clear and loud voice. Sometimes, it is simply more appropriate to switch to Third Person, so just do that.

Eye Contact matters too. Players near you will look at you if you're talking while making Eye Contact with far Players, but Players far from you will generally space out if you focus on those who are near.
So keep most of your attention on those slightly further from you, and about 30% of the time sweep back to those nearby for a bit.

Hand Gestures will help to keep the attention of Players, especially those that are near. Be it waterfalls, doors, mountains, valleys, rivers, you can always use various wave of your hands to portray it. It doesn't matter if you don't do it well, do it anyway, it helps to keep the focus, and you'll probably get better over time too.
When NPCs talk, punctuate with a few choice gestures as well. A common but useful one is shaking the fist at the Players. Another one is pointing and/or sweeping across the table, and another is waving the players away. Another common one is using imaginary weapons / implements and engaging in actions like reaching for it, drawing it, attacking with it, even parrying with it (as appropriate for the NPC and situation).
I usually save these "Combat" Actions for particular cases, like when taunted by a Player during a Combat, when making a critical hit, or when threatening.

When doing transitions in Skill Challenges, make sure the Entire Table is with you so they know what is happening, especially if it dramatic.


Running Enemies
Yeah sorry, back to technicals again ^^;

In a large group, usually the DM has to take charge of an appropriately large number of enemies. This can be a big hassle when you are running up to 6 Enemies of the same kind, especially if they look exactly the same on the Battlemap.

I recommend using a Laptop actually for this, and using some software like Notepad to keep notes. Your Enemy HP will get messed up from time to time, so don't kick yourself over it.
Using different Miniatures even if each Monster is help greatly, and will help you track their HP. Standard Monsters should not have more than 1 Encounter Power. If the Encounter Power has Recharge on a 5+, simplify to "Recharge when Bloodied."

Minions and Mooks are highly recommended at this point. Minions die in 1 hit, Mooks get bloodied in 1 hit and die in another. 2 Mooks roughly equal 1 Standard Monster, and they deal about 20% less damage.
Enemies that explode upon being killed and make a Burst 2 attack are a nice way of dealing with a large number of Players.

Standard Enemies that are adapted to have Double Attacks (each one doing about 20% less damage), using Close Burst 2, or Area 1 in 10 attacks will also help to keep a large group engaged at the table, instead of those staying far behind feeling bored.

One of the Enemies that will be most sorely affected by the sheer number of Players will be a Solo

When dealing with a Party of 8, a Solo should be accompanied by at least 2 Standard Enemies, or an equivalent number. You can provide more, but it might distract from the feeling of fighting a Solo, and can be a hassle to run.

For every extra Player present over 7, you can add 4x (Level + 3) HP to the Solo.

The Solo should be able to take at least 2 Standard Actions on its turn. If it does not, let it do so.

If the party is Level 6 or higher, the Solo should have an Aura. If not, add in an Aura 5-10 that does 5 damage at the start of Turn. This damage increases by 5 when the Party is of Level 12,18,28 or so.

If it does not already have it, introduce a new At Will Action to the Solo's arsenal, that is usable 1/Turn.
If it is a large or huge Solo, have the Solo can move up to its speed and then make a Melee Basic Attack against everyone in its reach as a single Standard Action.
If it is a Medium Solo, give it an Area 2 in 10 power that does not provoke OAs.

If it does not have an At Will Minor Action Attack, include the ability to use a Minor Action to make an At Will Attack.

If it has an Immediate Action that has to be recharged on a 4+ or 5+, make that Action at Will (but still an Immediate).  If it does not, you can use the following simple Interrupt.
Evasion (Immediate Interrupt, At Will)
Trigger: You are hit by an Attack.
Effect: You gain +4 defenses against the Triggering Attack.

If the Solo does not already have an ability to end various effects etc, you can include the following under the Solo. This uses one of its 2 Standard Actions, but can be balanced off by spending an AP.

Shrug It Off (Standard Action, At Will)
Special : You can use this when Dominated, Stunned, Dazed, or otherwise unable to take an Action.
Effect : If you are Dominated, Stunned or Dazed, that effect and condition ends. Otherwise, you make a Saving Throw to end an effect that a Save can End.
If there are any other Effects on you that you wish to end, you can take damage equal to your Level for each such effect and end them. This damage cannot be prevented or negated in anyway.
If the effect is caused by a Zone, it affects you again if you end your Turn in the Zone.

Note that many of the problems running a Solo in a big group may not become apparent until the party is of a higher level, and everyone gets more potent Powers.

Hope this was of interest ^^;;

I am Blue/White

Wow, thank you so much. Both of you.

Right now I don't even know if we will be a group that big, because right before the first meeting three people told me they don't have time for a new group...
but even then, there will be like 6 to 7 pcs and your tips will help to deal with that many players. I think even in my 5 player game, this things will speed up a bit the table.