Advice for running Large groups


I posted questions on small groups, now I’ll post some simple advice for running large groups. By large I mean 8~12 players.

A side note, this is why I hate combat systems that take too long, and my always looking at how to lower rolls and dissensions players or the GM need to make.

Most of this was Shadowrun 3rd Edition, where most players get more than one turn a Round. Some even get 4+.

We typically had other distractions like a Foosball table and a pool table, not to mention soda machine, popcorn machine and otherwise every luxury a gamer could want. Not my house, but we did not know how lucky we where till it was gone.

on topic, I’ll add more as I think of it. but if you have questions, ask, or if you have advice add it.

  1. Be a brutal dictator on time management for the players!
  2. Threaten the players to not waste your time.
  3. Split the Party!!!
  4. keep the party together for major combat!
  5. Let them plan without you!
  6. Know your NPCs!!!
  7. let your player characters argue.
  8. If there is Group Food…You Must Wash Your Hands!!!

Point 1.
Be a brutal dictator on time management for the players!
Players have 30 or 40 seconds to do their action…or to really start doing their actions. If they are summoning a big spirit, or ramming a car…they kind of have to look at a lot of details to calculate outcome…but the roll…should have been done in the first 30 seconds. If not they loose their turn, the character was distracted, or dealing with something else.
Players should know what they are planning to do when they are up…there is a big sign with player order…oh, ya
Make sure they know their Order. put another player in charge of that when it comes up, but that it is something everyone can see. Know the person before you and after you!
Players should also know the default reaction of their characters…
The second time I ask you “What are you doing?” the player should default to that if nothing better has become clear yet. (shoot someone with his pistol, rush the nearest melee opponent, kill the enemy mage, attack the biggest baddest opponent on the table, whatever their default is.)

Point 2
Threaten the players to not waste your time.
As the ring leader of this 12 ring circus, your time is all the other players time, If a player is being disruptive in a way that is not amusing for at least half of the table, or disruptive , threaten their character with your flavor of “GM doom”.
I had the space cow, no question, GM finger stomping down on your character. an asteroid in the form and texture of a cow comming to Kill you!!! I was not the originator of that, but I may be the human that has used it the most as a threat.
I roll for damage and make it a 90% chance that their character is gone. (in ICRPG terms, assuming my player has 1 heart…it would be 8D4 or 6d6…chances of survival is tiny…but there. Other times, it is an area effect attack and the 2 or 3 characters all happen to be right next to each other, when before they where a miles apart. (if 3 players where being tools and distracting everyone else from the game).

Point 3
Split the party.
a group of 12 comming to your house to ask you questions, is kind of alarm raising. let the party split, but give the none spotlight party something to do or plan. shopping, calling in favors, things that at most require yes or no answers from you. they do that in a different area from the spotlight (different table or room).
They can also go to the bathroom, during that time.

Point 4
Keep the party together for major combat.
If one team is about to trigger a major combat sequence…leave them with that to plan. Then go to the other group and steer them to the same place…if they are more interested in what they are doing…then you get to bounce from combat to them every 20 minutes or so. But be upfront, and explain it, you can play with timelines a tad. Players are typically forgiving in those situations.

Point 5
Let them plan without you
Let them plan and scheme without you. You are not there to obstruct them, you are only there to present the problem. If they found a weakness or something they can exploit…congratulate them!!! Also this keeps you honest. You have little to no idea what they are doing.

Point 6
Know your NPCs!!!
This is critical, know how your NPCs will react to anything. Make that creature AI and practice it. When you have 20 bad guys on the table, you know what they are doing…cause they where trained to do it. don’t look for what the best thing is, or how to show how cool you are…just go with those defaults, same as you expect your players to have, unless the PCs triggered the Special Move…then hit them with that.

As far as Major NPCs, know their personalities and their reactions to everything from how they would order their coffee, to how they would react to the person of their dreams comming through the bathroom stall door while the NPC in question was sitting on the toilet after a mystery meat burrito.
in short, model them after people you know, and then dial them certain personality traits to 11, others to 15, and others to 5. But have that person in mind.

Point 7
Let your characters argue…
Let the player characters create their own entertainment…let them be the egomaniacs they would be if they where real. but don’t let those one or two players create chaos just for the players fun. At 10 players, a bit of positioning is going to be the case in any group…your only job to to make sure they are in character and not going personal.
Then, when you get a chance, have further the conflict. Back story villains using the character that hates the other character to lure that him into a trap is glorious for all involved. Not fun for all… and you then have to keep all the other players from meta gaming…but when it works out, it is intoxicating.

Point 8
If there is Group Food…You Must Wash Your Hands!!!

I’ll not repeat the incident that destroyed the best regular gaming group I was ever a part of, but I share the blame. remember this is a large group with group dynamics. if something is going on that you are tolerating just because other people are…end it.
I could have nipped it in the bud and the event would never have happened. But I didn’t and ultimately the group suffered.
I did speak up to the hosts (owners of the house) but we tolerated a certain player because they brought another player we enjoyed and liked. I wanted to sacrifice them both…but deferred to the host.
You as the GM are responsible for the group. If you are not, don’t run the game, and make your reasons plain and well known. someone else is always willing to run something, but you know it is your group. Be firm

Side note
on good days our rounds (Shadowrun 3 characters go multiple times, as well as many NPCs) took 10~15 minutes, on bad days up to an hour. I did everything I could to shrink turn times. Players knowing what they are doing prior to their turn is key for this.
Interesting side is, players could make a new character before the next combat was over.
We often played weekly, on Saturdays from 5 to past midnight…sometimes 4 in the morning.


I can’t imagine running for 12 players. I think at that size you would definitely require something like a “Caller” for the players, meaning that they have someone with the authority to declare that the party is moving as a whole.

I’ve run dungeon world for 6-7 people. I could only pull it off by sticking hard to the clockwise moving spotlight, knowing which players were creative enough to make actions on their own, and which players were going to need a suggestion from myself about what they could be doing in the moment. Fully grokking the rules was a must also, as there was little patience for looking up things mid-session. I didn’t start with that many players, I ran a small scale one-shot with a few players who really wanted to learn the rules. Then when I scaled up, those players helped the other players to understand the game. I also had to be very ready to improvise, as there was so much more opportunity for things to go sideways, and they did frequently.


Oddly, I disagree with the need for a caller.

You do need a mission. And having something pushing the players. I recommend this be an NPC.

All my trials with a player leaders went badly. Pulling the players by situation, or pushing them lightly by leadership works. But it requires buy in.

It does allow for believable epic, history making events in your world, so you need to not be enamored with your world. You are allowing your players to change your world drastically.

Know your NPCs.


I guess I should explain how I pushed and pulled as well.

I left a lot of noise in the world. Information that sounds cool, interesting, odd…they could pursue it. When they where going down a dead end…I’d tell the players, and that 2 or 3 days pass. When I needed them to come together, someone got a call that one of their major NPC contacts was under attack or found out something.

The 2 incarnations I had “Leaders” where idiotic looking back. One targeted ever scent of one of my reoccurring NPCs from past games to eliminate (I did not realize it at the time, and not sure I cared). The other was overwhelmed with the situation and playing a magic user for the first time.

Planting lots of Noise, and using “what is it Lassie??? Billy is stuck in the well again???” actually worked pretty well. but we played long sessions, 6~10 hours.

This was as Sand box as you can get, with the exception that players where told that going too far will cause them to be out of the combat that is probably comming. None ever did.