Running for small groups


Silly question of the day I guess. I have very little experience in running small groups.
And to be honest 4~5 players is a small group for me based on where my experience really sits.
8~12 is where I’m at my most confortable. But getting a large group together regularly is not something I look forward to managing ever again.

So @rpgerminator feeler post about running a group of 3 got me thinking…how would I?

To be honest, I have some ideas, and some experience running 1 player…but 3, or 2? It’s never gone well for me.

What advice does the shield wall have for running 2 or 3 players ?


Wow, I would say your experience is unique. I would have a hard time running 8-12 at a table only for fear that the players would get detracted due to the shear wait time for turns to do something. Not to mention i may struggle keeping track of who is who while trying to keep my side of the screen straight.

I’m totally comfortable with 2-5. It’s a good range for keeping everyone involved and allowing characters to really shine and get some connection going.

But I do see GMs who call off a game when they get less than 3 players due to call offs or lack of sign ups.

I’ve never ran for 1 but I know there is a lot of resources out there on the idea (pod casts, blogs, etc.) so presumably some are interested in it. I wouldn’t have a problem with it if the occasion came up.

Back to your OP . . . advice on 2 or 3 players? I don’t know that aside from scaling the threats that you would need to do anything different. Maybe just support the PCs relationship building to come through. And consider giving them some resources for healing if they don’t bring a means.


I have never played with 8+ groups & would love to hear how you manage. But having a group that varies between 3 and 6, my experience is that smaller groups are much more efficient and less predictable than larger groups because it is much easier to reach a decision (or be spontaneous) when you’re few. So I prep more content when I know I will have a smaller group.


Def agree. With just a few I can pretty easily fit 1 or 2 more rooms/encounters into a session.


I’ve found that with smaller groups upping the threat die can help balance the fewer actions between each countdown. I go to a d6 for 2 people and a d8 for one player, fudging for age and experience levels.


By Threat Die, you mean Timer?


Yup. My bad for multitasking.


Here are my thoughts for running for a small group.

One, it’s a great opportunity for your players to really shine. So take a little extra time with each player every round in terms of your DM descriptions and the feedback loop.

Two, be prepared that the rounds will go by quickly, especially if you have less than four. It also means that if you spring too many enemies or super powerful enemies on players, the players don’t have enough manpower to heal up or deal with large waves of enemies at once. Their group action economy is limited. For that reason, and in light of number one, I wouldn’t throw too much at them too soon. Let them shine and feel like badasses as they chew through mooks and even fights for the first little bit until you get a feel.

Three, again, be prepared to TPK them easily if the dice get cold, especially if they don’t have a healer in the group. Have a plan in advance like having them wake up bound and gagged if they all drop. In fact, this is good advice for any early game.

Four, don’t throw save or die scenarios at them early. I don’t mean save or drop, I mean save or die. So, don’t have pits where a fall means certain death or monsters that can swallow characters whole with a failed save. That’s just setting your campaign up for an early end. Besides, those types of deaths are just no fun.

Five, like any game, build in opportunities where the players can roll checks and use their stats early. In my experience, when players are rolling dice, they’re gonna have fun.

Six, give them some early loot or leveling bonuses. That will build them up faster where they can take on more. Plus, the constant dopamine hits will keep them craving more from you.

Okay, there are six quick pieces of advice for small groups. I am sure the shield wall has additional tips as well.