Recently, I was asked a question on how to handle RPG parties that are bigger than 6
people. My immediate go to response was – you don’t! One does not simply ‘handle’ a large
party, one splits them up. Spilt them into multiple groups and play on different days, that’s
just how it works. Right?
But then, I was asked another question – what do you do when people say “Don’t ever split
the party!” And what do you do with those people that will keep the party together,
regardless of the actions of the players. My answer is always about encouraging people to
split the party as it helps for a multitude of reasons.
What I realised though, when working through these questions, is that you can actually play
with a large group, if that’s what you want.
If you came to me and said that you have a group of 7 friends who really want to play
together and need advice on how to handle this, me telling you to just split the party is not
going to be of any use to you at all. So how do we handle this?
The biggest challenge you’re going to face with a large party is the time factor. It simply is
just going to take so much longer to make any decisions and move forward with the game.
With a large party, you now have a committee of seven or more people who are going to
want to weigh in on a vote. Now, because of the nature of our hobby is decision, response
and reaction, all three of those are debatable within the party, right?
So when your group is deciding on what to do in a particular scenario – whether that’s to go
shopping, negotiate with the wizard or to explore the dungeon – they’re going to
‘committee-fy’. They’re always going to try and find the best solution possible for their
character as well as for the bigger picture.
And of course, there is always that one player who is bored and voices an idea that is purely
disruptive to the group, because we all love a little controversy, don’t we? But also because
your players are there to escape, to get out of their daily routine of making board decisions
or committee decisions. They’re there to play Dungeons and Dragons, not ‘RPG Committee
So what then do we do to keep everyone together and happy in an adventure and not lose
all our time to decision making? Well, I thought to myself – what if we split the party in the
game, while keeping the group together at the table.
Let me give you an example: Say you have a 10 person group at your table. You could create
a scenario where three of the players are dealing with a wizard, three have gone off
shopping, three are discovering the back entry way into the passage of doom into the back
of the castle of the wizard, and the last player is keeping watch out over the entire scene.
Yes, it puts more pressure on you as the GM to keep them all active but it will speed up the
decision making process on all those different factors, rather than having a group of 10
players arrive at the door or shopping or keeping observation over things.
Creating smaller split groups gives you the opportunity to be so much more creative and
dramatic in each scene as well as in the scenario as a whole. And this is going to keep your
players engaged and keep them wanting more.
How, you ask, does splitting the party in this way enable you to be so much more dramatic?
Well, if you are not particularly conscious of time within your game, you might want to
consider using ‘Hollywood time’ as opposed to ‘real time’.
Picture the scene: three of the players in the party are fighting the wizard and are slowly
losing the battle. The player observing the valley might decide that they’d like to join the
party fighting the wizard and help them defeat him.
Now, in real time, it would take the player perhaps 30 minutes to climb down the valley and
run over to the tower to fight the wizard, by which time, the battle is over, the characters
are dead and the wizard has gone to make tea and crumpets.
Hollywood time, however, says that the player is going to dash down the hill and arrive at
the battle with the wizard within the third or fourth round or at the very last critical
moment and save the day.
This allows you as the GM to be so much more dramatic in this scene. The players are about
to die, they desperately need Bob’s help and suddenly, the GM says to Bob: “You come
dashing up, sweat pouring down your brow, energy high, adrenaline pumping! You’re seeing
your friends fall because of the wizards power and you arrive – what do you do? You hack
the wizard. The wizard dies at the last moment!”
The drama is there, the scene is intense and you’ve got your players engaged and exactly
where you want them.
Whilst all of this going on, you’re also intercutting to the other groups of players and
creating the same kind of intense, dramatic scenes for all players to engage in, while at the
same time, hearing and living the experience of the other players in their battle. Now,
you’re cutting back and forth between each experience and each scene, having a much
more dramatic and drawing effect on everyone involved. The game gets that much more
exciting and moves forward much quicker than if all 10 of your players were trying to fight
the wizard and then move on to the next scene. Your players are going to love it and you’re
going to love it!
Don’t get me wrong, it does require a huge amount of agility on behalf of the GM to be able
to bounce between these different sorts of battles. But if you practice, you can get used to
it. And often, I find, that when I’m doing this, it keeps me as the GM more engaged because
I’m weaving these different marriages together to create the bigger picture.
Now we also know that the party is going to get back together during the game, how then
do we handle this?
When you have a large party, you’re inevitably going to have clusters of skills within the
group. I believe that it’s important to look at it from the perspective that the different skill
groups represented within the party naturally form split little parties.
What I mean by this is, if all players are in one scene and not all the characters lend to
participating in the same way. You can then have a side conversation going with some of the
characters with an NPC while the others are interacting elsewhere. For example, some
players might be talking to the King in the grand hall, whilst others, who are not interested
in talking to the king are being approached by a vizier with a different task. This way, all
players get to engage in a way that works for them, rather than sitting and watching a scene
play out that they aren’t engaging in.
So again, you’re splitting the party, even though the party’s together.
Is it always possible to do this? Or am I just making this stuff up in the fly? Does it even
Well, it is possible and personal experience tells me that it works wonders on large parties.
But you have to consciously drive yourself into thinking this way while running the game.
Think about breaking things down into clusters of groups, rather than on an individual
player basis. And that’s not to say that you’re not going to be running individual stories
either. A truly exceptional GM will take their players that they have split apart and
customise the story to their characters backgrounds.
Having said that, don’t try to burden yourself with dealing with all 10 characters backstories
in the same adventure. Rather, choose one character, deal with their story for an adventure
and then move on to the next one. Everyone gets a turn but everyone has also been kept
very busy with the split party principle.
It is a lot of moving parts to take care of but I guarantee, the end result is worth the effort,
not only for your players but also for you as the GM.
Want to know how, watch here: