The gift and curse of five

My players have picked up on the “descriptive bonus” of +2 in my games, and tonight’s special session was extremely well played. Players did more than hit things with their swords; they fought back-to-back, and defended the spell-casters, and one kicked a kobold down before running him through on his sword.

Normally we don’t play on Wednesdays. Wednesdays are long enough for me, really. But I wanted them to be 2nd level by Christmas, and I figured that meant two more sessions, one of which had to be today, given that we have a special holiday concert next week on our usual gaming night. So this was Special Session I.

The kobolds responded to the invasion of their main hall with a phalanx maneuver backed up with a hail of sling stones, with a trio of Svihanders holding the exits for the tribe’s escape. I didn’t make use of traps very much in this adventure, but I did use the kobolds’ small size to build shield walls and make use of cover, and to attack with both melee and ranged weapons. Thus I got the chance to do some damage and waste some party spells.

Following up on ‘s suggestions, I’ve in fact arranged for two escape routes… one for the body of the tribe’s non-combatants and a token force of defenders, and one for the leadership, in possession of the girl. This will make the tracking more satisfying to the ranger, and will make the information-gathering techniques of the druid more interesting.

All of my PCs, with the exception of the newly encountered druid, are now 2nd level, at least in name. I’ve decided I am going to do training times and training costs, though maybe not so high as the rules suggest. Since all of my players are also my students and are in need of writing practice, they will write about their training and their teachers and their experiences during downtime over Christmas break, as part of their advancement process.

I now have a fifth player eager to join, as well — one of the most unlikely kids imaginable. I think it would be good for him, and might draw him out of his shell a little. At the same time, I know that adding a fifth player tends to water down experience, and requires me to beef up encounters. He wants to be a pirate, as well, which suggests a rogue or fighter-type, rather than the cleric the group sort of needs.

I proposed a couple of solutions to this issue — troupe style play, for example, and also two competing teams, with a group of three doing on adventure, and a group of two doing another. No one thought much of that idea right off the bat. People preferred the idea of locking out the game at five players.

I remain in the basic tension between being a game master intent on a high-quality game, and a dorm master with a basic responsibility to the fun and education of the fifteen children on my dorm. If I run a game for four kids, I can provide a fun, challenging, and social environment for them; on the other hand, there are eleven free to do whatever they want. If I run a game for five kids, I am entertaining a third of my dormitory, but not engaging the other two-thirds.

Moreover, five was the tipping point last year — one of the ‘cool kids’ decided he wanted to play, and that drew in another three players who would not go away and leave us to play in peace. When four kids are doing something, that’s a clique. Five kids on a dorm doing one thing attracts others. That one of the kids is from off-dorm only highlights the unusual nature of the interaction.

Forrest is right of course. Interaction IS more important than existence. I may have created the world, but it doesn’t exist very well on its own without characters to inhabit the world. Those characters need motive players behind them. Their interaction — with each other, with the game world — is what makes the world come alive.

Accept a fifth player? Disallow? If I allow a fifth, how do I discourage the sixth and seventh? Could I run this as a MMPORG-style, with the quest of the Abbey performed by more than one group, with the groups interacting in town? Tricky. Presumably other GMs do not have hordes of would-be players knocking on the doors, but advice on this would be appreciated.

One thing I may do is use the pages from my DM’s Screen insert on designing communities to design a worksheet, and give three copies to each player. If each player is responsible for creating a community or two, and deciding on the basic traits of each NPC, then 1) they have a place to do their training, and 2) they have a town where they are expected to run an adventure at some point, an adventure they must plan for.

Thoughts, comments, questions, advice all welcome. G’night.

28 comments

  1. yes, they are. I’m so glad I’ve introduced them.

    We also now have a rule, military actions go off before magical actions. That is, a swordsman can attack before a magic user, if their initiative rolls are the same.

  2. Various stuff.

    It was actually the Ranger who did the kicking and slitting, alas. He keeps forgetting he gets bonus attack points against reptillians, though.

    *However*, if there’s a lot of outside interest in what’s going on, you might want to roll that up into the invasion.

    Well, we’ll see after we add in this fifth player. There’s little opposition to him joining; much of the opposition is to the other couple of guys who might join in out of self-interest.

    Normally, this implies miniatures (and a huge pain for you), but check out, Battleground Fantasy Warfare from Your Move Games.

    I’ll do that.

    But overall, I’d stick to my guns

    I’m going to have to do that too.

  3. “…one kicked a kobold down before running him through on his sword.”

    Please, please tell me that was the Paladin.

    *sniff* they grow up so FAST!

    “Since all of my players are also my students and are in need of writing practice, they will write about their training and their teachers and their experiences during downtime over Christmas break, as part of their advancement process.”

    Ah, bluebooking. Good stuff there too.

    As for number of players. Well, I run with a group of 7-8 people. Granted, we’re all older folks and our social dynamic is good, but it can be done. It’s that much slower of course.

    Personally, I would shoot for 4 players and max out at 6. With 4 you can get one of everything (Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Wizard). With 6 you can get a few funky extras in there (Bard, Ranger, etc.). Any less than that, you’ll have real weak points in the party. Any more than that and the game will slow to a crawl and you’ll constantly be adjusting the encounters.

    Interaction is important, but if that interaction is constantly waiting around for your turn, or being disruptive and snotty, then you can interact somewhere else. You wouldn’t play chess with 8 people, there’s no reason D&D should be the same way.

    *However*, if there’s a lot of outside interest in what’s going on, you might want to roll that up into the invasion. The PCs will be doing PC stuff, but perhaps the other kids might like to try their hand at being battlefield commanders. You could have them be in charge of different armies and have them duke it out.

    Normally, this implies miniatures (and a huge pain for you), but check out, Battleground Fantasy Warfare from Your Move Games. Instead of miniatures, players use cards that represent army units and move around on the battlefield. It’s been getting rave reviews by pretty much everyone who’s looked at it. It’s a non-collectable card game and it’s pretty cheap. I think $15 gets you two starter armies and $30 gets you a huge bunch of cards for any one army.

    It’s worth checking out. But overall, I’d stick to my guns and set a firm player quota or it’s going to get out of hand.

    later
    Tom

  4. “…one kicked a kobold down before running him through on his sword.”

    Please, please tell me that was the Paladin.

    *sniff* they grow up so FAST!

    “Since all of my players are also my students and are in need of writing practice, they will write about their training and their teachers and their experiences during downtime over Christmas break, as part of their advancement process.”

    Ah, bluebooking. Good stuff there too.

    As for number of players. Well, I run with a group of 7-8 people. Granted, we’re all older folks and our social dynamic is good, but it can be done. It’s that much slower of course.

    Personally, I would shoot for 4 players and max out at 6. With 4 you can get one of everything (Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Wizard). With 6 you can get a few funky extras in there (Bard, Ranger, etc.). Any less than that, you’ll have real weak points in the party. Any more than that and the game will slow to a crawl and you’ll constantly be adjusting the encounters.

    Interaction is important, but if that interaction is constantly waiting around for your turn, or being disruptive and snotty, then you can interact somewhere else. You wouldn’t play chess with 8 people, there’s no reason D&D should be the same way.

    *However*, if there’s a lot of outside interest in what’s going on, you might want to roll that up into the invasion. The PCs will be doing PC stuff, but perhaps the other kids might like to try their hand at being battlefield commanders. You could have them be in charge of different armies and have them duke it out.

    Normally, this implies miniatures (and a huge pain for you), but check out, Battleground Fantasy Warfare from Your Move Games. Instead of miniatures, players use cards that represent army units and move around on the battlefield. It’s been getting rave reviews by pretty much everyone who’s looked at it. It’s a non-collectable card game and it’s pretty cheap. I think $15 gets you two starter armies and $30 gets you a huge bunch of cards for any one army.

    It’s worth checking out. But overall, I’d stick to my guns and set a firm player quota or it’s going to get out of hand.

    later
    Tom

    • Various stuff.

      It was actually the Ranger who did the kicking and slitting, alas. He keeps forgetting he gets bonus attack points against reptillians, though.

      *However*, if there’s a lot of outside interest in what’s going on, you might want to roll that up into the invasion.

      Well, we’ll see after we add in this fifth player. There’s little opposition to him joining; much of the opposition is to the other couple of guys who might join in out of self-interest.

      Normally, this implies miniatures (and a huge pain for you), but check out, Battleground Fantasy Warfare from Your Move Games.

      I’ll do that.

      But overall, I’d stick to my guns

      I’m going to have to do that too.

  5. Re: Luring you in…

    Oh, I’d undoubtedly warp the system just by my very presence, into something usable. But your take on the setting sounds great fun. 🙂

    (I wonder if Wushu run in the same setting would work neatly …)

  6. “My players have picked up on the “descriptive bonus” of +2 in my games,”

    Incentive mechanics that the GM has no real reason to hold back on are wonderful things 🙂

  7. “My players have picked up on the “descriptive bonus” of +2 in my games,”

    Incentive mechanics that the GM has no real reason to hold back on are wonderful things 🙂

    • yes, they are. I’m so glad I’ve introduced them.

      We also now have a rule, military actions go off before magical actions. That is, a swordsman can attack before a magic user, if their initiative rolls are the same.

        • Yes and no. This most recent combat, the sorcerer exhausted his spells, so he actually jumped in with his crossbow. But he’s still staying at some distance.

        • t’s kinda trippy watching such hardcore low-level D&D action.

          In our last D&D session, we idly travelled to an ocean-world and took place in a local custom for the fun of it – hunting crabs. Of course, being adventurers, we lured out a Colossal Siege Crab – took the three of us about four-five turns to wear down its ~400HP! We turned massive patches of water into steam, got slammed through coral structures, and had our scholar ride its back (deciphering the runes there, as he was more interested in that than fighting it!).

          The beauty is that a session like that and sessions like yours are on an unbroken contiuum, no matter how different they are. And of course both are fun 😉

        • Wicked hardcore…

          400 hp?

          Wow, my guys had trouble with the three svihander kobolds with 3d8 HD each… 🙂

          My guys are only just beginning to touch on things like runes and languages. They’re discovering these things exist, and are starting to make use of them in their role-playing.

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