[RPG] How to DM for this group when we can’t handle a large group properly, but also can’t count on any smaller group all attending


I just concluded an online game with my players. (We played 5E, but I want to move to Dungeon World.) I started with four players, and that has since grown to around ten people wanting to play, which is a problem as even with only six players I've started getting comments about there being too little time spread around to too many people.

I've tried a few approaches to help mitigate this, but every time I try playing with a smaller group, I run into the same problem: someone in the smaller party can't make it.

This means running for the active party is that much harder because so much more of the party is gone, and the inactive players start wanting to play because they actually showed up on time ready to play. But there are enough of them that if I find a narrative reason someone else can come along, they all try to take it, and grumble about having to stay in town (or wherever) for no reason if they don't get it.

How do I DM for this group when we can't handle a large group properly, but also can't count on any smaller group all attending?

Best Answer

I have had the same problem before, there are some fairly simple solutions that worked for me:

Have the players explain their own character's absence

Have players come up with reasons for why their character can't make it or why they have been absent. If someone asks you, say "I don't know, ask them". We had a monk who often wouldn't show up, and the reason they used was they had to go back to their temple for various rituals or training. Sometimes our wood elf ranger didn't show up, they liked to say they were tending to the forest and checking on the animals. All characters have other things they would be doing, it's not my job to know what those things are!

Start and end sessions in town

If every session starts and ends in a common location, then there is always an excuse for characters to skip the session or join up, they were in the town doing other things. If you have multiple sessions out of town, then you can say characters are coming from/going back to the town. This works great for doing multiple delves into a dungeon too.

Have all PCs belonging to a single organization

For example, if they are all members of the Iron Crow Mercenary Band then you can always say that the party that session was assigned by higher-ups, and if someone leaves or joins the party next session, well it was the officers that ordered the change, it's just like that. This gives you an explanation all the time, so you don't have to worry about "why would the elf go play with the deer in the forest when the necromancer's army is marching on the city??" and being mad at the PC. Instead, everyone can be pissed at the top brass's decisions, that's life.

Limit the number of players per session

Have a cap on players per session, and have a first-come-first-served system. If you can't run more than 6 people, then don't do it. Just let the first people who sign up play, or those who haven't played as much. Just be sure to give everyone a turn, instead of having the same 6 people sign up for every game forever in advance. Also make sure that if someone drops out, give others a chance to join. I think you have to do this for practical reasons, running 10 person games is ok some times, but it takes a lot of prep and it's very different. Not really a chill weekly game for me.