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Author Topic: GMing for a small(er) group  (Read 997 times)

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Offline Dossta

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GMing for a small(er) group
« on: September 21, 2010, 01:52:52 PM »
It looks like the first game that I will ever run will be for a comparatively small group: spouse, sister and best friend.  That mix may already be inherently flawed, but assuming that I can get it to work, that is still a much smaller group than any I have ever played with.  I have no idea what to expect from a small group.  How is the party supposed to stay alive with so few members?  How can I make challenges small enough to be handled by them, without making them boring?

Have you ever run a game for 1-3 players?  If so, please provide any tips/tricks or pearls of wisdom from your experience.  What worked and what didn't? 

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Offline EchoMirage

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Re: GMing for a small(er) group
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2010, 02:21:42 PM »
It depends on what system and style of game you run.
Basically, as there are few people, you will interact with each of them more, so prepare more stuff for the session to explore. Also, you will have time to develop each PC and each NPC they interact with quite a bit more.

So. NPCs. They can feed them info, entertain, even become relevant and fixtures in the PCs' lives.

If you intend to run combats/dungeons (I guess so from your 'staying alive' comment) avoid creatures with save-or-die abilities and things which can disable characters, unless it is intended for story reasons.

And use NPCs. Tossing in an NPC fighter in DnD means that other players can take more entertaining roles. Likewise, NPCs provide a buffer between danger and the PCs - who dies in Star Trek? The nameless Redshirt. So, while Turg the half-ogre may be an adorable simpleton, if Necroleak the Terrible blasts him with his DarkDeathAnnihilator Beam to illustrate the situation is serious, you will not have killed a PC. Likewise for DnD, the walking band-aid aka cleric can be an NPC, doubling as a common sense dispenser: "The lore speaks that Megadragon the Red has eaten a score of knights! We have no chance... yet
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Offline Dossta

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Re: GMing for a small(er) group
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2010, 02:37:08 PM »
Since you asked, the system I plan to use is D&D 4.0 (though I may revert to 3.5).

I definitely intend to run combat sessions, as I have at least one player with a real power-gamer mentality.  Dropping NPCs into some sessions sounds like a good trick, but justifying their presence might prove tricky after awhile. . .

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Offline EchoMirage

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Re: GMing for a small(er) group
« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2010, 02:52:10 PM »
Tricky? Why?

PCs will >want< them once they realize they're available. Make the NPCs mercenaries, or part of the ongoing plot. A player of mine once played a noblewoman - and her husband, a knight, was the party's tank... though the player was understandably loathe to send him into combat. His failed save against a fear spell and his subsequent shame made for one hour of roleplay.

If the PCs are military members, you can have subordinate soldiers - with an added twist that a captain may not waste his men.
If a wizard, a cleric and a paladin go exploring ruins in unknown territory, they'd be FOOLS not to hire a local guide.

The NPCs can change - one time, PCs may be escorting a high-born cleric girl, another time they may be forced to cooperate with the cleric of an enemy god against a common enemy, etc.
And once they get used to their cleric, make him go away after his own goals... and they will wish him back.

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Offline Ancient Gamer

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Re: GMing for a small(er) group
« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2010, 03:24:21 PM »
I loathe NPCs (meaning NPCs of the henchman variety). They detract from quality GM time that the GM can spend engaging in dialogue with the PCs, explaining landscape, setting the atmosphere and exploring minutae.

Nothing annoys me more than having to tell the players time and time again what the NPC hencman Ser Afrald of Eleir does at this and that moment. I'd rather gut myself than use an NPC.

Sorry Echo, you know I have a flair for drama. ;)

I've run a 3 person group over a 6 year period. I actually LOVE having 2 or 3 players, though the optimum number of players is 4 (IMHO).

Here are a couple of things I learnt:
- Thief campaigns work excellently with small crews.
- Small crews allow MUCH more PC depth (because the GM has the time to focus more intensely on each PC), and if the players are involved and allowed to make hideouts, family relations (possibly with other players), and so on, vast material presents itself, born from that most potent symbiotic relationship that exists between a Dungeon Master and his 1 to 3 person crew.
- ALWAYS give the PCs fair warning about large bands of enemies / Overly potent enemies.
- Run a one hour preparation game (or explain to them) for combat tactics purposes. Learn them to control choke points instead of being swarmed in the middle of a room.
- Change your style of GMing to reflect the smaller crew. Let them encounter smaller groups, and always give them multiple options to avoid / overcome large enemy groups. For instance: If they fail in subduing a small scouting party before on of the scouts blow his horn Boromir-style, let the party choose between fleeing, making a valiant last stand or retreating to that cavern outpost upriver where they found that stockpile of explosive oil and managed to avoid a couple of lethal spike pit traps.
- Buy some tissues for your munchkin player. He will not be able to kill as effectively as before, since he will most certainly lack key tactical PCs to rescue his butt. :lol:




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Offline Pieh

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Re: GMing for a small(er) group
« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2010, 05:22:25 PM »
I don't have much experience with 4th Edition D&D, but it does seem like it is build for at least a 4 person party with a member filling each of the roles. But I have had great success playing D&D 3.5 with 1 to 3 players. With only 1, I tend yo use the gestalt rules presented in Unearthed Arcana which tends to give the single player more options and makes them feel like a special part of the world. I would suggest things that make the players more important to the world at large, give them more family ties, strange birthmarks, subject of a prophecy, exposed to strange magic. Like AG and Echo have mentioned, it has a lot of potential to be more about the characters than just an overarching quest for a cause. Things get more personal as you're talking to less people. So try to play off that, let players be something special and evolve into unique personalities as the game goes on.

I also dislike sending NPCs on quests with my players, regardless of group size. Though NPC assistance is incredibly useful at times and they can provide excellent background information not normally available to the PCs, I like to keep them off of the player's side as far as combats go. Too much hassle and the players start to use it as a crutch. I have no issues with killing a player in a suitably dramatic situation, but I think 4eD&D has done away with most of the Save or Die effects, so you may not have to worry about that.

Good luck; and MOST IMPORTANTLY: Have fun!
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Offline manfred

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Re: GMing for a small(er) group
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2010, 03:49:16 PM »
First a mandatory plug: One player campaigns.

In that vein, consider giving them a trusty animal companion they learn to rely on. It could soak up some damage when in grave danger, while they'd have to suffer the emotional impact if it dies, that sometimes just isn't there with hired mercenaries.
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Offline Michael Jotne Slayer

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Re: GMing for a small(er) group
« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2010, 06:20:14 PM »
Manfreds One Player Campaigns offer a lot of good advice. In my opinion interaction is key when dealing with smaller groups. And planning. I love to wing games, but this becomes harder when the group is smaller in my experience. Thus a good idea of what you want and well fleshed out NPCs and locations are important. But I must say this: I dont really think three players are a small group. Actually, I love to have three players. Four is also nice and I can manage five. But all in all, my dreamgroup consists of three or four players. AGs and Manfreds advice is sound, though I loathe animal companions.

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Just joking offcourse, dogs are nice :wink:
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