At Anime Weekend Atlanta 2017, I presented a panel titled “Weebs Can Throw Bones, Too!” The panel was about D&D, anime, how the two mingled, and capped off with various TRPGs from Japan that are currently available in English.
I was also one of the last acts on the final day, which gave me two days of free time for mischief and terrible ideas. Terrible ideas like signing up for a 30 Player D&D Game.
WHAT THE FUCK WAS I THINKING!?
I’ve run games with with, like, 10 players before, and it was like pulling teeth to get things going. I’m not sure why I thought this would work. Maybe I was hoping somebody had thought of some clever ploys to prevent this from turning into a shit-show, or maybe I’m some kind of glutton for punishment.
Let me illustrate for you a few problems with any sort of large gathering of people like this.
1. Big Crowds Make Big Noise
This is kind of a “no duh” point: if you have a bunch of people, their combined voices are going to get loud. Even a smaller, four player game can get pretty loud.
You don’t realize just HOW loud this situation gets until you have 30 people all together for one purpose, and they’re all vying for one person’s attention.
It gets REALLY fucking loud.
It’s no longer like being in a noisy restaurant where you just have a great many conversations going on at once with you trying to tell the waitstaff what you would like.
It’s more like you’re at a giant U shaped table with more than 20 other people, and all of you are shouting your orders to a lone waiter. He can’t understand or process everything at once, and despite his constant reminders given to the unruly horde he is serving that he can’t hear everybody at once, the unanimous shouting continues.
And the waiter (understandably) becomes all the more sardonic as these events unfold...
2. Be Polite (Optional) And Be Efficient (Mandatory)
I had to draw the line and cut my losses when it was taking hours of real time to go forward just seconds in game time.
And I don’t mean combat.
Part of the problem was due to everybody shouting what they were doing, or reshouting if they felt what they said wasn’t heard. Another part was due to the GM having to constantly repeat themselves, partly because people got confused or didn’t listen.
However, the other part of the problem was in how the GM handled things. There were several instances where the GM would rant for a few minutes about the absurdity of what was going on.
For example, when we (all 30 of us) were following a priest to the basement of a church. When we finally reached the basement. The GM then stopped briefly to say, “You all realize that all 30 of your are following this man, right? All 30 of you shuffling through this narrow corridor.”
This happened after every moment where the players exclaimed what they were doing.
Sarcastically pointing out the absurdity of what’s going on isn’t something I object to, but it seemed to happen frequently enough that it felt like nothing was really going on.
I think I wouldn’t have had such an issue with this if the sarcastic comments moved the action forward, such as, “One of you helps carry the priest along as he begins crawling to the basement, and the remaining 29 of you knuckleheads squeeze along behind them through the narrow corridors.”
3. Play To The Strengths Of Your Game
A lot of the problems with this massive game DID go away during certain points: particularly, after that iconic phrase was uttered:
“Roll For Initiative”
This was the time when the game felt it was at it’s most orderly. For as much as people like to paint Dungeons and Dragons as a game of wizards, warriors, and imagination, I think sometimes we forget that it started out as a war game. Much of what the game does best is centered around swords being drawn, straight down to characters being classified by what they could do in this situation.
As a point of contrast: I’ve also played in fairly large Vampire the Masquerade games, LARPs to be specific, and combat is always the worse part of these games. When a Vampire character is made, how they may act as a monster (that is, killing) is just as important as what they would do as a person.
Being in a persona where I’m wheeling and dealing is more engaging in a Vampire LARP, mostly because the combat system for World of Darkness is not particularly interesting or exciting.
4. Group Up And Simplify
Even if combat is the strong suit of Dungeons and Dragons, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the GM did some things to smooth this section of the game out even further.
First, after calling for the roll of initiative, instead of copying down everybody’s initiative, he told everybody to write down their initiative so they won’t forget it, and then began counting down out loud. When a player’s initiative number was called, they announced that it was their turn.
This is a tried and true method to speed up combat in most games of most sizes; it’s one I even use myself.
As the size of the group grew, he used another tactic to speed things up. Players were physically grouped in the room based on their class, and those groups rolled one initiative.
That is, wizards, warlocks and sorcerers were all in one group, fighters, barbarians, rangers and paladins were all together, and so on so forth. This had the benefits of allowing similar archetype characters to strategize together, or for players less familiar with their character to taught how things work by another more experienced player.
These ideas, along with numbering players, also really helped keep things a little bit more organized during combat scenes.
5. Get Some Assistance From Some Assistants
GM’s take on many roles such as storyteller, scenario designer, referee, and even instructor as they teach the rules of the game. Doing this for 30 people at a time that you’ve given permission to come and go at will takes a great deal of bookkeeping.
While it’s feasible to do this by oneself, the wise decision is to find a way to divide some of these tasks and roles up and allow some other people to do them; precisely like the GM of this event did.
There were a few assistants the GM had that could help create characters and get the new arrivals caught up to speed with the game’s events. Another assistant was also in charge of keeping track of player HP and AC for the GM.
These assistants also held onto the characters sheets for players who left, and retrieved them for those that returned. In short, they handled a lot of the more mundane but necessary operations for the GM.
Without this additional help, I’m certain the game would have dragged on much more than it did.
Overall, now that I’ve thought about it a little bit more critically, I don’t think a massive game of Dungeons and Dragons like this was a completely terrible idea. The GM in charge of it was taking steps to mitigate some of the problems that would no doubt arise.
In fact, in defense of his tirades he’d go on about the absurdity of the situation, I can’t imagine that I could run such a huge game for three days straight without getting at least a little bit snide.
I’ve heard rumors of the scale of Dave Arneson’s games: rumors that they were similar to what I witnessed that final weekend of September.
If anything, I believe I should encourage people to take on herculean tasks like this. Perhaps one day, we’ll discover how to run a thoroughly enjoyable game with such a massive scale.
But we won’t come to that conclusion without a little bit of trial and error first.
Aaron der Schaedel’s first game he GMed was HERO System 5th edition, for a menagerie of 8 players and 2 spectators. You can read an article about some of the games he talked about during his “Weebs Can Throw Bones Panel” here.
Picture Reference: http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2011/02/40k-worlds-biggest-apocalypse-game-results.html
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.