Gaming Tonic

Larger Parties Mean Bigger Challenges

aowheroesI have been running a Pathfinder game in my home brew world with seven players of varying levels of experience with the system, but are all experienced role-playing gamers.  Dealing with a group of seven players can require a lot more work out of the Dungeon Master because published adventures are not usually written for that size of party.  I usually don’t use published adventures whole cloth but love to take maps and encounters and write a story around them.  I still have to adjust the adventure up to challenge my larger party.  This is not my first time dealing with a large party and I have learned that simply adding an extra monster or two doesn't always challenge the party the way you might expect.

Larger parties have the added advantage of not only an extra attack or two a round over a standard party size of five (a common number in lots of D&D and Pathfinder adventures), but more utility and a wider range of effects available to them.  So instead of just adding in a monster, I have discovered that adjusting the battlefield to benefit my monsters and hamper the party presents a different type of challenge than just adjusting numbers.  It keeps the players engaged and thinking about what their characters can do to even the odds.  Familiarity with your players styles and the way the play their characters will help you as the DM to choose where to adjust the setting and encounter.  This will help create more memorable fights than simply adding two skeletons to the mix will achieve.

An example of this was in the grand battle scene from the adventure there were four skeletons and there skeleton commander in an old crypt.  The PCs would enter the room on a set of stairs on the opposite end of the room from the skeletal commander.  I knew my players would more than likely hold up on the stairs and use missile weapons on their opponents.   The stairs would also hinder my baddies trying to reach them with difficult terrain.  So I decided to extend the stairs out two squares on the map making them larger and a much gentler grade therefore turning it into regular terrain that would allow the skeletons to move to the PCs quickly and charge.  This made the fight a bit more challenging for the party to handle since I was taking away one of the advantages the PCs almost always have over their opponents, missile fire.  Since the group is lower level most of them don’t possess feats like Precise Shot that allow them to easily fire into melee.  The penalty for doing so increases the difficulty without just slapping on a couple more opponents.

It might be as simple as flooding a chamber and changing the monster(s) in the chamber to an aquatic monster.  Water tends to hamper PCs in a lot of ways especially if one or two of them are small in size, depending on how deep the water is.  Sure a couple of extra carrion crawlers can threaten the party but might really boil down to nothing but a few extra hit points in the end.  Depending on the size of the encounter space these extra creatures might go up in smoke by the alchemist’s firebomb before they ever get a chance to threaten the party.  But an opponent that can move in under a few feet of water getting cover, and perhaps a stealth bonus of some sort will almost always be more memorable.  This might make an ability of a character or two less effective from time to time.  That is fine as long as you are not always negating the same ability of the same PC in every encounter.  Since you have more players you have more PCs with more abilities so nullifying or minimizing one from time to time is perfectly acceptable.

You also have to keep in mind as the DM that extra characters could likely mean more Knowledge type skills that will allow the characters to know more about their opponents.  This is not really something that you as the DM would need to create a situation to get around, but you can lessen the impact these extra rolls might have on your game by allowing for the setting to have a bigger effect on things in combat.  Let's assume the extra character happens to be a paladin and might bring an extra knowledge Religion skill which allows the party to know the best way for the party to fight an incorporeal opponent. Unfortunately for the adventurers the rows of floor to ceiling catacombs allows the incorporeal opponent, perhaps a shadow, to attack and then withdraw out of the reach of the party.  Sure the party knows that the incorporeal opponent can move through solid objects, now what are they going to do about it?

If you want to just beef up the encounter to create a more potent challenge to the party then consider the opponents that you do add and if they will really make things tougher.  In the first scenario I mentioned with the skeletons and the skeleton commander, adding in more skeletons will probably not do much to increase the difficulty.  If the party stays on the stairs that are two grid squares wide only two skeletons can get at them at a time.  Consider adding in skeleton archers that don’t have to get into melee combat to be a threat and the party has to consider how to deal with both melee and ranged opponents at the same time.  If you are playing a system where skeletons are somewhat immune to the effects of projectiles other than blunt ones, then as DM you really have managed to compensate a bit for the larger party without having to overwhelm the party with hordes of minion nonsense.

As my game continues I will continue to keep you updated on how I handle my larger than average sized party, both the good and the bad.  As a DM I am going to trip up from time to time but the trick is to not stumble over the same obstruction twice.  How do you feel about larger groups and what advice do you have for me and those other gamers that stop by to read this?  Use the comments section to tell me your thoughts on the subject.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

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  1. The larger party is rough and reminds me of the infamous Sunday game we used to have. 12 pc’s, if i remember correctly, is rough. The amount of time it would take for it to come back to your turn in combat was quite literally 30 min to 1 hour. depending on the amount of enemies. Enemies had to be added to even come close to challenging the party. All in all it was miserable experience. The 7 pc group is much easier to handle and the monsters having advantage from the terrain is a much better way to handle the slightly larger group then just piling on monsters that make turns longer.

  2. The terrain thing is a great point. We’ve all been through those dungeons that are a succession of gray square rooms. I agree that larger parties have their own set of problems. Like rignok said time constraints are one of those problems. I find it beneficial to leave a couple of encounters at their base difficulty, this will not only speed things along it also addresses one of my biggest problems with level based systems. If all of your encounters scale the PCs are denied a feeling advancing, particularly if your fighting more skilled versions of creatures you fought at low levels. Some of you will likely say these easy encounters are a waste of time, I disagree. I believe these encounters not only empower the party, they also make your big-baddie that much more impressive. Anyway, great perspective, good call on decreasing the grade of the steps. Roll Hard!

  3. Another good alternative is to put synergistic monsters together. This can be as simple as a caster and some unusual senses like tremor sense. Or feel free to sub out some feats on critters with hit dice. This can keep them from being cardboard cutouts and make players with very high knowledge rolls get a little more mileage.

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