So, Tavernites, I come to you for aid!

So, Tavernites, I come to you for aid!

So, Tavernites, I come to you for aid!

tl;dr: My group is 7 players of wildly varying class power levels, making it difficult to balance “encounters”.

Firstly, I’m aware that 7 players is probably too many for a DW game. I’d run with 6 previously, and I still felt that my attention was stretched around, so I was apprehensive about taking 7. At the time, I was trying to simplify things for other groups by taking on extra players myself… mea culpa. I find that there are enough people that, no matter how highly statted the monster, someone will barely have a chance to react to it before it dies. Last session they took down a 12 foot tall lumbering golem of solid iron – one player took three damage. That’s it.

Secondly, my class distribution is all over the place. After using the (frankly brilliant) Funnel World rules, I left players to choose from my rather extensive collection of classes. As a result, we ended with a Fighter (Peerless version), a Survivor, a Muscle, a Thief (City version), a Dashing Hero, a Channeler and a Skirmisher. You may be able to see where the problem lies – the first three classes are hard-as-nails god-men, and the others are mostly normal people. The only magic user is running off a low stat, meaning his impact is also low. Ideally I’d like to divide the party into two and give them different opponents in the same fight, but I don’t want to remove their autonomy.

Thirdly, I’ve always not liked making moves “when given a golden opportunity”. It ALWAYS seems cheap to me to say “take some damage” or “drop your sword” when there’s no input from the players at all. Does anyone else feel like this? EDIT: This obviously makes it difficult to artificially increase difficulty of encounters on the fly.

To summarize, is there any advise anyone can give to remedy this? My players seem to be enjoying themselves for now, but I’m constantly GMing at full speed just to keep up with them.

26 thoughts on “So, Tavernites, I come to you for aid!”

  1. I would advise NOT balancing encounters. In fact I would play to see what happens and follow your instincts. Threaten that which the players love, give them opportunity to seize what they desire and always always give them difficult choices.

    Cheap is HP and +1/+2/+3 bonuses. The gold lies in the narrative detail in the moves (yours and the players) exploit that, ask LOTS of stake questions to yourself about the players flags and hit them hard in play.

    Make monsters human.

  2. You can put in mixed group of enemies, eg. Orc leader + Orcs so that the “big muscle guys” can fight the boss while the others can support them or fight the lesser minions. Or simply don’t worry about it and be a fan of the pcs. 

  3. without more context I find it hard to believe that even an entire group of seven characters could kill a 12 foot tall iron golem.

    how did they get inside it’s reach?

    did they roll a bunch of 10+’s

    puny normal weapons and arrows wouldn’t bother this thing. is the whole party rocking magic items?

    I’m assuming it had forceful, and yet no one came away with broken limbs? you are a very kind GM.

    how did you set this monster up? I probably would have introduced it with it smashing a horse to pulp as it lumbered forward, red eyes and magical glyphs glowing, fire belching forward from it’s mouth. As it approaches a town guardsman attempts to stab it, his short sword snapping with the effort, just before the juggernaut did the same to his neck. There would have been more than three damage dealt.

  4. I GMed for 7 players in Apocalypse World and Monsterhearts. In MH they mostly took care of themselves through in-fighting, and in AW they all had their own things going on.

    But that’s where I would go with you. I mean it’s certainly a faux pas for a group to “split the party” in a fantasy game, but I think you’re in need of that. And not for monster balancing, but for player spotlight.

    It sounds like, in action sequences anyway, there are a few players taking the spotlight where the others don’t have a chance to shine. This might not be only for statistical reasons, it could just be player personalities or a difficulty of the players seeing how their characters fit in the situation.

    I think Nathan Roberts  has good points, though they seem to be rhetorical points straight out of the rule book. It’s sometimes hard to see how those things apply to your situation.

    My advice would be to indeed asking them questions, but also making moves on your end that challenge them to, perhaps, deal with situations that require them to tackle larger situations than just one “12 foot tall lumbering golem of solid iron”. I mean that’s only about 1.7 feet of golem per player 😉

    You should be looking to create scenarios, not just encounters. Complicate the players’ lives. It’s not just an iron golem, it’s an iron golem in a crumbling old keep. The heavy steps of the approaching golem has started to bring the keep down around the player’s ears and they still need to find that blasted artefact and rescue the noble’s children… Why won’t that damn golem just shut up for a second?!

    I find that in any game with a ton of players it’s more fun to have smaller pockets of players doing separate things while still working towards a collective goal. That way you can also dramatically cut away from the action in one scene to see how the next group is coping, or perhaps how the actions of group one have now complicated the lives of group two.

    This also helps to inspire you as the GM between the scenes where the actions in one scene lead to the moves that you make in the next.

    Then finally, when they come together to battle the villain at the end and they whup it good, they can feel like “well, we were finally all together, so no wonder we kicked it’s ass”.

    It might seem like you’re forcing them apart, but I think that if you structure the play such that there are a few things to do and not so much time to do them your players will respond naturally. And, cinematically speaking, It’s not often that a whole big party travels together. Sure, in Lord of the Rings the whole fellowship fought that troll in Moria, but how long did that last? Before long it was Boromir and the Hobbits on one end of the battle field while Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn fought on the other… (hopefully you know what I’m talking about 😉

    Anyway, maybe that was just a really long way of saying “split them up” but I really think it speaks more to a widening of scope than just splitting up the players.

  5. Also, to the point Chris S  made, it’s also possible to make monsters scarier. Though that’s not something that is explicitly covered in the rules, so it’s hard to apply in a lot of cases.

    I was just watching Adam Koebel and Steve Lumpkin’s “Being Everything Else” podcast yesterday and Adam made an interesting point about how if you strip away all of the flavour and the implicit ideas in a rule book all you’re left with is the explicit rules of the game and frequently, in the heat of gameplay, those are the only rules you go by.

    So the implicit idea that “a dragon is a terrifying creature and your players puny weapons could never hope to scratch them” may be mentioned in the rulebook, it’s not an explicitly mechanical part of the rules.

    I’d encourage you to try out that style of monster presentation though. It’s pretty fun to play a monster with such terrifying omnipotence. But I also totally understand what you mean when you say you’re worried you’re just being mean. Because there’s no explicit rule that says “12 foot tall iron golems are impervious to such and such” it’s sometimes hard to actually stick to that in gameplay. Especially when you have 7 players jockeying for the spotlight.

  6. I would suggest creating encounters that require more than just fighting monsters. Throw in traps, hazards, other obstacles. Give players more than one option. I think that would help with a larger group.

  7. Apart from making the monsters more smart with reasons why they do things & many ways to deal with them vs killing everything, try focusing on the characters & their stories instead of the over arcing plot.

    Try finding actual plays of DW (One Shot Podcast is only one that comes to my mind) and mark down moments you think are good at showing off different moves. Give the actual play to players & let them listen in on other games and if they don’t have time for the whole thing, they can jump to the notes you gave them to hear just those bits. Good luck!

  8. For one, make harder moves. Break their stuff/use up their resources, separate them, fill their lives with danger, and don’t let them kvetch you out of it. It’s not fiat, it’s being a good GM and filling their lives with adventure.

    For two, break out of the HP grind mentality. Challenges should not just be slug fests til someone dies/passes out. Think about action movies – no matter how god like the hero is, the first thing they try against the big bad doesn’t work. That’s how characters develop, they learn new tactics when their old ones fail. To a degree that goes back to the first point of making harder moves: if the heroes are demi gods, the enemies should be frakking gods. And not “we just have lots of HP” gods, but “no weapon in this world or the next can hurt us, your puny magics are like the buzzing of flies to me” gods.  

  9. Yeah, I think that it’s certainly about making the encounters more dynamic, and dangerous for reasons other than “The monster has 12HP, 3Armour, and does d10+3 damage”.

    It’s really hard to play out when there are no explicit rules for it, but it’s pretty much how DW is supposed to play out. I had a hard time with that originally. I remember when I first saw that dragons had 16HP i thought wow, why so little. But when you think about the implications of a dragon, as opposed to the mechanics of 16HP you get a better idea.

    However, it’s when your player says, Okay, dragon, I hack and slash, I got a 10+, that means it worked so I do d10 damage now. As far as the rules go, in the book, that’s how the mechanic works. But you as the GM have to set the baseline. You have to instill the understanding with your players before they roll the dice that this dragon is so effing huge that you’re pretty much boned.

    I don’t know if you’ve read the “A 16HP Dragon” post, but it does a pretty good job of explaining that. You also have to be ready, even given that example, for your ranger to go “okay, cool, I shoot it”. You have to be cool with saying “yeah, your arrow bounces off it’s titanium-hard scales, but now he’s pissed”. And you have to be able to balance that while still being fair to your players and knowing the line between titanium scales, and power trip.

    Having said all that I still think your main problem, and the reason you posted, was the 7 players – not your 12 foot golem getting it’s ass kicked.

    I would say that wether you have 7 players, or 3 players you still need to paint an evocative picture of that 12 foot golem. But when you have 7 players you have to make sure they all have something to do. So providing a wide array of possible tasks is, I think, the best way to handle large groups.

    Also, it’s fun to present tasks that you know the characters (or players) will disagree on. It’s fun just watching what happens then 😉

    PS: Here’s the link to the 16HP dragon:

  10. Remember, too, that not all the big action scenes have to be straight fights. Put them in a mine, throw them in some carts, and have a big chase scene with a horde of goblins or something, a la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I once did a DW game with ten players where they were in a big, Lord of the Rings-style war, and they were all flying on griffons fighting against orcs riding wyverns. Balance kind of becomes a non-issue when everyone is just trying to hang on for dear life!

  11. Ed Gibbs I agree, that’s pretty much what I’ve been harping on about.

    If the players are all engaged at some different level of the battle they all have their own things going on. Maybe some are on griffons and some are on the ground commanding the catapults, or something.

    Creating a dynamic scene, I think, is the key.

  12. Set the scene, using aggressive, unignorable soft moves. Ideally ones that threaten everyone.

    Then, have everyone declare their intent, free and clear, able to react to what others say they plan to do. Bit dont let anyone roll for their moves until everyone has locked in their intent. Then have everyone roll their moves (if any) simultaneously. Look at the rolls, and results, and narrate from there. Possibly resolve any immediate follow-up moves. Reframe the scene, repeat.

    This will generally result in more risks all around. Right now, I’m guessing that one person is acting and resolving their move(s), then another, then another. That’s conventionally how the game rolls, and its much more forgiving in large groups. Simultaneous declaration & rolling spreads out the spotlight and commits everyone more to danger.

  13. Maybe. Weave the misses, 7-9s, and 10+s together with the fiction however it works best. Just remember your principles and agenda. If the bruiser nails a h&s with a messy, forceful 10+ and the thief whiffs a defy danger, maybe start with the hit and day how it causes collateral damage that causes the thief’s miss. Now the thief isn’t failing because he sucks, he’s failing because the bruiser is TOO AWESOME.

  14. Did the 12 foot tall Iron Giant threatened to bring the roof down?  Knocking pillars aside like they were toilet paper rolls?  Then let players ignore the Danger and whack away with ineffectual swords.  Then the roof comes down and you get to do damage to the whole dang party!

    REmember, you are in your rights to say; “this monster is immune to X”…. in this case, unless that katana is enchanted with a soul of a dead god, it ain’t cutting a tank in half.  

  15. If you can’t make a player spotlight work with 7 people, you aren’t a bad GM. You’re a normal person! Even with four hours of playtime, you have to dole out 35 minutes of action and make maybe 2 dozen switches.

    You can try clustering the players (1 bruiser/1 social guy/1 explorer), but you may need to teach someone to GM and split the group.  ESPECIALLY in such a player vs GM game.

    If you were playing Paranoia, the Iron Golem would’ve gotten 5 kills and been destroyed by bribery.

  16. Yeah Adam Goldberg is right. James Gibson you are totally human to be struggling with 7 players. It’s a rough gig and you ultimately have to work with your players to make it happen.

    You’re a player too, and the fun at the table is just as much your responsibility as it is anyone else’s, you just have the tricky task of running the ship.

    So it’s about framing the action, and working the encounters to make the best of them.

    One question though Adam Goldberg, why do you say that this is a player vs GM system. I haven’t heard it called that before. Is this a common consensus? Because I think I disagree.

  17. I’m guessing Adam is not suggesting anything adversarial when he says player v. GM. But he’s not wrong… the general structure if the game is “GM presents adversity” and players more-or-less work together to overcome.

    Come pare that to other PBtA games, where a lot if the fuel comes from player v. player conflict. There’s the potential for that in DW, sure, but its not something the game pushes towards.

  18. Yeah. Monsterhearts has only 2 moves that can’t be used on other players (Manipulate an NPC and Gaze into the Abyss, sorta). Whereas DW only has one — aid/hinder.  So when 7 players try to do things, it has to pass through you, creating a heck of an attention bottleneck.

  19. Thanks for all the support, guys! I’m going to outline a plan of action here to check I’ve got the message:

    1) Get players to roll moves simultaneously. This has the double benefit of keeping large groups interested, and allowing me, as GM, to weave together my moves to keep the spotlight on whatever player needs it.

    2) Don’t be afraid to make hard moves! The players, as it stands, rarely take damage – so I shouldn’t be afraid to give it to them as a response to their choices. I obviously need to make sure this becomes neither a) arbitrary and b) needlessly lethal.

    Also, to answer questions:

    simone – I’ve been trying to a certain extent, but the survivor’s redirecting of damage onto himself is causing problems 😛

    Chris S – Admittedly, yes, they did roll LOTS of 10+’s. Piercing throwing knives, magical fireballs that don’t require a roll… They had more than a few tools up to the task. >.<

  20. cool enough… I would listen to what the other people are saying about possibly splitting as well. Our indie group had to do that at one point and the sweet spot for world games seems to be about 4-5.

    We had a shared world that the GMs would collaborate on and it was pretty awesome.

    As far as the other stuff… there is nothing that you can do about a lot of 10+s except bask in the awesomeness that will result.

    that said…. I don’t know if I would allow a mundane piercing weapon to hurt such a monster. (maybe if they discovered it’s weak point at the base of it’s spine)

    Fireballs are tricky, especially because of blow-back.

    film/record a session and play it back in the tavern for tips/tricks for next time. Just like professional sports it can’t hurt to review film.

    the groups that I play in the GMs (and when I GM) ALWAYS ask for feedback at the end of the game as we clean up. Ask how could I have made that a better experience, where do you think that I went wrong, etc… the groups that I play with will also do this in the moment, but don’t allow it to derail for longer than a minute or two. Make a judgement and move on. Hash out rules bullshit later.

    GM’ing is a craft… just like being a Skald of old, it takes lots of practice. And like any skill you have to do it 10,000 times before you do it good once.

    The important part is that your group is having a good time… and YOU are having a good time. The rest is fiddly bits

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