RPG means role-playing game, a kind of game where a Game Master will tell a story and the Players will make their own choices. Everyone uses a system of rules often with dice, and a session last between 1 and 12 hours.
So if you don’t play a role-playing video game, you need to be at least two people, one player and the game master, to play a RPG.
But how many players is the best choice for a RPG? Can you play with only one player? As a game master, can you handle a lot of players, and is it still a RPG?
Commonly, you have between 4 and 6 players.
The classes of Dungeons & Dragons are built for this number of players since you often have a group of adventurers with a Cleric/Paladin, a Barbarian, a Thief and a Sorcerer/other magician. You should have at least these 4 classes to survive the dreadful dungeons the Dungeon Master has drawn.
With Shadowrun (yes I always take the same examples but these big RPGs are like the founding fathers) you have a character specialized in magic (Adept), another one in hacking (Hacker/Decker), a specialist in vehicles (Rigger), and a fighter (Street Samurai).
4 players seem to be the minimum to have a balanced team able to handle all the challenges the GM will put on their path. With 5 or 6, you can add a more specialized character (for example a charismatic leader capable of conducting negotiations) or a versatile one able to assist his/her teammates.
An important factor to have in mind is what kind of adventure do you want, because the more you have players, the harder it is for the GM to stay focus on everyone.
With 4 to 6 players, it is possible to listen to each player and let him/her takes initiatives and develop his/her character. There will be maybe only one or two moments for each player during a 4 hours session, but it is possible.
With less than 4 players, it will be easier to go into the details for each character. However, the game might lack of interactions. With 3 players it stays interesting if everybody knows each other. With 2 players, you have a duo which can easily be boring or not go well if the players are not close friends. With one player, it is a very particular kind of game not really fun in my opinion.
On the other end of the spectrum, you might be the GM of a game with more than 6 players and it has consequences for the rules to use, the sort of adventure, the freedom of each player…
The more players you have, the more simple have to be the rules. You can’t handle complex rules with 8 or 10 players and you can’t take the time to explain them these rules. So first, use a very light system.
You will also not be able to pay a great attention to each player, so they should be aware of this.
The Golden Age of RPGs in a lifetime
I was two times the GM for a big RPG, the first time with 10 players and the second time with 14 players.
For the first game I made a light system with a d6, and the story was about a group of astronauts who landed on an exoplanet. The players as a group were really free and I improvized a lot. A rather empty exoplanet was perfect to avoid too many non-player characters, crowded cities…
For the second game, the system was even more simple since each player had a card with the rules for his/her character written on it. The story was a really basic fantasy one with a mad Dragon Lord. Everyone liked it and the character’s cards were very useful.
My opinion is that these kind of games are very intesting because there are a lot of interactions between the players, but some can get bored because as a GM you are focused on the group, not each player. These games are more adventure games than role-playing games. The difference is that if you still have a group of adventurers doing a quest, the players don’t really have a role, can’t develop it, they only make choices. An adventure game is also a really good way to make not used people play a game very close to a RPG.
An adventure game is in my opinion the electric car of RPGs. It is exactly the same as a standard RPG except you will not go as far with it. With an adventure game, the GM has written a story quite scripted (or has imagined a universe which will not lead to a lot of improvisation), the players will often only choose between archetypes for their characters, but you are still accomplishing a quest like real adventurers do. The game will also only last only some hours and it is not the place for experimental or weird games.
To conclude, some general advice to create your own game in accordance with the number of players.
- 4-6 players is the standard for a role-playing game and is a good number.
- Less players means less interactions, so create a very good and detailed story.
- More players needs very simple rules. It’s a narrative game in which the GM narrates a lot to move the story forward.
- Determine if you will play a role-playing or an adventure game.
- The most important. Be confident as a GM and always aim to create an interesting story for you and your players.
If you had some interesting experiences as a GM or as a Player, leave a comment 😉