How to fix combat with a large group in D&D

Combat with a large group

How do I do combat with a large group in D&D is a question that many dungeon masters have asked. The reason why a large group is a problem is simple: the game is not designed for that large of a group. It is sort of like playing a two-player board game with 5 people. The whole thing falls apart since it was never meant to support this style of play.

Combat with a large group in D&D is fixed by: Speeding up gameplay, making meaningful encounters, working with action economy, and creating difficult situations.

But what constitutes a large group? We need some context if we are going to progress further so that people do not think that four players or something is a large group. A large group is six or more players. At the 6th player mark, the game starts to break down but it is still manageable. At 7, the entire game needs to change.

Here I will give you a bunch of tips in order to help solve your combat problem, and give you a few other tips in order to improve your game. I will tell you how to adjust some of these tips to fit your number of players and help you understand why the game falls apart at 6+ players.

Let’s get into it!

Roleplay

I will cover this briefly for those who have not ran a large group before. Roleplay is fine. You need to give everyone equal amounts of time if possible, and the game will progress perfectly fine unless you have a problem player. Roleplay will not be a problem.

Why is roleplay not a problem, but combat is? There are a few reasons. In roleplay, each player can give some input on anything. Every player, or almost every player, can have a say at any time and completely change the interaction. In combat, it isn’t your turn so you can’t do anything.

We all know that combat is much slower than roleplay, but what other factors contribute to making combat a sluggish nightmare with a large group? The action economy, and it is very important to understand.

Action economy

When you have combat with a large group in D&D, action economy becomes a problem. Remember how I stated earlier that the game is not meant for this many people? Action economy is the main reason for this.

Player 1 has a main action, bonus action, and a move action. Sounds great, but now multiply that by 5. You have 15 actions for 5 players. Most monsters are able to handle around these many actions, but what if you have 10 players? Now your party has 30 actions. That is double the potential amount of actions!

Most dungeon masters have a monster that has three actions and possibly legendary actions for up to 5 players. Normally dungeon masters do not adjust monsters too much and end up using this exact same formula for 6+ players. As you can see, 30 is greater than 15, and 6 actions (with legendary actions) is still 6. You have now doubled player actions, and if your monster rolled poorly for initiative that monster might not even get to go.

Conditions

If you think that action economy just means 15 attacks are better than 7, then you would be sorely mistaken. Yes, 15 attacks vs 7 or 8 wouldn’t be too big of a deal since you can buff up your monster’s stats, but there is more to it. What if one of those players have a stun ability?

What if not just one player has a stun, but three have some sort of stun or incapacitating ability? Chances are that they will get at least one of these abilities off and your beefed up boss monster will die by the other 7 dealing damage. Even if the monster had initiative letting it go near the middle, that monster won’t be likely to get a turn and your boss is dead.

Conditions are a very important thing to consider with this many players. If you do not take conditions seriously, they will cripple your monsters and make combat at best a joke.

How do you deal with not only the damage but the increased amount of control abilities that your players have? Well first, let’s look at bosses.

Bosses

Bosses are the worst with this many players. Many times dungeon masters try to still have one boss monster face the group, and the group murders it on turn one.

How do you fix this? Do you beef up its stats?

Yes and no. You should buff up the stats a little bit, but you have more important issues to worry about. What if the group will just incapacitate your boss? All that buildup will backfire and the group will never fear anything again! Stats are important, but I have a few other methods to help you, my friend.

Boss mechanics

You have to buff up your boss stat-wise in order to deal with this many players, but as stated before action economy is an issue. That is why I have two simple systems to help you

First, buff that legendary resistance.

Make the legendary resistance increased by 1. 1 legendary resistance turns into 2, etc. At 7 players, buff this by 1 and at 9 players add another 1. I will talk about what to do with 10+ players later, but for now, 9 players will have to face a boss with 4 legendary resistance if it had one, to begin with.

Legendary actions. Do the exact same thing with legendary actions. This way 3 legendary actions turn into 6 with 9 players. It makes your game more manageable, and the players are now on the ropes. You took your turn and are next to the boss? Great, he has 8 potentially damaging actions. You sure you want to do that?

This will make your fights a lot more interesting, and force the players to be more cautious on their turns. Best of all? Your boss won’t die on turn one!

Speeding up the game

Now that your boss won’t be squished on turn one, you most likely have realized something else, the game has come to a crawl. Combat with four players or less can be fluid and easy, but with 8 players it seems to take more than double the time! If that combat would have taken half an hour with 4 players, it now takes 1 hr and 20 minutes with 8 players. Why does the math not add up?

Hopefully, we are not that bad at math, so something else must be going on. But what could be going on?

Attention.

Your players are not paying attention nearly as much. With 4 players everyone is invested since their turn is up next, but with 6 or more? No way. Five extra minutes in between turns can make a player bored. Sometimes players get on their phones when there is only 4 of them. Can you imagine what happens with 6 or more? Players have longer downtime and decide to use that downtime not paying attention to the combat. Can you blame them?

Your players will not have their eyes glued to a board which won’t matter for over five minutes, and they will ask the dreaded ‘what is going on?” question. This will create a chain effect where one player doesn’t pay attention, then another, and then the whole table. This increases the time it takes for taking turns, and your combat is slower than a slug on a slow day.

This won’t do.

Initiative

You need to give your players a little bit of extra information so they can be attentive when it counts. It is completely unreasonable to expect players to pay attention to 8 other players. I would love to say this wasn’t the case, but we are only human. Realize this and help them be attentive when they need to be.

A great way of telling your players when to be attentive is to put the initiative on a board. This way the players know who is next, and when their turn is. When their turn approaches they can prepare, and if they are not paying attention other players are. These other players should keep the inattentive player in check reducing the time on each players turn.

Now that combat seems more fluid, what else can you do?

You can tell them B is on deck and now its A’s turn. I personally don’t like this, but it is an option if your players can’t read a board, or if you cannot get access to one.

The timer method is despised by many players and dungeon masters, but with this many players, it is completely justified. You can put each player on a timer. 30 seconds to 1 minute for a turn, and if they don’t act they do not have a turn. This may seem unfair, but 30 seconds is plenty of time to take a turn. 15 seconds is enough time, but this forces the player to act and possibly act at the moment. This is great for roleplay purposes since it makes the player act like their character in that situation. That is, of your table is okay with it.

One more idea is from the angry GM. He uses expletives as his flair, so be warned before you go visit his site. If you are fine with the expletives, he has a popcorn initiative method. This keeps the tension and forces the players to pay attention.

Find what is best for your group, and keep them attentive when it counts!

Speeding up your monsters

One boss is easy to control, but what about 14 kobolds? There are a few answers to this.

The first method is to make your nonimportant monsters 1 hp. I know that this is from fourth edition and many people do not like it, but they were on to something. If you have a huge group, 1hp kills make the players feel powerful and makes the monsters manageable. Two birds with one stone.

The second method is to roll your monsters together. Roll for all three kobolds at once on one player, or just one die for all three on that player. It makes the game go much quicker, and rolling one di at a time is not a valid option. Roll multiples at once, or roll once for multiple mobs.

The last method is to roll on your player’s turns. I do this frequently with the second method and describe what happens when it hits the monster’s initiative in a fast flurry. The players feel a little shell shocked at all the information thrown at them, but it forces them to pay attention and it speeds up combat by a rediculous amount.

Now that we have speed, what about encounter difficult?

More minds increase difficulty

Earlier we talked about how more players means more actions. This complicates the action economy and forces the dungeon master to have a counter for conditions. But what about increased player creativity?

We do not want to think in terms of ‘us vs them’ but when you break it down, it is one mind vs 6+ in combat. You may have created the encounter, but even with that edge, can you really compete with 6, 7, 8, 9, perhaps even 10 minds?? No, you would have to be extremely arrogant.

I am extremely arrogant and tried to do this, but I failed. For all my creative genius and meticulous planning, I could not account for what 9 crazy people afflicted by playeritus could do.

How do you answer that insane conundrum?

In short, you don’t. Make situations which are deadly. Make every encounter impossible. Not impossible like level ones fighting an adult dragon, but impossible as in technically able to be completed, but you have no idea how. How will 8 players kill 20 goblins and a goblin shaman? I have no idea. They should be dead to rights, but they have 8 minds when put together. 8 crazy player minds.

If you players are able to breeze through most combats, throw situations like this at them. Give them situations that should not be survivable, and they will survive. Players are like cockroaches, they just don’t die! Especially with that many minds and resources.

Only do this if your players are somewhat competent. If they have problems with easy encounters, obviously don’t do this.

10+ players

If you have 10+ players, have two separate games. I know that I said I would talk about 10+ player games earlier, and I am giving you the best advice possible.

Don’t do it!

Split the group up and have two dungeon masters.

A 10 player game is no fun for anyone. The system breaks at 6 players up, and we are frankenstining a system together in order to make it work. At 10, no amount of bandaids can help this sickly creature. Don’t do it, split the group up.

A 10 player+ game is not fun for anyone.

Conclusion

Combat with a large group in D&D with a large group is hard.

Combat for 6 players + is difficult to manage, but it is doable.

A 10+ player game is not manageable. Do not try it.

I hope that my tips on how to make combat more engaging, attentive, and increasing the speed helps you.

If you need tips on how to enhance combat in general, look here.

I hope that I have helped you improve combat with a large group in D&D!

This has been Wizo and keep rolling!

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