How many players do you like to have in an RPG group?

I’ve never had the hang of GMing one-on-one games. Every now and again I try again, because one-on-one games seem to be the only things I can schedule, even using the WonderNet. But the campaigns fail again and again. Perhaps I’m choosing the wrong player, but I never seem to get an encouraging degree of engagement. The player never seems to take off and get going. He never seems to talk himself into doing something. Also, I don’t get to listen to the discussions between the players. And I don’t get time to think.

Games with two character-players I can manage, but both players need to be good, active players.

I am most comfortable with groups of three or four character-players, which seem to come up with plenty of ideas of things to do, generate amusing internal interactions, waste enough time in discussion that I get time to think about my improvisations, be able to carry a player or two who is a bit more moderate in his or her capabilities or having an off evening, and, very importantly, provide enough mutual support and cover to characters that have significant quirks and weakness. Players are more willing to have their characters go out on a limb when there are complementary characters in the party to catch them if they fall and cover any weaknesses thus exposed.

Groups of five I can manage quite well, though I think that perhaps my attention gets dilute, and players get a bit restless.

With parties of six or more I really feel that I have trouble rationing spotlight time and keeping all the characters distinct and relevant.

What is your experience? Has anyone tried Gumshoe One-2-One yet?


How many players (not including the GM or GMs) do you like to have in an RPG?

  • One (1)
  • Two (2)
  • Three (3)
  • Four (4)
  • Five (5)
  • Several (6–9)
  • Many

0 voters

One player seems like a different kind of game from multiple players to me; 3-5 players seems to be the sweet spot.

Agreed with John. Three requires a bit more attention to character capabilities and sometimes feels a bit too … close; four is okay, five is my personal sweet spot, six seems like hard work, more than that is just out of hand.

Though of course a lot depends on the players, as ever.

The only one-to-one gaming I’ve done is the Gumshoe One-2-One session of Cthulhu Confidential that @MichaelCule and I are gradually releasing via the podcast. It was fun, but it didn’t feel very much like role-playing as I usually do it (and I have played standard Gumshoe).

Two players can interact with each other and have discussions about what’s going on, which I think is important, and the more players the more they can do that. I think I’m happiest with four or five; beyond that the internal discussions lose focus, they each get too little spotlight time, I lose track of who’s doing what so I find it difficult to make sure they all have something to do, and in some genres I run out of archetypes for people to be good at.

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I found that a game with 2 players often got bogged down when they ran out of ideas. 3 players seems to be the minimum amount needed for brainstorming a plan or working out what the clues are telling you.

However, 3 players leads to the game being cancelled a hell of a lot, due to 1 or 2 people dropping out due to illness, work, family crises, etc.

So I’d say my optimum is 4 or 5 players. Unless the next session requires a specific character to be present, cancellation is less frequent. And losing 1 player to the dreaded lurgy means you still have the required brainstorming brainpower present.


GUMSHOE ONE-TO-ONE with Roger is my only experience running with just one player: I hadn’t even heard that this was ‘a thing’ until I came across that game and I’m still not sure it’s enough of a thing to justify a special version of a gamesystem to do it just right.

That said I’m quite proud of our creation in the recorded session.

My normal practice at my weekly games is to run with five players though my Wednesday night group is pottering along happily with six at the moment, perhaps because we have a frequent drop out rate to bring it down to five, my ideal number.

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Well, I think it worked better than a standard Gumshoe game would have; that said, I think one could write some generic rules to apply to any game (e.g. “what happens if the single character dies/goes insane”) to do the same thing.

Certainly it was harder work to play it than to be a player in a larger group, since I had to come up with all the connections without bouncing them off other people…

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I like four if I can swing it. I’ve run for two a lot. It works well but there’s more moments where I have to have gunsells kick in a door literally or figuratively.

I have run for as many as nine in a tabletop setting. The times I got to this one was a culmination vampire session and the players just ripped each other up. It was like refereeing badminton played with live hand grenades. Every call was easy and dramatic. The other was a culminating werewolf session and seven of the folks were happily just kicking mooks around and eating Cheetos. The three principals hogged the glory and were good natured about it. Two folks created characters just for that session because they had nothing better to do.

I would not ever do that again.

I have run games for solo players a number of times. It was never as fun and never lasted.


I’ve run games for all over a dozen people at a time and had great fun doing it, but it’s a very different sort of game. Likewise, one player and a GM lacks the back and forth between players I enjoy so much but can suit certain scenarios: secret agent, superhero, horror etc. @Lordof1 and I played a CHILL adventure designed for a single player and it wasn’t bad. Generally I prefer four or five players.

The use of gunsel in The Maltese Falcon is a rather cheeky bit of wordplay, so you might want to reconsider using it if you actually mean a bloke with a gun.

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My brother once ran a Cthulhu game at a charity gaming marathon where he thought he had 16 players. But it turned out that several of the people he believed were just spectators, actually considered themselves to be playing the game. IIRC that meant he had 25 players…


The big groups I ran for were at a summer camp and largely spoke English as a second language (or not at all, in the case of one fantastically enthusiastic Japanese player whose friend did a running translation of the action for him). Worked brilliantly with Tunnels & Trolls but I don’t think I’d have wanted to use anything more complicated.

My records are:

A convention game with thirty players, one character each. This was impossible, and split into three groups of ten players/characters. Fortunately the DM had two assistants. We never found out what the scenario was about, because we rapidly discovered it was too tough for 1st level D&D characters and pulled out.

A game with ten players, about three characters each. That was surprisingly workable, since all the players knew each other and the DM.

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My preference varies with the type of game.

For a game that’s centered on mission performance, or action/adventure, five is a good number, and six is workable.

For a game that’s centered on characterization and social interaction, four is a good number, and five or three is workable. I don’t normally try to run campaigns for as few as three people, but I can remember sessions with brilliant roleplaying that had that few.

The last comedy one-shot I did had five players and went very well.

I can do a single session of a campaign with a “guest star” player in the role of a character I created. This takes careful thought about who can play the specific character I have in mind; I would only do it with a player whose style I knew well.

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I’m ok with anything under 7 or so, as long as none of the player are jerks. Anything over 1 can require some GM intervention to make sure that everyone gets to play, but around 5 it becomes pretty common, and at 8+ I generally lose control.

I agree 1 PC can be tricky, but I’ve only played that with players who were chomping at the bit to play, so they required very little prodding to “go do something.”

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I played in a convention game about a year after the first Convulsions con in Leicester, which had featured the 80 or so player “Home of the Bold” freeform. This inspired a group to try something similar, so they ran a game for around 12-15 players based on events in their own RQ campaign, where a priest of the (evil, head-hunting) cult of Thanatar had been discovered in the city of Pavis. Players were members of (mutually antagonistic) groups trying to track him down to his lair, with the group running the game playing the various NPC’s. - This part worked reasonably well… Once his lair as discovered, the raid on it to capture him was supposed to be a “regular” tabletop session. With that number of players, this part did not work well…

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Depending, of course, on how much politically-incorrect contempt you wish to express towards those blokes with guns.

I’d be pleased if some of our numerous new members would like to add a mite to this survey.

I’d love to, but the poll seems to be inactive.

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That’s fixed now, I think.

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