It’s a frequently asked and commented on issue: How big/small should a gaming group be? What is the ideal size for your group?

I’ll handle the last question first. It depends on the people in your group and what you are playing.

Now that I’ve sloughed off that question, let’s address the first one. I’ve found the best for me to run games for is between three and five players, but to be honest, it depends on the nature of the campaign, the personalities of the players, and the cohesion of the characters being played. “Solo” adventures — where there is a single player and GM often work well as one-offs or for occasional play. Two players and a GM menas there’s someone else to play off of and they have support in tough action sequences and it’s my preferred minimum size group. Four is better and allows for a lot more cross character banter, more varied plotlines and “B stories” (usually focusing on one or more of the character’s weaknesses — family troubles, some aspect of their character that either provides an impediment or is brought up by the main “A plot.”) Five is where the groups start to get unwieldy, depending on the nature of the campaign, and more than that you are almost guaranteed that someone is playing fifth wheel or isn’t getting enough play time. So for me the best size is four players: I find that the most manageable size for tracking what people are doing and giving them enough spotlight in a session.

Now the ideal number might change based on the nature of the campaign or game you are playing. Big parties are best suited by games dealing with mass action — it could be the quintessential dungeon crawl, or something where mass combat is common, say a World War II game, a post-apocalyptic setting like Twilight: 2000, or even Lord of the Rings-style fantasy. there’s something for everyone to do, the action is built into the plots — “We have to take this fuel dump if we’re to make it out of these wastelands and away from the zombies…” or “We need a crack squad of men to go behind enemy lines and free the 107th from Hydra!”

For settings like modern espionage, the big group is a detriment, depending on the nature of the adventure. It’s hard to be a secret agent with five other burly, buzzcut-wearing fellows in tow. For that lone spy on a mission, one-three players is best. With this number, they can have a backup that wont draw unnecessary attention. (Think Chuck — there’s the main guy, his support, and their muscle.) For larger groups, it’s best to follow a special action team model: you would have four to six guys that work together regularly. They all have specialties, but like most spec ops teams they would have plenty of overlap. they would frequently split into twos or threes to handle aspects of the mission. For example, SAT Dervish has to take a Russian mobster out of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. They’ve got decent SIGINT support from the local station house over in Foz de Iguazu, Brazil (NPCs run by the GM), so that they have relatively good cell phone tracking and some intercept capability. One group is surveillance on the target, one is scouting the terrain that they intend to take the target (having decided a direct raid on the bad guy’s compound is too risky, they’re going to hit him in transit.) The last group is in charge of securing vehicles and weaponry, etc., and handling the exfiltration routes. Everyone’s got something to do, and it’s all important.

So the question really isn’t always what’s the best size (outside of what the GM can best keep track of…if you can’t manage the screen time of the players effectively, you’ve got too many people.) More effective is to think about what kind of campaign you are running, or conversely how many people you have so what kind of campaign would be most efficacious for the sized group.

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