Advice on running a large group -- 8-10 players

A friend of mine is about to run a rather large (8-10 players) BW game. He would appreciate suggestions on time/spotlight management to keep the sessions shortish 2-3 hours, and any pitfalls to avoid.

Any sage advice to pass on?

I’ve played in a group with 8 players, though I haven’t GM’d it. So take this with a grain of salt.

Based on what I’ve seen, I’d say the big thing is to give everyone a clear overarching goal, so that they anchor at least one of their beliefs on a common element. There’s going to be a lot less scope to wander aimlessly, keep scenes focused more than you would otherwise and plan ahead (in very general terms) a bit more. It works better when the group is less focused on what they should do next and instead are working out how it should be done.

Burning Wheel makes it much easier to manage a split party. So as long as everyone is working towards the same goal it’s not as much of a problem to have some parts of the group separated a bit. Though you can go too far with this; Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli chasing after the hobbits works as a split party for a session or two; Sam and Frodo off by themselves for session after session doesn’t work so well.

Encourage lots of helping dice, and have people describe their help, which will get multiple people involved in every roll, sharing the spotlight. Duel of Wits and Fight can be problematic unless you find ways to streamline them and involve more people directly. Have the players be responsible for learning the specific subsets of the rules as they apply to their characters.

Some characters will stand out a little bit more than others, this is probably unavoidable. Figure out who didn’t have their beliefs challenged last session, prioritize them. It’s a lot easier if there’s overlap in what their beliefs are about (not what they believe, but the subject of their belief).

Present a wide array of types of challenges, so different skills can be useful. Some people will be better in a formal court, others in the woods or combat. There are hundreds of skills, so likely every character will have something a little bit different. Might want to encourage player characters to spread out a bit, so there isn’t too much overlap; everybody being knights or wizards might be tricky. (Though the idea of a Knight of the Round Table campaign is tempting…)

A big group usually implies some enthusiasm, so I’d expect the players to be on your side for this. Some people won’t be able to make every session, so have some ideas on how to handle that in advance.

Keep an eye on the rewards, as an aide memoire, if you need one. When a player is getting fate, persona, MVP and Embodiment in the same session, that’s as much of a red flag as a player who earns no Artha.

If any one person gets a lot of screen time in a session, that isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but acknowledge it when the time for rewards comes.

I hear Apples to Apples is great for groups of 8-10. Or Cards Against Humanity if you’re a bad person.

I appreciate the advice offered, but Burning Wheel simply doesn’t work with a group that size. In fact, I wonder if any RPG does.


Here’s How I’d do it:
2 groups, 2 GMs. 1 Big ASS Situation.(Shared is implied)

I have had some good gaming with 8-10 players… Of course I was also the GM so always in the spotlight… That was also in my college days when people were happy to play for 8+ hours…

But my experience with 5 player Burning Wheel makes me feel like the sweet spot for Burning Wheel is 3-4 players. 5 or even 6 may be possible if everyone knows the system well.


BW runs on Beliefs, which means spotlight time. There’s not enough spotlight for 8-10 characters. You can do it with a dungeon-crawler or other game where particular characters don’t need to stand out and stand up for themselves, but not BW.

…Or can you? The Gift says you can, but there’s a trick to it. One, you need to pare away everything that is not the party. No NPCs is ideal. Two, you need a conflict among the players’ characters. Three, you may need to explicitly give authority to a smaller number of players to act as leaders. Four, I’m not sure you could sustain this for too many sessions.

The reason why I stopped running The Gift, Inheritance and Poisonous Ambition is because they’re not Burning Wheel. They’re something else.

That’s true, but they use the same mechanics and they are actually some pretty fun games.

The current plan is an expedition to the Heart of the World. All dwarves. each session present a new challenge and give the players a chance to write up a goal into one of their beliefs about that challenge, scheme and squabble, and attempt to move forward.

I’ve run for-reals Burning Wheel for 6 players + me GMing. It was challenging for everyone involved and mostly fun, but in a “30 minutes of fun packed into a four hour session” kind of way.

The grand finale was spectacular because there were so very many strings coming together at the end. But I have to say, I don’t know that the 10 sessions leading to that moment were really great BW unto themselves.

I would love to see this pull together.

I have to admit that the larger games I’ve played in were definitely not ideal and there was quite a bit of spotlight problems. And when I run games I strictly limit how many players are in a session.

Well, if you’re going that route, it might be best arranged as a kind of “Living Burning Wheel” or “West Marches” style thing. Have a shared setting and let everyone run wild. You’ll have to work out some ground rules for how to handle missed sessions and off-stage events, but it’s feasible. You can do it with one GM if you juggle the schedules so that there are multiple groups. It sounds like a lot more work than just splitting into two groups, and there’s no guarantee of a payoff, but it’s theoretically possible.

The trick is probably getting everyone on the same page. It’s actually probably a bit easier in Mouse Guard or Torchbearer, since they come with constraints on the characters and the setting.

“Living Mouse Guard” or “West Marches Torchbearer” sound pretty awesome, actually.

In my experience nothing ruins a game faster than giving explicit authority to a player over another player. As a player that makes the drive go away when it really just comes down to this one guys opinions and they can disregard the rest if they want. It then becomes a 1 on 1 game with players as the entourage, and that sucks.

I wouldn’t give one player authority over another player, exactly, but The Gift gives one player the authority to call an end to scenes and declare what the next will be. That’s useful. What you really want is to prevent everything from bogging down in committee as the players decide what they’re doing. I would encourage giving characters hierarchical authority, because that on its surface empowers someone to drive an agenda and a little deeper is great fodder for drama if leader and underlying’s goals don’t perfectly align.

I’ve run BW for a group of six before. It worked out well enough, although I was blatantly unashamed if a couple of PCs per session had there BITs barely touched upon. (No pun intended.:)) Hard to keep up with so many Beliefs at once. I used to get headaches by the end of every session. When the group pared down to four PCs later on, I was happy for it.

I also ran The Gift in a con once. Absolutely brilliant experience. The player of the dwarven prince, a complete noob to BW at the time, actually stood up from the table and screamed to the entire convention room, “I FUCKING LOVE THIS GAME!” So, yes, it IS possible to run a very successful game of Burning Wheel for a large group. But it has to be a tight group, and those Beliefs have to be expertly crafted.

I happen to know at least one of the guys who’ll be in the OP’s group, and can say for certain these are a bunch of seasoned BW players who are serious about this. They’re gonna make it happen, no matter how many people say not to. So, dissuading them isn’t productive. Some advice would be.

I would highly suggest sticking to the guidelines in the Burning THACO doc. Centralized Beliefs, overlap them as much as possible. Maybe have some namecards with BITs posted on them – give the GM a break!!! Make it as easy as possible to remember those BITs, because he WILL forget, and you players want your Artha, don’t you? Take initiative, follow your own BITs, and tell the GM when you do. Take notes. Don’t pick weird Instincts; those hardly get used in a regular campaign. Be OBVIOUS! And since you’re playing such short sessions, remember what you learned in elementary school and raise your hand to talk.

I highly believe that for games like this, it isn’t “What can the GM do to make the game run smoothly”, but rather “What can the players do to help keep the game running smoothly.” I’m a Game Master, emphasis on “game”. Don’t make me feel like I’m working. With such a large crowd, everybody has to work together, you can’t rely on one guy to run the show without him getting pissed off. And you know you’ve seen that happen before…