I’m an experienced D&D GM, and now I’m about to start running a campaign (ie. a long-term series of interconnected adventures) using Conan for the first time. Very excited. The thing is, I have 7-8 players who want to join in.
From what I gather lurking these forums, it seems like the Conan system is best fit for 3-4 players, and challenge levels might break down once you start getting into 5-6, so naturally running this for 8 seems a bit daunting.
Besides the advice for long-term campaigns given here (Long Term Campaigns), do you have any specific suggestions or tips for running Conan with such large parties? (for instance, maybe certain rules need to be simplified to speed up play, maybe certain types of combat should be avoided, perhaps encounters should be designed differently so PCs don’t slaughter everyone in less than a round, etc.).
Take all advice with a grain of salt. Every storyteller is different, every group is different. Different things work differently for different people. Don’t be afraid to try new things and keep what works. And if something doesn’t work don’t hesitate to discard it.
Make sure that you create situations where every character can shine. More assertive players will create these situations on their own. More reserved players you may need to plan things for. It’s important to make everyone feel included, everyone feel important. Players who feel left out or unimportant will be less likely to stay with the game long term.
Every group I’ve ever been part of has lost a few players over time. Don’t get discouraged. Roleplaying isn’t for everyone, and real life can make it difficult to get together sometimes.
I don’t know how experienced of a storyteller you are, but if you’re somewhat new, it may make sense to do a couple of sessions with a smaller group. Split your group in half, or thirds, and run them as smaller group, get a feel for the characters and play style of the players, then once everyone has had one smaller session bring them all together toward a common goal.
Big battles, from what I’ve seen it seems like most of the big baddies in the Conan game work well against groups up to four. I had six players at my table for one small campaign. I found that with the bigger battles I would put swarms of enemies on the table along with the big bad. This caused the players to naturally split the fight between heavy hitters and crowd control. It worked really well for my group because at the end of it, the heavy hitters were talking about their powerful attacks and how hard it was to kill the big bad. At the same time the rest of the players were excited about how they were mowing down hordes of lesser creatures to “Buy the heavy hitters the time they needed.”
Biggest piece of advice I have: Make everyone feel like they played an important part and have fun.
Split the party up into two groups of 3 to 4 players.
Conan PCs are very competent, so that such a number of players are not only hard to challenge, the “screen time” each player gets will be cut down quite a bit. And as especially combat resolution in Conan could take a while for a new group, and is a bit more “involved” than in many other rules systems, a single player’s turn could take up very long time, so that combat scenes get bogged down to waiting, waiting and waiting for other players.
Which is a problem for the number 5 or 6 or 7 in line, as numbers 1 to 4 might have dealt with the opposition anyway.
And as PCs always go first in Initiative, you need to put up quite an army of opponents to even have one to last until PC number 7 gets a turn.
In short: not recommended. Split the group.
Added: If you only can manage one group, start with a group of 4 and put every one else on a waiting list. Should anyone drop out, they get the free spot.
So… since you’ve read the comments in the Long Campaign, you know that I play with a group dedicated to Conan, and we crunch away pretty happily at the rules.
But I’ve also begun running monthly scenarios for another community of people who just want to try out Conan 2d20. In other words, I’m doing one-shots, four-to-five-hour scenarios, single stories completed in one session for players who most likely will not return for another game month to month, if at all.
I have to say that, in contrast to the crunch that I experience with my dedicated group, for these games of only passively-interested players, I’m really leaning into rulings not rules, Rule of Cool, snap judgments, roleplaying above dice rolling, creative Momentum spends.
So that’s why I quoted you. Seven to eight players still seems to me almost unmanageable. If everyone’s patient, though (and that’s for you to work out), it probably does help to, as you suggest…
Simplify Rules. Of course, there’s no one answer for “simple” about which everyone can agree. But, yes, tactical combat is slowed in my game by 1. Comparing Weapon Reach and 2. Resolving incessant Defend Actions. Perhaps these can be removed? If you do, some PC Talents and tactical choices/builds are sure to be affected.
Certain Kinds of Combat To Avoid. My answer here would be, though a Conan game certainly needs to contain combat, perhaps the best practice would be to make certain that your game isn’t predominantly about combat. For seven to eight players, scenarios based on investigation and exploration are certain to run faster, with fewer dice rolls and more inter-character collaboration with Skills and Momentum Spends.
NPC/Adversary Builds. My comment here is related to above. You’ve already seen, I’m sure, that a set piece for combat should involve a Nemesis with a few Minions within Reach to sacrifice themselves and at least a Mob to face off against each of the PCs. But I will emphasize making the encounter about something, a ticking clock, someone or something that must be saved, a crumbling ceiling, an opening portal, etc. For me, elements like these turn a slaughter of NPCs (which, let’s face it, this is simply what happens) into a cool, exciting, interesting story.
Many thanks for the detailed insights and suggestions. This is gold.
Some quick reactions:
Gatekeeper: That’s a very good point about big battles being split up between characters who are heavy hitters and characters who are crowd control, with each feeling that they contributed to the fight. Will certainly keep this in mind.
FrankF: Unfortunately splitting the group is not an immediate option (we’re a group of friends and playing together is kind of the point), but I take your point about initiative being a big problem because PCs go first and slaughter everyone. Maybe a good houserule in this case would be to drop the “PCs go first” idea and, rather, intersperse NPCs without spending Doom?
Gebir: This is excellent, much appreciated. Knowing that your combats are particularly bogged down by weapon reach and defend actions is key. You may well be right that simplifying or dropping these rules might make life a lot easier. Your idea about including ‘ticking clocks’ for most combats is great, and I support it fully.
On a more general note, one potential (albeit, very drastic) solution I’ve been considering is: players don’t roll dice during combats, instead I pre-generate, say, 100 of their attack and damage rolls, which means when they say “I attack the Nemerian” I can immediately say “you get 2 successes and deal 4 damage… minus 2 of his soak”. This does take away the excitement of rolling dice, but they still retain the agency of tactical decisions plus deciding when/how to spend momentum.
Will be curious to hear how things go. Best of luck, a big group can be a lot to handle in any game.
A little side note for getting players active with each other, I do this for every game that I play:
I have a set of gems, different colors (Just a bunch of cheap plastic things) and I give three to each player at the table, five to the storyteller. These gems can be used to reroll any failed roll. However, the person who starts with the gems can’t be the one to use them. (Guy I picked up the trick from used poker chips.) They can be given out to other players for something special. Save your character’s hide? You can give them a gem. Spectacular roll? Give them a gem. Do something epic or makes someone’s day? Give them a gem. Basically any shining moment at the table becomes an excuse to give out a gem. It’s a great way to encourage players to interact with each other, help each other, and work together.
Take a look at how Star Trek Adventure does that. It alternates between PCs and NPCs. For Momentum you can keep the initiative on one side for another turn.
Or even less complicated: assign every PC a fixed initiative, like taking their Awareness plus Observation rank, equal numbers could be rolled off or simply decided by the GM. And this sequence is kept throughout. That should speed things up.
I’m not convinced a bigger group will be problematic in terms of difficulty balance, though I’ve never tried it myself. More players should generate more Doom, which you can spend to make encounters more difficult, which should earn you more Doom. In theory, it should work, if you are comfortable enough with the rules.
It can also help to remember this isn’t meant to necessarily be a game of combat-centered adventures. Physical hazards like avalanches and shipwrecks, or social encounters or mysteries, should be just as challenging for a large group as small ones.
My big concern is giving everyone a chance at the spotlight. This game encourages creative play and rich narration. There are mechanical rewards such as Fortune you are supposed to give as a reward for players who entertain the group with their descriptive narration. With a big group, nobody has time to do that, including you. That is really the spirit of the game, and for that reason I don’t see an oversized group being able to have the true Conan experience.
I have put together a Google Spreadsheet that randomly rolls all the dice involved in a single attack, and produces the results. I used this for my first game session and it seems to have helped speed up combat a tad, given the large number of players (and considering that we are all playing over Zoom, so having everybody roll and count their dice would have been a nightmare).
I am linking to the spreadsheet below, in case anybody wants to download it for their own games.
The spreadsheet’s components are:
Attack Skill (Cell C3): The target number for the d20 rolls.
Successes (Cells L4 to P4): These show the number of successes achieved, depending on whether you were rolling 1d20, 2d20, 3d20, 4d20 or 5d20.
Damage (Cells AX3 to BQ3): These show how much damage your attack does (before applying soak) and how many effects you get, depending on whether you were rolling 1d6, 2d6, 3d6 (or, if you prefer, 1 eagle, 2 eagles, 3 eagles…) etc., up to 10d6.
Location (Cell BT4): The body part where your attack landed.
The spreadsheet also features some extra rows in case gamemasters want to use the spreadsheet for NPCs’ attacks (matrix AX6 to BQ11), instead of for players’ attacks. These rows show what the damage would be if directed at any one of up to six players, after subtracting the soak for their armor. Armor points per location are provided in the table beginning in cell CD4.
My next test will be to see if gameplay speeds up significantly if I use this to ‘roll’ for all the players’ attacks instead of letting them each use their own spreadsheet and call out the results.