A Pen-And-Paper RPG Meta-System

My gaming group is quite odd, as it turns out. It’s HUGE.¬†When we get everyone, we have 11-13 people.

This is great, but most games are made for 4-8 people. They tend to bog down when you get up above 8, and most pen-and-paper RPG designers aren’t trying to solve the problem of having too many players. This is most likely because the most common situation is the opposite — you have too few players.

Our large games tend to fall apart for a few reasons:

  1. The game’s rules, which run quickly with 4 players, do not scale well up to more than 8 players. Rounds of combat (or other task resolutions) can take hours. An individual player’s turn might come up once every 20 minutes.
  2. Because the game runs so slowly, players tend to disengage. They’ll leave the room between their turns. They’ll start side conversations and lose track of what’s going on. Then, when it’s their turn, it takes them a while to get up to speed before they can decide what to do.
  3. We tend to have many players whose abilities overlap. This means that players often find themselves redundant — for example, someone else may have 1 more point in stealth than you do, so they do the interesting thing and not you.
  4. People tend to avoid staying behind, splitting up, or any kind of fracturing into smaller (more focused) groups. Because resolution takes so long, they’re afraid that if they stay behind they won’t get to play for an hour or more. And they’re usually right.

Our group has tried a number of things over the years to make it smoother to play with large groups. Thus far, we’ve come up with one thing that’s helped — the Karma Points meta-system.

This is a system you can bolt on to pretty much any game. The main thing it does is it makes it MUCH more palatable for players to break into small groups, or for players to stay behind and let others go on ahead. It allows the players who aren’t currently involved a chance to shape events. It also provides a safety net. If you decide to sit out a scene, you know that without much trouble the other players can bring you in if you so desire. All-in-all, it makes for a much more palatable high player-count game.

Here is the system, in a nutshell.

THE KUDOS META-SYSTEM

KUDOS TOKENS

  • At the beginning of the session, put N Kudos tokens in a bowl (where N = the total number of players). A Kudos token can be anything, but I like to use white poker chips.
  • At any time, a player may suggest awarding another other player a Kudos token for making an entertaining contribution to the story, making the group laugh, or generally doing anything that makes the game more fun. If 1/4 of the group approves the award, a token is taken from the bowl and given to the player. The GM gets 1 vote, just like everyone else.
  • If the bowl is empty, no Kudos tokens may be awarded by players.
  • A player may choose in advance not to participate in an upcoming scene. If the player chooses this, he must announce this to the GM and the other players. When the scene begins, the player receives a Kudos token. These Kudos tokens do not come from the bowl, but directly from the GM. The GM is the sole arbitrator of what constitutes “a scene” but players should feel free to suggest to him when they think a new scene has begun.

This creates an economy of tokens, awarded by the players to each other for either doing something fun or for sitting out a scene. This creates an incentive for players both to stay engaged (they might get a token) and to sit out scenes.

SPENDING KUDOS TOKENS

A player may spend 1 Kudos to achieve certain narrative rights, these include:

  • Narrate an event into the current scene (A rockslide, an explosion, etc). The player spending the kudos token gets to narrate this event unless he wants to let the GM do it.
  • Cause an NPC to enter the scene (either an existing NPC or new NPC created on the spot). The player gets to narrate the NPC’s arrival if he wants, but the GM controls the NPC after that.
  • Narrate another player’s PC into the scene. (The other player may veto this if he doesn’t want to enter the scene

NOTES:

  • It is not legal to spend Kudos tokens in any way that would directly cause a dice roll in the system you are using. For example, you could not use it to attack, or to cause a saving throw (if you’re playing D20). Effects that indirectly cause any of the above (such as an explosion that blocks the way forward, or spilling oil that, if someone chooses to step into it on a later turn, causes a reflex save is legal.)
  • It is not legal to spend Kudos tokens in a way that takes control away from another player’s character, except with their permission.
  • The GM may veto any of the above if the narrated event cannot happen because of something the player’s don’t know. Generally, though, the GM is encouraged not to veto Kudos usages.
  • At any time, but especially when a Kudos is spent, the GM may choose to place a Kudos in the bowl. The GM is encouraged to do this whenever the players do something entertaining. If they spend Kudos in a way that is entertaining (for example, by introducing an interesting complication) the GM can reward such an expenditure by putting it in the bowl so it can re-enter the economy.

This system made it MUCH more interesting to play with a large group. In the first game we played with it, we had 11 players. We started the game out doing scenes 1 at a time with each player and my players LOVED it. They loved watching what was going on, they loved spending Kudos tokens to make life more interesting (read dangerous) for the player(s) in the scene, they loved having their behavior rewarded with new tokens, and they loved how much faster the game seemed to go.

So there you go. It’s an interesting experiment. If you use it, let me know what you think. Did it work as well for your group as it did mine?

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