Number of Players at the Table

Yesterday, I was flipping through on old book of mine, Gary Gygax's Role-Playing Mastery. In one section, he had a little to say about the maximum number players that a Game Master can handle while maintaining a good game. He set that number to three or four players.

What's interesting is that is the number of positions in the old standard party. You know the one where there is a fighter, a magic-user (wizard), cleric, and thief (rouge). It really sort of makes me wonder if that number was sort of influenced by that concept in some way. Of course it could have been the reverse as well. Honestly, I'm not sure which came first, I'm just sure that there is some sort of link between the two concepts.

In the same area, talked about using a Game Master's assistant. Someone who could handle some of the GM administrative work. Gygax, basically suggested that with such an assistant a GM could handle eight players without make his game suffer. Of course, I'm not sure anyone would want to be an assistant. Much like the working world, assistants seem to get none of the glory or respect that the person they give assistance to gets. As GM, I'm not sure if I'm down with someone not really playing and not really the GM. But that's my opinion.

Still, what is maximum number of players that can be handled at the table without assistance? I've always thought that six was my personal number. Any more than six and you have no idea what the hell is even going on. And even if you do, you will find that a few players will monopolize you time. Of course I guess the same could be said about any number of players. I do now that no matter what, there is a limit of some sort. Once a long time ago, I played in a group with about ten to twelve people. That's right ten to twelve people. The adventure involved some sort of war and we were in some sort of castle siege. Since there were so many players, the poor GM couldn't help but focus on a few people at time. This meant there were long stretches with nothing to do. We actually started to do other things while we waited for our turn. This became a huge disconnect for us. Since we were not paying attention, we sometime had no idea what exactly was going on. I dare say that game ended poorly. Eventually, I think group broke into two groups, which is what sort of needed to happen in the first place.

So what is the maximum number of players you can handle as a GM? What are your thoughts on a GM Assistant? Have you ever used a GM assistant? Finally, what is the largest group he have ever played with and how successful was it?

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