My regular gaming group has six players who fairly consistently can attend gaming sessions every other week. Our group plays D&D 4E, and will continue to do so for about another six months until we reach level 21, at which time I've told them I will no longer run that game. Having six players is about the maximum any gaming group can withstand, just on pure interpersonal dynamics and making sure people are constantly engaged.
Recently, one of the core six players invited a friend from work to sit in on a game. It happened to be at a time when the group was facing some encounters with diverse opposition, so you had six PC's and maybe four distinct monsters, meaning you had ten different elements going off at different initiatives (I've since learned to dial that way down, favoring solo monsters or homogeneous groups). In the wake of that particular session, the whole group (myself included) was pretty antipathetic towards having another regular player, and we had to have a difficult conversation with the core player about dis-inviting him.
Unfortunately the next gaming session we were short-handed on players, and had to consider bringing in our regular "substitute," who is the school-age son of one of the other core players. That didn't look good.
So, what do I need?
- A game that can accommodate a large number of players, maybe as many as seven at times.
- A game that doesn't require a lot of gaming continuity in terms of playing, since several players have irregular schedules
- A game that doesn't require a ton of prep time.
- A game that's fun and enjoyable, both in terms of genre and mechanics
I mentioned earlier a "Western Marches" style game, the name taken from the sandbox-style D&D campaign of the same name that managed to handle a large and inconsistent group of players thanks to some pretty intentional formatting. Fantasy is obviously a popular genre with the group, and there's only about three dozen RPG's out there. But the prep time for that could be overwhelming.
Another fantasy option might be to do a troupe-style game like Ars Magica, again based in a region, but more narrativist in nature.
A superhero RPG has the benefit of fielding a large group, being "episodic" in style, and isn't that hard to put together, especially with a fairly stripped-down system like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. The downside? Superheroes only appeal to a fraction of my group, and I'm not sure how the game might play out long-term.
A final option is a sci-fi campaign where the PC's makeup the crew of a ship, letting people cycle in and out within the confines of a large starship. What's the downside? Most ships have a command figure, and it might be possible to run adventures where the captain is not available, but otherwise whoever that player should be one of those people who might be there for most of the sessions.
What do you think? Suggestions welcome.