|January 2013: New Beginnings|
Apart from a very short stint playing a couple of one shots in college, I've played pretty much exclusively with one group for the past twelve or so years. We all pretty much got into gaming at the same time from a mutual love of fantasy books and our explorations into tabletop gaming more or less happened simultaneously. There were occasional times when someone would bring a game over from another group, but I at least didn't really experience that. We played on and off through the years in a variety of systems and settings, but the core group of about five guys was pretty much unchanged.
I've now moved to a new city and although I absolutely intend to keep playing with the old group (Hi guys!) I'm also getting very involved with a new group of players (Hi guys!). This new group has only been playing for about a year and is HUGE (sixteen players mixed about evenly by gender). The first game I played with them was a 4e game with eight players not including the DM. I don't think I've ever played a game with so many people in it simultaneously and this is apparently the normal amount of people to show up at a game. The culture of the group is also very different as they accept that the players from one session to another could be pretty much entirely different. I've just started to try to get involved DMing with that and it leaves open one important question. How freaking cool is this?!
More Players, More Games
When I first joined the group I came in with a pitch: film noir mixed with high fantasy in 1930's New York. The idea had been one I'd floated to my long-standing group, but we'd never really gotten around to playing it. There was immediately interest from a bunch of the players and I realized I had a major problem. I had no idea what system to play the game in. The idea of trying to run a mystery with that many players was just too crazy for me to wrap my mind around especially given that I wanted to use the Dogs in the Vineyard rules which are based around a much smaller table.
My solution has been to run little games as episodes occurring within the same universe and timeline, but pretty much entirely separate from each other. We don't have a long-term plot or a Big Bad Guy waiting at the end of it all. It's just episodic mysteries and this has been amazing. I'm no longer constrained by weaving things together and I don't need to try to schedule with six people at a time! Players can use their same PCs as long as they aren't currently paused in a previous episode. Even better, if I end up with another group of people I can continue to use the same universe!
All the while, each of these miniature groups is adding depth and content to the world as a whole. One of my players came up with a cousin Mikey "Big Time" who runs an illegal boxing ring. He's sleazy, kind of a jerk, and in it for the money and that is awesome! Now if in some other episode I need a run down boxing ring at a moment's notice, I can bring in Mikey without needing to stress out about a new character. Best part about this is that if the players from the mini-group haven't seem him, he's a brand new NPC without any prep work! Another player came up with an excellent idea for a bar and a third created the local paper for me! It all is building on itself to create a really organically created gameworld.
New Players vs New Group
In a sense, what I'm saying here is kind of blatantly obvious. Yes, with new people there will be more new, creative content. What I've found with joining into an entirely new group has been more than that. When we added new players to an existing group there may be some new ideas, but it would still be within the context created by our group. By joining a new group as a DM I've been able to gather a whole bunch of new ideas from a ton of people and try to meld it into something bigger all at once. This honestly may have been the most I've been forced to grow as a DM since I first started playing games at all.
So if you haven't before, I'd really recommend you find a second group to be a part of. Go in ready to create and just grab as many ideas as you can. Your game worlds and characters can suddenly be expanded in huge ways. Then when you return to your first group, you'll come with all of these new ideas and be able to expand AGAIN.
By the way, if you are in my original gaming group and reading this, I've got a fantasy-noir game that we should play sometime soon.