Active/Passive Characters in RPGs

I had planned to be kicking off a Star Wars EotE game by now but due to a number of factors that hasn’t happened.

So for October what I want to do is complete character creation likely using this fabulous character generator (and so much more) created by OggDude on the FFG Forums.

Now as I’ve said previously in my Railroad Stations post I plan to use the Beyond The Rim adventure set as the core of the campaign. To get to that point of kicking off the game though there are a few things that I need to be clear on.

How many players?
The comfortable maximum number of players for any RPG for me is 6.  I can manage a game with more than that but it becomes more unwieldy and I’d add that it becomes less fun for the players when there is less opportunity for them to play in each session.
Given that this is likely to be part of my Friday nights and we’re really talking about 2.5 to 3 hour slots that number becomes more and more of a maximum.  If the interest level is what I think it is then we’re looking at a minimum of 8 people being interested with another couple of people on the fringes of that.

Dave, that’s more than 6 players…  How do you do that then?
Cap it at the 6 and let the other players down? Not my style really and my preference is to do the following.
Take the 8 (or however many) players and go through Character creation.  What this does is builds contingency around the available players to take part in each session.

Yeah but you said only 6 players…
And I mean it too.  Ok so I’ll likely make the odd exception to that rule but the approach is to cap the number of characters actively participating in games to 6.  That 6 isn’t necessarily static and in my experience it’s unusual for it be static for any more than 2 consecutive 2 sessions anyway due to other commitments that players have.  Which is where the other players and their characters have the opportunity to take part.

So what about the players who don’t play?
Thematically I tend to use a passive/active character approach which essentially says that all the characters are progressing through the scenarios but some of those are passive characters in that they are not in the scenes taking place.  So in a RPG with a level based system like D&D I would artificially control the level of ALL characters to that of the party.  There are exceptions to this where particular players warrant the exception but in the main this mechanical flattening enables the sessions and story to the be the focus rather than any individual character progression.  Some players might find this unfair but it is the only real way that I’ve found to have a pool of players who can take part in a limited space game.
Story wise this is probably the hardest part.  The only real way to address any story gaps in the player knowledge is to have brief re-caps of where things are (by the rest of the players) at the start of each session.  This enables the formerly passive player and their character to jump in to the action.

Does that work?
I’ve been running games using this active/passive approach since I first used it at ORC all those years ago with good success.

Of course the right answer for some people is to just set the cap and leave it there.  That just doesn’t feel like the right answer to me….