As the GM, I Split the Party…And It Went Great

Posted by on May 10, 2017
by Gure Esku dago

by Gure Esku dago

My favorite RPG convention panel, “Improv DMing,” occurred at GenCon several years ago. It was mostly a Q&A session about how the panel’s host improvs games.

Someone asked what he does when the players ask to split the party. He explained that he tells the group that half of them will have to pack up and go home and schedule a separate session, because they’re asking him to run two games.

I considered that answer as basically gospel. Now, certainly, one or two members of a group can briefly scout ahead, or a party can be in two adjacent rooms during combat, but otherwise, no splitting the party.

Fast forward to a recent session of my D&D game. My players were planning a heist, and twice so far they’d mentioned wanting to play the game in separate rooms if the group split up.

The group spent most of a session figuring out how to approach the heist. Two players wanted to visit the heist location ahead of time and plant a triggered spell on an outside wall.

Assuming that this would be a short “scouting ahead” sort of situation, I took those two players into a separate room. One started the ritual (which needed about an hour in-game), while the other kept watch.

Then they proceeded to fail their rolls to keep hidden. A guard showed up. The PCs couldn’t stay hidden. The PC keeping watch tried to charm the guard, then distract the guard, and the dice were just against him.

The guard called for more guards. Worse, the player kept trying to distract them, coming up with increasingly desperate tactics, prolonging the encounter.

Thirty real-world minutes later, the players finally gave up on their ritual and retreated. We returned to the main room.

The other players were happily chatting away, holding mugs of tea in their hands. The two separated players talked excitedly (though with some disappointment) about their failed attempt to plant their spell.

We got back to the session. Nobody was bored.

During the post-game feedback session, players in both locations talked about how much they liked splitting the party. The ones in the other room felt special, while the ones “left behind” enjoyed wondering what was going on in the other room.

In fact, players in both rooms still talk about that session.

Would I split the party frequently? No. Would I split the party for hours? No. Would I split the party again? Absolutely.

2 Responses to As the GM, I Split the Party…And It Went Great

  1. Dale Poole

    Don’t split the party was gospel for me as well, until a ran a fun little romp through a city that required the party to be split.

    They were hired as shadows for a nobleman’s daughter who was fond of slipping her guards to go shopping. Shortly after they began to tail her, they discovered there were actually TWO of her, who split up part way through the shopping spree. The party split to follow them both, not entirely certain who was who.

    Turns out the daughter was meeting up with a cousin that looked almost identical. The cousin would do the shopping trip while the daughter slipped off to see her commoner lover.

    It was a good one for splitting the party because there was little chance of combat and the encounter was more about the mystery around TWO girls. The PCs eventually got involved helping the lovers make their rendezvous’ which led to many other adventures.

    The whole thing took up most of the session and the players had nothing but good things to say about it when done.

  2. Robert D Rosenthal

    wow, very interesting discussion. For me the only issue about dont split the party was only for the parties sake, as it weakened them strength wise, esp in your standard D&D gaming scenario. However for the DM is was not really an issue, since there were several options.
    1. As stated above separate rooms and moving between groups. Esp important if you feel the impact or unknown from one group would impact another.
    2. work on one group/person at a time and switch back and forth in real time. If nothing of great import would affect the other teams actions, or if htey feel they can commit to act based on knowledge their pcs would have, we’d do it just a the table itself.

    and my last and most favorite but overly complicated is separate gms running each group. Gms would confer as needed and when pcs were at the same locale, they would naturally need to game together. there is coordination between the gms, but truly a great way to game if you have all the players.

    either way, it is always very interesting to see how things are handled and gaming evolves across many people and the industry in general

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