View Full Version : Dealing with Parties that Split Up

2007-09-10, 05:51 AM
For the first time in ten sessions, my six-man party split up, just to go their separate ways in the city (I'm in Suzail, Cormyr, Forgotten Realms). From the get go I was confused and had difficulty juggling between the three groups: the swashbuckler, rogue and cleric (all female and who love bickering good-naturedly), the wizard (who was dead and just got rezzed, and was going about his arcane stuff), and the ranger, who is a loner and decided to sleep in the barracks instead of in the inn with the rest of the party. (The paladin was off, wandering around and lost in his thoughts. He's a bit distant from the party, left for the shrine of Tyr early to pray and started wandering around the city without interacting.)

The three girls were busy squabbling over minor things---the cleric and the swashbuckler were ribbing the rogue about how she was so eager to see the wizard, while the rogue and the cleric were ribbing the swashbuckler about how she pined after the paladin. The ranger wanted to go off on her own to buy a small utility knife. My head was spinning. @_@

Have other DMs experienced this quandary? How does a DM juggle between split party members effectively?

2007-09-10, 05:56 AM
Is anything important going to happen?

If nothing important is going to happen, then simply handle it quickly, and let a bit of table-talk flow. Deal with the paladin while the girls talk, deal with the ranger and wizard while the girls talk, and then turn your attention to them in particular. Pass notes, if necessary, and you want to create a little paranoia.

In town, splitting up isn't too bad. In the dungeon, it's a lot worse.

2007-09-10, 06:22 AM
Agreed with MrNexx. If nothing of particular note is going to happen, keep it short and simple, and let them talk among themselves while you handle each group.

If something secretive or important is going to happen (say, one of them on their own gets mind controlled, or the cleric visits his secret family, or the swashbuckler robs the mayor), consider splitting up the players. Take those whom you are dealing with at the time to a separate room, and let the others chat during this time. Again, keep this separate time as short and to the point as possible, or else the players who aren't active are going to get bored. If it's something you can do with a simple note at the table (eg, "I'm going to go visit my secret wife for a while"), do it that way.

2007-09-10, 06:29 AM
Have other DMs experienced this quandary?Sure. In our group, that's both normal and encouraged. It gives plenty opportunity for the characters to follow their personal interests. We've actually had entire sessions and adventures where the characters didn't even meet (though rarely, since it has its disadvantages as well). Depending on the system and the specific adventure, I'd say the characters tend to spend between one third and half of their time apart.

How does a DM juggle between split party members effectively?Just address one part of the party which is currently together, play with them for a few minutes (long enough for something significant to happen, yet preferably not too long), and switch to the next group. Encourage the players to have in-character discussions while you are dealing with the other groups.

Kurald Galain
2007-09-10, 06:34 AM
Have other DMs experienced this quandary? How does a DM juggle between split party members effectively?

Yes, frequently. It doesn't bother me. But if you want some suggestions...
* Don't make your party any larger than it is. Whatever problems you have with splitting become exponentially bigger if the party grows.
* If a character you're dealing with is in a quandary or decision situation, that is a good time to switch. It gives him time to think.
* If players are conversing in-character, you don't need to pay attention to everything they say, and can pay attention to other characters.
* If players start conversing out-of-character, you may be losing the interest of part of the group or focusing too much on other characters. Switch time.
* Some players will take an inordinate amount of your time if you let them. Keep an eye out for that and try to balance your time between group members. Use solo sessions if necessary.
* Some players will have their characters comment on sections where they aren't present. Try to limit this. Likewise, some players will assert that their character is present at times where he really isn't.
* Try to keep track of relative time in the game world. It is possible that one character has done a lot of stuff and is essentially "an hour ahead" of everyone else.
* Don't worry about "screwing up", as long as people are having fun nobody will notice or complain.

2007-09-10, 07:16 AM
Thanks for the comments, guys. I'll definitely keep those in mind. The party will definitely stay at this size. In the time (max 1 and a half hours) we have it's impossible to run anything larger.

I guess some of the players just got carried away today because it's the first time all the players have been together in a very long time, and it's the first time for everyone to really devote the entire session to RPing.

Lord Tataraus
2007-09-10, 08:23 AM
I've had an experience like this before and it turned out great. First off the party split into three groups, the wizard went to report his research in the field, the barbarian trained with a weapons master in the art of an exotic weapon, and the rest (a cleric and dragon shaman) wondered around trying to find the wizard. Because of what the wizard stumbled across in his research, his guild thought him to be about 10-15 levels higher than he really was which gave him a Warblade cohort (2 levels lower) as a bodyguard and a lot of diplomatic power in his present city. He loved this and decided to use it to gain more knowledge. Unfortunately, this got him mixed up in an intense power struggle with epic level characters (the most powerful red dragon, the most powerful sorcerer, and the most powerful crimelord and level 30 swordsage in the world). So I had to pay attention to the cleric and dragon shaman searching the city for the wizard while the wizard was on the run and trying to find the cleric and dragon shaman. Eventutially they met after being captured by none other than the weapons master training the barbarian and broke out and fled the city. It was a great experience because if they hadn't split up, none of that would have happened. So, I suggest you use this opportunity to make the fact they are split up very interesting.

2007-09-10, 09:33 AM
Have other DMs experienced this quandary? How does a DM juggle between split party members effectively?

You're actually dealing with two problems here:

1) How to handle roleplaying during "down time".
2) Players splitting up to pursue different tasks/goals.

The first problem usually happens when players get back to a town (or another convenient resting point) and have a variety of "administrative" tasks to take care of, like selling loot, buying/repairing equipment, finally getting that atonement/remove curse/cure disease taken care of, etc.

The tendency for some DMs/players is to give the same attention to detail and roleplay every "I want to buy brass buttons" encounter just like any combat encounter. While some groups may do this extremely well, and have fun doing it, the general recommendation is to hit the "fast forward" button and paraphrase or summarize as much as possible. The game isn't called "Truncheons & Flagons", the best parts of the game where you're slugging it out through monster-filled dungeons and standing toe-to-toe against evil necromancer should get most of the narrative focus, and for the nuts-and-bolts "I want to buy a better magic sword" stuff, get through it as quickly as possible so you can get back to the cool stuff. And yeah, all of the sourcebooks are FULL of Gygaxian tables where you get to roll that the flatulent alcoholic shopkeeper with the heavy lisp is four flavors of "unfriendly" on the flatulent alcoholic shopkeeper reaction table, but those tables are a trap... yes, they can add flavor to the side dishes, but for the most part you want to get the group back to the meat and potatoes ASAP.

Techniques to make down time pass more quickly:
* When the party gets back to town, tell the players you're switching to "down time" so they can take care of the administrative stuff, and they don't have to roleplay or stay "in character" while they buy/sell/repair/etc.
* For each day, go around the table and ask each player what they want to get accomplished. Don't worry about timetables, is it a feast day, can the party rogue go along to make sure the moneychanger appraises the gems correctly... just assume that the players have access to each other but are all allowed to go out on their own. If a player doesn't have anything to do, then he's just hanging around somewhere, and can tag along or convenienty show up later if his talents are needed or something interesting happens to another player.
* Unless it's actually necessary for the plot, don't surprise the players with encounters. If you absolutely have to run an encounter, then give the players some warning so they can prepare for it (e.g., "the blind beggar slips you an anonymous note that says, 'The Rooster crows at midnight - Vengeance will be mine!'"), and you can switch back to "in character" mode.
* Avoid looking things up in tables if you can help it. An off-the-top-of-your-head answer is more likely to get the game moving back towards the interesting action stuff. If a player is pressing you for an obscure item and you're not sure why, roll a die behind your screen and announce "it's not available".

The second problem is when players split up not to shop, but to divide up tasks or pursue different goals. This may be necessary to advance the plot, or they could be doing it just to aggravate you. While most dungeon crawls assume the party will stick together, some really great adventures might involve splitting up. And there are some really neat things you can do if the players are willing. You can control what information the sub-groups have access to by asking one group to leave the room while you take care of the other group (works great for Cthulhu or Paranoia style games). You can address the needs of players who don't always enjoy the same play style as the rest of the group. You can give some "spotlight" time to a player who is having trouble contributing anything meaningful when the rest of the group is together. There are some guidelines you want to consider:

* Get the rest of the group back together as quickly as possible. Watching someone else have fun while you have nothing to do goes from boring to aggravating very quickly.
* If you can't bring them back together, switch back and forth more often. Avoid letting one group sit idle for more than 30 minutes real-time.
* If the odds are already heavily stacked in the PCs favor, or if an obstacle has no meaningful relevance on the plot, consider skipping the rolls and just let them succeed.
* If possible, try to get the groups to be working on different tasks that achieve the same goal. If the party needs to break into somewhere, and one group is stealing the key while the other group is delaying/neutralizing an NPC that could stop the first group, then both groups have a stake or reason to care what the other group is doing.
* Don't let one single player break off from the group so he can plot against the party or set up an ambush for another PC. Unless you've got an *extremely mature* group of players who are expecting and enjoy that sort of thing, intra-party strife will kill the fun faster than a greased hasted laernian hydra with battleshorts of speed.
* Combat sucks up the largest amount of playing time, so avoid it if you can.
* If you have to do combat, then ask the players who aren't involved to help. Let them run the NPCs, or take control of the monsters. This gives them something to do *and* reduces the DM's workload at the same time. This also works out of combat. A bored player can easily become a shopkeeper, a pickpocket, or the Royal Herald in a pinch.