Thursday, October 22, 2015

Splitting the Party - A Lament


 This is a continuation in my series of lamentations about RPGs, mostly fantasy or sci-fi style RPGs to be exact.

 One thing I’ve always had veteran D&D (and, honestly, Call of Cthullu) grognards tell me is, “Never split the party!  It’s the fastest way to get everyone killed.”  I’m not here to criticize that.

They’re right.  It is a very efficient way to end up with a TPK (LINK from TPK entry).

 The thing is, I think we might be missing an opportunity for some really good play.  Let’s go back to the fiction that pretty much was in the inspiration for every adventuring party since the mid 20th century: The Fellowship of the Ring.

 Now, I’m not advocating AT ALL a FotR style party split.  I can’t imagine how boring it would be for the Same, Frodo, and Gollum players to simply be told, “…and you’re still walking.” week after week while all their friends get to do stuff like fight at Helm’s Deep, Isengard, or Pelinnor Fields.

 And yet, I think there are some things we can take from this.  First, Gandalf picks up some important info in the libraries of Gondor (how to reveal the script on the One Ring) and that a key ally has betrayed the good guys (Saruman).  Merry and Pippin pick up some allies for the freefolk (Ents).  Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas secure further reinforcements for Gondor (Rohan).  All of those are really cool plot points that would be very impractical and rather dull if 10 people were involved in each.

 So what can splitting the party be good for?  Here’s a brief, non-exhaustive list:
 ·         Getting some key information
·         Scouting a future destination
·         Planting a spy or trap
·         Securing allies or resources
·         Misdirecting an enemy
·         Division of labor
·         Accounting for a player’s absence
·         Executing a battle plan or magic ritual
·         Create a dragnet to capture a target

 Those are just a few ideas.  No doubt you can come up with more if you give it some think-time.  Splitting the party is not something you’ll do every session or even for a majority of sessions.  But it is a play technique that can be used to involve plot ideas that cannot be done efficiently or practically any other way.  Naturally, players may be wary of splitting up at first.  Don’t force them.  Let things play out, and let them build trust in their own way.