View Full Version : Splitting the Party

25 September 2002, 08:44 AM
In the movies, the heroes usually split up to accomplish a number of individual objectives. A lot of the Star Wars feel is in individual heroic accomplishment - especially in lightsaber duels.

But when it comes to roleplaying games, a lot of experienced gamers live by a simple rule called NSTP: Never Split The Party! (sometimes NSTFP). I find this especially true in the RPGA Living Force (LF) games.

In a home game once I set up a situation where the bad guys were going to kill an important source of information if they didn't get to the objective (a starship) that was straight ahead of them. Two Sith came up from behind them and the two Jedi in the party turned to face them, figuring the soldier and the scoundrel could race to the ship and save the contact. The scoundrel said, "Oh no you don't, I don't care about dramitic Jedi/Sith duels, I want to kill the bad guy!" He stayed behind and blasted at least one of the Sith (okay, they were only apprentices) to death. And the contact bought it. I don't play with that individual anymore, but the reluctance to split the party is not isolated to this extreme example.

I have used a few different techniques to split the party in my home games and at conventions with varying degree of success. I would to know if anyone has any good ideas on how to split the party, stories about what happened when you tried to split the party, and if you even think this is an important thing to do.

25 September 2002, 09:29 AM
Keep trying to split the part ... I live by the rule of ... don't ALWAYS split the party ... but sometimes you need to!

If you play once a week, split them up once a month. So I would say once in 4 sessions. We play about 5 hrs a week (one Sunday afternoon), and I try to split up the party about once every 4th session, sometimes it works, and sometimes they choose to stick together (it's harder now because it is D&D ... and generally they don't feel the need to split up).

If something like that happens next time ... flip to your general Sith Baddie table in the RuleBook and bump him up a bit ... make it tougher and have him wipe the floor with that scoundrel ... then the Jedi can kick his butt. If my players mess something up seriously ... I am harsh ...

Right now we are playing a D&D campaign that started with 2 players and me ( 6 characters with each of us controlling two ) ... now after about 10 sessions and about 6 months of IN-GAME time, the original party is all dead, except for one elven rogue who was raped by a drow elf while under capture and is now pregnant and inactive in a Tyr worshiping commune. It's wierd, because none of them really know what's going on ... since they weren't there at the beginning. (At least their characters weren't. So now, with a group of 2 players and GM (me), we have grown to 5 players and GM ... (basically the side group became the full-group ... and the other Full-Time members of KotDT-NNU made characters and joined the party)

Spliting up the party and weeding them out ... thats our job. If they manage to keep a character alive through their wits and cunning, then they deserve the character ... if they have a party that doesn't run to their aid when they fall, or if they play stupidly ... they're gonna go through lots of character sheets.

I run tough games ... you either think, or die. Even the GM's Uber Character ... an Ogre barbarian with 2x as many HP as anyone else in the party ... he died ... so I am even tough on my own characters!!

Sometimes, I even throw adventures at them that are WAY too hard for them to accomplish ... so they either die, retreat, or find a way to do them ... ie, hire some warriors to help them, etc, etc ... it makes for better RPing, and much less Hands-On GMing ... I love just being able to tell them what things look like and what GM characters say ... and not having to lead them hand & foot through a game ... they have started to become some of the best RPers I have ever seen ... sometimes they get too good even, stepping on my toes ... but I'd much rather have that than have ppl I hafta say "Ok, what do you want to do now?" to every five minutes.

25 September 2002, 09:47 AM
I had a player who liked to shoot blaster fire into the middle of Jedi duels, to "help" her buddy. Until she rolled a critical failure, hit one of the allied Jedi, and killed him. Now she doesn't do that anymore. (It was also a major turning point for her character and the plot, as the Jedi was an important NPC).

However, your players may not care who they kill in the line of duty. Some players are like that.

One of the most effective tactics I've found when splitting parties is to let idle players take the roles of minor NPCs. It keeps them occupied, and keeps them out of trouble, and no one has to be thumbing through rulebooks or being bored while the other players play.

P-Za Lord
25 September 2002, 10:39 AM
There are lots and lots of ways to split up a party of adventures. I've noticed in Star Wars that they don't split up as much as players in D&D but it can still be done. Usually they tend to split up when you least want them to. But you also have to realize that there are going to be times when you want one of them alone, and he definitely does not want to be alone. If they come up with ways to stay together, you should also be expecting this. One more thing, you were right to kill the contact. If they don't go save him, he dies.

Here's a few ideas, of course some ideas depend heavily on location, or scenarios, but alot of them also depend on the players and whether they take the bait.

First off, traps. Even in Star Wars there are plenty of anti-personal doodads to make players' lives miserable. Something as simple as a sliding wall, or blast door closing right as the middle of the party is passing through. Those in the path of the door make Reflex saves. If they pass, they leap clear on the side of their choice. If they fail, they take damage and are knocked onto the side of your choice. Anyone at the very front or back doesn't get to choose, but hey, they don't get crushed either. Also, plan for those pesky Jedi who want to cut through blast doors with their lightsabers. Have something happen that forces them down a side passage rather than sticking around.

A similar situation, is to have the party arrive at a suspension-type bridge over a river. It creaks and sways dangerously with even one person on it. So only one can cross at a time unless the characters are small creatures, or noticeably light. If they do try and cross more than one at a time, despite you having warned them about the danger. Feel free to have the bridge break and dump whoever's on the bridge into the river and float away. Reflex save to grab the rope railings and hold on, then Climb check to reach the top of the cliff. Even if they both pass, you could have had the bridge snap between them, so one's hanging on the far side, and one's on the near side.

If they do go one at a time, you can wait until however many characters you want to are across and the next ones are just beginning to cross, or even crossing if you're mean, then have your trusty bounty hunter come flying by with a jetpack and start firing razor disks at the PC on the bridge. He misses of course, but cuts the bridge 'accidently.' Now the party is on two sides of a river (one maybe in the river) easy pickings for him (and you) now.

The above situation works on large spaceships and stations too. Those crazy extendable bridges that were on the Death Star could start retracting just as the party is crossing them. If some make a Jump check, good for them. If you think they all might make it, feel free to add penalties to the guys in the back by saying, "You were a little further behind than they were, so it's a bit tougher." You needn't give them an exact DC number. If they blow Force Points, or make a spectacular roll. Don't punish them, let them stay together until a blast door slides between the group as above.

Also, trapdoors that send one or two careening several levels down to land in security pens are nice too.

Other ways to split them up, say in the very beginning. Is to seperate some at the very briefing of a mission. Say Admiral X has just finished explaining about the new power source being developed on the planet they are orbiting and how they are supposed to retreive it. He dismisses them, all except for one or two, for some reason, maybe those two are Jedi, or higher rank than the others, or maybe he wishes to discuss their performance. Whatever sounds believable. To keep the others from standing around outside the room, you can have him end with the phrase, "The rest of you had best hurry to Flight Room and get prepared. Lt. Hallick deplores tardiness."

Or mention that one of the characters' girlfriends was supposed to meet him somewhere (other side of the station) after the briefing, and the briefing ran long. He'd better run. A good way to split up a a few characters, since most parties won't run pell-mell across a station just because one of them is late for a date.

This last one here is similar to your Sith situation. It involves the players in some station, ship, or other large complex. Something goes wrong and one of the NPCs in the group turns around and says something along the lines of,
"Sonuvabantha, that's the Reactor ( Power Core, Generator, Energy Matrix>! The only way to stop it is to access the four security panels! I can do it, but they're all on opposite ends of the [place]. You two are gonna have to go to the panel on Sector 4. And you. You try and reach Sector 2 Red, and you come with me, I can't carry the toolkit with this messed up arm. Stay in touch on the com-link, whoever finishes first will have to try and reach the last panel on the Main Security level."
Then just have all kinds of blast doors sliding closed in preparation for the meltdown (explosion, decompression). If they don't split up, then they'd better find an escape pod or exit, quick. If they do succeed, they're now in different areas. Have a power surge that doesn't open the blast doors or whatever dividers are in place, so they have to work their way around through maintenance corridors and vents.

25 September 2002, 11:48 AM
Here are the biggest examples of splitting party members, mind you I had six to nine players (mainly six), all of them very different from the rest. Here they are, from a game I ran in 1999.

Xoton- A male Falleen mercenary, cruel and calculating caring only for the almighty credit.

Ren Starbreeze- Young male Jedi Apprentice. Caring, wishes to learn about the force, and why his mother was murdered by a dark man.

Retryk - a Bitthaevrian soldier who happened upon Ren on a mission. The two have become friends, and Retryk serves as the young Jedi's servant and bodyguard.

Bahgo Sikule- A Rodian Jedi Apprentice, just a tad bit older than Ren, but also a bit more adventurous. Friendly competitor with Ren, both have the same master.

Tig-Tik- A Verpine starship technician, and first mate of Beaumont's ship. Likes to go shopping for parts when in port, usually doing a lot of hiding behind Retryk in combat.

Carlos Beaumont- Scoundrel Shistavanen Captain. The pilot of the group. Leisure activities involved gambling and trying to pick up women.

It was a strange crew, with different backgrounds, pesonalities, motives and the like, but what drew them together was the main villain, whom they were all running from. Without the main villain, the group would have dissolved, and I did have it dissolve in order to cater to player motives. Certain events trigger splittings between the player group. Here are a few:

The Force - If the group above is presented with the opportunity to learn of the force, Ren and Bahgo will jump at the opportunity. Retryk will follow Ren, and Xoton would only go along if payed to go along. Carlos Beaumont and Tig-Tik could probably care less about the Force.

Repair Work and Mods - If the ship is damaged during space travel, more than likely, Tig-Tik will go along with Carlos Beaumont to pick out (Tig-Tik) and pay for parts (Beaumont). Xoton may accompany the group, but that could get expensive. Retryk may go to protect Tig-Tik, but only if he feels that young Ren is safe. Once the parts are purchased, Tig-Tik will be working on the ship, and Beaumont will be overseeing the work and doing tests.....while the others are conducting business elsewhere.

Player Specific Villains - A Sith Lord in the game will trigger a response from Ren and Bahgo, and possibly even Retryk. Xoton may stay and help if the Jedi agree to hand over the fallen Sith's lightsaber to sell at a later time. Beaumont and Tig-Tik will run away (for sure).

A loan shark or gangster may come to collect on Beaumont's unpaid ship. Beaumont will try and fast talk and if that is unsuccessful will fight, Tig-Tik will help to secure his job, and Xoton may stay and help if he thinks he can beat the ganster and his guards (to collect their weapons to sell). Ren, Bahgo and Retryk will only aid in a fight if Beaumont is attacked, otherwise they will offer to go and look for means of paying Beaumont's past dues, if the law is involved and Beaumont is locked up.

Baggage- A team cannot effectively do one thing (such as fight or run), if they are doing something else (bodyguard duty, caring for wounded). Sometimes it is up to a select group to go after the would be assassins, while the others stay back and protect the Senator or treat wounded. This can split up the group. If attacked under the baggage condition, Ren and Retryk would stay back with Beaumont and Tig-Tik. Bahgo and Xoton would go after the would be assassins or assailants because of Bahgo's strong sense of justice, and Xoton thinking that a live capture may be profitable.

Excessive baggage- Use a player character's family, friend, enemy to divide a group. Some may help, others may not be able to help, while others may refuse to help. Depending on certain motives like, greed, honor, justice, ambition, and selfishness can help decide who goes where to do what.

As one can see, there are many things one can do with motives and backgrounds.

25 September 2002, 03:09 PM
The group always gets split up.

EP 4: Han/Chewy and Luke/leia get chased by troops trying to escape the death star

EP 5: Luke on degoba the rest on bespin.

EP 6: Luke/leia / Han/spec forces on endor / Luke on DS2.

Just run your game in 10-15 min. intervals, panning back and forth the the seperate groups so that no one gets bored.

25 September 2002, 06:46 PM
I've split up my players once, & the group's other GM has done so several times. What works good for keeping players from getting bored duriing combat is to alternate groups every 3 rounds or so.

25 September 2002, 09:13 PM
Yeah, I have noticed that it is exceedingly difficult to keep a group coherent but seperate. I just tend to be uneven in my time allocation. Does this come naturally with experience, or are there any techniques that you all have found useful?

25 September 2002, 09:22 PM
One thing to keep in mind when splitting the party (and I've learned this the hard way) - don't spend too much time on one group - switch between them often, preferrably at a "cliff-hanger" moment. On those occasions when you split the party and *must* spend a lot of time with one group, give the other players NPCs to run. My 2nd game I had a swoop race. Only one of the PCs was actually in the race, so I had the other players take NPCs racers - turned out to be a smashing success. More recently, I had a split party and spent too much time focused on one scene then another instead of rapidly switching between them - this left the "off-screen" players without much to do and a session that could have otherwise been great was only so-so. Live and learn (but learn from other people's mistakes when you get the chance!)

Wade Trenor
26 September 2002, 02:33 AM
My character had a loner personality, and was often brusque with the other characters. This usually meant he went in one direction, and the other characters would go in the other direction.

OK, so it wasn't the whole group that was split up, but still...

26 September 2002, 08:21 AM
Thanks everyone for the responses. A lot of good tips and ideas from everyone (and especially P-Za Lord).

I also use the technique of switching back and forth between groups at cliffhanger moments. I think it is very effective.

I have even run two geographically separated combats as one combat in terms of initative and turn order, so the action is cutting back and forth constantly (I think this is easier to pull off with the D20 combat rounds than with the D6 system).

Any more ideas on plots/stories that will split the party?

26 September 2002, 09:41 AM
It really depends on the group but I find that some people are out to further their PCs agenda and that always makes a good way to split the group up into little sub-groups.

26 September 2002, 10:22 AM
I GM via IRC, it's easy to easier to run split sessions via PM then it seems to be in real life. partily becuase your PCs don't have the pollution/distraction of what the other folks are doing.

Lord Diggori
26 September 2002, 10:31 AM
Every time I introduce a new character or characters I have a split party. I do this cause I dont like to lead PC's by the nose. I let them make up their own reasons for joining a group and doing so grants them alot of power/responsibility.

It can be kind of tiring though. After the first chapter (adventure) of the Greyhawk campaign I'm running a PC died and had a new PC to introduce. He didnt take my initial party linking hook but was playing well in character so couldnt blame him. It took almost two full sessions of adlibbed adventure to get him connected with the group and even then I did little to guide them.

It culminated with the established PCs having to vouch for the newcomer in order to allow him to come on their next mission (one even offered to pay part of his wage).

The most important thing is be flexible.

I play with another group where the DM's rotate and this novice DM ran a well detailed adventure however something unforseen happened which split the party. The guy that was hosting us that night, and has for a long time, had a PC that was not on the written adventure path. He ended up doing his homework after trying to scale the inside of a volcano with web spells. THAT SUCKS!!!!

26 September 2002, 12:08 PM
Some of the best ways of splitting the party, are those which seem the obvious. Captain so and so, at your service.. Later You 2, go here and do this, You go there, you 2 stand back and guard...

Or the trap thing..

One thing i have planned on doing but working it out, made it seem a little to D&Dy or Trekkie. The Gree hyperspace gates.
The party is hired to investigate, and while there, something happens to force the players through one, which sends them Individually to random locations (say 1 for every 2 players, and then roll it. Eg if you have 6 players, they get sent to 1 of 3 places. Roll a D6. 1-2 place 1 etc).

ANd as to the time thing. Actually use one of those chess match timers...

28 September 2002, 02:02 PM
I splitted the party a few sessions ago in my SW campagin: the PCs, after doing something very foolish, where now fleeing from the battle droids, but one of them was exhaused (no run), and another was going slower to protect him (a jedi). than the Jedi got a critical hit and was knocked out; so the wounded character remained there saying he would have defended him till the end.
I have been merciful and the battle droids ordered him to surrender (instead of blasting him down to oblivion). And so these two characters got imprisoned, while the other ran away. He fled through the snow and after three days managed to get to the nearest town, find reinforcements and go back to rescue the others.

At the splitdown I continued the session only for the two other characters (it was mostly role-playing the interrogations, except for some saves to shrug off the weakning poison put in the water that was given to them to drink).
Then I ran a separate session for the escaped character (it was easy because it was my brother's character) just until he was in front of the door of the jail where the other PCs were.

29 September 2002, 05:49 AM
"You knock out the tractor beam, you guys run to power up the ship. Wait for us at the ship. We will be back after we rescue the delegate and deal with Moff Rendall!"

Some situations call for a GM to splitt everyone to accomplish tasks all at once. Everyone has to go off in seperate directions and hope that the other members of the team are successful, or otherwise, big trouble often results. This is classic Star Wars. I don't know why I didn't incorporate this earlier with my examples from my game in 1999, but the movies are full of examples like this.

TPM - Jar-Jar and the Gungans versus the battle droids.
Qui-gon and Obi-wan versus Darth Maul.
Padme Amidala and Captain Panaka going to put a smack down
on Nute Gunray and company.

AOTC - Obi-wan on investigative assignment.
Anakin and Padme to Naboo to hide.
Yoda to Kamino to pick up army of clones.
Mace to Geonosis for Jedi rescue and Dooku buttkicking.

ANH - Han, Chewie and Luke to rescue Leia.
Ben to deal with Vader.

ESB - Luke and Artoo meet with Yoda.
Leia, Han, 3PO, and Chewie in Vader's trap.

ROTJ - Lando, Ackbar, Wedge and Rebel fleet versus the Imperials and
Death Star.
Han, Leia, Chewie, the Rebel Commandos, the droids, and the
hundreds of Ewoks versus the Imperial detachment.
Luke versus Vader and the Emperor.

It is in every movie so far. Everyone has split up to accomplish the epic effects known in Star Wars. It may be time consuming, but it is really easy to split them up with missions that require people to be in different places all at once. Give them some comlinks and go! I think several others have all touched on this, but just to reiterate and show how much like the movies splitting the party is like, I guess.

29 September 2002, 02:36 PM
I've done various degrees of party splitting in the campaigns I've gm'd. Every once in awhile the pc's will decide to split and I typically just run that in 5-10 minute intervals...or I'll run both at the same time simultaneously which tends to be a bit more exciting, but also hectic for me though.

Lastly I've done a major split where my party just basically split into 2 seperate groups, and I had two different sessions weekly. I don't know if I'll ever do that again though since it was incredibly taxing considering I was in school as well. It did help out story wise though since my PC's reconnected and got a chance to share all that had happened.