Thursday, September 23, 2010


I'm finally back in CA after two weeks on the road, I read your email, but have been to busy to respond in the intelligent manner you deserve.  You bring up some great points, and I would hate to think that the little article I sent out a couple of weeks ago was a slam on anyone.  I think Dm Dude makes a good point we all have busy schedules, I know I play the game to have fun.  The reason I sent out the article (which I don't recall all the details of * reprinted below) was that it summarized for me a couple of points a few of us had talked about.  Mainly it's tough to have fun sitting around while the BAD ASS takes a half hour of game time in a boxing match, or he runes off on a suicide mission that takes an hour of game time, and I thought that was kind of a cop out on your part, I liked the idea of the BAD ASS.  Yes the party had problems with him, but you could have stuck it out and role-played the character instead of going off and getting him killed.  The worst when we all have to watch our backs for a potential back stab from one of our "friends".  Don't get me wrong the first time it was fucking brilliant, the second time it allowed Sneaky Dude on Our Side the awesome kill of the assassin, by the third time, well that sucked, and it wasn't fun.  In hindsight I could see Backstabbers frustration about the lack of role playing and I suspect he made the character with a scenario in mind where we didn't role play the introduction etc he was going to make us pay.  I hope I'm wrong, but what's done is done.  

When I ran the pickup game when DM Dude couldn't make it Backstabber and I talked a bit one of the things I mentioned to him was that we had just been killing shit for the last couple of meetings and that I would have like a little more role playing.  Character development is truly one of the things I enjoy about role-playing; I spent hours writing the back-story for my character in Backstabber's WOD game.  Yes for Bob I kind of threw together something plausible, because I wasn't sure how you played and I knew nothing about Greyhawk before I started playing with you guys (and honestly I still don’t know much).  Maybe this differs from the way you like to play, where in the player starts with a brief back-story and lets the character develop.  I was totally down with the Angus character, I thought the back-story we were able to pry out of Backstabber was interesting and I fully intended to find a way to get him resurrected, and I kind of regret not pushing the issue and finding a way to get it done I think that would have been a very interesting story line.  While I'm on the Angus topic it's kind of hard to engage a character when he's limited to a monosyllabic vocabulary.   I role played my interactions with the BAD ASS, Bob being your typical dwarf distrusts and doesn't care for magic users; same with Vragor sorry dwarven hatred of orcs is hereditary (I actually hope that you don't think Bob's attitude towards your characters has been any reflection on my opinion of you).  What I’m really trying to say is that if you want more role-playing then role-play more, Is Archer Guy ever going to get in touch with his character, maybe not, I suspect he’s there to kill shit, on the other hand he might surprise you.

I can't speak for everyone else, but I can tell you that immersive role-playing and complex plots are what I am looking for in my role-playing, and we can have those things, and have fun, etc with out the backstabbing and sitting around while one dude takes the spot light either of which are okay in moderation.

* I have no recollection where this came from, but it's probably Johnn 4


Ahem. Sorry. Just... popped out there.
But seriously, this is pretty much almost never a good idea. I don't care what the dictates of narrative demand. Don't give me that "but it's not realistic for the rest of the group to show up so soon" crap.
Did you carve 3 to 8 hours of your day out to sit and watch others play a game that you're supposed to be involved in? If you did, I've got a suggestion for you - go see a play. Or maybe an opera; pick the right one and there's plenty of swords, armor, and screaming.
I will assume players are showing up to actually play. And GMs? If you're really keen to have some or most of your group watch an improvisational performance of you bouncing narrative off a subset of the group, well...
Just don't do it, OK?

"How do I avoid splitting the party?"

This is for Players and Game Masters, since you all have the capacity to impact this situation. GMs can either purposely or inadvertently create circumstances where a group of characters feel like they should break up into smaller groups. Players are, ultimately, the ones who actually decide to split up. So...
  • Take the whole group when dealing with each presented option to explore, investigate, or smack upside the head. Then move on to the next one - together.
  • Let NPCs - contacts, subordinates, people who owe you favors - handle some of the tasks that might otherwise have PCs buried in a stack of books, behind a computer screen, or watching an empty building while the rest of the team is getting to bury swords or bullets into bad guys.
  • Before the Big Action Scene, go ahead and get everyone together. If this means "and you find out this [insert plot note here, after a few rolls], and make it to the rendevous right as Big Joe Boot kicks the door in," so be it. Most players will prefer to miss some personal non-combat skills time if it means they don't miss two hours of their lives watching everyone else play out the Big Action Scene.
  • Use the Intarwebs between sessions for those behind-the-scenes sequences. Email, forums, chat, and Skype are great tools for finding that Important Person, talking to him, following his information to another source, searching the house for the Special Clue and Other Information, and setting surveillance devices (or magic scrying doohickies) in place. At the next game session, the character can look all cool and competent as he reports all this neat stuff, and then the group joins together to Kick the crap out of the Boss.
  • "I'm just playing my character" has been the ruination of so many games it's not even funny. That's probably a column all its own, but in this case, I am talking about the Impulsive / Overconfident / Vengeful / {Hindrance or Backstory Justification Here} that players use to charge into a situation long before the rest of the group can catch up. Look, I honestly do respect the fact that people want to immerse so far that they simply go with what makes sense at the time. However, you're not just playing a character; you are also a player in the game, and your fellow players are there to play, too. So, if you can, try to balance it a little. Be impulsive, but do so just before the rest of the group catches up. Maybe you get a round of solo action before everyone else starts rolling initiative; this plays to the nature of your character while being considerate of the other players.
  • Are you the Leader? Lead. Work to keep the splits minimized, and then work to keep everyone in touch and on their way back together as soon as possible. Forget the movies, where team leaders say "Kowalski, check his alibi. Frobish and Ulcer, get the van in front of the pizza joint and listen to the chatter. Me, Buster, Shooter, and Stabber will go have it out with the Gooba Gang..." You know that's not cool, right? Not for a game. Don't do it.
  • Hey, Lone Wolf. Yeah, I'm talking to you now. You know who you are. The one who slips off to run down your own leads. The one who drags the GM off into another room to have private chats about all the cool things you and only you are doing. The one who refuses to include anyone else until you're sure you can bask in the moment of revelation. Yes, I get it - it can be really fun to suddenly reveal that which everyone else has been struggling to figure out. However, you do realize you're the tool that's making everyone else sit around and wait, right? Every moment you monopolize the GM's attention is a moment the rest of the group may as well be reading comics during. Honestly, Lone Wolves should probably be playing adventure games on the PC. At any rate, if they get left out of the Big Action Scene, they really bring it on themselves.

"And if they split up? Then what?"

Inevitably, some of you are going to ignore my precious, glorious words of wisdom and split the party anyway. Maybe there's just too many leads to follow. Maybe the Lone Wolf drug along some of the others while the main group was carousing in the tavern. Maybe it just made too much sense to have half the group sneak in through the sewers while the other half climbed the wall. So...
  • Make Time your b-, well, you get the idea. I don't care if it should take 10 minutes for the rest of the group to catch up to the rogue who just found himself in the big room with twelve bruisers. Go Movie Time with it; let the "cavalry" arive at a dramtically appropriate moment. Just make it dramatically appropriate soon
  • Master Time, Part II - Should it take an hour to fix the chopper, and the rest of the group is headed off to the temple to see if the Main Bad Buy is there? Either let the mechanic go "Oh, hey, just plug this in and..." or let him fly the thing in just as the Main Bad Guy has his twenty soldiers surrounding the party. Did half the party fall behind as the forward scouts ran across a nest of giant scorpions? The other heroes find a shortcut or, even more entertaining, they slip and fall down a hill and plow into the scene accidentally. Forget realism, amigo; it's just not worth screwing your friends over.
  • All right, enough about Time. Sequencing can be a very useful tool in keeping players engaged even if the party is split. Go round-robin, giving each player a chance to describe that they're doing in whatever period of time. Just don't let any one player take too long before you move on. The time spent doesn't always have to be equal; some players will willingly let you move on because they know they don't need as much. Reward that by trying to get back to the meat of the plot as soon as possible.
  • A variation on the above method is Scenes. This is particularly useful when various characters are talking to different NPCs, or even if they are having distinct conversations with each other that don't involve all of the players at once. Let one Scene play out for a bit, then cut it to let the next Scene take over for a bit. This can be tricky as you try to develop as sense of timing with it, but it is a great way to let everyone do that "but I'm roleplaying my character" thing without imposing on the rest of the players.
  • Don't be afraid to fudge things; if the group is splitting up to collect all the info they can, you can decide that all of the information is one place rather than split up all over (as you had originally planned). Quickly narrate the dead ends and let those who ran into those dead ends catch back up to the main group before things really get going.
  • Don't be afraid to simply arbitrate; let the players know you have no intention of leaving some of them out just because things turned out that way, and you are ret-conning the situation so that everyone can be involved.

I expect I am going to get slammed by some of you over this. Respectfully, that's fine, but I stand on my initial premise here.
Why would any of you want to screw over any of your fellow players by making them sit there and watch you get to play?



  1. Splitting the party is such a challenging issue. In our WoD chronicle, PCs often have individual plots that require a bit of spotlight time. What I try to do (to varying degrees of success) is to quickly cut from one PCs to another. No more than 10 minutes per PC. The trick for me is to make sure that even though these one on one scenes need to be played out, the emphasis is on group fun. I want to quickly wrap the one on ones and get back to the group.

    I also think it's important for a GM to allow other PCs a bit of narrative control and a way to insert themselves into a scene, provided the intrusion makes sense within the context of the story and doesn't hog the spotlight.

    D&D is kind of a "team sport" though, so I would agree that keeping the party unified is always a good idea. I hope your group can work out its issues and get back to a fun, healthy dynamic that allows everyone to feel like an equal participant.


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