Last time we talked about and gave a few examples how splitting the party up in a RPG can cause difficulties. Now, I'm not out to make it sound like the end of the universe/multiverse when this happens. Any seasoned GM knows that Players have a knack doing unexpected things. Some would even say illogical things. This can be annoying, even downright frustrating at times, but it's what makes the game fun and interesting. Tabletop RPG's offer a freedom that even the best boardgames, video games, and even life itself can't provide. So who's one to step in the way of this?
Doing what ever it takes to keep your players from splitting up isn't the way to go. I say let them do it. Here are several suggestions you can use to make sure things go smoothly for yourself as well as your players.
-If you feel it would be best for the time being for the player's to stay together as a unit, let them know either directly or indirectly: An example of directly would be explaining to them why out of the game. An in-game example for indirectly could be something as simple as having the PC's make appropriate skill checks or the like and relaying that their character's might believe that to be a poor idea. Providing in-game evidence and support helps strengthen this, but still leave the decision ultimately in their hands. Avoid making the character's decision yourself, as this is your player's character and he plays his character how he/she wishes. (Although if you were running the PC on the behalf of his/her absent player, I'd deem that a good way to provide in-game advice.)
-If the party insists on splitting up, accommodate this to the best of your ability. At the worst it just means you have to equally divide the attention between each group, which can be tricky if only one group is in an encounter. (And even more dicey if they all are!)
-Letting the party split can provide some interesting results. Sometimes it can be used as a learning experience to promote party cohesiveness. An example would be one group now losing access to a PC's particular skills, useful items, or combat abilities. On the flip-side it presents new challenges for them to overcome.
-In any event, don't be harsh if you decide to make a lesson of the experience. That's just GM dickery!
Here's an example of a recent experience of my own: A few weekends ago from the date of posting this, my Saga Edition gaming crew had just wrapped up a split-party story arc played out over several sessions. Despite some of the pratfalls that arose, I believe it went rather well. The split itself came about somewhat unexpectedly, but I know that sooner or later it might occur so I had planned for an eventuality. Now currently we have four player's each running a PC, but during this time one of our player's was busy with work and school and unable to attend a few sessions. (He actually missed out on the whole split! Left just before it began and returned right after it ended. His PC gained a level too!) Having been short a single player may have factored into the dual-story arc's pros and cons, but the details exactly are unknown.
Basically it went down like this: The group arrived on a backwater planet so the Soldier with criminal aspirations could accept a job for a front company of the Tenloss Syndicate. After accepting the job, he decided to take off for the Corporate Sector on the ship with the Scoundrel pilot (Our absent player's PC, being run by me.); essentially ditching his two other comrades on the dustball world, awaiting their return. I permitted this because I felt I was up for the challenge of running two separate story arcs.
In the end, I believed it turned out a success. The Soldier was able to accomplish his mission and overcome a few challenges that he'd normally let his companions take care of. And his comrades a quarter of the way across the galaxy had a great time delving into the deep intrigue of 'The Behemoth from the World Below'*. Positive thoughts all round.
The biggest problem I can say with the whole experience was a concern I've brought up before: Boredom. It's hard to keep your player's whose PC's aren't the current focus entertained, unless you can make the other group's encounters just as interesting to follow. Switching between each of them as often as possible, and during dramatic parts will help keep their interest vested in the game at hand. Luckily my player's had cellphone games to pass the time during the slower parts, but they snapped right back into it when their turn came up.
Final word: Splitting the Party can be a pain but it can also be a fun experience. For further and higher quality information, I recommend giving a listen to Order 66 Podcast's Episode 112: Split Happens; it focuses on the ups and downs of splitting the party. I may continue on this article in the future, but for the time being these are all my thoughts on this subject. Hope this helps/informs/was amusing. :)
*Shall elaborate on in a future post.