Let’s split up, gang - to divide and conquer
C: To set the scene, in the last Angela-session, we were at a masquerade. It was a big event with lots of named NPCs because Angela went ham on this town and all the fancy families are intermarried and interconnected. We were there because we’d saved a rich socialite, who one of us is now trying to seduce in order to get monies.
A: And while Petra’s been doing that, the rest of you were in the city catacombs.
C: Yeah, we were investigating all of the spooky shit down there. And there was a lot of darkness, a lot of death in them, so we’ve been led to believe there might be some sort of necromancer chilling in this town.
A: You saw skeletons in the catacombs—living ones who attacked you. I feel like they may have given the necromancer away a bit.
C: Right. And we think the necromancer is also the Vice Provost of the city, and the ball was at his house. So we were there to dance and also to investigate. And we realised that we couldn’t all sneak into his backroom without it looking super suspicious. So: we had to split the party. Some of us stayed out front to keep an eye on things while the others snuck into his private quarters.
A: I want to emphasise that when you say you had to split the party, that’s not true. There might have been consequences if you’d all left the ballroom together, but technically you could have done it. I didn’t force you guys to split up.
C: That’s absolutely fair; great point. To rephrase, we decided to split the party, which isn’t a thing we do a lot of—in either campaign. Mainly because of the associated risk with splitting the group up. As anyone who’s played D&D can tell you, the general rule is: don’t split the party; that’s how people get killed.
A: But you guys went for it. I didn’t expect you to—the SJWs, as your group is known, don’t often think things through. You’re more of a ‘rush in recklessly together’ type group. But this time, you thought up a plan and decided it made sense to split into two groups.
C: Yeah, three of the party snuck out back while two of us stayed in the main room. We fucked up instantly because the recon-group went through enough doors that the spell Message stopped working so we couldn’t communicate.
A: You guys walked right into that one. You also sent two characters without dark vision down a dark corridor while the dwarf stayed in the main room.
C: Listen, in-game we’d all had a few cups of wine. I think we did okay.
A: That’s fair; things could have gone a lot worse.
C: When you say didn’t expect us to split up, did that fuck things up for you? People often joke that DMs actually invented the ‘splitting the party is bad’ take to make their games more manageable, so that they don’t have to juggle lots of bullshit all at once. I don’t think that’s entirely true, but it does have a hint of truth to it—generally it’s easier for a DM if the party stays as a tight unit because if they run into any combat/encounter, it’s probably been designed for a larger group.
A: It’s definitely more stressful as a DM; you have that moment when two members of your five-strong party are about to stumble across your level 20 necromancer boss and you’re trying to work out if you can rejig the numbers to stop this being an instant bloodbath. It’s the same when a player cancels on you last minute and you suddenly have to redo battle maps and combat scenarios to allow for their absence.
C: Exactly, and—as was the case here—it often isn’t the DM’s call to split the party, as you said; it’s a character choice. The DM may sometimes split the party by some sneaky manoeuvre, but I think a lot of the time, it’s the party doing the fucking Fred-from-Scooby-Doo ‘let’s split up, gang’ thing, and then the monsters start chasing you.
A: So splitting the party definitely causes headaches for the DM, especially when it’s unexpected. But, with that said, dividing the group up was a lot more fun than I’d anticipated, for both me and the players, I think. Like, you all got to do more stuff. Instead of everyone waiting and watching Petra while she picked locks, Saoirse was busy flirting, Weyrholm was competing in a drinking competition, and so on. I know that this is a magic, fantasy world, so talking about realism is kind of misplaced, but everyone getting to do their own stuff felt more natural than having you move as a clump.
C: True. We got to play the characters a little more.
A: And I got to engineer some backstory stuff for one of the player characters where her brother, Nederick, showed up. They were able to have a family reunion in the middle of the plot without having Delphi’s friends all standing behind her and listening in.
C: I’m so worried for Nederick. If shit pops off and skeletons come, we’re going to have to save him.
A: Oh, I like that. I’m glad that you’re not thinking, ‘Does Ned have plot armour which will help us survive?’ In fairness, you probably should be worried; he does seem like a bit of an idiot. I didn’t realise he was going to be that dim until I did his voice, but then he was.
C: You nailed the sibling dynamic though.
A: Also, as a side-note, Ned has the same surname as one of our actual players because I panicked.
C: Angela did the thing in cartoons where the person has to make up a fake name really quickly and they look at something nearby, like a pepper shaker, and say, ‘Pepper’. Angela just looked at one of our friends and said, ‘it’s your last name’. That’s now the last name of Ned, and also Delphi, I guess.
A: Incidentally our friend who’s name I stole has the same initials as the Vice Provost. If she exists in-world, can you be sure that it’s not her who’s the real villain?
C: That would be quite the plot twist. You have other references in your game too, like Bramblepaw and Lilypad from My Brother, My Brother and Me.
A: I think we both include a fair few in-jokes and references, like the steamed hams in your game. But to return to the topic, I get why splitting the party can be disastrous for basically everybody, but I think that it worked really well this session and I’m glad you guys decided to do it. It made the ball way more fun and involved than it otherwise would have been.
C: I don’t know how it will turn out, but from a narrative point of view, it worked positively. There was so much tension in the room.
A: I should also say that, in this session, there were times where perhaps you shouldn’t have been together. Such as when you collectively insulted these brothers—
C: Oh come on, that was not a group activity. I did so much damage control there. Where are my points?
A: It’s in my notes that the de Ghents hate Weyrholm slightly less than the others. But maybe you shouldn’t let Delphi and Maddy hang out; I feel like they feed off each other, encouraging each other to up the ante.
C: And Saoirse. Jeez, if Petra had been there too, we would have shanked somebody.
A: Don’t worry, the de Ghents are still at the party and so are you, so it can happen next time.
C: I have a feeling that next session things are going to go south quickly. In part because the Vice Provost’s snake familiar was in the room we broke into, so the big boss definitely knows we’ve been snooping.
A: Also you guys did not wear dresses which blend in with anyone else in this party because none of you listened to my sage advice about party wear so everyone can see you all the time.
C: Would the snake have recognised us? Maybe he was a racist snake who’s like, ‘I can’t see humans apart, I think they’re all the same.’ I guess we’ll see. Also, not really relevant here, but you did a really good job of developing the bad guy’s horse-aesthetic. We snuck into his room and there were all these horse-themed things—a horse portrait that talked and these little horse figurines.
A: I’m glad you liked that. But yeah, I’m not saying that splitting the party is always good—
C: In an actual dungeon, it would have been dumb as hell.
A: But half the group staying back, letting the sneaky people do reconnaissance trips while the rest of you did other things, worked well here, and it has set things up to be very interesting next session.
C: Oh, good.