It happens in every campaign, one player decides to go off and pursue an agenda or lead that only they understand. The player is totally focused on their objective, nothing else seems to matter. No one else at the table understands it. The DM is at his wits end to contain and control the situation. The other players are slowing losing interest and the entire adventure is about to be waylaid.
If you’ve ever sat at a table where you weren’t the player things were focused on, you know the boredom that soon sets in. The frustration at wanting to move forward, but not being able to due to the indulgence or poor planning of the DM. If you haven’t lived through this eventuality you likely haven’t been playing D&D very long, but don’t worry I’m sure it will happen to you soon enough.
In order to make this eventuality less painful for everyone, here are five steps that provide some straightforward advice on how to handle things if one or more players decide to split the party.
- Provide an equal amount of time for each player. Nothing builds resentment towards other players than one player hogging all of the gaming time. While turns in combat will invariably differ in length depending on what options a player selects, the same is not necessarily true outside of combat. Yes, some players will want to do more than others on their turn. Do your best to limit how long each player acts and provide an equal measure of time to everyone.
- Keep it interesting for all players. Often the separation occurs because one player wants to pursue a particular objective. This is fine if the separation will only take a few minutes to resolve itself. When the objective requires more time develop plot lines for the remaining players at the table. There is nothing worse than having four players sit around bored while a fifth delves into a plot line that only they are involved with. Make sure you keep everyone involved or you’ll hear about it after the session.
- When the party separation occurs incorporate a skill challenge in to raise the stakes. Many DMs running 4e don’t like skill challenges or simply don’t get them. By adding a combat encounter when the party separates you raise the stakes and encourage all players at the table to participate. For more assistance with spontaneous skill challenges chectout Skill Challenges On The Fly.
- If combat occurs, keep it small and well contained, but don’t diminish the stakes of defeat. Party separation doesn’t mean “no combat” or “only role-playing situations.” Feel free to include a small combat for one or two of the players. There are two ways to handle combat in these situations and you’ll likely know which way to go based on the scenario. One is to have a combat encounter that has serious repercussions and could result in the death of the character. The other is to allow the player to enjoy the combat and feel really powerful. You’ll know which way to go, so trust your gut and have fun with it. If you are looking for more advice on handling combat this way, see how we Split The Partysuccessfully in our campaign.
- Ensure that all avenues of pursuit provide something meaningful for the game. If the party separates so that everyone can go and purchase new gear and one player really wants to role-play it out and negotiate for a better deal, ask yourself one question. What does this add to the game? If the answer is nothing, nip it in the bud and move on. This doesn’t mean don’t entertain the novelty of the idea, just don’t let it distract from the overall adventure. A DM who allows one player to dominate the table for an hour just to purchase new gear is asking for trouble.
Has your party ever split up? How did you handle it? Did one or two players hog the limelight? What other steps would you offer a DM faced with a party that splits up?