How to split the party -Dm tips

How to Split the Party

If you have played dungeons and dragons before then you are probably familiar with the phrase, “Don’t split the party.”  This phrase has taken the community by storm to the point that so many groups completely dismiss splitting the party as ever an option.  This article is going to explain parameters on when it is a good idea to split the party and how to do it.  I also will speak into when it is a bad idea and how to encourage the party to stick together in case of shorter session time or lower group numbers.  Knowing how and when to do this is a daunting task so let's get started. Splitting the party is a good tool to put into your arsenal to create some tension or keep things fresh, listen to our dm tips on the subject.

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When Should you Split the Party

The first thing that I like to ask myself before I allow for a party split is “How long is this going to take.”  Combat by far is the biggest time consuming encounter that a ttrpg has to offer.  In the many times I have had a party split as a beginning DM, a split party has gotten into combat, which inevitably made half the table entertained, and the other half very bored.  A good example of when you should encourage a party split is during downtime.  Downtime includes activities such as, “I want to go talk to the blacksmith,” “I want to craft an item,” or “Id like to go read at the library.”  All of these activities can take less than a minute to resolve, as well as, most likely not result in combat.  


Another thing you must consider is party size.  As a DM, I have always had a party size of 7+ on my roster.  I have had weeks of low turnout with 4+ members (anything less than that I would normally result in canceling), which turned into a different situation.  I believe the party split is possible whenever the split party has at least two participating members.  In my experience, unless in downtime, if a split ever occurs with a single person, bad things are destined to happen.  Getting lost, captured, distracted, etc are all situations I have seen from a stray party member.  One time I had one of my players, while he was alone, convince an important npc (who was a widowed mom looking for her son) to jump into a lake of acid, killing herself.  This was a setback for the party but a great learning experience for everyone.  That action was well within the bounds of that character’s personality and more than made sense, all things in that citation considered.


The last thing you must consider is “Distance.”  There have been situations before where I encountered a party split and it was because of a conflicting viewpoint on the priority of quests.  One group wanted to assist one faction that was attempting to assassinate the king while another group wanted to help another faction.  The important factor here was, they stayed within the same city.  Character agency is vital in ttrpg games.  It is what makes these games so unique.  Your party has a right to pursue their preferred option of resolution towards a quest, as long as they are not alone.  


Finding the balance between character agency and group dynamics I believe lies within understanding the time limits, always at least having a party split of two, and considering party distances.

How to Split it

Now that you have a good situation to split the party, here is how I do it.  


When the party is not in downtime, has conflicting viewpoints about their next point of action and entertains 2 persons per party, there are a couple things I like to do.


First:  Whichever party is not in the scene, I invite to go hangout around the house.  They are free to go talk in the kitchen, play video games, play board games, talk about their next point of action, roleplay amongst themselves, etc.  This way they are not waiting around, doing nothing,  and they are unaware of the other party’s doings, prohibiting metagaming.  Normally this also encourages some patriotism between the groups, in a healthy way, with each group wanting to brag about their accomplishments whenever they meet back up during the game scenario.  It also allows for those jaw drop moments when the party shares a bit of information they found that shocks the entire other party, revealing something that could have not been found had the party not split.


Second:  Set a timer.  If you are pushed for time during your sessions, and even if you are not, you are going to want to use a timer.  This encourages maximum productivity between the groups, and lets whichever group that is not participating not feel like they will be getting the raw end of the deal when the other group continuously keeps on playing.  With a timer, you will notice people getting distracted less as well as paying attention more.  Very rarely has my split party members forgotten the name of an important npc that they met when the timer is out.  If combat breaks out, set a timer for turns as well.  Giving everyone 10 seconds to determine their turn really picks up the pace.  If combat exceeds the desired time, determine how much longer the players have and how close they are to victory or defeat.  If it is clear who the winner is, pause them right there and pick up with the winner being triumphant and combat over.  If the winner is unclear, take pictures, remember initiative order, and take a pause.


Lastly:  Have the party plan a meet up spot.  Give the players a place to meet up at the end of the day where they are all together.  This ensures that at some point the party will be meeting back up together, finalizing the party split.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this article was helpful for you game masters out there.  I hope you all are comfortable now with running a party split. Also consider checking out more articles.

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