How to deal with a split party

Split party

So you have a split party in D&D and are asking for help. Luckily, my players are never intelligent and at least split the party willingly once per campaign.

Dealing with a split party in D&D is fairly easy. You give every person an equal amount of time. Or at least, as much as possible. Don’t adjust challenges.

You can split the party in many ways. There are two separate groups, many separate groups, individual splits and splits where one person goes on a side mission. The most troubling split is where one person goes off on their own.

Solo missions

Solo missions are the most aggravating split party in D&D. When a person, typically a rogue, goes and scouts on their own away from the group they are on a solo mission.

When this happens new dungeon masters get caught up in dealing with the solo mission like they would any other part of the campaign. This is a problem.

You do not want to give one player more time than any other. You want to give every person equal time, not every group.

There is one exception.

If that person is doing something that is relatively quick and afterward will relay all information to the party you can go a little bit more in depth. A great example of this is when a player tried to infiltrate a base in my current game.

She went in to find out information whilst invisible and the base was not that big. Therefore I let her choose right, left, straight, where she wanted to go. I described the rooms since everyone was paying attention and basically gave a description of the dungeon.

When that player returned the other players knew what each area was and even in the next game told a player who missed the last session what each area was.

If you group is not paying attention to these types of missions then just speed past them like a normal solo mission that has nothing to do with the group.

A normal solo mission is where the person scouting ahead is not planning to scout for maybe 5-10 quick in-game minutes. Oh no, this person is planning to scout for half an hour plus and the outcome more times than not only effects the scouting player.

If a person is planning to do this then you need to speed through the solo mission. Make sure everyone gets equal time, and don’t let that solo person take up the entire session.

Speeding through solo missions

If you have a player committed to making a solo heist, adventure, or whatever and there are others at the table you can do a few things.

  1. Tell them no. This is a team game.
  2. Make them be very specific.
  3. Have them roll skill checks beforehand and give an adventure.
  4. Give a quick summary of the adventure.
  5. Bar progress and make others necessary.
  6. Summarize and ask the others what they are doing.
  7. Do the adventure through text messages or notes.

We will dive into each of these topics, but I want to cover number 1 very quickly.

I do not like saying no and not letting players do what they want. Sometimes you have to put your foot down but generally there are better ways to handle a situation.

The only time I would tell them they cannot have a solo adventure is if there is a group of 8 or more. At this point it is numbers and easy to understand. Any time before even with 6-7 players it may make the player feel like they cannot do what they want with their character.

Feeling like you cannot do what you want is the worst kind of railroading. Railroading can be good as described here but you should never make the players feel like they do not have a choice.

This is why I personally hate option 1 but I have to mention it since there are bigger groups out there and some dungeon masters say no. Instead of saying no, I am going to give you some better options.

Specificity

To solve your split party dilemma with solo missions make them give a specific goal.

If a player gives a specific goal “I wanted to rob the orphans” the player wants to do just that. Shopping, giving detail about the market, that is all unimportant and will take extra time.

Remember, always when you have a split party in D&D give equal time to every PERSON. Not group, person.

If the player specifies what they want to do then you can just zoom to that area or perhaps make some skill checks to get there. Once you have got them to their destination in less than 30 seconds you can go into the adventure.

Make the adventure and challenges small. You do not want them traversing a dungeon by them selves so just have them make a few skill checks to get what they want. If they fail ask them what they will try to do. Escape or keep going. If they keep going have them tell you their plan.

Now you can have them roll a skill check or two and narrate the rest.

Specificity makes a 2 hour adventure turn into 15 minutes.

I mentioned rolling skill checks, but you can make this adventure be even faster.

Pre-rolled skill checks

Have the player be specific with what they want. Now ask them how they think they are going to accomplish x. Have them roll 3-5 skill checks beforehand, or ask them what they think will be useful and then have them roll those checks.

Once they have rolled their skill checks narrate what happens in their solo adventure based on these skill checks. You can try to add extra rolls in the adventure but I would suggest to just make a story based off of what they rolled before hand.

Generally, make them minorly successful. If they rolled amazingly then they accomplish their task and more. When they rolled poorly then maybe the just got out alive. If you make a minor success the norm then they will be satisfied and want more. This more will come in the form of taking their party to do what they want instead of doing it solo.

You have a party for a reason. More can be accomplished with others than by yourself. Drilling it in this way will not make your players angry. It will make them want more.

That is why you briefly narrate the adventure and leave it at that.

Brief narration

If you chose to go the pre-rolled skill route you can narrate briefly like this.

“You snuck into the museum and convinced the guard that you were his replacement. After you approached the treasure you didn’t see any trap but still tried to swap the item with another one of equal weight. Upon attempting this you just barely didn’t disperse the weight enough and an alarm sounded. You were able to jump up to where a lantern was and escape before anyone saw you.”

This example involved persuasion, investigate, sleight of hand, acrobatics, and stealth.

As you can see the whole adventure was briefly narrated and the player learned what happened in one paragraph. This may take 1 in-game minute or less and then you can move onto everyone else.

If you didn’t have them roll beforehand then you can ask how they will approach the museum. After that, you give them a choice of what skill to use and follow the same template.

This second way will take a little bit longer but it is still less than 5 minutes. Both ways are still far less than going through an in-depth adventure that could take 15+ minutes.

You do not want to encourage your players to split the party and go on solo missions. Give everyone equal time and don’t punish them. Make it clear that the game is meant for everyone and with everyone is where they will get the most content.

Barring progress

Speaking of making the game focused on everyone, you can also bar content from the player.

“You get to the massive door that has a bent crowbar locking it. The crowbar looks almost as if it is tied.” The rogue cannot pick this type of lock. Instead, they will need a wizard to melt it or a strength based character to open it.

Another way of baring progress aside from obstacles is to give an obstacle of the unknown.

“You approach a lack that stretches farther than the eye can see. There is, however, a boat that can fit up to 10 tied to the shore.”

Notice here how the content was not barred by an obstacle. The player can continue, but if they do it is certain death. If a player tries to go by themselves in a situation like this then they deserve death.

If a player encounters a gaping chasm, a bridge that is obscured by fog, anything to make the player reconsider if scouting is a good idea can be considered an adequate way to bar someone’s progress.

You could of course just do this ultimate passive aggressive ‘don’t split the party’ method.

Summarize and ask others

The arguably most demeaning and passive-aggressive way to tell a player to not do solo missions is to summarize it. Then, you ask the others what they are doing.

“Jbop roll stealth. You get past the guards and will take a while to figure out where the mansion is. Now back to you guys, what are you doing while you wait?”

See how the solo character didn’t get almost any screen time. They were still able to use a skill check but they were not the focus. The group was the focus.

Less than 30 seconds could be addressed to the player doing a solo mission and the others can get more than an equal amount of time. A great way of doing this is at a bar.

“I want to go out and steal money from a merchant!” “Cool. Roll a sleight of hand check.” Rolls a 28. “You are able to find a few merchants and get 10 gold.”

Now the rest of the party gets the rest of the time and solo missions, or splitting the party in general, is conveyed to be a less than ideal thing. 10 gold is a weak reward and they didn’t get the spotlight.

Now, you ask “So Bob what do you do?” And go through the rest of the players giving them a bit more time since they were not the ones who split the party.

Do this for each player.

Equal time

I have mentioned that you should split the time equally between each player and I stick by this. If possible ping pong back and forth between players. For example, in my game, I would do this.

“Aolani what are you doing?” She answers. “Trail what are you up to?” He answers. “Borealis what are you doing?” After that, if someone has not done anything recently I ask “X are you doing anything else?”

This gives the other player the opportunity to do more if they want and will not overshadow players. Giving equal time is essential when you split the party for any reason, and it may be hard at first.

An experienced dungeon master will generally be able to tell if a player has not done anything for a while. Inexperienced dungeon masters, however, might need help.

There are two ways that I have seen to help inexperienced dungeon masters. Use a timer or have them roll initiative. I dislike the timer option because using a timer is never ideal. The initiative can help a new dungeon master get used to checking on other people, but it is not organic.

If you need those tools to help you then by all means but I do hope that you can manage time on your own after some experience.

2 different groups

Split parties are not just when a person goes off on their own to do a solo adventure. A party can split cleanly into 2 separate groups.

If this happens then you have a few options. The one that makes the most logical sense is to hold two different sessions. One for each group. If the split is not going to be long then give each group an equal amount of time.

When there is more than one group that involves more than 1 person (at least 2 groups with 2 people) then you should manage time-based on each group.

This generally isn’t any different from managing time for each player, but it helps when there is an even and an odd number of players in groups.

The amount of time that the party is going to be split is important to factor in, but purpose maters as well. If one party is sitting back and waiting for a scouting group, you might want to treat this like a solo mission that directly affects the party. Primarily, a scouting mission.

If the party is going to receive this information as soon as the scouts get back then you do not need to split time. Ask the party that is doing nothing that they are doing, but other than that you should focus on the scouting group if the mission will be fairly brief.

If a group goes to scout a city and will be gone for a day, then you should split the time as evenly as possible, or at least let the players who are waiting have a chance to do something.

The easiest way to deal with your group being split into 2 is to have separate sessions, but what if the party fractures into multiple groups? What about singular splits where everyone is on their own?

I would treat these instances like a roleplay scenario where players go off on their own. I will have an article dedicated to this topic in the future.

Players

Some players keep making a split party in D&D. Some do this with the lame excuse ‘but it is what my character would do’ or something similar. If a player is trying to force their views on you and make the game less fun for everyone else you have a few options.

The problem player can make a new character. If they don’t want to play with the group or have a character that will be with the group then that character leaves and a new one comes.

No one should have to jump through hoops to let a problem player join the group. This would not happen in real life, why is it allowed in Dungeons and Dragons?

You can also talk to your players. If your player has a tendency to split from the group talk to them and ask why. Why are you splitting the party? Here you might learn something important to help you make the game more fun. You might also find out that the player is just being a pain for no significant reason.

Either way, talking to the player should help inform you about what to do next. Always talk to your players if you can and need their input. Player input is very valuable.

Conclusion

When dealing with a split party in D&D you need to first consider how the party is split.

Once you have identified how you can address these splits in a variety of ways. You can dismiss the person who split the party, make sure that everyone gets attention, or just not make that person be the center of the session.

Context matters and solo missions for the group are a little bit different, but these should be brief.

If the party is split into separate groups the best option is to have separate sessions for long splits, but you can still give each group equal time.

A split party is hard to deal with, but I hope that I have given you some helpful tips on how to deal with a split party.

This has been Wizo and keep rolling!

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