Splitting the Party... but adding Roleplayable NPCs?

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In my next session my three players (and a DMNPC who they trust) will be tracking down information regarding a corrupt mine manager. To do so, they will be exploring an 'abandoned' mine controlled by said mine manager. Before this exploration, however, it is likely they will encounter a group of four criminals. These criminals have an interest in the same mine manager, who essentially acts as their probabation officer.

If the players don't kill these NPCs, I'm thinking about forming a split party scenario where two groups of four are formed (PC, PC, Criminal, Criminal and PC, NPC, Criminal, Criminal) and each group explores a seperate area of the mine. Then, I could cut back and forth between groups, maybe even take an entire session for each seperate group, and then have the remnants of the two groups meet back up again afterwards.

I think this would allow each of my Players to:
1. Roleplay something other than Lawful/Neutral Good
2. Experiment with some different classes (one of the criminals is a sorcerer and none of the PCs have any experience with arcane spellcasting)
3. Experience character death without it being their characters (the death of these criminals would be memorable but rather insignificant to the greater story) 

Has anyone tried something of this nature? Generally, do you think players would take well to the idea of playing something out of the ordinary? Is this even worth the effort?
Currently DMing a 3.5e AoW game one night a week. Players are almost through Three Faces of Evil. If you are considering beginning this campaign using this edition, I can help.
I've been experimenting a lot lately with ways to split the party but keep it exciting.  What you've described here sounds like an excellent way to accomplish that, as long as your playersw are all interested in Roleplay more than Leveling.  While I'm sure you will reward your players for doing a good job in their NPC roles, players who are only interested in the XP/sheet advancement aren't going to really get into this very much.  If, however, your players are like mine, and thrive on the ROLE-playing aspect, they will relish this opportunity to sit behind the screen, just for a brief time.

This actually reminds me a little bit of one of Chris Perkins' articles on The Dungeon Master Experience, titled Special Guest Star.  Your situation is slightly different, but the payoff is largely the same.

I think you've got a fantastic idea, here.  I hope to hear how it turns out.
damnedmage sounds like he has some kind of frustration.

I've done this before in an adventure I wrote for Eberron in which the PCs split up and party all night in Stormreach while investigating some stuff. Yes, my group is filled with ROLE-players (heh). It still fell flat. Feedback was while they liked the idea, they'd rather just play their own PCs. Players are more easily able to work with their own characters than an NPC handed to them on the spot and I heartily recommend you just keep them together and press on with the adventure.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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We split up parties regularly. In fact, our parties our usually not cohesive units, like a chartered adventuring group that you might see in Faerun, but rather a group of individuals who find it useful to work together often. Our main Eberron party has never had a "party headquarters", but just meet up at a residence of a member. In game they don't really consider themselves a formal group, and sometimes wind up working at cross-purposes. (Here I should say that is all on the part of the characters. We as players and DMs do put a great deal of effort into cooperation, and sometimes the most fractious moments in-game are moments when we around the table are pulling together the best for the narrative.) In any case, temporarily splitting up the group can add a lot to the dynamic, and adding short term playable NPC's can give the players a fun little break. My only caveat is the darnedmage damnedmage is right, make sure your players are on board for any adjustments in the reward system.

After posting and then reading iserith's post (yes, it took me a while to write that, I had to take a phone call), I think that a quick mid-game Session Zero-Plus might be in order, to ensure that everyone is on the same page.  It worked well for us, but I suppose I can see how it wouldn't for others.
damnedmage sounds like he has some kind of frustration.

Actually, no, my party's all Roleplayers, and would probably do really well with something like this. I just know that there are groups that very much don't, and they usually are not roleplayers.
While my players bypassed this entire situation by interogating one of the criminals off to the side, I think I agree with Iserith that it may have been difficult to force new abilities and skills on the players. Obviously it would have only been an option: the player may have had no interest in it and chose to remain in the same group. Either way, the criminals are still alive, so if this situation re-presents itself and the players  go for it I'll post a report on the result.
Currently DMing a 3.5e AoW game one night a week. Players are almost through Three Faces of Evil. If you are considering beginning this campaign using this edition, I can help.
I've been doing this a lot in my current game, with tons of success.

First of all, if I have enough notice that a player will be absent, a lot of times I'll prepare a vignette with characters that I pre-generate and hand out.  These vignettes have been hugely successful.  The feedback from the group has been that they love having a chance to see the world through different perspectives and, since they're new to the game, they have really loved getting to see how other classes and other roles work - like my dwarf Shaman Leader just loved playing a Dwarf Warden Defender.

I also encourage the players to split up and have they're own goals.  We're playing in an occupied city, which, as it turns out, has a huge sandbox potential.  Each PC has a background that makes playing the political intrigue of the city very character specific and they have to split up often, and in hostile territory.

So what I've done is, when one PC is alone and finds themselves in trouble, I'll prepare a pseudo-vignette where I hand out pre-generated allies that come to the PC's rescue.  A lot of these pre-generated allies are recurring characters and the players get really excited when they get to use their favorite again.

So I think it can work, and in fact that it is working brilliantly in my game, but, like all things DnD, it only works if your players buy into it.  My players have a background and a frame of reference for vignettes and I know they enjoy them.  If the feedback had gone the other way I wouldn't do it anymore.
Sleeping with interns on Colonial 1
Been doing something similar for years on a regular basis and has been consistently successful.  I've found that players tend to enjoy the opportunity to play something different every once in a while, especially in a long-running campaign.  I've typically used it for 'solo' adventures, where over the course of 1-2 sessions every player gets a short adventure focused on their character and the other players play the supporting cast.
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