First off, it has been a while since I last blogged, mostly due to school and a job, so I apologize for the absence. Good news is I should be graduating this month with my Psychology Degree! YAY Go me!
Anyway, this isn’t a post for or against the age old trick/dilemma of splitting an adventuring party. This is merely an observation from a 4E standpoint. To set the scenario, I’ll start with the fact I’m currently running the Scales of War campaign, published by dragon magazine. It’s a campaign which takes the characters from level 1-30, and my current group (new players aside) have been playing since level 1. We are currently level 12 and running through the Module “The Bitter Glass”.
Now, I’m not an inflexible DM by any means, and I usually let the dice fall where they fall since I believe D&D is not just a story but a game as well. There are winners, and sometimes losers. I’m not a 90′s child where little Johnny gets a consolidation prize because “everybody is a winner”. If the PC’s mess up, they could lose their character.
So, back to the point at hand. The module has a spot where the PC’s are in a city and in a space between two encounters, the PC’s (as predicted by the module) will go out into the city to gather information or do shop buying/selling. I think it was actually a very well written module, and it predicts PC behavior very well.
Enter the dilemma. My party comprised of six players, decides to split up. The module sets up an Ambush for when the party goes outside their current safe house to search for clues or whatever. The warlock decides to stay at the warehouse with the allies the party has made. So she is safe from this encounter, but will miss the Ambush encounter. The other 5 decide to split into two groups. The Rogue & Bard pair off to find information; and the Fighter, Barbarian & Wizard decide to do some shopping. Neither group try’s to be stealthy, which would be something to consider from a DM standpoint.
The module sets an ambush with about 8 minions, and 4 moderate level strikers. Not a difficult encounter by any means provided the party set out together.
In the past, splitting the party was so much fun for a DM for various reasons, however in previous editions encounters were shorter and quicker to resolve. So when this happened I knew right off, that several players would be “sitting there for a bit”. Is this a good thing? or a bad thing? Personally I felt really bad for the players who were going to miss out, because combat is half the fun, but at the same time if the group who gets attacked dies, the players sitting out would probably feel bad for not being there, but happy they didn’t get killed.
I made the choice to let them split the party instead of try to corral them together or vacate the encounter. I made this decision because in the realm of 4E combat I didn’t think the combat would be a long either way, (win or lose) for the group who was attacked. I based this on the defensive ability and HP of the monsters which was low. The encounter was obviously set lower than the party level by the module makers and probably because they predicted a party split would happen.
I decided to let fate decide whether the bard and rogue got ambushed or the fighter, barbarian, and wizard. I informed the party in a generic term that as they walked through a courtyard that they were being watched and out of nowhere the shadowy figures approached with swords drawn. I did so in more flowery terminology, but followed that up with since the two groups were split, I did not know which one was actually attacked. I let fate decide, even for one group odd for the other.
Fate chose the trio, which honestly was probably the best the party could hope for. Despite a rough start due to bad initiative rolls on their part, they managed to survive, but pretty beaten up.
In the end I write about this, not to ask for judgement on my personal decisions, but more as a comparison from previous editions to 4E. The question is:
Do you split your groups party in 4E? How well does it work? Does the speed (or lack thereof) affect your decision or reason to do this?
For me, I like it when the party splits up, I think its more logical in many situation, and many times quite an effective tactic. Not only can it be exciting and dangerous, but it can also make for some great stories for the players. However I think 4E combat works against this activity from a speed standpoint and unfortunately could put a damper on something which is not only an age old adage of D&D, but something which almost works as a roadblock against some realistic playability.