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Lookout published on 7 Comments on Lookout

They split the party! OH NOOOoooooooooo!

Well, “don’t split the party” is actually one of the old-guard adages I completely disagree with. If the ranger isn’t scouting ahead and foraging for food, why do you have a ranger? If two things need done at the same time, why not split up? The dungeon master — at least, when I’m the Dungeon Master — isn’t the enemy of the party. The DM is the person setting the difficulty and running the world. It’s that person’s job to make the game playable and to balance the two different cameras, so to speak. Split up? Ok, the enemies have fewer hit-points, or they patrol in fewer numbers, or the rest of the party is close enough to hear the commotion and can get there in (say) two rounds. When it makes sense to split up, do it.

Hell, my current party’s ranger split off with the party to escort an NPC safely home. It was trivial to have a different character meet up with them in town so that he had a place at the table still. It literally made zero since for his ranger not to offer to escort the NPC in the given situation, and that character will catch back up soon(tm).

I’m also never afraid of contriving means of quick (at the table, not necessarily narratively fast) transportation to get people regrouped if they suddenly realize that splitting the party wasn’t helpful the way they thought it would be. I see my role as a DM to be more of a lubricant to the story rather than someone imposing arcane rules and cackling over the charred corpses of people who disobey rules like “Don’t Split The Party,” which, frankly, I don’t see written down in the PHB.

New Job

My new job as a delivery driver is really nice. My afternoons consist of driving around town and listening to music. I also get paid more in tips than I *ever* made as a teacher, so I’ll be able to invest in my own comic again, which will be super nice. I work in the early afternoons though, so that means the comic will now routinely be updating on Monday in the late afternoon / early evening, since Zach’s art schedule can’t really change to suit my work schedule.


I did a test print of the paper minis for our patrons. Those came out decently, and I’ll be sending final files to the printer later tonight. Zach is still illustrating monsters, and has (I think) two left. After that, we have some dungeon maps to create, and then I’ll finally be able to ship these babies out. It will feel amazing. 🙂


Great news on the Kickstarter.

Back in the days when adversarial GMs were in some circles considered “the norm” and “doing it the right way”, splitting up the party really was a terrible idea. Plus we’ve all seen enough horror movies to know that you never go alone. 😉

I think the “Don’t split the party” thing is more of a stylistic choice. The GM and players always need to make sure they are on the same page about what kind of campaign it will be, and where it lies on the realism-fantasy scale, not in setting but in logic, should be part of that. Realistic logic -> People do things alone ALL THE TIME, why should they constantly stay together? Fantastic logic -> There could be a dozen orcs around every corner, if we split up we’ll just draw the attention of more enemies at the same time.

I told my group no major splits because going back and forth between people at 2-3 different places just didn’t make for fun gameplay, causing major downtimes for the ones I couldn’t currently play with.
Granted, I’m not very good at splitting my attention too, but it just wasn’t fun, neither for me nor for them.

Regarding the “Don’t Split the Party” kinda rule, I’m of the opinion that the party splits up at it’s own risk. No, I’m not there to seek the deaths of the PCs. That’s not dramatic, and very quickly most DMs won’t have any players anymore. But them splitting up, and running into a full force orc patrol, is both realistic and dramatic, because the world doesn’t tone it down, just because the party is split in two. That’s how the world should work, although a lot of stories with many DMs have flexible stories that fade in and out, as they are attempting to handcraft a story, in a way it perhaps shouldn’t be done. One common theme of this, is the bad guys intentionally spreading out their shots and attacks over multiple party members. If it’s some mindless zombies, that makes sense. If it’s a top squad of the evil king, they should be smart, and vicious, because of training, and discipline. If the heroes walked into a room with those guys, and weren’t totally prepared, they should have to turn tail and run, or risk permanently losing a character.

If the DM makes it clear that yeah, sometimes running into a full war band at level 1 is a possibility, or a lonely goblin at level 13, it shouldn’t be an issue or a matter of complaint. The DM can’t exactly explain all of his reasoning, because secrets and plot. Some DMs have done this, some haven’t. I’m inclined towards the more brutal side, as that isn’t as prone to making the world bland by DM fiat, although accidentally, and it emphasizes the world is very dangerous.

The trick I think is trying to rationalize who would, and wouldn’t among the NPCs commit to this action, and how much IC information that NPC would have about who to target in the midst of combat. Some might be intelligent enough, wise enough, or disciplined enough to know, “kill the wizard first,” “knock the cleric unconscious,” or “total coup de gras on the fighter,” even without formal intel on a party, from a past set of experiences, or ambient knowledge, dependent on the setting. For example, if magic is rather common, and battle wizards easily identifiable, at the start of a given combat, there was probably an attempt by the enemy to turn them into a pincushion, or negate their ability to throw a fireball.

Too late for more cohesive thoughts. Cheers folks.

New reader going through the archives. Just want to present a different take on the whole “Don’t split the party” thing.

Personally, it’s got nothing to do with adversarial DMs or fracturing party strength or whatever. If you split the party, suddenly the DM has to keep track of (at least) twice as many things at the same time as usual. Plus, when the DM is focusing on one fraction of the party, nobody outside that group is getting to interact with the game. Basically, splitting the party reduces the amount of game time everyone except the DM gets, unless we’re looking at a situation where the players have multiple characters so they can be in each of the split parties — and even then, it’s still a bigger workload for the DM (especially if they’re having to adjust things on the fly to accommodate the abbreviated parties).

This is not to say you should NEVER do it. Just that you should be aware of the costs, and preferably have a plan to deal with them beforehand.


Usually the only time that splitting the party reasonably comes up in my games (reasonably as in not because of party drama) is because of recon, which is definitely valid, and an activity I suggest for players who have fun watching their friends’ shenanigans. Then I can text them snippets of information, and when I tag them back in they’ll have stuff to share.

So in my current campaign as a semi-new DM, it’s established that the town serving as home base is pretty safe while the world outside is dangerous. Thus, within town, the party will often split up into characters doing their individual business or going in smaller groups if interests align. Outside town though, they are encouraged but not required to stick together and they usually do. Characters that wander off can attract the attention of a predator and while I still keep things relatively scaled to the number of those in danger, being alone is still much more dangerous because if you DO go down, there’s no one to stabilize one against death saves or fight off an aforementioned predator. So far in my campaign, we’ve had a lot of death saves but only one character death. Said character split from the party and allowed herself to be cornered alone by a boss. Meanwhile, in regular encounters, my players are very good at keeping each other alive despite some notable in-character conflict.

So to summarize, I’m kinda neutral about the “don’t split the party” rule. I think it should be “enforced” to the extent that it makes sense. Not expecting trouble? Sure, split up and do your thing. Deadly traps and monsters in the area? It’s dangerous to go alone.

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