Thursday, April 30, 2015

Splitting Parties and Check Lists

This is really a long answering comment to Barrow's questions earlier today.  I'd rather not be limited in space in answering these.

To begin, how do I manage multiple player character groups where PC's have differing goals or agendas - such as, Barrow asks, having a case where the thief and the monk are trying to escape Hell at the same time as the party is trying to break in.

That particular example is very easy to answer.  I didn't let Ivan or Shalar attempt to escape.  They were trapped, period.  Their only option was the rest of the party.  I set it up that way on purpose.

By not cutting away to the thief or the monk during the entire time the party set out to rescue them, I left the question of what state they were in (alive? in one piece? disfigured?) to the party's imagination, thus heightening the tension.  Film, and particularly television, tends to destroy tension utterly by adding a scene that shows the victim, alive, whole and unchanged.  It's presumed that the dialogue, acting and setting can be designed to make the audience feel the victim's plight, but usually this falls flat on its face.  There isn't that much horror that can be shown, even in an R-rated movie, to compare with our imaginations to make this giveaway effective.

All right . . . but what if the party divides up around the outside of a goblin fort, attacking the fort from different angles.  What then?

I try to run the characters in a situation like that in as narrow a sliver of time as possible.  A quick cut to the player trying to climb the tower, three to five minutes at most, then the next character taking a charge in brief, time enough to make a decision and roll dice, then quickly we're off to the next part of the battle field and the next character.  If everyone knows what everyone else is doing, it is fairly easy to keep these cuts rapid and short, since no one's immediate action is overly dependent upon information someone else has privy to.  They are separated by a battlefield; chances are, they won't be able to help, even if they know (impossibly) what is going on way over there.

Okay, but what if the party is divided and it does matter what group A knows versus group B?

Then you've got to physically move your party into different parts of your home, even onto the back deck or otherwise outside, as I have done upon occasion.  I've had the entire party in separate places, deliberately isolated so that their decisions can't be understood by each other, except according to what information I'm telling.

An isolation like this will happen if the party is captured and being separately interrogated - and it gets interesting, as the Inquisitor gains knowledge according to what other party members have told.  My parties don't stab each other in the back, thankfully.

More commonly, a party will be in two groups, assaulting a central point simultaneously.  Or some party members might be sucked into a vortex, leaving the others behind.  I've done that, too - thus giving some players knowledge that the other players don't have.

Recently one of my offline groups was in a fight with a crypt thing that succeeded in teleporting Pikel, the 11th level druid, four miles away, 'poof.'  I made the druid leave the room.  I did not tell Pikel what had happened until he was out of the room.  As far as the group knew, Pikel had been imprisoned or destroyed.

So, out in the hall, Pikel was told what happened and he recognized the general lay of the land (they were on an island 8 miles in diameter) and promptly turned into a bird in order to rejoin the party).  I left him and ran the party for a few minutes.  Then I went back and ran Pikel, telling him what he saw as he flew across the land.  Then back to the main party.  Then back to Pikel.  Then to the main party, who were wasting time uncertain what to do.  Then I had Pikel reenter, appear and tell the party what had happened.

It was a small disjointed part, but it felt fast-paced because I got up and moved back and forth, continuously, keeping both sides of the equation in the picture at the same time.

The DM has to be able to run without books, without depending on anything except a memory of the location if need be, to keep the pace moving forward.  If I had been too sunk in my books, having to carry those back and forth, the game would have degraded.  But I made the point in How to Run that the DM has to commit as much of the game to memory as possible.  The same qualifies for the world that the DM creates.

I also wrote in How to Run the importance of keeping notes both during and after a running.  These are called worksheets (what are we going to do) and checklists (what did we do?).  This is how I keep track of the date and even the time of the game.

Here's an example of my 'checklist,' which is a chronological account of what the party has done on what day, without filling out the details.  I tend to remember what has happened in each physical location, because I have had a very long mental association in my head between action and place.

This accounts for three runnings - starting from the moment the party decided to leave Korca in Albania to try to regain Demifee the mage:

December 4, the party wakes, sells off 10 ewes and 8 rams; the remainder 93 ewes are in the care of Darkas, who will sell them as he is able.
Jonida, Calim, Attaman, Marcus and Fehim are willing to travel along with the party. The party sells the land they cleared. Party owes 24 g.p. to followers (Jonida not included), 6 g.p. each, on Jan 4, 1651.

The party leaves Korca December 9th; arrives in Amisos, December 29th. This is the day that Demifee was raised, after sunset on the 29th (8:20 pm Turkish Time)

The Hyklion Society seems to dwell in an observatory on Simlak Hill, on the west edge of Amisos.

Jan 2nd, leave Amisos.

Jan 9th, reach Tokat.

Jan 10th, encounter ‘giant’ & 13 haruchai; the party succeeds in killing them all.

After killing the haruchai, the party wakes the sphinx. He-ni-te, the gynosphinx, explains that she is from Egypt; she was travelling with Ikhnaton, also from Egypt. They had come north to seek information about a solar eclipse that is meant to happen on April 12 in southern Egypt. She is seeking a lost tomb in the desert east of Asyut.

Deal with Mazonn’s background at the beginning of the next running. Randomly roll his experience, give him some stats.

Jan 15th. Arrive in Darenda.

Jan 18th. Arrive in Melitene, buy 12 riding camels, bit, bridle, saddle, blanket, large saddle bags, supplement for a week.

Jan 22nd. Arrive in Edessa. Showing about the Star of Michael. Told they will have to climb into the hills behind Edessa to speak with Elija the Hermit, at the Edessa Yeshivah. Jan 23.

Jan 26th. Start to climb into the mountains of the Ebionites.

After the second day of travelling into the desert south of Rakka (end of Jan 28th), the party is left with 360 oz. of water. They will separate, leaving five down in the valley and send Woodsole, Sharper and Olie with Henite up the mountain.

Jan 29th. Searching for the entrance. The five in the lower valley drink 40 oz. of water; the party searching drink 56 oz. End of the day will leave you with 259 oz. The Star of Michael is delivered.

Morning on Jan 30th, you return to the village and reunite with your followers.

Feb 2nd – Palmyra

Feb 8th – south of Damascus

Feb 9th, spend the day in Damascus. Run out of Salt on the 23rd of March.

Feb 25th, reach Rafah on the Mediterranean Sea.

Feb 28th, reach Mazar.

Mar 6th, reach Cairo. Pay the followers next on Apr 4. Spend the 7th in Cairo.

Mar 13th, reach Asyut. Ask for Fahid-es-Mahmoud Alam. The party finds him in the afternoon.

Mar 14th. Gazzim comes with the boat to pick up the party and take them to Mahmet Temple.  Not everyone can go, limited space in boat.  Starting up the Nile River, two day journey.

Mar 15th. Late at night on the 15th of March. The next morning the party will enter the temple to place the holy Ankh – Demifee, Woodsoul, Sharper and Olie.

There you go, easy.  The reference to running out of salt is in relation to having bought it in Damascus, so the party knows when they're supply runs out (so they don't have to keep constant record of it).

Whatever it is, I can simply write it out during the session, or expand it later if need be.  Gazzim, for example, is the son of Fahid's educated friend, volunteering to take the party to the temple in his small four person boat.  It is March in Egypt, so even though the river is receding from its January high, there are still many flooded areas in the valley; the temple is one that can't be reached other than by boat - and no boats are available for purchase.  Would be a waste of money anyway.


  1. Very interesting indeed. I see how the party's imagination about what is happening to separated companions is a far better source of tension than say me, the DM, trying to release details in a dramatic way via cut-scenes.

    Even separating players physically pulls on their imagination. This is also demonstrated in How to Run. Maybe its time for a re-read.

    Also, I am a student of organization, mostly because organizing is how I like to procrastinate. I appreciated the look at your game notes. One of my first comments on your blog, which I was unable to root up, I think, was an ask to see how you organize your game notes. Be sure that I am very interested indeed in reading that last post. I know now that you use a computer during your running. Do you use Microsoft Words, or wikis or something else to capture notes?

  2. I use Microsoft Word for these notes.

  3. I do the separation thing too, with a no sharing/split party. In a case where a teleported character had the appearance of being, say, disintegrated, my players would grow suspicious at me going back and forth between rooms of my house. "Why does he need to keep talking to Joe if Joe is dead?"

    I guess in a similar situation, where a character is destroyed, I could bounce between rooms, staying consistent. But I don't think I would.

  4. If the character were destroyed, I may still have to do that if something were on the character's body, which I had to ask about, without doing so in front of the rest of the party.

    Sure, the obliteration theory might go, but that wouldn't exactly define what had happened.


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