I have to admit a little mea culpa. On this blog I try to press the point that players have a duty to work together as a team in order to ensure a smooth and enjoyable session for everyone. What I struggle with is how to do that without diluting one’s own sense of fun and Role Play. In last week’s game I split the party. Not to be an egotistical jerk, but because the obvious actions to me was to uncover the nefarious plots of the highly-suspect king’s advisor by gaining his confidence. To do that I wanted to distance myself from the rag-tag bunch of troublemakers that is The Party. As we know from the Wizard’s website neversplittheparty.com, the motto of 4e is “never split the party.”
You might ask “Why, Mike, is that a bad idea?” Well, I’ll tell you. You might find your character in a situation where he’s schmoozing over at one inn and the rest of the party is getting into big trouble at a different an inn on the other side of the town. Or, at least, I certainly did. Our DM tried a few times to get my back into the plot, but I didn’t take the hint, and so with a heavy hand I eventually wound up at the right inn too late to save the party, but fortunately still able to do something. What that something was was to willingly go along with the kidnappers in order to the keep the party together and the story moving.
My first instict in that case was to fight off the kidnappers and single-handedly rescue the party. This kind of thinking is usually a bad idea for the following reasons (A) single character odds of surviving a combat built for 4 are low, and (B) It wouldn’t be much fun for everybody else at the table sitting around and watching me play (see below). For the sake of the story and everybody’s precious time I voluntarily went with the kidnappers (as bonus for cooperating I got to act first when the action started).
Overall this situation was dissatisfying because I made the GM work to provide a good resolution, when I shouldn’t have gone off on my own anyway. I think this a mini-case of the larger issue of information-gathering scenes in D&D. It’s pretty natural to split up for each character to talk to his personal sources; it certainly doesn’t make sense to drag the paladin to an assassin’s guild meeting. I find when we do all go as party to meet with a contact the scene goes quicker because the DM doesn’t have to divide her attention between five people doing five different things. However, only one or two people usually participate in the scene (and the others just sit around or perform actions that are unnecessary in context). Now that Charisma is no longer a dump stat, this especially leaves a whole bunch of characters that could do the same thing, but don’t do anything because it’s silly for everyone to do the talking. Dungeon’s Master did a great job describing this problem earlier this week.
So to summarize, I’m still searching for a good way to balance separate acts with keeping everyone engaged. One thing I just occurred to me about my example of the lone character in a fight would be to have the other players play the NPCs in the brawl–that way they can take the frustration of not actively playing out on the person who’s fault it is.