Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Split Parties From A Player's Perspective

We often hear about the trials and tribulations of running a split party from a Storyteller’s perspective where the individual running the whole thing offers advice and bemoans the difficulties.  We don’t often think of what it’s like as a player. 

I mean, sometimes it’s not even the player’s fault that the party is split but they have to cope with the difficulties anyway.  Perhaps they have a Storyteller who splits the party willy nilly (bam!  a portcullis drops between you!) or simply make it impossible to achieve certain objectives without splitting the party (you have one hour to rescue the princess from the crumbling tower AND prevent a riot starting all the way over in the city centre).  Sometimes another player makes the demand.  Perhaps they have their character sneak away in the dead of night to fulfil a goal or the rest of the party are eager to split up to conduct a better search.  Sometimes you have a serial splitter in the party who loves to run off and be a lone wolf to an audience of bored and steadily irritated players – that’s a post and a half just to itself.

So what’s it like to be at a party that splits up? 

I can’t speak for everyone but I often feel a few things.

I normally feel dread, annoyance or curiosity or a mixture of the three of them. 

Dread because these things can take awhile if not handled deftly and that’s a whole lot of sitting on your bottom.  Roleplaying isn’t like a movie.  There’s a lot of wasted space, pauses for rules checks or combat decisions, irrelevant conversations, pacing interruptions in terms of dice, and some rather boring description – all of which isn’t as noticeable when you’re in the thick of it and it’s all directly relevant to you.  When you’re just an observer, it can often be as fun as watching fish in an aquarium.  Mildly interesting for the first ten minutes but after that you want to find something else to do.  To make matters worse, you’re expected to be quiet and not interrupt the main game.  If you don’t interrupt, the split might go on and on and on and on.  If you do interrupt, your boredom is sated briefly but people might get cross with you.

There may be annoyance if you see that the players involved and Storyteller aren’t trying to recombine the party quickly or at least keep up a fast enough pace that the group might rejoin swiftly or you might get a shot on the other side of the split.  This annoyance grows greatest when a lone wolf runs off while everyone’s sleeping.  There’s no inter cutting which means you could quite literally sit there for an entire session watching someone enjoy themselves freezing you out of the game.  A player’s annoyance towards that often feels a bit like road rage.  You know they’re being dicks but you’re powerless to do anything but continue to watch unless you decide to totally flip out.

There can also be curiosity if it seems like an interesting enough thing to watch.  If you have faith that the players and the Storyteller aren't going to leave you out in the cold for a few hours with nothing to do, you can always sit back and see what happens.  This is less likely if it's a combat you get to watch because, let's face it, watching someone else roll dice and discuss game mechanics isn't nearly as interesting as rolling your own dice.  It's more likely if there's going to be some sort of verbal confrontation, emotionally laden event or sometimes even a fast-paced obstacle course (as the rules are often simpler for acrobatic antics than combats).

In short, if the Storyteller switches between the me and the others quickly enough, the part that I'm watching is dramatic enough, and/or there's a comfortable atmosphere where I know that everyone's needs are being considered than I'll be fine with it.  Other people need their time to shine.  Sometimes it really is better if my character isn't there.  Generally if it's around ten minutes or so I'm happy to watch but otherwise I'd like to be able to leave the room and chat with friends while waiting for my turn.

This might not be the case for everybody but I'm notoriously twitchy and easily bored as a player (there goes that Attention Deficit Disorder again) and there's only so long as I can sit on my hands.  At the very least, let me find a way to read a book in a nondisruptive manner.

So yeah, those are the main things I've experienced.  What have been your experiences?

1 comment:

  1. I tend to GM a lot more than play at present, so hearing about this from a player is actually kind of nice. I do tend to cut between groups fairly quickly, as I don't like the idea of boredom of seeping in, and especially try to bring the party back together as soon as I can. No random encounters unless everyone is in the same group kind of thing.

    The TPK blog did a great bit of writing on the loniest of lone wolves, and is well worth searching out.