Why Players Should Split the Party
Everyone says it at least a few times during a campaign. “Don’t split the party.” And why not? Because if someone is in trouble, and the party can’t save them, they will probably die a horrible death. There are other reasons of course. If the party is split, half of the group sits around and just listens and the GM needs to keep track of pace and events. However, splitting the party has benefits both in the game world and at the table. The drawbacks can be handled pretty easily, but that is mostly the GM’s job and future post.
What are the benefits for splitting the party?
- You can cover more ground when you split up. Clearly you should do this when you need to recon an area, when time is valuable, or when you need to find something, but by covering more ground you learn about dangers, treasure, and the environment’s layout faster.
- You can make sure that the horribly unstealthy character or the bad liar doesn’t mess up the few that want to sneak around or bluff their way through a challenge. Sometimes, having the entire party together compromises a plan that needs non-combat skills to complete, and sometimes having the entire party around just draws too much attention.
- There is also the ability to gather more information, interview more witnesses, or investigate more areas. Clearly, these actions are more skill based and probably won’t involve combat, but are still important in some games.
- There is also the need to set up ambushes, move into more tactical positions, or to control desired points on the map.
How can you stay safe while splitting the party?
The first thing that you should keep in mind is how far your are going to split. Clearly it is safer to split only the distance of a room or two, as one group can easily reach another in case of an emergency. Splitting miles apart will mean that one group cannot come to the other group’s rescue.
The two most important factors to keep in mind in deciding how far to split is communication and response time. In modern games, communication can stretch across almost infinite distances and becomes a minor consideration. In the Pathfinder RPG, communication isn’t as easy but can still be found with spells like message or special magical items. With message, you can have 100 feet or more of distance and still experience instant communication, even without line of sight or line of effect. Another spell is status, which allows someone to monitor the health and position of their party members.There are also whistles, horns, and sirens that can be heard for far distances. If you have firearms, they might be heard for up to a couple of miles in the wilderness, but only a few hundred feet in enclosed buildings. In both games, the further away you are the harder it is to have quick response times to emergencies. In most cases, running is the fastest option, but horses, cars, teleporting, or magic items that summon allies are also good options to look into.
Therefore, a few hundred feet is going to be about the limit of safe splitting, and everything past that could be putting the party in risk of danger. However, there are other considerations. For example, what exactly is the party doing while they are split? If one group is sitting tight and waiting for a signal or the activation of a Bracelet of Friends, you can split the party as far as you want. If they are both exploring different parts of a complex, the distance should be only far enough that one group can reach the other in about a minute. Know exactly what everyone is going to be doing, where they are going to be, and have a plan. In some cases, splitting won’t be dangerous and plans won’t be needed, and it will be clear when those situations are.
The very first thing you should do though is talk to your GM. Let them know that you want to spit the party, and that you even want to be have one or two of your party members be able to handle an occasional combat encounter without risking being killed. Let them know what you will be doing and how you will be using your character’s skills. Chances are, they will create special encounters and challenges tailored to smaller groups or specific party members.
So split the party, and do so without fearing about what will happen. If you are smart about it, and you work with your GM, chances are nothing horrible will happen. Better yet, you might find new ways to let a character shine or save the day.