Reader Tip Request: How do you handle split parties?

split-partiesToday, I’d like your advice and tips on how to handle split parties.

Daniel S. writes:

“How can I make everyone happy when groups are split in their decisions for destinations and plans?”

One tip I have is to go around the table and give each split-off player or sub-group a bit of spotlight time.

GM them for a short period, then find the perfect moment and switch the spotlight to the next player(s).

What’s the perfect time?

At a cliffhanger, naturally. 🙂

Switch the spotlight just before:

  • An important dice roll
  • An important result from you
  • A key character decision
  • A key NPC decision or action
  • Revelation of a fact
  • Just after revealing a twist
  • Just after revealing a clue

All these situations have something in common: an open loop.

An open loop happens when a situation we’re interested in goes unresolved.

Our brains desperately want closure. It’s how we’re wired.

We have to know what happens – to shine light in dark corners – or we feel tension.

And our brains work overtime to resolve that tension.

Storytellers have known this for ages, and use it to keep their audience glued to their words.

Learn how to spot open loops and how to create them. Instead of telling a split player what’s around the corner, tell the player they hear a creepy noise, and then switch the spotlight.

In RPG, we are blessed with many opportunities to do this. Dice roll results, player questions, character actions.

Learn how to hint at answers and switch the spotlight smoothly.

This is effective with non-split groups too. Create temporary moments of tension, call breaks at such times and end sessions at these moments.

But with split groups, this open loop technique is also effective at keeping everyone at the table interested. Players without the spotlight want to learn what happens to the others and their unresolved loops.

Around and around you go until the party is united once more.

Over to you now. What tips do you have for Daniel on how to handle split parties?

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