Damn fool Believing you’re good enough Damn fool For thinking you got it made Damn fool For believing in life and love Damn fool Taking belief to your grave Damn fool I still believe in you Damn fool Maybe you do, too
For more of my poetry, check out Poetry for the Sad, Lonely and Hopelessly Endangered and The All or the Nothing, available in print or e-book formats.
Every time I GM an RPG, whether it be D&D, Stars Without Number, Numenera, Kids On Bikes or another genre, the players take it upon themselves to split their party because some want to do one thing and others want to do another (usually because strong personalities compete). And every time they do it, the separated weaker parts of the whole inevitably suffer.
I have no problem with players splitting up. I can handle multiple groups and jump back and forth to keep them engaged. I can modify stuff on the fly so they are not overwhelmed unnecessarily by their enemies. But that doesn’t change the fact that the sum of the whole is generally better than the individual parts.
An example: in a recent playthrough of the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, the party decided to split up to check out the gardens around the old manor. A few checked out the back yard. One investigated the burrow under the rose bushes. A couple decided to see what was in the well.
The solo crawl down the burrow didn’t end well, but the PC’s screams of pain brought the rest of the party running from the backyard, so they were able to pull them out and stabilise them (as well as kill the poor giant weasels that were just defending their home).
Down the well went perhaps the party’s weakest character, with the stronger character controlling the rope. Poisonous snake attacks later, dead PC pulled back out.
Would this have gone better with the full party at both scenes? Probably. With more party members, more than one may have descended the well. Perhaps they would have left the burrow alone, or perhaps used fire to smoke out any inhabitants first.
My point is, strength in numbers is not just about raw fighting or magical power—it’s about the ideas the group bring to the table. More heads may come up with interesting solutions where only a few might not.
I don’t really mind parties splitting up. It makes for interesting play and certainly ups the tension (and makes for some pretty funny outcomes). Sometimes splitting the party is necessary for the adventure, but in that case the players would normally be working to a plan (nothing may go according to the plan, but it’s the thought that counts). Players often forget that ‘many = strong’, no matter how long they’ve been playing RPGs. Oh well…
I’m a huge fan of maps. I draw lots of them, and occasionally give them away free on this site. But I’m a bit old school when it comes to my preferences. I love hand drawn maps, but I’m not a fan of digital maps.
Why don’t I like fully digitally created maps? They take just as long as hand drawn ones, and arguably are just as good or sometimes even better looking. For me, purely digital maps look a bit too much like a computer game, and often they look a bit artificial. The really good ones look a bit TOO good. In many ways, they get away from the idea of a pre-tech fantasy world.
But hand drawn maps? They fit the fantasy setting. When I see a good hand drawn map, it invokes warm, fuzzy feelings and feels as if it was drawn by a cartographer on an actual fantasy world. It’s more in keeping with the games I play and the main reason why I will never go ‘full digital’ (I hand draw my maps and then color them digitally in photoshop, but that’s only because I’m an awful painter).
There are a number of old school, hand drawing cartographers out there. Many provide their maps for free or have patreon sites where you can get regular maps for a low price. Here’s a few of my faves:
Flanking is an optional rule in D&D 5e, generally used with miniatures (although you can also use it in theater-of-the-mind combat if you want—I do). Flanking is where two or more miniatures ‘surround’ another (which we’ll call the 3rd), on directly opposite sides. The theory is that the 2nd miniature is distracting the 3rd while the 1st attacks, granting Advantage to the 1st’s attacks (and then the 2nd’s, if they are still in the same position when their turn rolls around). Flanking applies to melee attacks only. Sorry, archers—you already get it pretty good (especially if you’re a Rogue).
If my description is a little unclear, here’s the official rule from the DM’sguide: “When a creature and at least one of its allies are adjacent to an enemy and on opposite sides or corners of the enemy’s space, they flank that enemy, and each of them has Advantage on melee attack rolls against that enemy.”
Not every DM uses the flanking rule, but it is an option that enables the party to think more tactically (and in more of a meta-gaming way, if you want to think of a downside) in combat. Much like the use of special abilities using bonus actions that stun or trip opponents to give Advantage first before your actual attack action, the flanking rule means players will tend to think how they can get an Advantage in any fight by flanking opponents any opportunity they can. Having finished off a monster, a player might deliberately move behind another monster to allow one of their team mates an opportunity to move up to the opposite side and have Advantage on their attack.
Flanking does have a downside to play – battles with miniatures tend to be more static, as inevitably those monsters or PCs escaping the flanking situation tend to be subjected to opportunity attacks as they move out of the flanked situation. Thus they hold their ground more often.
Multiple flanking is where a miniature is surrounded on all sides, with each character directly opposite giving the other Advantage. This makes short work of big monsters, but also means the characters can be damaged more easily as they are all in close combat with a major beastie (I roll randomly to see who gets hit in these situations, simulating the monster flailing around it to try to get out of the situation. Unless it’s two sizes bigger than the PCs, and then it can step over them).
Does flanking unbalance the game? That depends. If you’re the sort of DM who likes to use small numbers of more powerful opponents, the PCs can gain the upper hand if they can use their superior numbers to constantly flank. If you prefer to use large numbers of weaker monsters it makes them more effective as they can use flanking tactics to hit the PCs more often and wear them down. With flanking, even large numbers of low-level Goblins can wear down higher-level melee-based characters. I don’t believe flanking unbalances the game. It just means both players and DM need to think more tactically when using the rule.
So, if you’re not currently using flanking, you may wish to consider it. And remember: players may get Advantage from flanking, but monsters do, too.