Splitting the Party: strength in numbers? Nah!!

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.

Where’s my backup?!
Where’s my backup?!

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…

Game on!

Steve 😊

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