Hail, and Well Met.
I arise from the dredges of a Chuck-E-Cheese eating a 27 dollar pizza (don’t ask), to tell a tale of my failures as a Dungeon Master, and how I can hopefully help those starting out as well to avoid a critical beginners trap.
Without further ado, allow me to relay the failure, of trying to emulate my favourite video games too closely.
Don’t Split Up. Ever.
Although unrelated to Dungeons and Dragons, one of my favourite video games ever is an RPG called Skies of Arcadia. In that game, there is a section where the party needs to split up within a second dungeon, and, unknowingly, solve puzzles to help each other progress. It’s a simple set-up, but I always liked the idea of a group being separate, but together, spiritually.
That doesn’t work in D&D. It sounds like it would work in theory, but it leads to a multitude of problems.
The scenario I planned out, was that a Thanksgiving themed One-Shot campaign. That means they could complete a small Thanksgiving themed campaign in a single sitting. My girlfriend and I set the stage with a large feast for our friends. This was fairly early on, so they weren’t 100% engaged with the setting.
A curse has been placed upon the land, causing crops and agriculture to gain sentience, and rebel against the humans. The cause is unknown. It is up to my group of adventurers to find a solution to this issue.
The first hour went great. There was plenty of fantastic roleplaying, a lot of memorable character moments, and the stage was set to explore a hedge maze map that I had set up. This map I was really proud of. It was a terrible, pen drawing with horrible handwriting, but it was MY creation. It was my baby.
The idea for this maze, was that there were two separate entrances that the party needed to split up into to explore. I wanted to tie in the theme of being thankful for friends, and bolstering the friendship between everybody. It was going to be a poignant message, and I was really proud of it.
Now, if you’ve ever been a Dungeon Master, you know, that every plan you have gets shattered. It’s up to you to improvise and react when things go wrong. And also, it is vital to understand that your player’s FUN is what is most important.
Unfortunately, I was to naive to not respect the enjoyment of my guests, and I clung to a separation gimmick.
I was too shortsighted to see the immeditate issue. There were five players, and I needed two groups. One group was going to get more players than the other. I planned each encounter to be about equal difficulty, so this is already unbalanced. Further, the Cleric wanted to group with the Sorcerer, as the two-man group, while the beefier Barbarian, Rogue, and Bard wanted to go together. This is a problem, as the Cleric and Sorcerer were only level two, and thus, incredibly susceptible to death. No other party members would be there to heal them if they went unconscious.
The second issue came about one minute later, when the Cleric/Sorcerer Combo went together. These two individuals are very close in real life, and began their journey through the half of the maze. Now the other three people have nothing to do. They all have to wait their turn. Obviously, they get bored and go on their phones. My plan is falling apart, because I wanted them to pay close attention to the little details I set up. I planned to have switches pulled at the same time on both sides of the maze. However, if my players weren’t interested, they wouldn’t notice, and the slog would continue.
Now, all of a sudden, I have two weakened, unbalanced parties bored out of their mind and not caring about the session. Even worse, the encounters I had planned were generic fights with little variety, so even the party that was engaged cared little.
I ended up having to chop the maze in half to expedite the process, so I was losing passion as well. We were all just getting kind of depressed.
I even had to alter the message of Thanksgiving as well. I was going to plan it, so a gluttonous, ostracized necromancer was raising the dead agriculture as a failed spell to feed himself without having to talk to anybody. My players were supposed to befriend him and show him a better path in life.
Instead, the Necromancer was just a porn addict. Yeah. Not my finest hour.
Ultimately, there is no need to split a party up. Ever. It makes everybody bored, stressed, and it ruined Thanksgiving, the sixth best holiday of the year.