Never split the party!

Discuss our dark fantasy adventure tabletop roleplaying game based on BioWare's computer game, Dragon Age Origins.

Never split the party!

Postby Elfie » Thu May 03, 2012 12:38 pm

So I've been agonizing over a decision I want to put in front of the players very soon. I want them to have to choose between rescuing a friend who has been missing for a month or going after their last chance at the arch-foe they've spent the last 5 months (real time, not game time) hunting down. But everything I've thought of for how to try to get them to pick one or the other still felt to me like they would probably send at least one person after the other choice.

But no longer. They're currently hunting down some Urthemiel cultists (who they THINK kidnapped their friend, but really didn't). This cult has already been established as having blood mages among their ranks, so during the big fight, I'm going to have one of the mages use a cursed dagger on them. Anyone cut by the dagger will take 1D6 (maybe 1D3) penetrating damage for every round that they are more than 14 yards away from anyone else who has been cut by the dagger. In the fight, the mage will cut himself first, making it seem like this effect only lasts during the fight and that he's using it as a combat strategy. But it will remain even after the mage is dead.

I'm excited about this, because it let's me force this choice like I want to, it makes for some good RP scenarios since they have to stay (and sleep) relatively close to each other until they find a way to lift the curse, AND it gives me a good hook for the Tomb of the Seeress (which someone will point them to as a possible location for a cure to their curse, recognizing some sort of marking on the dagger).

Just thought I'd share since I've been agonizing about how to force them to choose one path or the other for like two weeks now and I'm really happy with this solution. I'll probably even let them keep the dagger as a quest reward, which cannot outright kill from its curse, but can drop people to 1hp, debilitating them.
Last edited by Elfie on Thu May 03, 2012 12:45 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby Saisei » Thu May 03, 2012 12:43 pm

Interesting. It's a nice and creative idea without being too rail-roadey.

I can imagine many comedic situations arising from it, particularly if you have male and female characters in the party
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby Elfie » Thu May 03, 2012 12:52 pm

Yeah I definitely don't want to force them in any one direction. They absolutely have a choice, but "both" just isn't an option.

Our party right now is a split of two male and three female (one of the men being the one who is missing) and there is definitely room for some comedy or dramatic gold. The male elf has a SERIOUS thing for the female elf, who thinks he's cute but too much of a man-whore. And one of the female humans has a been crushing on the missing human male mage (who will be exempt from the curse... since he's missing when it's inflicted).

Also, I'm open to feedback on the 14 yards. It felt like a short enough range to be noteworthy, but not so short as to debilitate ranged combatants. 6 yards would be a perfect fit for the Blood Mage's abilities, but that's just way too tight a range to force everyone to stay within. Maybe the curse also extends the Blood Mage's ability? I'm open to suggestions there.
Last edited by Elfie on Thu May 03, 2012 12:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby shonuff » Thu May 03, 2012 12:52 pm

I would think you won't be able to use a curse like that for too long. Some things require the party to be split -- the knight makes a bad information gatherer, the mage makes a horrible scout, and so on and so forth. It can work for a little bit, but I find the best way for PCs to stay together is for them to decide to stick together. Coinciding goals or bribery work well. :)
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby Elfie » Thu May 03, 2012 12:54 pm

haha Yeah this isn't going to be a long-term curse. It will last long enough for them to rescue their friend and kill the bad guy (it'll turn out they do have time to do both, but there will be consequences depending on which they choose to do first), then we'll probably immediately get to finding a way to lift the curse.
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby jgladeb » Thu May 03, 2012 1:16 pm

I really enjoy reading your posts about the things you are doing in your adventures/campaign Elfie! I hope your players realize how lucky they are to have such a devious GM! ;)
- It's always darkest before it goes pitch black...

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Re: Never split the party!

Postby Elfie » Thu May 03, 2012 1:24 pm

jgladeb wrote:I really enjoy reading your posts about the things you are doing in your adventures/campaign Elfie! I hope your players realize how lucky they are to have such a devious GM! ;)


Thank you! I'm pretty sure they're appreciative. Just this passed week my wife was telling me that she and her best friend (both players in my game) were talking about how our Dragon Age campaign "is like the best video game ever." (I realize that quote makes it sound like they speak valley girl. I promise they don't.) They've also related it to being "the best soap opera on television except you've gotta wait TWO WEEKS between episodes!"

My two other regular players (the dudes), who have played many more tabletop RPGs than the rest of us combined have independently either told me that I was "one of the best GM's [he's] ever had, if not THE best" mostly for how I incorporate everyone's personal story without making anyone else feel left out... or told the owner of the local game store that I should run a Dragon Age demo because I'm "a totally awesome GM."

So... yeah... my players are happy with the hell I put them through. And I'm delighted to put them through it!
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby jgladeb » Thu May 03, 2012 1:57 pm

I believe it. You are quite literally an inspiration to me Elfie! I mean that sincerely as a GM who has had some ups and downs running game sessions in the past before coming to the Dragon Age and Green Ronin's AGE system. This system is deceptively simple at a glance, but it allows players to role play and not have the core game mechanics get in the way.

I'm really enjoying the world and the darker moral choices that are a part of what makes Dragon Age. Prior to this, many of my adventures were custom created for the Wheel of Time setting in the D&D 3.5 system, and I realized as I got into Dragon Age just how vanilla and cut and dry many of my adventures were as there was always a fairly clear good and bad choice. My stories were always enjoyed by players, but I felt like something was missing.

Switching to Dragon Age, coming to this forum and reading yours and many other GMs ideas, plots, adventures, and stories have really helped revitalize me. Specifically some of your posts about the "hell" you put your players through have literally re-lit a creative fire in me and helped forge some unique back stories and hopefully difficult and messed up choices for players as their individual pasts "catch up with them"; on top of the crap that the overall campaign will throw at them.
- It's always darkest before it goes pitch black...

My custom Dragon Age miniature related downloads: http://www.daddymonsterstudio.com/downloads.html
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby Elfie » Thu May 03, 2012 5:53 pm

jgladeb wrote:I believe it. You are quite literally an inspiration to me Elfie!


Well I'm delighted to hear it. And I'd really enjoy hearing what in particular you may have taken inspiration from or simply "taken." :D Believe me, if I could make the same living I make as a software developer by spending all my time writing RPGs instead, I'd do it in a heartbeat.
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby Zapp » Fri May 04, 2012 12:44 am

Wow! A GM who actually thinks splitting the party is a problem... not an opportunity... to be "evil DM" >:)

By this I simply mean: why not let them split the party...? They should quickly realize why experienced gamers never do that... >:D Meaning that ideally you should not need to stop them from splitting the party - you should only need to stop them from succeeding when and if they do. Sure they can go after both the BBEG and their brother - but by doing so, they'll risk failing at both "quests".

Your idea with the dagger is interesting, but it should ideally not be necessary if both tasks seem sufficiently intimidating, that's all I'm sayin'.

What you as the DM need to do once, is give them a choice but have the balls to make them fail if they do not focus at one thing and one thing only.



Of course, most GMs have the opposite problem - that their players can't be persuaded to split off even if their lives depended on it. That's equally bad for good storytelling as I'm sure you'll agree. In this case you would need to encourage splits by making clear that minor tasks can be successfully performed by half the group (etc), and that the main opponents somehow never manages to take the opportunity to strike when the group is separated.
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby Elfie » Fri May 04, 2012 1:31 am

Sometimes the choice can be a strategic one. Sometimes it has to be a moral one. This is a moral one. Not every choice should be about "are we strong enough to overcome this foe" but should rather be "should we overcome this foe."
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby jgladeb » Fri May 04, 2012 12:57 pm

Elfie,
I'm trying to make my overall campaign pretty dark and have personal quests that are difficult and dark as well--I took inspiration (though not any actual stories), from some of the things I've read from the things that you have done with (and to) your players on this thread: http://greenronin.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=10557

I posted my ideas in that thread if you want to see them. :)

On Topic: Splitting the party is never an easy decision, but I learned early in running games, that allowing the players to choose was always the best policy. Whenever I tried to steer players to lead them to where I wanted them to go, things didn't work as well and players would sometimes get frustrated because it felt like I was controlling them, not the other way around. I think having two difficult and pressing objectives presented to players and having players choose how (and when) to approach them is a great tactic though. Just like real life, you can't tackle multiple things at the same time.

Putting them on a time frame isn't a bad thing either necessarily. You can only do one or the other--not both, while frustrating, is more true to the spirit of the game in a lot of ways. Maybe the super bad villain gets away yet again, but that doesn't mean they can't catch up to him eventually again. It's always a hard tactic, because it's great to have a recurring enemy that really gives the players a hard time--but if it drags on too long players get frustrated.

As Zapp mentioned though there isn't anything wrong in letting them split up and try and tackle both--but don't tone down the encounters. Perhaps instead of killing them outright however, you can allow them to retreat or get captured and create even more problems for the others. My only issue with PCs splitting up is allowing equal time to the different groups and tracking everything they're doing. PnP RPGs are complex and sometimes players forget how difficult it is to track every damn thing their characters are doing...
- It's always darkest before it goes pitch black...

My custom Dragon Age miniature related downloads: http://www.daddymonsterstudio.com/downloads.html
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby Guardian of the Peak » Sat May 05, 2012 12:30 pm

My party can be quite random. As a GM myself I have no idea what those guys will do when presented with a situation. For instance during a recent adventure they were forced to separate when their transport to their objective in the Brecilian Forest was ambushed and as such they were separated to begin with. Now they could have found some way back to each other, but due to the absence of their guide/friend (An NPC of my make) they decided to split up with one team heading for their main goal and the other looking for any sign of their friend. Thankfully they had equally set parties with one warrior, one rogue, and one mage per. In the end they both had an equally challenging time and both succeeded in their objectives and reunited for an epic boss fight with a crazed Nevarran Dragon Slayer and his personal riding drake (Another creation of my own).

As such I don't see a huge problem with splitting up a party, at least my party. In the end it's all up to you as the GM to decide what happens. I myself presented them with equal challenge and in the end they still came out on top. ...Well both mages were essentially pin-cushions for the Slayers' bows...but they still came out on top!
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby shonuff » Sun May 06, 2012 4:58 am

The problem I see with splitting the party is an easy one -- it's boring for the players who aren't with the current group. As such, it's in their best interest to find a common cause to stay together, and it's a great way to account for an absent PC.
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby Ghostdanser » Sun May 06, 2012 7:37 am

Splitting the party reminded me of a similar discussion last year, you can find it here:

viewtopic.php?f=33&t=10193

Hope it helps...
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby 5trangeCase » Mon May 07, 2012 4:42 am

Wait. So you created a problem that would force the party to split, then came up with a solution to the problem you created? Have you considered that you might not want to create the problem?

In regards to your solution and the 14 yard range. What I would do is make them think that they're getting somewhere with it from the beginning. Make it 6 yards, then have them take it to some smarty-pants enchanter/tranquil/mage who can "fix" the curse. Unfortunately, he tells you that the curse is too powerful for him to dispel. He can only attempt to alter its' magic; to do this it can just be alakazam, blood sacrifice, short quest, whatever you want really. Anyway, once he's altered it, the range is extended to say, a mile, but they have to return to 6 yards every 6 hours to "renew the effect" or it will return to normal. That's some nice extra drama that allows them to spread their wings in any given scenario.

Also, have this smarty-pants also notice a marking on it (Tomb of the Seeress), and say that it reminds him of something, but he will have to investigate in his vast library, they are better off returning another time. If they are annoying like my players and say they want to wait the three weeks until he's done, have the smarty-pants say he isn't going to house them in his library/home in the middle of nowhere for free and he isn't interested in their money, they'll have to work. Then describe to them the menial jobs they have to do every day and have them make rolls when randomly their simple tasks seem to go wrong (because they suck at washing clothes, for example) and have to distract smarty-pants from his work. He starts complaining that with all their nonsense it will just make the translation take longer.

But your players will probably catch on. I just always have a safety device for when my players decide that they want to play DACRPG (Dragon Age Comedy Roleplaying Game).
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Re: Never split the party!

Postby Guardian of the Peak » Wed May 09, 2012 12:15 pm

5trangeCase wrote:But your players will probably catch on. I just always have a safety device for when my players decide that they want to play DACRPG (Dragon Age Comedy Roleplaying Game).


My players act the same way on occasion, but only when the moments present themselves. Thankfully for me they seem to have a competent combination of comedy relief and serious RP. This hasn't actually caused any split ups for me though...yet.
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