The Golden Rule of Gaming

Posted: April 4, 2017 in Uncategorized
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Never split the party.

In the world of DnD that is perhaps the Golden Rule of adventuring.

Bad things happen when you split your party.

I’m sure there have been times when my gaming group has split up our characters and things went just fine. We came, we saw, we conquered, and we got some really great XP and loot to divide between far fewer than the normal group number. Ding! We level up early! Yay!

Those times are hazy in my memory. What stands out are the moments it did not work out in our favor.

I had been gaming for about a year when I saw this Murphy’s Law play itself out. Adventuring in a giant city we were schmoozing one of the head honchos and hoping to get out of it all relatively unscathed. When things were going good our Bard decided to wander off down the hall. And then things turned sour. Negotiations didn’t work out and we found ourselves in initiative. Things were bad enough being down a man… and then the Bard came back with several more giants in tow.

Miraculously, we all got out alive.

My group seems to skew lucky in that way when in combat. Our DM once sent a trap that our tank fell into, finding himself face to face with a HUGE earth elemental. Any other player would have been dead, but the dwarf’s armor class was so high the elemental needed to roll a 19 or 20 to hit him. He downed that monster all by himself. We were all totally jealous.

But splitting the party doesn’t always happen in combat. It happens out of combat, in towns when everyone gets to hang loose. These are the moments my gaming group forgets the rule, and it’s when we have the worst luck.My Bard once thought nothing could be more satisfying than setting the Paladin up with a nice wench. He was wound awfully tight and needed to chill out. Little did I know that wench was a shape-shifting monster who attacked him the moment his armor was off. Another time my Barbarian was left alone in a bar when a shifty Rogue intent on joining the party sidled my way. This set in motion a chain of events no one could have seen coming. Party members fought party members and we opened a gateway to hell that popped out demons like candy from a machine. The world imploded. The game ended, and we sat in awe at the havoc we had reaped upon the world by splitting up.

Never split the party.

In my writing life I forgot this all important rule. I know it doesn’t apply to exciting story telling. After all, who wants things to go as methodical as possible? Boring. However, there it was in the back of my mind, the idea that the whole group was going to make it out of the dungeon they were delving. I had it all planned out. One of them is chicken shit and stays behind, the other two make it to the treasure and then they come back for him.

I neglected to consider how the dungeon works. There are magical transports that one cannot come back from. You need magic of your own to get back through. They were hoping to get a special magical item at the end of all things that would make that possible…but they aren’t getting it. It isn’t there anymore. I had forgotten that there would be no magical deus ex machina to solve all their problems.

As soon as the door closed on the party member who stayed behind one of my characters remembered what I had forgotten, and it floored me. I had known this was coming, and yet I hadn’t. I went to work considering other methods of character retrieval and then remembered the all important villains whose plans do not make rescuing possible. The attack will be brutal and the two remaining party members will be forced to flee.

They may not be able to come back.

I had split the party, and casualties are inevitable. Things are not going to go as easily as I had planned, and no matter the argument that as an author I can change the flow of events to create a reality in which it all works out I realize that I don’t want to. I don’t want their lives to be easy; I want them to be real. I want my characters to deal with adversity in ways they did not expect.

So, much like the Fellowship of the Ring loses Gandalf, my group is losing a member. He may come back as Gandalf the White, but he will not be present for the next leg of the journey.

That’s what happens when you split the party.


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