Handling PCs Splitting Up
by John Kim
This is one of a series of essays on techniques for emulating
common genre conventions in RPGs. My assumption here is that you have
a given genre -- such as "superhero comic book" or "period martial
arts movie" -- and you want to adapt it from its original medium into
the medium of RPGs. This is similar to the problem of adapting a
novel into a film, or any other change of medium. For more on the
meaning of genre in RPGs, see my essay on
"Understanding Genre in Roleplaying".
In many genres, it is common for the main characters to split up
to deal with multiple problems. The action then jumps back and
forth between the different groups. This is problematic for an RPG
session, though, simply because it means some of the players are
sitting around watching.
There are several ways to make this more workable.
- Cut between the different groups at tense, decision-making
points -- i.e. "cliffhangers". Ideally, the players should not
only be passively wondering what will happen -- but they have
some time to consider new information and prepare to make a
decisive response. For example, in combat you might have the
PCs just winning against knife-wielding thugs when suddenly
a machine-gun-toting gangster steps around the corner. Cut!
- Allow action to be done independently while the GM is
interacting with another group. For example, some PCs could
talk amongst themselves and plan while others are engaged in
independent action. Another option is "blue-booking", a term
from Aaron Allston in his Champions supplements. Each
player has a small notebook in which he can write extended
notes to the GM. While other action is going on, he can write
in the blue-book. The GM can then read and respond to this
during lulls in the action.
- Allow players who are not there to affect the action of
scenes. This could be by using Plot Points or Whimsy Cards,
as mentioned in my discussion of generating
Unusual Events. Various other mechanisms could be used to
allow them to have meta-game input.
- Allow players to take on alternate characters as PCs. Thus,
when the PCs split up, they could take on the roles of minor
characters who are with another group.
John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Mon Apr 21 00:36:03 2003