This is the continuation of the story I told in the blog post, "RPG Story: I did what I've told people not to do." Go have that a read if you haven't yet.
There are a few adages that my gaming group has decided to give the two fingers too. The last time I wrote about this game, it was an example of playing the "it's what my character would do" card in such a way where my character did something horrible to the group (betraying them) in a healthy way as a player in relation to the entire group. This time, I'd like to cover how my DM handled the ENTIRE PARTY SPLIT. And this was a tricky session to run, I'm sure.
The adage we gave the bird this time was "Don't split the party." The main reason for this is safty in numbers. If your DM has created encounters for 4-5 adventurers of the same level, you won't survive long in those fights by yourself. So, it is a smart thing to keep in mind, no matter where you are in your game. (And, I'm not going to lie, this did cross my mind while Lerissa was tearing across the landscape toward Dothia with only Maurice - the dachshund - bouncing around in her backpack.)
But the group I play with are heavily narative-driven. And SO, it made sense for Lerissa to steal the magic stone/egg from the party and go north. And when the party arrived at the city, they split up to find Lerissa and David. Narratively, it made sense that we all were apart for a short time.
Let's examine this as not only an example of when splitting the party is ok, but also "How Do You Handle Split Parties as a DM?" I think our DM, Scott, did a brilliant job of managing the timeline and balancing "screen time" between players as well as expectations.
The first thing he did leading up to the session was warn all the players in our group chat that the beginning, if not the entire session, would likely be the "Lerissa and Maurice Show." He went on that if the other players didn't want to sit and watch the enire time, he'd be happy to set up separate sessions for their characters. This was really good as it managed expectations, and we planned as a group how to handle this. In this instance, everyone was perfectly happy to listen to the story unfold. So we broke out the popcorn and went forward with the session as a group.
After the recap, as discussed, the game started with Lerissa and Maurice having found David's horse not far from the gambling house, "Sea Shell by the Shore," a property heavily run and regulated by the Wooden Coin. (Just a reminder, The Wooden Coin is the crime organisation that Lerissa is part of. They are who Lerissa did the job for where Maurice originally backstabbed them, turned into a dog, and what kicked off their whole adventure.) So, they went there first. No luck in finding David (Maurice couldn't smell him anywhere, and Lerissa used Detect Thoughts to no avail) but she found and spoke with her mentor, another Tiefling named Charity.
To sum up Charity's responses: No, David hasn't arrived -- David must be working for someone else -- So, you've been duped twice? (Ouch.) -- Bring the egg and David here by 9:30 tomorrow morning. We'll enjoy a well deserved drink when this is over.
Lerissa and Maurice were on their way once more, continuing their search for David, and decided to split up. So, now, officially, every PC was by themselves, splitting up the party 100%. We all just laughed about it while Scott likely had a silent panic attack. But he handled it beautifully - it's unlikely he'd ever admit it, though, being a self-depricating British man.
It's the DM's discretion who to start with in these moments. Don't debate long, and just go with your gut feeling (or around the table, or in order of the screens, it doesn't really matter).
Scott started with Maurice and followed the adventures of his Sniff-snuff (TM) perception checks, describing the scenes and smells that he found. Unfortunately, he was unable to find David. They played the scene until it came to a natural conclusion and Maurice reunited with Lerissa. Then Scott "rewound" and "cut back" to Lerissa, to see what she had been up to since they split up.
Lerissa, still in her half-elf disguise, continued her search in the Market. She didn't find David, but instead Omir. Omir is someone the party has been loosely following. He's a well connected magical items and oddities merchant, and a bit of a twat. We discovered not too long ago that he is connected with some shady business. (I'm guessing a cult as there was a chain and a little note that ended with "Hail the Chain." Sounds super culty.) In the conversation with him, I discovered that he may be the client of the Wooden Coin expecting to receive the "egg." In other words, the original client from the heist that went bad! The look on Feargus's face was AMAZING when Omir mentioned the disappointing lack of "an item" but that he should be receiving it in the morning. "Toria Valentine" made arrangements with Omir for dinner and parted ways, leaving Lerissa with the first moral conflict she's ever encountered.
"This is why you don't ank questions! This is why you aren't supposed to know the client and their motivations." - Lerissa's inner dialogue. You see, this means that the people that want the egg are dangerous at a much larger scale, and Lerissa suddenly feels like she's in way over her head.
Anyway, she moved on to searching taverns and inns, and found that David had been in two, left a message at one ("If someone askes for Luca, tell them 'The back door at 7 bells.'") and was dressed like a dockworker. I ended my time heading toward the dockward with Maurice.
That took about an hour of gameplay, and I hope it was entertaining to the others (I did an accent when in disguise! haha). We also got information from multiple sources, pushing forward the plot.
Scott switched the spotlight at this point, doing the time balancing in his mind of when the party would've arrived in the city (around 4pm, when Lerissa was likely making her way through the pubs asking after David.) He started with Arafirith, where she went to a pub, the first one Lerissa went to, and gave descriptions. The incredulous response of the barman was great ("Are you putting me on? What's going on? A woman was just here asking the same thing!") Arafirith did what she does best and asked ALL THE QUESTIONS.
It ended up being a fun scene with the cantankerous barman. The scene ended with her heading toward their rendezvous in the market at 5pm, knowing that David was around but not with Lerissa.
Switch then to Ophelia who did not go to a pub, as they had originally agreed on. Instead, she found an allyway and pulled out the scrying mirror (this had been stolen from Omir's home, actually, in a heist earlier in the campaign). She used it to spy on Lerissa, saw her half-elf disguise, and heard the information about David and the message about the backdoor and 7 bells. Ophelia quickly asked around and found her way to the tavern, "The Three Swords," and had missed Lerissa by merely 5 minutes. The weight of betrayal, panic, ugrency, and being so close only to just miss her, was all too much and the poor woman broke down sobbing. The travern staff made a fuss over her, gave her complimentary meal and wine and helped her calm down. (All very sweet.)
Scott moved the spotlight over to Astromel now, finding the Druid Firbolg (who's very comfortable making his bed in the middle of the woods) in the nicest Inn in Dothia. He gave the description of David, Lerissa, and Maurice to the concierge who hadn't seen them, who then in turn convinced Astromel to hire a room for the night. When in the room, Astromel took the form of a dachshund (like Maurice) and did his own Sniff-snuffs(TM) around the entire inn. He didn't find any evidence of the party members, but he did recognise the smell of Omir. He was also spotted by the concierge who chased after him because "The Sir in #8 is looking for you!" Astromel's shinanigans were fun and left NPCs confused (on-brand), and he finished his investigations and left to meet up with the others at the market.
Ophelia's scene had been left with her having a nervous breakdown in The Three Swords. Needing to bring her up to the same time as the other two, Scott asked her player what Ophelia wanted to do? Sitting in a booth, in the quiet tavern, she then turned to plan B and pulled out the other "egg." I mentioned in the previous post that the last time Ophelia used it, she accidentally killed someone. This time, through SEVERAL arcana skill checks and constitution saves, she found the other egg, the location of it in the city, and what she presumed was David next to it. It was in a small building in the Dockward. However, when she completed using it, she took 30+ psychic damage (having rolled a 2 on one of her CON saves) and found she had vomited, sneezed, and cried blood all over herself and the booth she was sat in, and was left with a splitting headache. She thrust her things into her bag, threw 10 gold at the confused, horrified, and concerned tavern staff and ran out the door like a cross between Forest Gump and Carrie.
This brings three player-characters to the same in-game time (*phew!*) That only left Lerissa and Maurice and what they'd been doing for the past 30-40 minutes. They were making their way to the Dockward. Maurice once more used his Sniff-snuffs(TM) to try to find David, and with a little Bardic inspiration, he was thankfully successful! He caught a whiff of the terrible cologne that David wears. Standing at the threshold of a simple residence, Lerissa put Maurice into her bag and cast Invisibility. They entered the building to overhear a couple talking. She was upset about His friend staying over. He promised it was just for the night. Lerissa then went to the other room to find David, asleep on a mattress on the floor, the magical egg-shaped stone in his bag.
And that's where the session ended.
Not everyone would be ok with sessions like this. But I will tell you how this works. We as players are invested in each other's characters. We are invested in the story. And sitting watching another player work through a scene is engaging for us! But it is done with an understanding that we all get a turn. I'm thankful that everyone did get a turn that night and it wasn't just a Lerissa and Maurice show. I enjoyed watching the others play detective and have their scenes with the NPCs.
BUT I'm really looking forward to all our characters meeting back up again. It'll be quite the reunion I'm sure. And I'm not going to lie, I've been thinking about what Lerissa's next steps are almost constantly since the session ended.
PLEASE please please leave a comment if you'd like me to continue sharing this story line with you. I'm enjoying writing them, but sometimes as a D&D player, we can ramble on about our own characters and stories to people who don't really want to hear about them. So please let me know in the comments if you'd like to hear the conclusion, or continued tale, of Lerissa's Betrayal.