Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Split Group Game

For the last several months (albeit with a couple of breaks of various sizes) I've been running a primarily L5R game every other Friday. This is the game I mentioned a few weeks ago that I brought the flux into, and we're going to pick up again tomorrow to see what happens with the magical samurai's first venture into the modern world. Now, with my Friday games, I always try to do something a bit different. Stretch my bounds as a GM and to challenge the players. For this game, the experiment is doing a split game. Here's what I've found so far.

How It Works
The game works like this. At the very beginning of the game, I explained to the players how it would go. Their characters were all going to be in one location, but they would not be the standard PC group. I chose L5R for this, as there are clan boundaries that help with giving IC reasons for not just forming groups. The game would then follow their PC's life as they lived in the city and did their own thing. At times, this would involve touching, brushing, and crossing the lines of other PCs. At other times, they'd be on their own or just with their NPC support network.

What It Needs
This kind of game needs three things:

One, the GM must be able to manage time properly. This is the hardest part for me as a GM, because it can be very easy to fall in love with a scene or not want to cut away. However, with the group split, odds are at least two people are just sitting their waiting for their chance to do something, and you need to get them something to do.

Two, the Players need to be pro-active. This isn't your usual game where world altering events are sent out to bring a group of unlikely adventurers together. A lot of the game has to do with the PC's story and how the player wants that story told. This means that if the Player doesn't have something they want to do, or their character doesn't have a plan, that they're going to get a lot less out of the game. On the other hand, the players who set out with huge goals can get a lot out of it.

Third, the game requires patience. This is true for the GM, who needs to keep patient with 5-6 different players trying to do 5-6 different things at once, and needs the patience to keep at prep for it. It is also true for the Players who need to be patient and wait for their turn in the spot light, and preferably in a way that doesn't distract from any one else's time there.

How It Is Going
I'd say the game is going fairly well. Most of the players are regularly mentioning that they can't wait to get back into the game and either show off some new aspect of their character, or to enact further plans towards accomplishing their goals. The players who have really dove in and are trying to make their PC's story their own seem to be having fun.

That said, I think a large part of why I can pull this off is because of the group. The group is a good group, a very good group, and they're all on board with my experiments and desire to continue experimenting. They're also a very supportive group and have no problems holding back so someone else can shine brightly for a little bit.

Mostly, I think the game is a good experience and exercise for me as a GM and them as players, though I'm not sure if I would do it again. The ability to have PCs work on their own stuff is great, but I think that some situations lose out by not having everyone involved. Now, obviously that can be fixed (and I am likely going to try it here and there), but it also bears mentioning. The split group demands a lot of the players, especially in the being pro-active aspect of things. Hopefully, it will help these players with doing their own thing in other games as well.

How About You?
How about you? Do you have any experiences in trying to do something like this in a game? I know the usual trend is the group of friends, or otherwise PCs brought together. Still, any advice or insight into how split groups work is always good.

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