The rounded walls of the sewer stunk with the sludge that clung to them, the unpleasant smell assaulting the party’s nostrils. Each footstep was wet, sloppy, and taken with great ease as to not fall off the thing ledge into the murky looking water that separated the group into two.
Devon, the Sorcerer, was leading the way with Light cast before him. It was eerily quiet down here, especially when the party knew there should be creatures. They were on a job to rescue a kidnapped child, being held at ransom, for the City Guard, who were no match for those that lay waiting in the sewers. The group had yet to discover who awaited them.
Leia, Thord, Unkiv, Gray, and Delilah all walked cautiously behind Devon. Delilah, a small kinder, her bow always at the ready, her feet light, brought up the back of the party on the same side as Thord, a stout dwarven cleric.
As they walked along, they passed by many sewer grates which they would inspect, most leading nowhere or down below to rushing rapids. One, however, that Delilah peered through, showed something different. Twenty feet below the grate appeared a large pile of garbage. Just random assortments of old bones rotted food and meat, and sludge all mangled together in a grotesque cocktail of scents and textures. Scrunching her nose at the smell wafting from it, she signaled to her party to wait for her.
With astute, piercing emerald eyes, Delilah caught a glimpse of something odd within the pile. It was bright, dazzling almost, and a hum began to emanate from it, grasping at her, calling her towards it. Delilah licked her lips, her past thieving days were not far behind her, and she felt far too compelled to investigate it.
“There’s something down here,” she said in a hush to Thord at her side, “I need to go check it out.”
“But Xander, the child, we must -”
“Any idea how deep these tunnels are? How far they go? What if there’s another entrance to wherever they’re keeping him,” Delilah paused and searched the area below the grate again, then gestured at a blotted out section they couldn’t quite see, “Like there? Looks like a possible corridor comes out of this…muck. It might also give us an idea of what exactly we are up against.” She pointed out, though as she spoke, her mind clearly made up, she had been fumbling with her 50ft silk rope, undoing it from her pack and tying it to a sturdy bar on the grate.
Thord knew far better than to attempt dissuading her and sighed heavily, he walked off towards the party. Delilah, with or without assistance, felt simply too compelled to explore. And what was that glinting down there?
“They’ve off without us, no use sitting like ducks and can’t jump ‘cross to join us. Gave them some scrolls, though, if they need ’em. Unkiv can send out ‘is little birdy to find us if they need us,” Thord explained, referring to the Wizard’s familiar Raven.
Delilah had finished fastening the rope as she turned back, casting an adventurous smirk at Thord. “You first,” she challenged, lifting up the grate for him.
“Wasn’t that locked, Lila?” Thord smirked, lowering his legs into the open floor, his hands searching for the silk rope.
With a wink, Delilah retorted, “Who do you even think I am, Thord?”
And the two lowered themselves through passed the grate as the rest of their party continued down the slippery corridor.
You did what?!
Everybody knows in D&D that you NEVER split the party! Don’t do it! Just don’t!
This is how you get TPK’d!
Wrong. All wrong.
Yes, there are some instances where splitting the party is idiotic, simply put. But that does not mean it should never happen. Did Mary and Pippin not leave Frodo and Sam and went off to not only accomplish great things but to be okay in the end? In the Order of the Pheonix, did Harry and the D.A not split themselves up in the Department of Mysteries? And everything worked out.
Once again, I am not saying splitting the party is a wise choice all of the time. But sometimes, it’s not only a good choice but an incredibly fun one.
The particular scene above is a 3.5 D&D Homebrew game I play in as Delilah, an ex-pirate, and thief who was a Halfling Rogue. She loved magical items, adventures (or misadventures) as well as a good ale – she could drink the dwarf, Thord, under the table. We ranged from levels 6 and 9, Delilah being 8 at the time being.
But by Merlin and Tiamat, why would I ever want to split the party on purpose?
Because I was playing my character. And the particular table I was at was comfortable enough as a group to suffer any consequences of splitting the party. Our Sorcerer, Devon, did once before when he went off obsessed with female Bard he had met in a tavern. Falling in love was certainly messier than anything that could happen in a sewer, right? At least Delilah thought so.
Personally, I ensure my DM allows splitting the party before ever attempting to do so because I do not want to overstep myself there as some DMs find splitting the party to be incredibly exhausting to run for. As a DM, I understand, but I fully allow party splits at my tables. To me, it can truly enrich a session and cause an incredibly amount of character and plot development. It’s especially interesting when the party comes back together to see how much and what they divulge to one another in character happened in their absence.
Can it have negative results? Absolutely. TPK? Perhaps – but there should always be an escape route in regards to instances, so if a TPK is imminent, the PCs should know better and high tail it out of there.
I just believe, truly and honestly, after 14 years of playing D&D, that a lot more good can come out of splitting the party than bad.
Let’s see where Delilah’s party split led her…
The pile of waste felt way worse than anticipated as Thord and Delilah safely landed (though Thord was on his behind and needed assistance in standing on such uneven, constantly morphing ground. Once he was stable, Delilah ran right into a larger pile where she had seen the glint coming from.
What she had been looking for was easy to locate. It was small, glass, and faintly glowing black – but a blackness that emitted light. Delilah was startled by it as she felt the hum of magic entering her body from where her hands had grasped the object. What was it? She wasn’t exactly skilled at magic and was about to call Thord over, who appeared to be investigating what this large room of sludge consisted of when the object began to permeate her mind.
It was speaking to her.
“An eye for an eye,” it said.
Delilah pursed her lips, she felt it calling to her. It had been calling her down from up above the grate, and whatever it was, it was definitely meant for her. With only a slight hesitation, she repeated aloud, “An eye for an eye.”
Suddenly, the small, black orb lept up from her hand and into the air just before her head. Black tendrils of magic and smoke were billowing out from it now as an incessant ringing began to fill the air. Delilah covered her head and quickly looked around to see Thord. He was watching her, confused, and slowly approaching the scene though he did not cover his ears.
Turning back to the orb, Delilah felt its tendrils beginning to lick her skin, her neck, her cheeks, her ears, pushing back her tousled hair, and then reaching her eyes. She was engulfed in sudden darkness. A searing pain imploded just beyond her left eye, spreading like wildlife through her veins. She reached up to cup her face, a shuddering wail escaping her body.
Then, the tendrils stopped, and Delilah fell over onto the ground, unconscious. When Thord ran over to investigate, he quickly noted Delilah’s eyes had been plucked from her body and were sitting, bloodied, in the pile of muck beneath their feet. Horrified, he began to tend to his friend.
Now, losing an eye sounds pretty horrific as a consequence of splitting the party.
In reality, (with absolutely no metagaming knowledge from me), the DM had specifically left that there in hopes Delilah would find it. My character was inspired by V.E. Schwab’s trilogy, A Darker Shade of Magic. Delilah Bard was a wannabe pirate, pickpocketing thief who had a glass eye. Not wanting to run a character with the disadvantages of one eye, I changed some pieces of her to be satisfactory to myself as a player.
The DM knew who Delilah was and where she was from and thought up a perfect in-game opportunity. The eye was a magical item that could be immediately attuned to (but immediate attunement caused 3d12 Constitution damage which knocked my character on her ass with the rolls the DM did). Once attuned, Delilah did lose her eyesight in her left eye, but it was replaced by a menacing onyx eye which had abilities. It could not see through walls or anything, but it could detect and locate magical items within 120ft. For a character like Delilah, this was amazing. Unfortunately, any ranged attacks (magic or weapon), had to be taken at disadvantage from there on in due to her loss in depth perception. For myself, and Lila, the sacrifice was well worth the rewards.
It was quite the reunion with the party, as well, and also interactions with NPCs became all the more entertaining especially in conjunction with her personality. When the eye was being used for the purpose of detecting magical items, the same black tendrils would slowly pour out from it, really add flavour to it.
What happened to the other side of the party, though? Well, each side of the party did meet its difficulties. Thord and I were faced with a roper as well as a series of intricate traps (it turned out the kidnappers were part of an experienced thieves guild). The other end of the party, Devon, Leia, Unkiv, and Gray, fought off two gelatinous cubes and eventually a small group of arcane tricksters. We then met up midway through the quest and were able to still complete it entirely together, saving the kidnapped Xander and all.
Overall, at the end of the session, the point is…don’t be so afraid to split the party. If it’s what your character would honestly do, if the DM is accepting of it, if it isn’t going to leave the party to near-certain death, just do it. I find when the party to stay together at all times it’s forced and quite unrealistic – as unrealistic was a fantasy game can get.
Fanart of Delilah Bard by Kiana at http://gilthoniel-o-elbereth.tumblr.com/post/162449886134/how-do-you-know-when-the-sarows-is-coming-is