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I'm new to DMing, and I'm currently working on a 5e homebrew campaign that I'll be running. At some point in the campaign (most likely towards the middle; this campaign will probably average-length), I'd like to have my players create another party. This one will be working for the main villain of the campaign, doing missions such as collecting artifacts and assassinations. My plan is to have the two parties meet at some point and fight, with the players controlling both sides of the encounter (save for a DM-controlled NPC).

Is this a good idea? If not, is there something else that could work? Should I have my party only control the good guys in the encounter?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you a new DM? What experience do you have with D&D 5E? \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Oct 3 at 20:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ "this campaign will probably average-length" - I'd love to know what that is \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Oct 4 at 1:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are the same players controlling both parties or are some players controlling one and the other players controlling the other? \$\endgroup\$ – John Oct 5 at 0:45
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In my experience and from reviewing many sites and DM pages, this is not a good idea. It would be a great player to not metagame in this scenario. The campaign could break if they aren't able to separate player knowledge and character knowledge.

What you could do is run a separate campaign for another separate group of players in an "evil campaign". Then later at the end of the campaign bring both groups together for the final showdown. You would want to limit the amount of players in both groups so it wouldn't bog down the game in the end. You could even have an evil PC come in at different times to frustrate the other group or vice versa.

I would recommend that you let the players in both groups know what is going on so when one group loses at the end they won't be too upset.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If having 2 groups is an option, you're not even require to have a "good one" and a "evil one" : one of the team might work for the villain without knowing (collecting artifact and assassination are definitively something most adventuring parties might consider with the right phrasing). The "bad" team might even search the villain for revenge, linked to the characters' backstories, without knowing they work for him. Then, during the fight between the teams, a NPC trusted by the "bad" group reveal or understand that their employer is the villain, then drama occur. \$\endgroup\$ – Nahyn - support Monica Cellio Oct 4 at 12:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NahynOklauq If this is the case then the teams wouldn't have the motivation to continue the fight. \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Oct 7 at 13:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, that's the point. If the encounter main goal is just to have some PvP, let them fight : at least 50% of the players will lose a PC, certainly the healers first so resurrections will be difficult. One campaign end in this fight, the other continue, certainly with less members. If the goal is to be narratively interesting, having both team starting a fight, realize one of them was manipulated and join force to take the villain seems more enticing. They might work on parallel objectives to take down enemy strongholds then join forces in the final fight. \$\endgroup\$ – Nahyn - support Monica Cellio Oct 7 at 13:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NahynOklauq There are so many ways this could play out. I'm tempted to do this very thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Oct 7 at 18:11
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I was in a Shadowrun as a player where my GM setup that EXACT idea.

We started as what we thought was the "good guys", being led astray by a Mr Johnson and an evil corp. Then later, we started another game that we didn't know was about the same thing.

After a while, both parties encountered each other. We started a fight, then the GM pulled our old sheet and asked us to control both sides.

The fight was an absolute mess of metagaming, everyone using ALL they knew about both sides to make decisions that, while strategic and smart, were so metagaming it wasn't even funny.

"hey the shaman doesn't have healing but can incapacitate us all with this. TAKE HIM OUT FIRST"

We finished the fight, where basically the side who won was the side we "wanted" to win (cause we made sure they had the upper hand). We then all looked at each other, admitted how crappy this was from an RP perspective.

The GM apologized, and we agreed to retcon the encounter. The GM changed the abilities of the party a bit (to be less predictable/reflect the time they spent getting better since WE last saw them), and we redid it, with the GM controlling the other party.

My suggestion

Don't try. It makes for a good narrative. But if you make the players control both sides, it's just a bad experience in the fight itself. I mean... try playing chess against yourself. It's.... not great :/ (to my taste at least).

If you are hellbent on doing this... involve your players from the getgo so they KNOW this is about to happen.

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It's not impossible but it is really hard to pull off.

Even if your players are very experienced, metagaming can still be a thing.

If you want to do something similar one or more of your players could start getting weird dreams were they seem to be somebody else and perform evil deeds, only to eventually discover that those were actually visions granted by (random god, random wizard, whatever) and now they have to fight them.

Regarding the fight itself, yes, by all means I'd personally suggest that your players should always control friendly characters, not enemies.

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Not sure if it's a good idea

First off, with your current plan, every player will lose at least one character in the fight (if not both). Which isn't really a good thing from my point of view, since I tend to bond rapidly with my characters.

Secondly, D&D isn't really design for PvP, especially if you have min-maxer players. A PC doesn't have a CR, just a level, and transforming a PC into a creature isn't easy at all. The "Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard problem" (warning: TvTrope link) is still present in 5e, and a lv10 Wizard won't be the same CR as a lv10 fighter (even two lv10 Wizard won't be the same CR depending on the spell list they choose).

Lastly, even if the players try to not metagame, they certainly will, even unwillingly. I had a veteran players at my table fighting trolls, knowing that acid & fire stop its regeneration. Their characters didn't know this and the players tried so much to not metagame that they didn't use fire spell before it was their last option. Players can't erase their memories.

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There are two big problems with this:

  1. Metagaming -- No matter how hard you try, people will use their knowledge to give themselves an edge. And by extension, their characters. You can't expect a player that hears someone else is planning to use a powerful spell to make sure they are primed for casting Counterspell. Or move their fighter in the way because they know the thief is going to try hiding next round. Or exploiting a weakness then know about another character.

  2. Attrition/Apathy -- You say, "at some point" they will meet. But unless you regularly switch between the two parties (which is a confusion on to itself), players will lose interest in their old character. Or at the very least, forget how to play them optimally. The barbarian will forget to rage, the tiefling forgets their resistance, someone will forget their class does extra damage or what bonuses they have, etc.

I have seen this first hand. After playing a party for months, the DM said he wanted to switch things up and start a new party in the same campaign. It was interesting in that the second party could see the aftermath of our first foray into the world. We played this group for months too. Then the DM said we'd have a special adventure for Labor Day weekend. We gathered around and he set up the scenario of both parties fighting it out for a major prize.

He thought out the mechanics:

  • We had 6 players and we all rolled a d20. The top 3 rolls played the current characters, the bottom 3 played the past.
  • Each player controlled two characters; their own and one other party member.
  • Everyone agreed: no hard feelings, and no holding back

The problem was execution. The players using the old group forgot how to best use their character. And no one had readied strategies on how to play the "off" characters. It made for a very muddled combat. The fun came from how badly people were being played and trying to imitate the play-style of everyone else (voices, attitude, etc).

When all was said and done, we all agreed never to do it again.

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Two Parties? Ok. Fighting themselves? Probably not.

Running two parties

The initial premise of having the player's control two parties in the same campaign is perfectly workable. In fact there are some unique advantages to doing this that make it worth the effort of managing additional characters.

One of the games I play in had a narrative moment that caused the party to be separated by significant distance. Instead of dropping half the characters we rolled up additional characters to join the split parties. We now have two complete parties and run alternating sessions between the two parties. Our parties have even met up and one of the player's chose to switch their characters between the parties.

In my experience this has worked extremely well. As players we get to play more characters and experience different things. And for the DM, he has more time to prepare as each party can be run independently and this sessions events don't ruin next sessions plans.

Letting them fight each other

In my game the two parties have very similar goals and motivations but are physically separated most of the time. On the occasion they did meet up they worked together rather than against one another. This worked well and was actually quite cool for one session.

I would be wary about allowing the players to control two groups on opposite sides of an encounter. From other games I have run large scale PvP quickly gets out of hand. Meta-gaming is extremely difficult to control even with the best players. I have tried various methods including putting the opposing groups in separate rooms and running back and forth. So far I haven't found a satisfactory method that doesn't bog down the game.

I believe that it being so difficult to run separate groups with opposing goals would mean it is doubly difficult to handle a single group of player running two opposing parties. You are setting it up for the players to choose the result they want by not playing both sides optimally.

Your are also taking a lot of the control out of your own hands as DM. Your mileage may vary on this but I do like to fudge rolls or change targets subobtimally when I believe it is better for the overall story. Your players may not do this and you as DM will have far less capacity to intercede should things begin to go sideways.

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