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There are 4 PC's in the group that I DM: A, B and C (neutral ranger, rogue and warlock) and D (lawful good bard).

A, B and C have landed themselves a heist job for the next night. D does not know this. Also, we're about 10 sessions into the adventure, and the characters do not trust each other very much yet.

How do I make the next session interesting for all players? Because I'm afraid that if I don't do something, D is going to sitting bored in the tavern (maybe playing a bit of music, but that's probably as interesting as it gets), whilst the others are off having an adventure of their own. Or would there also be an interesting encounter at the tavern, to balance things out?

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9 Answers 9

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From my experience, and I started DMing some 20 years ago, you can't.

  • One person sitting out and just watching the whole session will be bad for that person.
  • Each person sitting out half of the session just watching will be bad for everyone.

So what to do now? I believe it's something that should have been addressed in the Session Zero, and it's not too late to have (another) one now. It's okay for player characters not to trust each other implicitly. At most tables it is not okay to use that to exclude a player from an adventure. Search for my guy syndrome if you want a broader view of it.

So what to discuss with your players? Here's my list of suggested topics:

  • Is it okay to exclude someone from an adventure based on my guy arguments?
  • If it is, should the excluded person even bother coming to the session?
  • If it's not (and I believe it's not, but I can't force this belief on your table), how to prevent that?
  • What reasons these characters have to stick together? How to make these reasons work, to make them go on the heist together now, and not split the party in the future?
  • If there are no reasons, what reasons can be retconned to make it work?
  • Maybe some of the characters should be replaced, to make the party work as a team?
  • Or maybe it's not the game Bard's player believed it will be, and he should find another table?

You need these answered, but only your players can give you answers you need to make the game work for them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. Those are valuable comments. I think I got myself stuck too much in the "this character will never tag along" mindset. The bard themselves solved the problem just now by opting to join the heist, because it probably will give a good story (even though it may be somewhat morally objectionable) \$\endgroup\$ Feb 26 at 12:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TempestasLudi For reasons to stick together, there's always the "I'm going along to keep you lot from doing even worse things" plan. Especially for a bard who could potentially talk their way past guards or civilians instead of killing them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bobson
    Feb 29 at 10:20
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I honestly feel Molot's answer is better, but truthfully, I'd have simply run this as a side session. I'd have made sure player D knew about it, no secret meetings or anything like that, and then had A B and C come early or stay late or ask D if he's ok skipping a session, whatever worked. Anything but have D sitting there doing nothing the whole time...

...although if the inn is near the heist target, having D react like an adventurer when the heist goes south (it always does) and end up recognizing his party as the criminals he's trying to help arrest would be priceless.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think my answer is objectively better. Your approach has merit, and I upvoted it. It's not what I would do, but I can see how for some tables it might be the right thing to do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Feb 26 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Omg reacting to stop a break in would be amazing! \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 26 at 16:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Depending on the heist location, the bard could even be hired to perform at the target, e.g. a noble's banquet in their manor. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 26 at 21:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Whahahaha, that is hilarious. Not what I am going for, but one I'll keep in mind ^^ \$\endgroup\$ Feb 27 at 12:46
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I've had something like this happen in one of my games. Three of my five players decided to go rob a lord's mansion. The two others were playing lawful good characters, who wanted nothing to do with that job, so they stayed in town.

However, they didn't want to be excluded from the session. In fact, they, as players, wanted to join the adventure. Just their characters didn't. So what did they do? They rolled up some temporary characters that were in on the job. Some random goons from whoever ordered the job. This let them participate in the fun, and try some other class mechanics, while their real characters stayed behind and kept their holiness.

The temporary characters were discarded, but you could have them come back as recurring NPCs, or backup characters in case of death.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Genius, great solution! \$\endgroup\$
    – Davo
    Feb 29 at 17:34
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A, B and C have landed themselves a heist job for the next night. D does not know this.

You don't say how this happened - this is the root of your problem. Did three players get together and exclude the other from a job?

The game doesn't work if the players treat it like as session of Among Us. It needs to be cooperative. If players' characters can't trust each other, players need to re-roll characters until the characters do. If players start to scheme against each other, the DM needs to control it and stop it from happening, either in-game or out-of-game.

Edited to add: Obviously parties can choose to have a cloak-and-dagger game filled with mistrust, but this would be established beforehand, and would be the exception to D&D play generally.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is often good advice, but I have played in a different way successfully, so this isn't quite as clear cut as you make it sound. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 26 at 22:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ In this case, at least one of my players rolled their character as an initially untrustful person, with the goal of slowly building trust over the course of the campaign/arc. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 27 at 12:47
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If the decision wasn't made to leave D in the tavern alone, perhaps a hook needs to be offered to D. Some damsel in distress, or other McGuffin that suddenly D is interested in, that draws them into a parallel adventure with a similar destination. While their goals might not align, they might put aside their differences for the time being long enough to accomplish both of their tasks, and get out safely.

Perhaps D might even have a different means of entry that the others wouldn't dare try that acts as a distraction for the others too. Maybe D gets requested to play for a party at an event, and it's during this event, that the heist happens.

It will always feel bad if someone gets left out if everyone was scheduled to be there for the session. It's always best to find a way to include everyone, even if it means adapting the session to the needs of the players.

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Always split the party

You need to tee up something for the bard to do and then equitably share the spotlight time among all the players.

Now, you know your campaign and players, and I don't, so I don't know what that something is - it might be a solo adventure, it might be a role-playing opportunity (perhaps the bard has a sweetheart?), it might even be trying to find out WTF the other three are. Talk to the bard's player before the next session and prep something that will take up approximately a quarter of the session time.

You then need to share the spotlight equitably (which doesn't mean equally) by cutting between the groups:

DM: OK, A, B & C, the gate has an ornate-looking padlock shaped like a demon, what do you do?

A: Checking for traps.

B: Cast detect magic.

C: I'll keep watch.

DM: OK, A & C, give me a perception check. Meanwhile, back at the Paladin's Rest; D, you've looked all over, but none of the others are here, and they haven't left a note. What next?

D: I'll ask the staff and the regulars if they know where they've gone.

DM: OK, you ask around, and the barman tells you that they met a half-elf with scars on his cheeks who was asking if they wanted to do a job down the docks.

D: Scarred cheeks? What does Fandon want with them down the docks?

DM: You don't know, he doesn't know. OK, guys, what did you get for your Perception?

etc.

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Create a reason for LG character to join

Most people don't realize but fighting "My guy syndrome" do not always have to break immersion at the table. You are a DM and this world that you created will become what you and your players want it to be. Create a reason for the bard to join, it don't have to be against what his character would do also, here is my idea:

  • After party without a bard went for a heist bard met a friendly person at tavern that made them to appear "at the wrong time and place" and that made them join the heist "unwillingly" (make sure that bard player knows about this plan because this plot hook should not derail into him wondering off to somewhere)

This way max 15-30 minutes of the session concludes in party being split but they all have in character way to join the adventure that also makes this in my opinion interesting party dynamic where one member "don't want to be there" but stick along as they know each other and he is a good character so at the end of the day he wouldn't do something evil to the rest of the party. Situations like that solidify trust between those characters for the future so next time other characters will tell the LG character about sneaky job they landed and will attempt to persuade them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Solid idea. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ Feb 27 at 12:50
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Never split the party.

It’s just not fun to sit and watch while the others play. The only way this would be a good idea is if player D can’t join a session. Then of course it’s great to have an in-game reason why they are absent. You’d still have to figure out how to balance XP and loot.

It’s not too late to have player D join the adventure. After all, you are the DM and all rules can be broken if everyone agrees. You could change player D’s character, change the adventure, let them play a temporary character … anything works.

Regarding in-game trust: In my experience there is nothing worse than arguing and fighting amongst the party. It can quickly lead from an in-character quarrel to a real life quarrel.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I mean, you can successfully split parties and run the splits in separate sessions before reuniting. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lexible
    Feb 29 at 17:12
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Everyone else has covered a lot of the low-hanging fruit here, from asking "why is your party splitting?" to making suggestions of varying potential applicability, but here's one point I think is worth making and one suggestion no one has made yet.

First,

Classical Alignments Shouldn't be Considered Concrete Rules

It sounds like your players are putting a lot of weight behind that "Lawful" label, which is a common bar people run into that prevents them from roleplaying realistic characters. In real life, no one is 100%-always-no-exception on one end of the alignment spectrum. Even the most rigid, by-the-book people often have particular exceptions in life that they don't personally respect.

We don't know the specifics from your brief example, but hypothetically if the heist was of an ancient relic from a local lord who, in the past, hired mercenaries to collect by force, sure he might have gotten his hands on that "legally" (he's a lord, after all, he makes the laws!) but that doesn't mean that the player characters would necessarily respect that ownership as legal or regard taking it as violating a meaningful part of the social contract.

Alignment is not meant to be a hard rule, but rather guidelines for your roleplaying. If you have a character who is feeling boxed in by their alignment to the point where they're not participating in an adventure in ways that would actually make sense for those characters, they should not feel constrained by it.

Second,

What to do When You Must Have an Extended Party Split: The Extra

Sometimes the party just has to split for whatever reason. Maybe the reason is realism (we're not all joined at the hip all the time) or just a desire to highlight a particular quibble a certain character has ("Not a heist! I hate heists. Count me out.").

When this happens, what has worked for me brilliantly in the past is to have the party grab an extra head to get them back to the party size they're used to, Ocean's Eleven-style. "Well, the bard is out, and he's our lock-pick. We better hire someone to cover that base for this job!" And then have the player of the character that's sitting out play the fill-in for that session. It can be a fun excuse to ham it up as a extra for a session and, you never know, they might prefer the fill-in character and decide to make the swap permanent, preventing this from happening again.

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