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I recently pitched a game to my group, to which they were receptive. However they pointed out some problems I would have to solve before the game started.

The Pitch

The game is set in the near-future, the players would be a group of teens who spend too much of their time in a VR world, and one of the players would be an AI. Much of the game would revolve around trying to reconcile their addiction (the VR world) with their real-world responsibilities (school).

The plots would be along the lines of a dark and twisted Scooby Doo episode – they stumble across a mystery that affects them and their friends, and they have to work together to solve it. For example, they have to solve the string of suicides in their high school, a task requiring activity in both the VR world and the real world.

The Problem

Most plots would require splitting the party – the ‘Decker Problem’ of early editions of Shadowrun. As the focus of the GM (me) switches from the real world to the VR world, half the players are left to twiddle their thumbs. The game not only allows the party to split, but would almost require it (as is the case in Shadowrun deckers). While one part of the party is taking actions, or dealing with NPC’s, my attention cannot be on the other part of the party, which might as well go out for a pizza.

What are some techniques for minimizing how disruptive this can be?

I have not chosen a system, but will probably use a flavor of FATE. Communication between the parties is not an issue, but GM attention to half the party at a time would be. I am really not looking to find ways of creating make-work for the party not in the spotlight at the time. I am more interested in trying to maintain the split party (as would be needed by the setting) and keeping more of the table in the spotlight more of the time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related, (not a duplicate though). \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Feb 19 '15 at 21:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ This may be a duplicate: Tasks for a split party. I can't tell if the different details make them sufficiently different or not. Does it solve your problem? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 19 '15 at 21:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Actually, its giving the kind of advice I am not really interested int. (queue up a bunch of tasks for the other side, and if all else fails, random encounter...) \$\endgroup\$ – Tritium21 Feb 19 '15 at 22:04
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This is hard to do well, and requires a lot of practice. Some things to think about that I've learned...

  • Switch between the two groups often. Don't spend long periods of time with one of the groups. For longer encounters have both groups running concurrently and switch between them as rapidly as makes sense and you can keep track of.
  • When you do switch, leave them on a cliff hanger and/or with something to discuss and think about on their own. This will help keep them interested and focused on what is going on, and stop them getting bored.
  • Design encounters so that what is going on in one group matters to the other. This will help when one group has genuine downtime, as they are more likely to want to know what is going on in the other group.
  • Allow communication between the character groups in game where you can. This means that even if characters aren't there 'in person' they can still offer advice and ideas to whatever predicament the other group are in.

As a side issue, you will need to decide how much out of character chat you are happy to have between the groups when they are split. Partly this will come down to the system you choose, but you should also make sure that you come to an agreement with your players that everyone is comfortable with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This jibes well with my experience with split groups (which has happened a lot in our current Apocalypse World game), +1. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 19 '15 at 22:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the 2nd point is really important. I let my party split in DnD fairly often, and you always want to switch to the other group the moment the group you're talking to start talking to each other. This minimizes downtime more than anything else. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Mar 19 '15 at 4:36
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If you've got a player who's ready and willing, why not recruit a co-GM? The AI player might be an excellent choice (depending on system; I'm not sure a "DMPC" would work well in Fate unless you could work out some decent houserules for modifying the Fate point economy), since they can never participate in the real-world side anyway (again, an assumption), or maybe a player will want to drop their character altogether to run one of the worlds for you.

And I most definitely suggest splitting the responsibilities that way: one GM runs one world while the other GM runs the other. That will help the two worlds feel different by default - just flipping over the character sheet is one thing, but actually physically turning from one GM to another when a character switches worlds and experiences the other world told in a different style is a whole other level.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a completely separate note, if you (and/or your co-GM, if you go that route) are good at hacking rules systems, you could even consider using different systems for each world. Maybe FATE works well in the real world, but you want to use a crunchier system in the game world - after all, games DO track things like hit points and exact bonuses... you could even use more than one system to be different game worlds: a DnD or DnD-alike for fantasy games, Shadowrun or WoD for dark modern, etc. Getting it to work would be a nightmare, but seeing it in action would be a dream ^_^ \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Feb 20 '15 at 5:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ A good suggestion, but inapplicable. \$\endgroup\$ – Tritium21 Feb 20 '15 at 13:24
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Use some kind of troupe system. When the story is in the VR world but a player's character is in the real world, give that player control of a different VR character. When the story is in the real world but a player's character is in VR, give that player control of a different real world character.

This could be particularly interesting in a VR with an insane AI.

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While another answer had a great deal of helpful advice, I have found a better solution to the problem.

Call for Fewer Rolls

In my group, the group for which this question was originally asked, I have discovered that de-emphasizing the game system, and focusing more on role-playing, have caused the split party to keep themselves occupied. While the bad guys are not being bad guys to them, and I switch my focus to the other half of the party, the half out of focus naturally keep themselves in character.

The main difficulty with this method is the beginning of a session. Even with players that enjoy talking in character, it can be hard to get the game going. I have found that if I have them start interacting with an NPC straight away, they can get into role-playing, and the problem almost solves itself.

Combat does grind everything to a stand-still, so I have designed encounters to avoid it as much as possible when the party is split.

This works for my group because they are not simulationist gamers, or rather, they are more interested in the role-playing aspect of the hobby than the game aspect. This solution would not have worked with groups I have played with in the past. A group who gets together for a weekly dungeon crawl will very likely find very little help in this answer, and should perhaps look at the others.

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When I have to split the troupe or give one character a lot of screen time I let players play NPCs and give them just enough information to help them understand what those NPCs want and know.

If this is really frequent (the norm) it might not be a bad idea to let them have 2 sets of characters, one for the VR world and one for the Real world.

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Cuts, cuts and more cuts between the two (or more) parties. You need to move quickly so as not to get too bogged down on one side of the fence.

I like to raise the ante in a scene and then cut back, sort of like mini-cliffhangers.

Oh, and using Fate is awesome! You can even use compels to your advantage when shifting...sure, the decker wants to do this, but they might be compelled to do this instead...and...cut to other scene while decker thinks about it, for instance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you just mean cuts, not cutscenes. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 20 '15 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, you are right. I meant cuts! \$\endgroup\$ – WillCo Feb 20 '15 at 17:48

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