One of the pieces of media that’s been consistently pushed on my by friends (mostly my co-host Grant and his wife, but also some other people) is the show White Collar. For those unfamiliar with it, the show is built around the concept of a not-so-bad “bad guy” being teamed up with a good guy to do good things. In some shows this results in tensions and they find drama that way, but in White Collar, it tends to operate more on the friendly banter level. The dynamic is similar to that of a lawful good paladin and a very kind-hearted and decent chaotic good bard working together. The characters (mostly-reformed con man Neal and FBI agent Peter) don’t always agree on how things should be done and operate under different rules, but they genuinely like and trust each other, even if neither one really wants to admit it. The show is delightful you should give it a try if you haven’t.
In any case, while binge-watching the first season on Netflix over the weekend, I ran across something interesting in Season 1, Episode 9 that I feel is worth putting in the proverbial gamer tool box. [SPOILER WARNING: spoilers for S1E9 of White Collar begin here] In the episode, Peter goes to talk to a corrupt judge, who offers him a bribe. We know from eight prior episodes of character development that he’s about as likely to be bribeable as Captain America, so when he plays along, the audience knows that he’s doing so with an eye toward catching the corrupt judge in her corruption. The other characters in the show, particularly his boss, are less likely to have quite such absolute confidence in his virtue, so when the judge makes plans to give a tape she made of the interaction to a rival agent, we realize he could be in real trouble. He and Neal both begin to put plans into place to get him out of the jam, but neither consults the other first. Peter gets together a bunch of his subordinates who do trust him and starts building the case against the judge on an accelerated timetable. Neal gets together with another basically-good criminal buddy of his and they erase the tape in transit. The tape being blanked buys Peter more time to turn the tables on the corrupt judge and the dirty FBI agent he’s up against by the end of the episode.[END SPOILERS]
The episode illustrates an interesting idea: People who work together don’t always need to coordinate to help each other (in fact, a lot of workplaces rely on people not constantly needing to coordinate with the boss or each other to get stuff done). Neal and Peter never communicated what they planned to do to each other, and in fact, Peter was grateful for Neal’s help but was as surprised by it as his rival was. They worked together while working apart.
This could be, I think, a really neat thing to do in a game, but in order for it to work properly, the PCs have to really trust each other. If they don’t, you’re more likely to get intrigue than serendipitous cooperation, which may also make for good play and/or good story depending on your group, but it’s beyond the scope of this blog post. However, if you’re a GM and your players have that kind of relationship, I think you probably can get away with giving multiple parts of a split party the same news they’re going to want to react to without letting them talk to each other before they have to start moving on it, then let their actions help each other at appropriate times once the clock starts moving, and when the party finally reunites, enjoy the “that was you?” moments that will inevitably spring up. I think it’s also important for their goals to be complimentary, but don’t sweat it if they aren’t identical. In the show, Peter wanted to catch a bad guy and Neal just wanted to spare his friend some possible career-imperiling grief.
It’s not something you probably want to do all the time, but if your group will go for it, I think it could be a lot of fun to let your PCs work together without working in concert. I certainly intend to give it a try at the earliest opportunity.