Question of the Day: How to make a satisfying single-player campaign?

2009 May 5
by Dante

Recently, StupidRanger and I have found ourselves with a bit more free time on the weekends. Last weekend she asked me whether or not I could whip up a campaign for just the two of us.

This idea lodged itself sideways in my brain… it strikes me that it could be done but I was having trouble how to logistically scope encounters for a single player. With the intent of trying this out, I’ve put together a few questions that might lead me to some solutions:

  1. What plots are best suited to a single player character?
  2. How do you scope single player battle encounters in a fulfilling way?
  3. In this type of game, is it better to provide NPCs or downscale encounters?
  4. For those of you that have done this before, what was the most successful aspect of the game? What was the least?

Thanks for any help you can provide! Hopefully SR and I will be underway before long!

9 Responses leave one →
  1. ketjak permalink
    May 5, 2009

    Heh. There are no better ways to spend your time with her?

  2. R.M. Walker permalink
    May 5, 2009

    I’ve done this before, so I can only relate what worked for me.

    One of the first things I did was take the campaign down to a very personal level. It’s easy to do that with only one person playing. Have the adventure begin as something the character has a personal stake in, and make it manageable. Maybe the local shopkeeper needs an errand run; or perhaps the local brothel needs someone to watch out for the girls for the evening (guard work). Having the player make a detailed character background is essential here. A well written one will give you the hooks you need in order to come up with some interesting adventures.

    I play 4E, so scaling some of the encounters can be difficult, but with some creative use of Minions, it’s not impossible at all. Single foe creatures become personal battles, so you’ll want to be well aware of your player’s abilities. Extra healing potions and perhaps the character’s use of the Ritual Caster feat would be a great help to a solo character.

    You can provide NPCs to the player, but that only adds to your paperwork (or your player’s paperwork, if she runs the NPCs). I don’t favor their use (as adventuring companions). I think it’s possible to write solo adventures without them.

    Finally, for solo campaigns, I like to keep the character’s future “flexible”. By flexible, I mean her story arc isn’t so customized that she couldn’t later join a like-minded set of companions.

    Just some suggestions. Good luck with the campaign!

  3. Todd Bradley permalink
    May 5, 2009

    By eerie coincidence, this was the topic of the Dungeon Mastering article just posted last night:

    But I agree with ketjak, too.

    And you’re always welcome to come DM a game with my gaming group. We’re always short of good DMs who have enough free time to prepare fun games for us.

  4. Dante permalink
    May 5, 2009

    LOL, I *almost* put something in the post about a distinct lack of innuendo in her request for the campaign, but I decided against it because I enjoy life. 🙂

    @R.M. Walker – Great advice, thanks! Sounds like you did this very successfully!

  5. thegeekwearsprada permalink
    May 5, 2009

    It must be something in the air. I was just yesterday discussing the idea of running a single player e-mail game with geekwearsprada, because she has never played an RPG before, and she hears me talking about them all the time and just can’t wrap her head around the idea.

    I was leaning towards gearing up a simple Space:1889 adventure for her, because she has an interest in VSF (thanks to Girl Genius) and it is a simple system without a ton of rules to remember. Plus, I think the setting for Space:1889 would work very well for a personal one on one game, depending on the character archtype she decided on.

  6. Ken permalink
    May 5, 2009

    Infiltration, detective, espionage, retrieval, and impersonation plots will all work well for a solo character. Another is assassination but you might not want to head for the blood like that.

  7. Greg Fleming permalink
    May 6, 2009

    There’s a long-running post on solo campaigns over at gleemax with some great advice. Mostly 3.5e, but I’d consult it heavily if I were considering a 4e solo campaign.

  8. Chgowiz permalink
    May 6, 2009

    I commented on DM’ing blog too that the best tip I can give is that there’s a much more intimate amount of gaming and back and forth between DM and player.

    I don’t do a plot for my wife, but I have woven the story she came up with for her character into the sandbox. There are hooks she can follow to go with her story, and there is a wide open world for her to discover if she doesn’t want to go that route.

    I have encouraged my wife to learn old school tactics – lots of hirelings, run away a lot – so I haven’t scaled the battles much. She constantly has about 4 to 6 hirelings and an NPC mage that I’ve run with her as her “advisor” but I play him so that he’s always subordinate to her.

    The most successful aspect has been to simply enjoy gaming in an older edition manner. The least successful has been my constant worry that I’m holding her hand too much, but that hasn’t been her perception.

    Please let me know if I can tell you anything more… I really enjoy talking about solo play. My blog started because I wanted to talk about the solo game I’ve been running with my wife since last year. I recently posted a summary page talking about lessons learned and the like:

  9. VacuumJockey permalink
    May 7, 2009

    One way to do it would be by using Calithenas entourage rules — I think they can be found in Fight On! #2.

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