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I'm eager to hear how other people handle this? I do quite a bit of GM-Less gaming in Mythic and some other fringe systems, but, sometimes it's just better to be playing 'other sides' even if you're still cooperating to build a story.

So, what game systems do you use when there's only you and a single player about? How do you balance DND 4E encounters and play for example? Is there any way to do so without just making the single player play more than one character? What about other games?

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closed as too broad by doppelgreener, DuckTapeAl, Wibbs, Tridus, Zachiel Mar 27 '14 at 13:26

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

It's a slightly different question but you might find the answers in useful. – Dom Aug 31 '10 at 9:05
As (part of this this multipart question) is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to both the FAQ and the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and on our Meta. In particular, all responses should be based on actual experience and contain references and examples whenever possible. – mxyzplk Jan 8 '13 at 4:39
As this question has been bumped it's worth noting it's an early game-rec question and most of the answers are terrible given our current guidance on those kinds of questions. – mxyzplk Aug 24 '13 at 2:34
Voting to close as both too broad, and apparently a discussion/quiz with no actual problem to solve. (If it doesn't meet our current standards, generally that means we should close it, or put a historical lock on it like we did for the VoP question) – doppelgreener Mar 27 '14 at 7:31
@mxyzplk with today's bump(s), is it worth re-closing this as off-topic so that those seeing it will see the rec=off-topic banner? – nitsua60 May 2 at 20:55

10 Answers 10

I've done a lot of one-on-one GMing. I lived with a family in 8th grade, and I had a 3-4 days a week one-on-one that went on for a year, as well as a few others early on, a few in college, and then 2 relationships and finally my wife.

System is the first question for a lot of reasons. The first is you have to find out what kind of game the player wants. One-on-one has some distinct advantages over multiplayer in that the player can REALLY get stuff done and can really focus on goals. Gritty or Epic power levels? Cinematic/narrativist or realistic?

Also, as per Vreeg's first rule of Setting design, ("Make sure the ruleset you are using matches the setting and game you want to play, because the setting and game WILL eventually match the system."), you need to know what game you want to run, and how much effort you want to put into it. Make sure the ruleset supports the type of play you are looking for. If you choose an encounter based game like 4e, don't expect the system to support heavy roleplaying or political gaming. Retroclones of 0D&D are better for games based on exploration, whereas some of the skill-based games are better when you want to add in more social interaction.

Talk to the player about lethality and setback ahead of time. These are some of the things that can end a game if there is a big disconnect between GM and Player. If the Player does not understand the stakes, they'll be upset if they lose an eye or die.

Discuss early on about how long this could last. Different games have different power growth curves. If the idea is to make this last a while, think about writing a little chapter guide for your self.

Decide the 'Sandbox' % early on. One of the tendencies that shows up in a one-on-one is the railroad. If you want to keep an open exploration, remind yourself of this often. A good sandbox game means that the Player will jump around and do different things; be prepared and patient here. Definitely have at least 2 major adventure ideas (at least) if you want to run something of a sandbox, so the player feels their choices matter from the outset.

Be ready for the player to collect a stable of NPCs!!! In a one-on-one, with a single Character, the GM's skill to create memorable, differentiated NPCs will be stretched. Get ready to act out mannerisms even more than than normal, and be ready for NPCs to be collected for a while.

A single player also means that the GM has to really take the time to create a stable yet 'World-in-Motion' style home base, especially in the earlier games. Take the time to write good notes ahead of time about the home town and every NPC therein that they meet. Know where mercenaries are found, how information is shared (town crier? Broadsheet? Bardic Network?), and where different supplies are found. Include a few places in the beginning that the player cannot afford, so that down the road the feeling of accomplishment is that much sweeter.

OK, back to work. I hope that was useful!

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I find one of the best genres for one on one RPGs is the superhero genre. Think about it, guys like Spiderman, Daredevil, Batman, Superman, Captain America, etc are always fighting the baddies on their own, so it's not a stretch to set up one player with a main superhero (and maybe a sidekick) and go on an investigation. Villains & Vigilantes (old school version) used to be our go-to game whenever only one player would show up, but I bet Champions, Mutants & Masterminds, and Gurps Supers might work just as well.

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When I played with my wife we simply used Labyrinth Lord (old school D&D), used only one player character, a lot of hirelings and henchmen, and tried to avoid combat if possible. Hirelings are somewhat different from characters in that they are basically level 0 or level 1 characters. Unfortunately for them they often ended up being used as early warning signs. I found that I didn't have to change much in my adventures.

I wouldn't want to take this party through an adventure path, however. An adventure path was probably written to give every character class something to do and to enable team moments. That would require significant changes.

  1. I'd use adventures two to three levels below the character level to enable the use of higher level spells, better saves, more hit points.
  2. Reduce the number of enemies if you can because the number of actions available to each side per turn is a really important measure of advantage.
  3. Use a simple downgrade system for boss monsters. Reduce attacks and saves by two, hit points by ten, and remove one or two spells at the highest levels, for example. You can do this on the fly.

Back to the game itself, however. In our game we had a lot less combat than we usually have in our games because she likes exploring locales, discovering setting background, talking to people. Just because there are a lot of combat rules doesn't mean that you have to fight a lot. Focus on what the two of you like best.

Good luck! :)

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Burning Wheel does a great job of supporting one-on-one games. The system emphasizes the protagonist's personal goals and moral conflicts, which makes it a great fit for character-driven one-on-one. There's a section in the Adventure Burner supplement dedicated to discussing one-on-one play.

The main thing for these kinds of games is that there will be no inter-player conflict or shared party game mechanics. Any game that doesn't require those things should work one-on-one even if the game doesn't mention it.

One strategy I've used in the past is to create an ever present NPC. Fill out a complete character sheet for them, and have some reason for that character to almost always be with the PC. This way it's more like a two-player, one GM game. This way it's easier to keep the game interesting with some inter-personal conflicts. If the player is often alone, you'll mostly be hitting them with conflicts from the environment.

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I've played 1:1 games extensively and used many game systems. In many cases its more about the relationship between the two individuals than the game system. However, the game system can support the 1:1 game better or worse.

I prefer game systems that help plumb the depth of a character or small set of characters played by the player in the session. A number of game systems do this, such as Pendragon and Sorcerer. Note that 1:1 games doesn't necessarily mean the same person is always the GM and the other person is always the player. You can bounce back and forth.

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I've played Beast Hunters with one GM and one player. It wasn't for me, but I understand it works well for others.

There are many, many personal experiences of one-on-one play in this Solo Games thread. Here are some specific threads about Primetime Adventures, Freemarket and Trollbabe:

Finally, I've heard many times that Dogs in the Vineyard works well with one player and one GM.

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I can confirm that Dogs works great 1:1. I've run it that way often. It's better with 2-3 players, but it works well with one. – Jmstar Nov 12 '10 at 13:31
Beast Hunters didn't work out for me either. – migo May 13 '11 at 6:41

There's an entire line of gaming adventures designed for D&D / Pathfinder for one player called 1 on 1 adventures.

I've not personally played these, but my initial read-through of them is quite positive.

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Here's an excellent discussion of running D&D for one player. Key points of interest include:

  • Story and Roleplay are Key

Using the mechanics in service of the story and roleplay, and adopting a more cinematic tone provide a PC with a strong heroic feeling.

  • Combat featuring more minions, with strong ties back to the story, rather than a tactical exercise

  • Tailoring the game to the player

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What realy goes well for a 1:1 game is the Call of Cthulhu RPG. For most adventures it is not a problem to be the only inspector discovering the mysteries.

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One Player

When I was young, my gamemastering was predominantly for one player. I had a couple players, but none of them liked each other, so I ran a lot of single player games.

System didn't really matter all that much at least specifically when related to the solo aspect - we would just pad the party with enough NPCs that you could do what you needed to do. Games with a strong "party conceit" like Basic D&D and 1e AD&D would have 4+ person parties. I ran just about every classic module (the B and X series for Basic, the T and I and A and GDQ and more for AD&D). It wasn't really hard and we didn't "try to avoid combat."' I mean, even computer RPGs back then had you control a whole party in this way (Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, you know) and so it didn't seem particularly odd or onerous.

For games without as strong a party conceit, like Star Frontiers, it was even lighter; one NPC to watch your back or drive while you shoot was sufficient. Of course none of these games back then were super tactical like D&D 4e is; I would imagine you could do the same thing in it but it would be a lot more work from round to round.

One Character

Later on, I ran more true one-character adventures. Those were harder to balance and you had to err on the side of more RP/exploration and less combat, but using either scenarios designed for one player (the Challenge series for AD&D 2e was good) or just bumping up levels (adventure for a party of level 5? OK, let's let the level 7 barbarian loose on it). Once we had a very roleplaying-heavy group, often times multi-player campaigns would end up with solo adventures and mini-quests as people wanted to feel out their characters' plots in one direction or another. I ran solo character AD&D 2e, Feng Shui, Fading Suns, and Deadlands. It definitely required less time spent on the battlemat, but that's what we wanted out of games in the nineties. Systems that were "quick kill" like Runequest were worse than ablative hit-point games here because they were less tolerant of figuring out you needed to run or similar.

Of course, many of the modern "mini-storygames" are pretty forgiving in a one-on-one format as well because one branch of them eschews danger/death more in general.

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