Take the 2-minute tour ×
Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. It's 100% free, no registration required.

My sister expressed interest in playing D&D, and I'm interested in DMing, so I decided to try and run The Caves of Chaos from the D&D Next playtest packet. Reading through the materials, I became worried that my sister's elf rogue wouldn't last very long by herself. None of her friends are interested in D&D, so I've been toying with the idea of including other party members, either controlled by me or by her (The way Jason and Marcus play in FoxTrot).

This adventure isn't the most serious thing in the world, obviously...just some Summer break fun. But do you guys see any reasons not to do this? Or, do you have any suggestions on how to run the adventure?

share|improve this question
1  
@waxeagle We're starting out at level 1. I've been taking into account everything you guys have said...I've decided we're not going to start out at the Caves of Chaos, rather, I'll be introducing her to the elements of roleplaying and the mechanics of D&D by doing the classic start in an inn, meet some folks, maybe tackle the rats in the cellar. Hopefully she'll start to grasp how the game works and I'll have more time to craft an adventure for her. –  Giganticus Jun 13 '13 at 17:12
2  
Is she a tactically-minded person/good with strategy/like combat games? Depending on her affinity for combat, you can alter how much fighting actually happens and how consequential fights are, and focus more on the other aspects of play which are easier to scale down to a single person. Combat is definitely group-oriented, but I think diplomacy, trickery, investigation, and other social aspects might be easier to tune for a single character. If she wants to play FOR the combat, obviously, that's less of an appealing option. –  PeterL Jun 13 '13 at 18:24
    
By the way, I know you weren't specifically asking for this, but as less combat oriented adventures go, this is a great guide: gnomestew.com/gming-advice/the-fish-tank-as-a-mystery-2 –  kravaros Jun 13 '13 at 18:36
add comment

9 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

A rogue could perhaps play solo. But only if she devoted herself to stealth and avoided all out combat at all costs.

D&D is a very much a party based game. And it's best played with a table full of friends, each with their own character. But at the same time, occasionally circumstances require something less than that ideal. There are two options.

  • Go with a single PC per player and find a playstyle that works for this party composition
  • Let the limited number of players play a whole party full of PCs.

In your case, especially in a new system, I'd highly recommend the first. The character your sister want's to play is ideal for this style of gameplay as stealth is key.

Some things I would change/instigate:

  • less tactical gameplay, stealth roles are going to a major part of play.
  • Make sure situations are there where she can quietly and quickly take down the baddies (Don't put in guards with 20 HP, make sure she can take a guy out before he even sees her).
  • Make sure there are places where if she makes good tactical choices she can route a small group of enemies
  • Provide a lot of healing potions.
  • Design encounters to success is not based on completing combat. Give her clear non-combat objectives.
  • Rogues are pretty good at sniping, so if she is coming up on a fight in the open, giving her plenty of opportunities to pick people off before they see her is an excellent choice as well.
  • Advantage should be gained and used wherever possible. If she is attacking without advantage she will get slaughtered and quickly. The key to making quick work of bad guys is isolation and dealing her sneak attack which needs advantage to function.

Caves of Chaos might not be the best adventure unless you add enough story so as to provide the require non-combat objectives. There is at least one adventure that necessitates the rescue of prisoners, this would be a good one. But things like cleaning out a Kobold nest should probably be written (and the flavor/story is pretty much up to you as the DM) in such a way that the objective isn't Kobold death, but Kobold cooperation or migration. She can't kill all the Kobolds, but she can certainly get to their leader and threaten him.

share|improve this answer
    
Great answer. Thank you! –  Giganticus Jun 13 '13 at 2:50
add comment

I've run plenty of solo adventures before, both with sidekick characters and with the player on their own.

There are several key factors I've found when running solo adventures that make them more enjoyable

  • Pander to what the player likes as much as possible; that isn't to say you make everything a cakewalk - far from it. What you need to do is find what the player enjoys about the game and give them more of it. For new players this can be difficult and you'll have to give them tasters of different aspects of the game (fighting, sneaking, investigation, diplomacy, etc) New players may well not actually chose a character particularly suited to the role they enjoy as well, so bare this in mind.
  • Single character I'd advise for solo games just keep the player with a single character - it helps them make the focus about them rather than the player juggling between characters - this can be very confusing for new players.
  • Personality. Inject your NPCs with personality, even if it's just a familiar war-cry or a amusing habit; these help the NPCs come to life around the solo player without showboating the NPCs too much. It also makes them feel more of a team.
  • Showboating - this is a big thing to avoid; the player's character is the focus of the story. If there is a decision to make about something make sure the NPCs ask the player what they think, give the NPCs personality and quirks but don't drive the story through them. There is a big temptation for GMs to get a favourite NPC especially in solo games and make everything about that NPC. Try to avoid this - don't make an NPC do all the work. For example if the player likes sneaking and a fight erupts, feel free to skim over the details of the NPCs combat details so it runs faster (and is less dull to the player) and they can get back to sneaking.
  • Feedback - this is the crucial aspect of solo play, see how they enjoyed things - especially in the first few games. Keep the danger factor light for the character at first perhaps; @waxeagle has some excellent suggestions in his post about this.
  • Number of NPCS - This has been mentioned elsewhere but I'll add my thoughts too; keep the number of party NPCs low, ideally it should only be one other NPC - the more NPCs you have the less they should talk. Give one a vow of silence or something to help perhaps.
    This is partly to keep the focus on the player and what they can achieve (the more NPCs, the more THEY can do) and also because the more NPCs you have the more the NPCs would naturally be talking to each other which makes things look a bit weird when a) you do this and b) they don't do this when they should.
    Ideally any conversation should be directed through the player - keep them involved.
    I've generally found support and tanking roles are ideal for NPC sidekicks, like healers.
    If you do run several NPCs remember to prefix their speech with who is talking "Bob says this" or work on accents/slang so it's very obvious who is talking. Such as: "Ach! Me axe kannie get thru the steel door lassie, it don't have tha power!" Yep, it's the dwarf again.
share|improve this answer
add comment

I have done a lot of one-on-one roleplaying similar to what you are describing, and I think there are several different approaches. You can use some of these simultaneously or (with a bit of work) switch between them throughout a long campaign, but each is pretty much a stand alone technique that at least for me has made solo games work well.

Run Solo With a Tailored Campaign

You can carefully tailor the campaign to emphasize the character's strengths, avoid things that are impossible for the character, and hit their weaknesses only to present a challenge to be overcome creatively. Actually, I think that this is a good suggestion for just about any campaign no matter the party size, but it becomes both much easier and much more important when running solo with a standard character.

Done well, this is sufficient to let any character be the star of the story without a party. Think about many of the action movies with one clear hero that handles all the action by himself/herself or any of the similar video games where you play a single hero without backup. The tombraider series does this well.

Make the character powerful

A single 3rd level character will often be more powerful (though also more narrow) then three first level characters. So, if you want to play solo you can often take an adventure designed for a party of first level characters and run it with a 3rd or 4th level character. This doesn't quite always work, there are times when you really need a second set of hands, but it works a lot of the time, especially if the character either is of a highly versatile class or dips into a second class for breadth. It doesn't hurt to let them be on the high side of the wealth by level recommendations to make sure they are equipped for a wide array of possibilities.

Provide a party of henchmen

Done right, there is nothing wrong providing NPC party members. The problem is that when you have a full party to start with, it is very hard to do it right. There is a temptation for the DM to identify with the NPC party member and make it a DMPC and even start dipping into "Mary Sue" territory with reality warping around the DMPC to make them seem awesome. Even if the DM is scrupulous in avoiding that tempetation, there will be a tendency (at least in some groups) to assume that that NPC has special insight and give what they say too much weight.

But those problems are greatly reduced and the benefits of NPC party members are greatly enhanced when you have a very small group of PCs. The key is to make sure the limelight is on the player. This doesn't mean that the NPCs shouldn't be fully fleshed out characters with their own feelings and opinions, but it does mean that the PCs should be the ones calling the shots and getting most of the glory. This can actually be easier if the NPCs are fully developped characters, as long as they have a reason to defer to the PCs.

Dragon Age (the video game) did this very well. You wind up with a whole group of followers, each one is well fleshed out (at least if you bother to find out about them) and provoked enough they will leave or even attack you. But each one also has a reason that they follow you, obey you, and defer to your judgment. Zevran is alive because you spared him and he sees himself as owing you fealty. Leilana believes (perhaps rightly?) that she was ordered by her deity to obey you. Allistair is (at least at the start) explicitly hesitant to make decisions and somewhat submissive. They are all every bit as powerful as your character and arguably more experienced, but they each have a reason that they will defer to your character and obey (most) orders.

Its not necessary, but this is more believable and easier if the PCs are mechanically more powerful than the NPCs. This makes it hard for the NPCs to outshine the PCs except when the NPCs particular class skills are needed. If you want there can be something story wise or even mechanical, beyond just being higher level, about the PC that makes them the natural leader. Perhaps they were marked by fate itself, chosen by one of the pantheon, of a particular lineage (remember that in the late middle ages your lineage mattered a lot).

Let the players have multiple characters

I have heard of this working, but I have never seen it work in a solo campaign. I think it would work well on a tactically oriented game but less well if you want serious character development.

I have seen it work well with multiple players but normally when there was a reason that there characters would rarely be in the same place at the same time. (In a Vampire: The Masquerade game I have seen players each have a Vampire and also each have a ghoul or just servant that was active during the day...) If your sister wants to do hack and slash this could be perfect for her, but if she wants to deal with the motivations of her character this could be a distraction.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Yes, you can have one player control a whole party of adventurers. There's really no way to do it wrong! (Really, there's very few ways to play roleplaying games wrong, and this is especially harmless.)

I've played multiple PCs and GMed for multiple PCs controlled by the same player before. It's really not a situation that's a problem, just unusual. Like lots of things in life and roleplaying, it's a matter of tradeoffs rather than being strictly worse or better than the default.

The biggest disadvantage of doing this is that your player will find fewer opportunities to roleplay, since there are no fellow players controlling different PCs. This is the biggest disadvantage, but it really isn't very much of disadvantage. The plus side here is having multiple PCs to roleplay when you're just learning, which gives more opportunity to find a character and personality that is fun to play; an opportunity you don't get when you have a single PC.

The biggest advantage to doing this is that you both get much, much more practice with the rules, which is especially good when you're both learning. Once you've played just a few sessions, you'll not only be familiar with melee, range, spellcasting, and stealth, but your player will also be much more familiar with group tactics and cooperation than most new players are months into their first campaign.

Some people might get all worked up about the separation of information that's hard to do when you control multiple PCs, but this isn't really a problem here. When you're new, it's best to just not worry about it anyway regardless of the number of players, and let the player(s) use any information they have from one PC as if all the PCs know it. Most of the time they'll all be together and would be plausibly sharing information anyway. The rare cases where there should be a "fog of war" between characters is something you should just handwave away as unimportant for your game – you're both still learning, and not putting up that barrier is actually going to help you learn the game more than it will hinder the fun (if at all). Learning to separate the knowledge of different PCs is a skill that you can always build later, and in the meantime having them have a "hive mind" will only make learning easier.

If you like, you can always say that they are supernaturally bonded and actually know each others' thoughts instantly. That would be cool, and give them a reason for being together as a group. It would also flag that knowing everyone's information instantly is unusual, so it sets you both up for learning that skill later.


All that said, that's only the answer to "can you?" Yes, you can, and it works fine! It's going to be different from a solo game though, and those are tonnes of fun too. Should you have one player control a whole group of PCs? There's no answer to that. As I said, each is about tradeoffs, and you have to pick the tradeoffs that best suit you both. A game of tactical combat and adventure can be easily had with one player and many PCs, but a game of wondrous exploration and character development can be more easily had with a single PC in a one-on-one game.

So yes, you can. But "should you" is up to you. You're unlikely to break anything, so don't worry about that, and just play in whatever way gives you the most fulfilling game.

share|improve this answer
    
I agree with all of this, but I think it depends a lot on the type of game you want to play. If you want a primarily tactical game with some problem solving, this works absolutely great and I have done some short ones in a similar fashion. If you want a game filled with character development (in the personality sense, not the leveling sense) and backstory then I think this gets awkward. –  TimothyAWiseman Jun 21 '13 at 17:34
    
@TimothyAWiseman That's true. I should add a note that though I'm answering the "can you?" question, I don't mean to imply that there's any "should" about it either. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 21 '13 at 17:45
    
Good point, you certainly can do it this way, and I have seen it work very well, for certain types of games. –  TimothyAWiseman Jun 21 '13 at 19:29
add comment

I'm a little late here, but thought I'd share my recommendation.

Give the rogue a combat-capable pet (a wildcat,wolf, or even a bird could provide a much needed distraction) that she controls. Start it at her level, let it advance at half her rate. That way she has combat help, but there's not really another "character" to worry about.

Beyond that, give her max hp gain/level to increase survivability, and drop items that give her a taste of other classes (a sword of smite, a ring of fireball, that sort of thing) to increase her versatility and expose her to more, and of course be generous with loot in general.

Do that, and the combats should work out okay even without a "party". And the rest of it (sneaking, investigating, diplomacy, and exploration) shouldn't be anything a rogue can't handle on her own.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to RPG.SE, Wyatt. incidentally, we have an entertainingly animated FAQ here: rpg.stackexchange.com/about. You might want to check it out, sometime. –  GMJoe Aug 7 '13 at 5:32
add comment

Note: in this answer, when counting players, I'm not considering the GM a player. I know it's not accurate, but I do this for the sake of simplicity.

Playing with only one player has its advantages and disadvantages. Mainly, it's less social and the party is weaker and less balanced.

What is great about having only one player is that he always has the spotlight and don't have to compete for your attention. This allows you to make much more personal games, which allow you to explore the character in depth and let he have his own personal relations with the NPCs (friends, enemies, lovers,...). This stuff can be very interesting on a 1 on 1 game, but can bore the rest of players in a game of 3+ players.

So, my advice is: make the game very personal. It's all about the PC, let her pursue her goals, and create a good interaction based on her character and her background story. Don't be too strict with death, I think in this kind of games GM must try not to kill the hero, because as there is only a character, it would make more difficult to continue the story.

About the balance problem, she should pick a class without serious weaknesses and you should prepare adventure that are adapted to her character in abilities (ie: if she's a warrior, don't make magic necessary) and in difficulty.

share|improve this answer
    
How is the party weaker and less balanced with fewer players? That's an issue with fewer player characters. However, the whole point of this question was whether it was ok to still go ahead and have a full-size party of characters despite not having a separate player for each of them. –  Matthew Najmon Jun 21 '13 at 0:15
    
@MatthewNajmon I should have said it, but I think the one player controlling a bunch of characters is a waste of the occasion to play more immersive games. –  Flamma Jun 21 '13 at 21:38
add comment

There's no reason why you can't have party-member NPCs (the jargon for your second suggestion), whether you have one player or five. Perhaps the rogue could have a loyal but stupid fighter sidekick accompanying her, who can wield his sword bravely when asked, but has insufficient initiative even to draw his sword without her orders. (We've all worked with people like that.)

There are many questions on this site and elsewhere discussing the advantages and disadvantages of this solution, but I will just give three pieces of advice;

  • Don't have more NPCs than PCs (one, in this case). Otherwise it gets confusing quickly.
  • Don't let the fighter think. It might seem sensible for him to remember the password or the way out of the caves, but all to often it becomes 'Do you know what I have written in front of me? No? Well, I do.' which is no fun for anybody.
  • Don't try to share the limelight or the applause with the player. The GM already controls everything in the universe from the monsters to the laws of physics; don't try and have your own player character as well.
share|improve this answer
add comment

In my experience as player and DM, if you only have a single player it is normally a good idea to let them get NPCs to help with their weak spots. I have played in an AD&D 2e campaign as an Invoker, and been the only player there for most of the time. The way I survived (and the campaign was focused around fighting masses of orcs) was by having an apprentice, two bodyguards, and a few animated wicker men.

In your case, you should allow your sister to do some classic solo rogue quests to start off with, and then let part of her success lead to the assistance of NPCs that are useful to her but don't take over the limelight.

  • Stealing back a holy item could get her the assistance of a temple, so she can buy healing potions cheaply.

  • Rescuing his kidnapped child might encourage the local noble to offer her a few bodyguards, especially if the thwarted kidnappers have threatened revenge!

  • The local mage may offer to give her a magic item that helps her get Combat Advantage in exchange for her retrieving some lost research notes. He might even send his apprentice along to help her in the future, in exchange for part of the magical treasure.

The key thing, I think, is to make the player earn the help of NPCs, so it feels like another resource or type of wealth rather than just some DMPCs. Introducing NPCs before they join her will also help to make sure the PC doesn't get stuck with a really annoying sidekick. However, you should cycle through the people adventuring with her, so she is still the center of attention. For the same reason, you should avoid making the other characters too strong and let her be the person who actually delivers the killing blow to the enemy boss. If the other characters are basically either aggro-grabbing meat-shields or CA-giving casters, she will still be the one who shines.

share|improve this answer
add comment

The way I see this game is tantamount to a video game style adventure. Let the player cycle through the relevant characters as their moments to shine surface. You can even separate the party and add a lot more adventure depth when they only need one person to react and not wait for another player's turn to finish. Indeed, an episodic approach that lets your sister play one character at a time and then have them join up under her omnipresent hand.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.