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I'm looking to start a solo DnD adventure with my wife as the only player. She's a total novice.

Which is generally the most successful way to handle the single-PC issue in your experience:

  • NPC party/partner

  • 100% solo adventurer

  • Multiple PCs controlled by single human player

I'm inclined to think one of the first two, given her lack of experience, but I'm curious if there are successful ways to use the third option or any combination thereof.

Edit: I am primarily considering 5e or 3.5e/Pathfinder.

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marked as duplicate by wraith808, DuckTapeAl, mxyzplk Aug 25 at 4:05

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@HeyICanChan I'm either going to dive into 5e with the basic rules PDF and starter kit, or use my old 3.5e books. –  Andy_Vulhop Aug 22 at 18:21
    
I think this significantly differs by edition. I don't know about Pathfinder, and have just started with 5e, but one 3.x answer is to use gestalt classes –  mattdm Aug 22 at 21:05

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

If your goal is to come up with great stories together, I would recommend a combination of all three - have your wife make a 'primary character', and then each story arc, she gets a new set of NPCs. It's kind of like Conan the Barbarian / Sinbad the Sailor / The Doctor - as you travel around having adventures, you have 'local party members'.

So say your wife's primary character is a swashbuckler hero - "Julianne, the White Mask", a fighter/rogue multiclass. This is option #2.

Her first story arc is in the village of Blood Falls, so named because the red clay above the waterfall makes the water look like blood, where a group of kobolds is harassing the local populace. She gets a couple NPC village redshirt bravos who can be killed off in several of the traps to create the right atmosphere of danger and threat. (the #1 option) as well as the Apprentice wizard Jahrn, a plucky chap who's a bit awkward and adorkable, who just wants to help, and has a single level of cleric (of the god of magic) along with his wizard levels, and the brawny bar-hero Gormark, a berserker, who's a bit older and retired from adventuring, but darned if he'll sit by and let good folk be hurt! (these are for her to control, the #3 option) And you can swap off between control of the NPCs. You control Jahrn and Gormark during the afternoons when she's sitting there talking with them about the local situation, but she controls them during fights.

The second story arc is in the Barony of Black Spires, where a wizard has replaced the rightful ruler and several of his lords with duplicates and is changing all the laws to funnel money into his dark research ... in this adventure, she gets a few Freedom Fighter NPCs (#1 option) as well as Zack Hunter, the local ranger who leads the resistance and is good with a rapier, and Gund the Alchemist, who's a bit of a nutjob but his heart is in the right place. (#3 option) - again, she controls them during fights, but you control them while they're camped around the fire and she's talking with them.

Benefit: This means that when Jahrn comes back as a Journeyman during the 4th story arc, it's a joyful reunion and he can be proud of how much he's learned since they've last met!

Give her a main character, and during the numbers-heavy stuff, she controls her other party members ... but when it comes down to you to set the scene, do exposition, or have Jahrn try awkwardly to woo the heroic Julianne while Zack Hunter is being all dashing, then you take the reins. Control doesn't have to be only with one or the other of you!

PS: Always make sure there's a healer around. (thus one level of cleric on Jahrn, and healing potions in Gund's inventory)

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I have done something similar with my dad in a campaign, and it worked quite well to have a mix, though I must remind that this method requires more "keeping track" of various characters. It can make for a rich world if handled well, though. –  Tanthos Aug 22 at 21:17
    
Brilliant. I think I'll try this method. Grunts as 100% DMPCs, split-control NPCs, and I might give her 2 characters with full control (perhaps twins with an almost supernatural connection to explain away meta-knowledge). –  Andy_Vulhop Aug 23 at 2:22

I played D&D solo with my dad as the player for almost six years as a kid. We ran AD&D and 3.5 D&D. Frankly, it surprises me that more people don't play the game this way. It makes for an extremely good bonding time, it's a lot of fun, and two people with a good relationship can create some very great campaigns together.

Here are a few party recommendations. In various campaigns with my dad, I have tried all three of your options.

NPCs with Player

This is used in a lot of cRPGs. That doesn't mean you want to do it. You see, as a DM, you have a lot of things to manage in a normal game. Having to manage most of the party on top of your normal NPCs, enemies, and other miscellania is just too much. To make things worse, you are caught in an awkward situation where you're tempted to metagame really hard with the NPCs. It's hard to know whether an in-party NPC really would solve a problem or suggest a certain course of action in a given situation when you are controlling them. On a regular basis, this is something a DM learns to manage. When you constantly may have to make party decisions in every single scene and encounter, it becomes tricky.

Majority NPC parties also take away from the player's achievements. Most successes will come from NPC action (effectively DM action, in this case) and be mostly out of her control. One PC cannot specialize in everything, therefore the NPCs will fill in the gaps and sap some of the feelings of success that one has in a normal party of PCs.

Solo Player

Perhaps better than the NPCs with Player, simply because it allows the player to feels pretty successful most of the time. Unfortunately, it also sets the player up for huge stacks of failure or fudging.

For example, in a hazardous situation, you know that if you let the player die, it's all over. There is no one else. So you are very tempted to fudge the game with mercy to prevent that from happening. This can make the game feel a lot easier than it should (especially since it's supposed to be solo!)

In addition, because all versions of D&D are designed for parties to specialize and develop useful roles, a single PC can rarely rise to the occasion of all encounter types. You will have to be choosy about what kind of challenges you present the player, lest you back her into a corner.

While this method needs to be handled carefully, if you can find ways relevant to your campaign which overcome these drawbacks, a single hero can a be a rewarding experience. It also makes for a deeper connection to the story. My dad and I have fond memories of a legendary campaign led by his heroic PC. There's something special about that.

Multi-PC Player

Some people argue that D&D should be designed this way by default.

There are some great examples of this in exceptional cRPGs, such as Icewind Dale. Most players love making characters (sometimes more than playing them!) and giving them the opportunity to create several is a joyous day, indeed! This system has advantages both for new and experienced players.

New players are in a situation where they can more freely experiment and not be afraid of being stuck with a single, supremely flawed character. They can try new things, not be as afraid of PC death, and are not left out if their character is stunned/paralyzed/etc.

Experienced players are in a situation where they can try to make an optimal party. They have control of the whole group! Now they can truly test their skills, if they are more gameplay oriented. If they are more roleplay oriented, they have a cast of characters to themselves that they can create in as interesting a manner as they wish, with whatever meshed backstories they see fit.

As an aside, should your wife be uncomfortable with creating multiple characters, don't worry. I was in this exact situation with my dad when we started our first AD&D campaign. Have her create just one character, then introduce several NPCs with useful skills and abilities to her party over the course of the story. But instead of keeping them as NPCs (as the first party option we discussed), give complete control of them to her directly after a short period of having them demonstrate their personality, skills, and abilities by joining the PC. It worked seamlessly for my dad and I.

I hope you two have an awesome time playing!

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Structure of the campaign and the encounters can be tuned for single PC's. Also, giving access to abilities or magical items that allow some cross class coverage. Like a chalice that lets you heal after a ritual once a day, or a monocle that translates arcane texts, or a background that gives limited cross class ability picking. –  Tyson of the Northwest Aug 22 at 21:40
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"For example, in a hazardous situation, you know that if you let the player die, it's all over. There is no one else." -- a problem that Planescape:Torment solved in the most direct way imaginable (and then threw in some NPCs too for colour) ;-) –  Steve Jessop Aug 23 at 2:06
    
So very much about Planescape: Torment is brilliance. Now that you mention it, I do highly recommend looking at it for examples of how to do a good one on one campaign. –  Tanthos Aug 23 at 2:19
    
Yeah, I was thinking about leaning on a sort of Dark Souls style immortality mechanic after dying the first time. DnD already has a phylactery mechanic, so I'd sort of steal that but tie it to some sort of curse/blessing thrust upon the PC instead of a profane ritual performed by her own volition. –  Andy_Vulhop Aug 23 at 2:28

All three methods work quite well, and it doesn't depend on experience. (There is a classic actual play report of a dad running D&D for his 7-year-old who played five PCs, and it was not only not a problem, but the kid was awesome-creative with the roleplaying.)

Ask your player which she likes the sound of! Then do that.

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