Me and my friend have started a Pathfinder campaign (Second Darkness) where I am DMing and he is playing all 4 PCs. We are using roll20 (it's a great online tool to facilitate games). The reasons for this setup are numerous and not worth getting into, but suffice to say this is what we decided would work best for us. This campaign is already underway so the PCs cannot be changed at this time.

How does having one player control all the PCs affect the balance of encounters compared to a normal multi-person campaign? Do I need to increase the challenges to keep things interesting? I'm guessing yes, but since I am new to DMing I could use the perspective of experience.

Some things that make me think normal encounters might be a cakewalk:

  • The party's abilities are perfectly synergized since he made all 4 of them together.
  • The PCs work together in combat very well because he controls all of them.

I'm thinking of giving all monsters max HP to help balance those. Or will that not be enough?


3 Answers 3


It depends

While a single player controlling (and creating) every PC has an advantage in coherence and synergy (if they're going for optimization), keep in mind that they will be the only player at the table, too. This means there is only one brain to think of everything, from tactics to remembering details of the story. If you still want medium to heavy roleplaying, the solo player also has to play four characters and keep in mind their various ways of thinking.

My recommendation would be to not fix a problem until it's proven there is one. Leave encounters as you would make them for a regular party of that size and see how it goes. If your player is indeed mopping the floor with what should be hard encounters, you may want to adjust. If it seems balanced, don't. And if on the contrary your player is having trouble, help him remember his characters' abilities or whatever else seems to be an issue, and/or reduce encounter difficulty to fit.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. Cakewalks are not a problem! They're "YAFOG" – Yet Another F(ine) Opportunity for Growth™! Let the lessons of a few encounters become positive feedback that will teach you how to build future encounters for this exact player and combination of PCs. You'll also become a better GM. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 8, 2013 at 20:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. Without other players you get less spaz factor but also fewer brilliant ideas. I'd be inclined to say the CR math would actually be more reliable in this case because there's less chaos in the system. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 8, 2013 at 22:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nothing will make CR math reliable. But it might make it easier to balance for the party since you can leave one character for really niche things without leaving a player out. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Oct 9, 2013 at 12:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ This won't fix CR entirely, there's just too much wrong there to fix so easily. The single biggest problem with CR, for example, is that most of them seem to have been assigned by people who didn't really understand the implications of the creatures' abilities, and this does nothing to address that. However, the reduction in spaz factor is still likely to provide a meaningful, if still woefully inadequate, improvement in the usefulness of the CRs. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 11, 2013 at 7:23

Ultimately, this is no different from a group of people who have the same level of system mastery and good (OK, great) communication skills, but something like a quarter of the time to spend working on and getting to know each character. From a balance perspective, it doesn’t really change anything; any group could (conceivably) have walked in with the same characters, and use the same tactics.

What you have to do is balance encounters for this party, regardless of how it was formed. Pathfinder has massive variance on potential power for a character of any given level, much less a whole party. You basically always must balance things on a case-by-case basis, and there is basically no way to give generic “rules” for this that are going to suit every party, since the abilities of each party can vary so extremely.


One possible option would be if you drew up the party by randomness. You could roll dice to figure out which class from each section: Divine, Arcane, Generalist, Fighter. That way at least, it wouldn't be a case of maximum class synergy and might lead to a more balanced scenario/campaign.

Another possibility would be to get a few other people familiar with pathfinders and get them to design characters and draw from a hat.

As to increasing challenge, audit the characters, seeing what weaknesses they might have, and throwing in a few off the wall encounters can work. As an example, throw in a bard using Lesser Confusion, and Charm Person to disrupted his normal patterns.


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