I've been wanting to start playing D&D for some time, and I was wondering how I could get started by myself with relative ease. I own the first two player handbooks, and a set of dice.
Dungeons and Dragons is very much a social game. As such, there is no real "by yourself" to it. The only things you can really do separate from a group in D&D is to educate yourself on the rules of the game, and prepare for whatever sessions lie ahead.
Toward that end, I recommend two things primarily:
Learn the rules. Study all of the non-class/race-related sections of PHB1, and look online (here's always a good start) to find answers to any questions you may have about general gameplay. If possible, the Essentials Rules Compendium is also a must-read.
Create a few characters. These can be characters intended for an upcoming session, or just some "dry run" characters to get your head wrapped around the process. This will also give you a chance to review all the options available to you, so that you have an idea of what kinds of characters you'd like to play. Try leveling your character(s) up a few - even all the way to 30 if you dare - if you really want an idea of how your character(s) may develop.
In the end, if you really want to get started in D&D, you'll have to find a group. For this, head down to your FLGS (Favorite Local Gaming Store) and inquire about the local games. Chances are, there's a few that are run right in the back room of the store. You can also search various places online.
When you do find a group, prepare for your first session with the following:
Create a character appropriate for the group you'll be joining. Ask the DM what level you will be starting at, and if there's any particular house rules you need to be aware of regarding this. Also, it would be good to know about the other characters in the group so that you are aware of any combat roles that may need filling or already be over-filled. If possible, send your character to the DM ahead of time for pre-approval and critique.
Once your character is finalized, print your character sheet.
Study. Review the character sheet so that you know your character's powers, feats, immediate interrupts, and other strengths and weaknesses. Also, review any rule sections that are especially applicable for your character - like Forced Movement for Psions, Flanking for Thieves, and such. Again, the Essentials Rules Compendiumis a great resource for this.
Arrive early, and prepared.
Some essentials to have on hand:
- Your character sheet.
- A notepad and a couple pencils.
- Minis to represent your character and any other unique items you might need to put on the map. (e.g.: familiars, floating lanterns, etc.)
- Any permitted food/beverage items you'll need to help you make it through the session.
- A laser pointer, for "remote character control".
Additionally, if you want to get a feel for the flow of a real D&D game on your own, there's several websites that have podcasts of actual D&D game sessions available for download.
To answer the question, especially in a non-critical light, there are quite a few things possible to do with solitare D&D. While it is a social game, there are many elements that can be simulated, especially if you don't have the ability to game with others. Though I do recommend looking at online gaming (on this site and elsewhere), the game can indeed be played as a solitaire exercise, especially with the cooperation of a site such as this for support on rules questions and clarifications.
First, DDI has a solitaire game, which I quite strongly recommend:
- Dark Awakening
- A fun little solitaire game: it's a great way to test out different builds.
- Solo Adventures here which are quite engaging.
For battlemaps, I personally find making a map and throwing it on Google Wave with the RPG-Bones battlemap is quite effective, and using iplay4e combined with old characterBuilder characters the best way to track the numbers. I hope that I can recommend the new CB soon, as you'll need a DDI subscription to get the solitaire game, but...
Once you've gone through those two, the best practice is to grab adventures from DDI and the web in general and run them for the tactical encounters. Just like playing chess solo, getting in the right mindset to run everyone is tricky but can be quite fun when you achieve it.
When playing a solitaire campaign by myself, here's what I do. Note, this is a tactical campaign. IF I wanted a RP campaign, I'd write a book (that's for a different question):
- Make sure my DDI subscription is current.
- While it's possible to do without DDI, the amount of effort it saves is significant. There are, however, plenty of free adventures available on the web, and you don't need the old character builder. (You certainly don't need the new character builder.)
- The DDI subscription provides 4 important things: The Compendium (and compendium access for various tools), Monster Builder (some of the monsters in the various adventures are just plain bleh. It helps to have a tool to not only update them, but to export them to whatever combat tracker you're using. Character builder, the new CB is still useful, and will be useful again when they get export working. And critically, a ever growing source of adventures including the scales of war campaign.
- Create a character (Never ever try to just play a party of 5 and DM for yourself off the bat. At least without whiskey.)
- Start by creating a striker. If possible, make yourself an essentials striker. Level 1. Try to avoid out-of-turn actions to start, because remembering interrupts is tricky. Complexity occurs when you're managing 5 characters and the monsters in your head at the same time, not from tricky characters. I recommend a slayer or a melee ranger (twin strike is easy and the essentials build has a similar flavour.)
- Run the numbers on the striker: in essence, you're playing the metagame here. Figure out the average damage-per-round of your striker. Just use the math from that post, don't worry about breaking records. You want to make sure your striker is somewhere between a 4 round and a 2 round striker. You're on your lonesome, and dying sucks. Cheating sucks more. If you don't like this sort of activity, you'll want to play a more social game with other people.
- Physical or virtual, setup and preparation:
- Decide on physical or virtual. A physical battlemap has quite a few advantages, especially if you have a table which you can keep the entire set up on for days. If you don't have a space to play in, go with a virtual setup. Again, I'd recommend playing on wave rather then using the grid features of, for example, any of adobe' products. (What I did before I was aware of the handy battlemap tools on wave.)
- Get your tokens ready: for physical, you'll want minis or nice cardboard tokens. Things that won't just blow away on a breeze. For virtual, you'll want to use tokenTool and google image search to find a nice character portrait, and some useful enemy portraits.
- Download the adventure (Dark awakening to start with). Dark awakening is handy because it uses a numbered system to obscure the consequences of choices from you. While this is a handy crutch to start with, quite a lot of the ultimate joy of solitare D&D is maintaining a complex encounter state in your head, and working out the patterns of action on both sides.
- If you're using electronic tools to track stats (iplay4e and inCombat are particularly recommended) make sure your encounters are prepped. It's a good habit to prep before the game.
- Start playing.
- With Dark Awakening, you'll be simply following the adventure.
- Then play the solo adventures from Solo Adventures with 2 PCs.
- Your second PC should be a leader or defender.
- Once you've completed both of those resources, you'll be ready to play most of the published adventures. Start by running some of the chaos scar side-quests for your 2-3 person party. Gradually add PCs until you're running a complete 5 person party. Make sure to adjust the numbers of monsters in the side-quests to account for your party size.
- And now you're playing solitare D&D. It is a remarkably different game to the group version, but it can be quite fun to explore the tactics and the builds. It also can be good practice (or establish some really horrible habits) for the social game. Be aware that when you do join a social game, you'll have to work out a social contract with them, exploring what different people find fun. (Even if the contract is implicit, it still exists.)
You can try the Starter Kit for D&D 4e, it has a solo campaign that teaches you about the rules. It's not that expensive, and gives you a simplified rule book and a couple of campaigns to ease you into the rules, character creation, and eventually being a DM.
The solo campaigns are like "Choose your own adventure" books, and send you through the story line based on your choices and dice rolls.
The drawback is, the set has a lot of errors, typos and isn't as nice of an introduction as I was hoping for. The free additional solo campaign that is available for download is even worse when it comes to errors and typos.
An alternative to playing by yourself would be to subscribe to one of the many fantastic live-play podcasts which are recordings of a group of people playing D&D. Personally I'm a huge fan of the Critical Hits podcast from the folks at Major Spoilers, the Icosahedrophilia podcast and for a shorter, video podcast the Penny Arcade video podcasts (with Wil Wheaton) published by Wizards of the Coast themselves are also fantastic.
All three are easily found via the iTunes podcast search.
There are dozens of others but those three all have the advantage of being exceptionally well recorded and edited - meaning as a listener you can concentrate on enjoying the story - and on learning via listening to how these DM's run 4e.
Of course any game you start or join will play differently depending on your DM and group and play decisions & style, but those three podcasts all are a good way to experience D&D 4th ed by yourself.
Two things you might consider- D&D Encounters (a program that generally runs on Wednesdays at your local game shop) and Living Forgotten Realms were created specifically to address people who are interested in playing D&D but don't know anyone to play with yet. Look into joining an Encounters group and see if you can't make friends with fellow players that way.
I considered this myself when I started playing, however D&D is a social game designed to bring players closer together. The DM is necessary in the game – you must have one and a player can't really DM and play at the same time.
One player and one DM is not exactly an exciting game – however, it is still playable. D&D is aimed at around 3–5 players.
You can play solo D&D, though I recommend playing with others. You can play online using Google+ and the community is, from what I've heard, very active. You would need a webcam and microphone, which are not very expensive anymore and many laptops come with integrated webcams at least.
As for solo D&D, check out various free modules available online. These "canned adventures" have all the adventure details written out so you don't have to make things up. Depending on the writing style of the author you might also get advice on how things in the module will react to different player actions (if the guards at A sound the alarm, reinforcements will come from B and C, etc).
1st edition AD&D dungeon master's guide came with tables for randomly generating a dungeon and populating it with monsters, treasure, etc. Dizzy Dragon: http://www.dizzydragon.net/adventuregenerator/gen among others, has created an online tool that outputs the same information. Just select d20 Pathfinder from a dropdown box and a party level to get a 3rd edition dungeon. It might look sorta compatible with 4e if that's what you play. It defaults to 1st edition, which is very compatible with 2nd edition.
The 1E DMG also has a wilderness generator, which I haven't seen online.
There's a problem with a random dungeon generator though, that it doesn't capture the incredible variety of material a real DM will come up with. Modules are a little better, but many rely on the player not knowing certain secrets. The module of course gives you all the answers, because it's supposed to be a DM aid. Noticing things, critical thinking, and problem solving are a big part of player skill. Learning from modules for D&D is a little like using math workbooks to learn math, in the sense that it helps get you started but you'll find it's different when you have to think on your own.
Mythic GM Emulator is a tool that you can use to play virtually any RPG solo. You essentially ask an oracle questions, which will respond with yes/no answers in the same way a GM would. I'd highly recommend using this tool to guide your solo play!