It will happen to you eventually. #Athos is still recovering from a hangover. #Aramis forgot that the family was going to the cinema that night, and #Porthos is visiting a friend three towns over. That leaves you and d'Artagnan, who were both looking forward to game night, but are without a group to play with. So does this mean game night's a bust? Not necessarily, because I spy with my little eye two people who still want to game.
I know what you're thinking, and yes, it is awkward at first. Having one player is a touch too intimate for some tastes. But having only one player comes with a number of advantages. Namely, running a tightly focused game that doesn't juggle the story of a plurality of PCs, or running games that you otherwise couldn't with a full group. Maybe you've had your heart set on running a spy game à la 007, or a superhero game focusing on just one hero. Besides, without the nightmare of wrangling the schedules of several different #Musketeers, playing a game becomes about as difficult as making a phone call.
If you do decide to take this route, you will have to keep a few things in mind while you GM. Running the game like you usually would with a full group is just asking for trouble. I'm assuming from this point on that the two of you have already talked about things like GM expectations, player expectations, or subjects that are off limits going in. It goes without saying that rule zero is to communicate.
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What Game System Should You Use?
I know I've harped on in the past about how there are other games out there besides D&D, but for running one-player games, it's more than alright to stick with what you know both you and your other player enjoy. If you are familiar with any set of rules, then you have an idea of its strengths and weaknesses. To use D&D as an example, the game is at its best with a group of adventurers who have a diverse set of skills, working together to kill monsters and plunder their stuff. If my player and I were to use the D&D rules, I might power up their character to compensate for being alone, or allow them a squad of hirelings to act as support.
If you're inexperienced in hacking rule sets apart, luckily for the rest of us, one-player adventures have been published for some of the more popular games, like Pathfinder or Call of Cthulhu. Of course, if you wanted to venture away from the familiar, there are a number of games that were created with one player in mind. For the non-pyromaniacs, Flavio Mortarino and Renato Ramonda wrote A Scoundrel in the Deep. The game uses an interesting mechanic where the Scoundrel's success is decided with a book of matches rather than dice. Also, if playing out a love triangle floats your boat, then you should check out Emily Care Boss's Shooting the Moon.
Extra XP. Jeff Stormer hosts a podcast all about playing games with only one player, called Party of One.
Nonstop, No-Holds-Barred Improv Action
One of my favorite parts of a game is the moment when my players are knee-deep in role-playing, whether it's arguing with each other's character or throwing together some ill-fated plan. Interaction is a rare gift that I take full advantage of. It usually equates to a small break for me, or useful time spent scheming my next move. In a one-player game, forget all about that. As a game master, you're acting as the entire rest of the world to your players. Nowhere else is that more apparent than when there is only one player.
Where players like to debate about their next course of action, a single player doesn't have to run their game plan by anybody. What they say goes. As the one running the game, you have to react to a lot of stuff on the fly. This a big part of why one-player games whiz by so quickly. This means that as their GM, you will be "on" the entire time. Don't be surprised if you find yourself having a conversation with yourself as two different #NPCs. The only advice I can give for this point is to practice at it.
Me, Myself, And Thrandroth The Barbarian
The fact that you only have one player is the most important thing to keep in mind — as if you won't be reminded of the fact every second of the game. As such, you should tailor the gameplay to the character. If a player invests heavily in the operate-heavy-machinery skill (and why wouldn't they?), then your game better involve a bunch of heavy machinery, begging to be operated. You should pay attention to how they are pacing the game. Take your time on the points that catch their interest, like a strange locale or a talkative NPC, and move on when you feel like you're losing your audience. Of course, catering the game to their PC doesn't mean babying them. Be as harsh and deadly as the game demands.
You should also keep good game notes due to how fast-paced the game will be. That means more things for you to remember and keep track of, but it also means you know where the session will go next time. And, if the both of you enjoyed the experience, there will be a next time. In an ideal world, your lone player would also keep notes of their own. Not only because it helps you fill in the gaps from where you missed things, but it also provides great insight on what they're paying attention to and what they think is important.
Check out the Gears of War 4 single-player demo below, and tell me about your experiences with one-player role-playing.