Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The One-Player Campaign: Gaming With My Son...

Good Evening, All:

As I am planning on taking my son to Gen Con this year (he's 13 now, but he'll be 14 by then), I have decided to start running a regular One-Player Campaign for him to help him get used to the rules and to gaming in general. He's already gamed through a few scenarios with me in the past, and has some experience at the table, but I'd like to see him with a little more under his belt before we head to Indy this year. A One-Player Campaign, also called a Solo Campaign or a Duet Campaign in some circles, is simply a campaign based around two participants, one GM and one player.

With that in mind, I spent a little time today looking up information on the One-Player Campaign concept. Most of the advice I've read is pretty solid, and very similar in tone and intention. Basically, a One-Player Campaign is a great vehicle for tailoring the gaming experience to a single character. I should consider having plenty of NPCs available for him to take with him on adventures, and adventures should not be generic, but focused on his background and building his experience with the setting. Combats should be fewer and less deadly, and I should encourage more roleplaying and creative thinking in terms of resolving conflict. I should be prepared in the event of PC death with some kind of workaround, as it only takes one dead PC in a party of one to be a TPK. There's a few articles from the older Dragon magazine many moons ago (#68, #73 and #157) that talk about the One-Player Campaign and Solo games, which would probably be good to review as I dive into this process. There's also a nice column on One-Player Campaigns over on RPG.net.

Beyond these little nuggets of information, there's not much out there on One-Player Campaigns. And truth be told, aside from encounter balance and the shift in focus to a single character as opposed to a group of characters, the mechanics of running a One-Player Campaign aren't that much different than running a campaign for multiple players. At least, they don't appear to be. For the most part, it's all in the mindset, and I am looking forward to the challenge of integrating the One-Player Campaign mindset into my repertoire as I move forward with this particular experiment.

I've already spoken to my son about it, and gotten the ball rolling. He's excited about the possibilities. We started by discussing his preferred genre for this campaign. To my surprise, he's wanting to explore some modern fantasy, something akin to Primeval, Special Unit Two or even Resident Evil. The world of monsters lies in the shadows, just beyond the ken of the mortal world, and heroes like my son's character are all that stands in the way between the monsters and the general public on which they would otherwise prey. This sounds like it has a lot of potential for some excellent gaming.

As always, I am open to suggestions and insight. If you have experiences or comments you'd like to share, I'm definitely open to hearing them. Having read some accounts of One-Player Campaigning on some of the various blogs I try to follow, I think this could potentially be a lot of fun.

Wish Me Luck,


R.W. Chandler said...

I have ran a many solo one-player campaigns, and have played in a few. They are best if they are more focused on character driven aspects. In games I run, I try to give the player one NPC to run with for the majority of the game. Combat and encounters in one-player games is much different. For example, there aren't really any dungeon raids. Not many characters tend to go delving into dungeons with only one other NPC and the rest some hirelings with essentially no party loyalty.

Much of the game should be centered around the character alone. For example, in one game I ran, my friend played a Paladin who was exiled from his kingdom for a crime he didn't commit. A lot of the game was spent tracking down the who's and why's of his framing.

One-player campaigns can be really nice, because you can focus everything on the one player. The game will become much like a railroad/story game in many regards, but considering it's just one player, and the story objectives will focus on his particular interests for his character, it works out quite well.

Harald said...

I've run quite a few one-on-one games over the years, and I've found that the advantage of those is the colaborative storytelling they tend to foster. Oftentimes what happens is that you find yourself in a kind of dialogue, where both player and GM contributes to the scenario, the plot, or even the setting.

The PC also has a tendency to become quite powerful, as there are no other characters to share the dangers and the glory, or to concider in terms of game-balance. NPCs also tend to become more nuanced, as roleplaying a conversation can take as much time as you want -- again, there's no one else to concider.

If you're worried about your son's character being eaten by zombies, letting him build up his own crew could be a good idea. He would naturally be the leader, or at least become the leader, since he's the only PC in the world. This group would be his to lead, and it might even teach him a thing or two about leadership and loyalty.

Another thing I'd recommend is to start him up with a mentor. It would give you a way to interact with him in-game, and he would have someone watching his back. Whether or not you kill off the mentor would also shape the game.

I hope you find some of this useful.

Good luck.

Greg Christopher said...

I just realized you have ALL FOUR of my blogs on your blogroll. Holy crap dude! That is awesome.

If I was going to do a 1-player campaign, I would use a system for really super-powered characters like Vampire or Werewolf. Then it could very much be about that character's journey through life and not focused on the normal coterie style play for those games. And combat could still be balanced.

Harald said...

I would have to agree with Greg here. Of the systems I've used, I've found that the oWoD/nWoD lines lend themselves best to solo-gaming.

The chief reason, imo, is that a low-level lone character in a level-based system is very limited in terms of skills and martial prowess. The Storytelling system allows for a much wider concept, and also allows for a wider range of skills. I.e. your son can be both fighter, leader, mage, and thief, all wrapped up in one.

The system is also easy to grasp, and quick to master. Not to mention that it opens up for game-play of all aspects, not just the hack and slash type most D&D-derivates tend to encourage.