Today, I’m going to talk about a subject that’s been on my mind lately, since my home internet has become extremely unhelpful about things like VoIP and the like. (Wireless, tower issues, packet loss for going on two months. Rise Broadband needs to get it together already.) That subject is solo play – which is to say a tabletop game where you have a single player and a GM; given that my wife plays, it’s potentially viable! So – let’s talk about it, shall we?
Solo play has advantages and disadvantages, the same as any other play style, but there are some unique challenges to overcome. You can’t rely on situations with a group being able to pull a character out of the fire when things go too far wrong, you risk GMPC status if you give the play NPC backup, and you run the risk of having something happen that kills the game because of a single person losing interest.
So what do we have in favor of single-play games?
- They’re the smallest possible RPG size; anything smaller and you’re writing a novel. This means you can focus the entire story and plot around the sole PC.
- Minimal work; where you have to prepare for each player at the table, a single player means the bare minimum of prep work in this respect.
- You can have a laser focus on the single character and explore their story much more deeply and thoroughly than you could in a normal group.
- If you’re considering this, you’re considering it with someone you know at least fairly well, if not incredibly so. Thus you’re going to have good odds of producing a story that makes them happy to play through.
- If ever there was a time to try weird systems, this is it; you’re already seriously breaking the mold of group size, might as well try that indie game you’ve been wanting to try out for years as well.
- Alternately, this is a good time to get to know your favorite system much more deeply. Your game partner may have a class or build they’d really like to try out, but haven’t because it doesn’t mesh well with the regular game group’s designs.
- There’s a story that you (or your partner) wants to tell, and this is a good chance to do so.
- And lastly – you don’t have access to a reliable gaming group for whatever reason, you do have access to this one person, and you really, really want to play something.
So what are the cons of solo play, then?
- The size means you’ll have to relearn quite a lot of things. Encounter balance takes on a whole new light, and you need to decide if NPCs that risk becoming DMPCs are worth the risk.
- More work, because the time where you’d usually have players feeding the game by playing off each other won’t exist. You have fewer players to prepare for, but you need to prepare more for that player.
- You need to make sure that the story you’re focused on is something you can both enjoy, and that the player in question isn’t going to get bored with it.
- You need to have a good handle on the system, or at least an understanding that the GM will make a ruling and then it can be looked up after the fact. This is not the time to be fumbling through an unfamiliar rulebook trying to find the rule you vaguely recall exists about how grappling a chull would work.
- Lastly: you need to understand that you’re making a long-term commitment to this game, and that you should under no circumstances leave your player in the lurch just because circumstances allow a larger game to happen.
It goes as a given that you need another person for this, and that they’re going to have a fair say in everything from the game system to the details of the plot. Make sure that you’re both happy with what you come up with and with what you have planned. If they’re not happy, you won’t be either.
That aside, if the cons don’t dissuade you and you have another person fully on board with whatever you’ve got planned, there’s no reason you can’t go ahead and at least give solo play a try.