Most groups getting around a table consist of 4-6 players (sometimes more!) and a game master. The players sometimes cycle in and out of the group, creating a strange dynamic for the game master. Then are times when groups atrophy because of people moving away, work schedules changing, or other commitments pulling them away from the table.
In the past, I’ve had gaming groups drop to two people: one player and the game master.
This is usually the final nail in the coffin for the gaming group, and most folks dissolve the group at this point. However, role playing can continue with two people, but there are adjustments that need to be made.
Plan to Spin-Off the Remaining Character
I was an avid viewer of That ’70s Show for its entire run. When the actor playing Eric Forman (Topher Grace) left the show to pursue a movie career, it changed the feel of the show. However, they had a strong enough ensemble to continue on for another year. Imagine if the opposite had happened. What if Eric Forman was the only character left roaming the fictional town of Point Place, Wisconsin? That would be a time for a spin-off starring Topher Grace and featuring the wacky adventures of Eric Forman.
Alternate Plan: Start Over
Sometimes continuing the group’s story with a single character doesn’t feel right, make sense, or just isn’t feasible. Continuing an ensemble’s story of adventure through the lens of a single character may not work. I’ll use another television reference here. When Friends ended its ten-year run, the producers spun off Joey, and it ran for two seasons. The power of the ensemble from Friends couldn’t be reproduced with a single lead role and a handful of supporting characters. The magic wasn’t there, and the show was eventually cancelled. If an attempt to spin-off the remaining character doesn’t work, there’s no shame in firing up a new storyline.
Power Up The Character
There is safety in numbers and strength in a group that a single character can’t truly replicate. This means the single character running through the trials and tribulations of being an adventurer needs to be more potent than if she were standing beside some friends. Because there are many different systems out there, giving direct advice on how to approach this is nearly impossible. My approach is to figure out what affects the most dice rolls and add some points, boosts, abilities, or powers in that arena. As an example, almost every roll in Savage Worlds is influenced by attributes, so I’d give a few more boosts in power level in that area. If using a point-buy system (such as GURPS or Hero System), then figure out the current power based off the character and boost it by 20% to 30%. I always sit down with the player and work out a “training montage” story to justify the boost in power. This kind of back-and-forth gaming can lead to extra stories to tell around the table.
Tell More Stories, Fight Fewer Monsters
Some RPGs are combat-centric. Others are heavy on the storytelling. Regardless of which style of mechanics are involved in the game, the GM and PC need to find a way to tell more interesting stories, and battle less monsters. While a group of ten orcs might not be a challenge for a group of 4th level Pathfinder characters, those same orcs can spell disaster for a single 4thÂ level character. Another reason for amping up the storytelling is that the spotlight is on the solo PC for a vast majority of the time. This means the GM needs to find a way to make what the spotlight illuminates as interesting as possible. This generally means more storytelling and less slaughter.
In June of next year, my current group of three will become two due to a friend being relocated by his job. Unless we find more players for our Friday night games, this will put me back into the situation of having a single player in my Savage Worlds game. We’re going to work on adding a player or three to our current group before our friend departs. If that doesn’t happen, the remaining two of us will push forward. Depending on where we stand in the course of the story, I will most likely wrap up the campaign before my friend relocates, and start anew with the remaining player.
What do you do when your group moves down to a single player? Do you continue playing in this situation and how does that change your game?
I went through something similar twice in the space of three years. Had a 6 person group contract to three — losing major characters and their plot lines. I restarted the campaign. We built up to 5…then collapsed to two. One campaign folded, but the other survived by having the player control a few characters, and focusing on more personal stories over action. Shortly after, we picked up a third and recently added two more, but scheduling has become an issue, so now we’re looking at using these same techniques to get around the player missing each week syndrome.
Excellent advise. By some quirk of nature I have always lived in an area with a dearth of players. Games with small groups are always played differently than are games with large groups. There are several modules out there that are written for the single player game, modules for each class of character. Reading these are sure to give ideas to the DM facing this dilemma.
I’ve had a small group for over three years, only two players, for my Shaintar SW setting and one session was nearly a TPK. After that I asked my friends if they’d be willing to run two PCs at once, and they agreed, (I even threw in a few NPC allied extras they could command, to round out the group) and this helped immensely and with the Savage Worlds system, this was really easy and even created a feeling of attachment for said extras. A few of them died along the way and they took it to heart.
They kept their original Character as the main one, and they made decisions for their second one, just like any regular PC, but I would occasionally ROLE-play the interaction between the two, in order to avoid the awkward ”playing-with-one-self” moments. But I would never make any decisions for them without player approval first.
I have one Player that will attempt two characters, but he suck at it. His characters are “joined at the hip” and automatically do everything together. The other Player has enough trouble trying to run one character. Both of my Players are long time friends, and both are now on mental disability.
You play with what you have.
I usually end up running two NPCs to give the party a hand, though I REFUSE to make any decisions for the group, not even whether or not to turn right, or left.
I’ve done this once, when I tried to spin-off my wife’s character from a Space:1889 game. By changing her character (increasing the power, as above) to a cloudship captain, it became a combination RPG and wargame.
I started another 1-player game with her, by design this time, making it more of a spy game in our D&D world. IMO, espionage themes are better as few-player games than multiplayer groups. The PC is already intent on blending in and limiting violence, as per “more stories, fewer monsters” above. I suppose a superhero game would have similar effects.
Star Wars with a PC Jedi works amazingly well for this 1 player approach I’ve found, since a Jedi Knight is supposed to more or less be a solo operative (with an NPC padawan) so the stories naturally lend themselves to the one player focus, and using the old d6 Rules a single Jedi is suitably powerful to handle most challenges without needing a cadre of NPC’s along for back up.
Thanks for the great comments, everyone. I’m glad to see my words resonated with a few people.
For those of you with suggestions to enhance my article, thank you very much for those.
Something hit me last night as well that goes along with this post: A spy-based campaign along the lines of Bond or Bourne might work out quite well. It’s something that’s put my thinking engine into high gear.
There is one advantage to having a single PC: the game allows for specific PC-world interactions. At least in D&D 3.5, it doesn’t seem right to give one player a spotlight for too long. In my case as DM this often involves the party acting as a sort of hive-mind in which either everyone is up for something or nobody is, and nobody gets to do anything too “personal.” My specific example is when a player got really emotionally invested in a NPC who I absolutely love to roleplay. We really couldn’t do much with that without excluding everyone else, so suddenly we found ourselves doing freeform RP over skype between our two characters. Ultimately that game fell apart but we still got a bit of mileage out of a single player game, in which the relationship between my friend’s PC and my NPC could fully be explored.
I’m not sure how easily this can be replicated, I get the feeling that in this case we were able to express feelings about each other IRL through the filter of the fictional characters – but it at least gives me food for thought for if I want to playtest the one PC thing to see if this specific personal story works in general.
I’ve always tailored my adventures and events to the characters, so as long as the single player is okay with going solo, there’s really no problem. Doesn’t work well with published modules, but I rarely use those anyway. Just make sure the character can handle whatever you toss at him or her (or, more accurately, make sure whatever you toss can be handled) , or make sure there’s a stable of NPCs that can be called on to assist — preferably one or two at a time — in any area where the PC lacks ability. The big advantage here is that the PC becomes a more prominent figure in the game world; like Conan vs one of the Fellowship, or Rambo vs one of the Expendables.