When was the last time you played D&D and it was just one PC and one DM? I’d be amazed if anyone can say that they’ve done this since the release of 4e D&D. The changes that accompanied 4e make solo gaming almost too difficult to be practical. That’s not to say that it’s impossible, but it’s a lot more work for a DM to create and run a game with just one player in 4e then it ever was in previous editions.
Some of the most memorable and enjoyable games of D&D I ever played had only one player. It’s an entirely different way to experience D&D regardless of which side of the screen you’re on. As much as I like 4e and as much as I believe it’s a vastly improved system over its predecessors, these improvements have come with some sacrifices. One of those sacrifices is the feasibility of the one player game.
Creating and running a one player game is a lot of work. It presents a new set of challenges for the DM and the player, even more so since the release of 4e.
This is the first article in a series we’ll be running throughout October in which we look at how to overcome the difficulties or running and playing a solo adventure. In part 1 and part 2 we’ll provide tips for the DM and then end the series with tips for players.
Creating a game that focuses on just one player can be very rewarding. In fact, I enjoy this kind of adventure more than those designed for large parties. It gives you the opportunity to weave a very intricate story that revolves around one hero. This kind of adventure is a lot more challenging to run and create. It’s not something I’d recommend for new or timid DMs.
When there’s only one PC you have to take a whole bunch of new factors into considerations when planning each encounter. Combat encounters are going to present issues you wouldn’t normally have to worry about in a traditional game. Combat in 4e is designed with a party in mind. Different classes and different roles all have a purpose and a place on the battlefield. The absence of one or two roles isn’t a big deal if you’re still running a party of five. It’s a huge deal for a party of one. Some roles and classes are definitely more suited to solo games than others, but any PC who finds himself alone in combat should be weary.
When you’re in an adventuring party and you fall unconscious during combat one of your allies can revive you. If you’re all by yourself and fall below 0 hit points it’s probably game over. There may be rare occasions when the monster or villain has a really good reason to keep you alive, but this should be the exception and not the norm
It’s up to the DM to make sure that the solo PC isn’t forced into situations where his demise is all but a sure thing. Give the PC options. If he chooses to fight, it should be within his abilities to win. It doesn’t have to be a cake walk, but it should be possible.
In order to keep combat encounters balanced you should keep the monsters a few levels below that of the PC. This level difference will give the PC increased hit points, defenses and attack scores – all of which provide him with an edge.
Another option is to throw the PC a life line. Maybe he has a couple of NPCs accompanying him on his mission or quest. They’venot active combatants but they can jump in if things go really wrong. Personally, I’d discourage this approach. As the DM you’ve got enough to do without having to keep track of a coupe more NPCs. Supporting characters should definitely be a part of the story, but try to leave them out of combat.
Any PC who is willing to adventure on his own is clearly a cut above normal PCs. DMsmay want to give this exceptional PC an additional edge by granting a couple of bonus feats. Durability, Toughness, and Human Perseverance are all great utility feats that make any solo adventurer more potent on his own.
This is just the tip of the ice burg, but it’s a good start. Designing an adventure for one PC is tough, but these suggestions should make things a little bit easier. In part two of this series we’ll provide some suggestions for running solo skill challenges as well as things to remember regarding the larger campaign. Later articles will provide the would-be solo player with things to keep in mind should they find himself in a solo game.
Have you played or run a solo game in 4e? What challenges did you experiences? Did the game work out as you expected or did you find the 4e mechanics to prohibitive for this kind of adventure?