D&D Party of One: Solo Adventuring (Part 3)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on October 20, 2009

As we continue our look at solo adventuring we shift our focus from tips for DMs to tips for players. No matter how many hours of D&D you’ve played, taking on a solo adventure for the first time is a real eye-opener. Most players find it challenging yet highly rewarding. For players new to the game who may not have tried this approach to D&D, we’ve provided a few tips that should prove useful. We encourage DMs to check out D&D Party of One (Part 1) and D&D Party of One (Part 2) for the flip side of this series.

Play smart

The most important thing to remember when you’re playing in a solo campaign is to play smart. You don’t necessarily have to play a PC with a high intelligence, but remember that it’s your life on the line and without backup you face death every time you go into combat.

The most effective way to play smart is to play to your strengths. If you’re a character who uses ranged attacks then don’t let your opponents force you into melee. If you’re a sneaky character then use the shadows to be stealthy. If you deal an insane amount of damage with your sword then make sure you can get close enough to your foes to be most deadly. This may seem like obvious stuff, but people seem to forget these tactics all the time. In a normal situation where one of your party members is a controller, you can get away with sloppy tactics, but if it’s just you then tactical carelessness will get you killed.

Without friends to assist you in combat, falling unconscious means game over. So in addition to playing to your strengths be sure to adjust your D&D mentality accordingly. Don’t assume that you can overcome all situations with a sword. Hiding or running away may not be how typical D&D combat plays out, but this is not typical D&D combat. It’s you alone against everything. Even the bravest and toughest Fighter knows when the odds are not in his favour.

Emphasis on the role-playing

At a typical gaming table you’re competing with everyone else for face time. Yes, there is role-playing in larger games, but when it’s all you all the time you really have an opportunity to get into the character. This is the one time when you’re actually encouraged and expected to hog the spotlight.

One way to make the role-playing easier is to create a character with a detailed and rich back-story. The more thought you put into the PC’s background the easier it is to understand his motives, ambitions and emotions. You have to work at making this PC more than the numbers on the page.

If you’re not used to putting yourself in the character’s shoes, try playing the character in the first person rather than the third person. So instead of the usual “Ethan the Rogue moves stealthfully through the courtyard” try “I move stealthfully through the courtyard.” This little adjustment in perspective can really help get you into the character.

You are of one mind

There are going to be times when you don’t know the answer. You’re presented with a problem or a situation and you simply have no clue. In a larger party you can talk it out and bounce ideas around with the other players at the table. Without this support network you’d better be a fountain of good ideas or else things may get stale, repetitive and boring. If this happens, look to the DM for assistance. He’s likely to remind you of details your PC knows but you the player have simply forgotten about.

The other option is to be creative. Don’t hold anything back. When it’s just you making the decisions you don’t have to convince anyone else that what you’re thinking is a good idea. If the only approach you can think of is far-fetched don’t dismiss it without presenting it to the DM. It may not be what he had in mind, but remember that he wants to say yes.

The right tools for the job

When you’re a member of an adventuring party you don’t have to be ready for every contingency, that’s what friends are for. But when it’s just you out there in the wild you have to be more self-reliant than usual. Having appropriate equipment for a wide variety of situations could mean the difference between life and death. Regular gear like a coil or rope, lock picks, chalk or even snow shoes can be a big help under the right circumstances. Obviously you have to apply some common sense and not just bring along one of everything.

There are also some relatively common magic items that can help you be better prepared. Purchasing a wide verity of potions is a good start. If you can afford a bag of holding then you don’t have to be as selective with the mundane stuff and can afford to bring along one of everything.

Use your skills

Solo games present many more opportunities for the DM to use skill challenges. Keep this in mind when creating your character. You’re going to find that you need to rely on more skills more often. So rather than being really, really good at one or two skills it might be more practical to be decent at five or six skills. Having balanced attribute scores is another good way to make sure that your skills can hold up during a solo game.

If the solo game is just a side trek of a larger ongoing campaign and you’re not coming to it with a brand new PC, seriously consider retraining a skill or a feat to address any obvious gaps or weaknesses.

There are many good reasons to try a solo adventure. Whether you’re just passing time because you can’t get your usual group together or you’ve designed a specific quest for one heroic PC, DMs and players alike get something different out of a solo adventure then they would normally get from a typical party dynamic. For those who haven’t tried solo gaming in 4e D&D I strong recommend you try it. If you’re interested in any aspects of solo adventures that we didn’t cover or if you have recommendations for a future installment in this series, we want to hear from you. For those who have played solo adventures in 4e D&D please let us know of any additional tips that you think other gamers will find useful.

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1 Geek Gazette November 8, 2010 at 4:12 am

Even using Essentials I’ve found that solo adventures are just a pain using 4e. I’m trying to come up with more of them for my daughter, but they end up getting very bland after a while. The first couple of games were ok because she was just learning and I wasn’t expecting much as I spent most of the time helping her understand, but now I’m just not “feeling it.” I’m not sure if it is me or her or the system, but I’ve gotten to where I’m not having fun doing it.
I ran solo adventures for years in AD&D, 3e and then Pathfinder with little to know effort. Some of them lasted a year or more and as far as I know they were always fun for the player as well as for me. I’m just not getting that running 4e.
We’ve taken a break for a few weeks (we’re playing Magic: the gathering, Unspeakable Words and Dragon Dice in the mean time) until I get through this semester of grad school. The deadlines for term papers and studying for finals are both coming up quick. So I’m going to take that time to read your article and once again run through the Essentials books to see if it is me and my bias against 4e that is affecting the game. After this I’ll try writing up some more adventures for her and then after finals we’ll give it another go.

While I know the article is a bit old at this point, I just wanted to say thanks for posting it and if anyone has suggestions for one on one 4e adventures I’m open to advice.

2 Joseph Moore March 21, 2011 at 7:21 pm

I just finished doing the goblin encounters from the Red Box with my wife. She’s upset that she can’t use her cool Encounter powers anytime she wants. So I had an epiphany…if monsters roll a die to recharge their skills, why not her if I take her on a solo adventure? It’d help balance things out, and actually seems kind of fun.

I ran two hybrid characters (covering the rolls) and had only a bit of difficulty. If I were able to recharge my encounter powers (and maybe have dailies recharge per encounter or use as a normal encounter power) then I’d have an easier time with the battles.

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