Round Table on Solo & 1 player gaming

jedion357's picture
June 2, 2014 - 4:24am
Picked up a milk crate and a banana case full of Dragon magazines dating back to the 80's for $10 at a yard sale yesterday-seeing as how I constantly fantasize about picking up some real "gems" of RPG material at a yard sale being sold by the mother or wife of a gamer I kind of had to drop the $10- i figure if I sell 10 of them for a dollar on ebay i'll make my money back.

Anyhow Dragon #157 had "The Dungeon Alone" by Tom Little discussed the problems involved in running a single player through a dungeon and how to overcome them.

Dragon 73 "The Solo Scenario" by katherine Kerr discussed creating a single player adventure.

I immediately thought of the fact that so much of the fan community for SF is isolated or has few options for putting together a local group to play the game that an article on these issues might be timely for Frontier Explorer.

However some of the concerns for solo gaming in D&D are not really so much of a thing for SF. For example a prime concern in both articles is that a lone PC is fairly fragile and death can happen in an instant or 1-2 combat rounds. Many SF character have the same ammount of "hit points" for their entire life because of the nature of the game. Life can be snuffed out rather fast though with the presence of laser rifles set on maximum though so perhaps the fragility concern still applies.

At any rate I'd like to hear what the community considers the problems of solo/single player gaming in SF particular and other systems. Examples and stories of your experiences would be good too.

You can find a pdf download of Dragon 73 here:

And Dragon 157 here:

EDIT: I like the distinction made in one of the above articles that solo gaming is gaming without a referee where the printed material and or random tables stand in for the role of the game master but single player gaming is one player and one game master.

Solo gaming is actually rare- I remember some basic D&D modules that were solo: one built around a theif PC and the other built around a cleric PC. FE had one solo encounter last year and none of the published modules for SF were solo adventures (I'm not actually aware of a solo module for any Sci fi RPG)
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

Rollo's picture
June 2, 2014 - 1:32pm
Well, aside from re-working the scenario in question so that it is tailored more for a single player, a GM could also allow the player to play more than one character. The GM could also run an NPC or two to help out.

The inherant trouble with allowing the player to play more than one character is that it could bog down the continuity of the game. One strength of such a possibility though, is that it allows the player to really branch out with their roleplay. It alows them to broaden their 'acting' in a way not really attainable when playing just one character. But on the other hand, if the player doesn't actually roleplay those characters, it becomes nothing more than an exercise in paperwork and monotone storytelling; not terribly exciting or fun. The GM would have to know his player pretty well before just jumping into such a situation I'd think.

This same thing applies to a GM playing NPCs to help 'bolster the ranks' as it were. If the GM is not into the whole acting aspect, then it can become mundane and boring. It's a fine line and something that distinguishes between the 'player' and the 'record keeper' at the table.
I don't have to outrun that nasty beast my friend...I just have to outrun you! Wink

Ascent's picture
June 2, 2014 - 4:12pm
Interesting. The early exploits of a popular author 3 years before her first book and she's the same age as my mom. That's crazy. I'll look this article over.
View my profile for a list of articles I have written, am writing, will write.
"It's yo' mama!" —Wicket W. Warrick, Star Wars Ep. VI: Return of the Jedi
"That guy's wise." —Logray, Star Wars Ep.VI: Return of the Jedi
Do You Wanna Date My Avatar? - Felicia Day (The Guild)

jedion357's picture
June 2, 2014 - 4:38pm
This issue was discussed, and I have yet to condense an outline of the two articles so I apologize for that.

Making a whole party of NPCs would be more work for the GM since he has to run them.

I've run 2 PCs to beef up a party and ended up hating it. My preference is just to run one and focus on that rather than divide my attention between 2.

I think that SF has some inherent answers to this issue with the robotics rules. I've been a big fan of how SF programs robots with a mission and functions and I think these things need to be spelled out precisely with the GM knowing how the bots will act and react to many situations and even have ideas about where and when mission or function langauge could bite the PC in the butt.

Also borrowing from D&D 4.0 DMG2- the adventure companion is a DM designed but player run adventure companion which might come about from a PC rescuing a wolf from a trap and now the wolf accompanies the PC everywhere. These could be everything from a halfling archer to a low hit dice monster to what ammounts to a pet like the wolf or something similar. The roots of this goes back to AD&D war dogs from the equipment list and or henchmen. If you think about classic Sci-fi movies like Star Wars Chewie is a Han Solo's adventure companion- he never drives the action in STar Wars (though I will concede that latter movies "thru the dog a bone" due to his popularity). The action is focused on Han, Luke and Cinnabun hair. In Star Frontiers the Endless quest book "Villains of Volturnus" the yong boy who is the protagonist has two adventure companions: 1: a professor like computer that must be carried that is there to provide advanced information without driving the action and the butler/vrusk who is kind of there as adult support for the hero.

I think that having a medical bot that can patch up a single PC is a good way to deal with some of the fargility issues or even giving the PC some advanced cyber ware like the med-inject device from Zebs Guide could go a long way toward adressing this.

Another concern in the articles is how does a single PC attack the classic dungeon crawl with extensive discussion of retreating to rest and recover [I'm not going to go into the suggestions in detail as they were sort of D&D specific but you can look up the articles and read for yourself if you are interested] For SF I think providing a vehcile for a single PC lets him retreat (run away) from sticky situations and provides a secure place to rest even and lets the afore mentioned medical bot patch him up.

In short a single PC probably should have more assets available to him: 1 or 2 robots and a vehicle and perhaps both a skein suit and defense screen to start. Alternately  a ship could stand in for more assets if the game was going space based but for this you might want to have an AI as the navigator (in game terms a lvl 5 or 6 robotic brain) that manages some robotic assets for the PC as well as many crucial ship functions (namely the pain in the butt plotting of the next void jump)
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

jedion357's picture
June 2, 2014 - 5:19pm
"Solo Scenario" by Katherine Kerr Dragon #73

Benefits of running a solo scenario
1. for the DM less record keeping for him since he doesn't have to track the whole party
2. Experienced player: chance to act independently making all the decisions "as most of us have always wanted to do"
3. beginner player: chance to learn the basic rules without feeling they are the object of scorn or frustration by other players.

draw backs
1. single character has a specific and limited set of abilities and thus will be unable to deal with all of the usual circumstances of the game world.
2. even high level adventurers cannot be expected to last long against a horde of multiple opponents.
thus if the DM wants the adventure to be fair and challenging he will have to look beyond the usual sort of adventure.

Consider the Character
Consider who the PC is and tailer the adventure to both take advantage of the PC's strengths and prey on his weaknesses without being so unfair as to be impossible and frustrationg nor a tedious pushover.

Consider the Player (not so obvious)
What is the character of the gamer behind the PC- by taking this into account the DM can create interesting situations beyond the scope of normal group play

1. is the player a hack and slash player-present a challenge that requires thought to solve or enemies that could be transformed into allies.
2. is the player unduly timid? build self confidence with enemies he has a good chance of overpowering
3. Loud mouth rule spitter- use the solo adventure as a chance to get the upper hand by crafting an adventure that goes against the natural grain of the player involved.

2 kinds of Plots
1. series of random encounters
2. a simple goal with opposition in the way.

The first is easier and the second is perhaps more fun and can include terrain as part of the challenge.

Opposition, Passive and Active
If there is a lot of passive opposition (raging rivers to cross, steep cliffs to scale and dangerous traps to get past) then the active opposition should not be so formidable

The Opposition should be of a type that gives the PC a chance to overcome.

Once the goal and opposition have been set there is the question of motivating the PC

New Players have Special Needs
Whether experienced player but new to this group/campaign or the novice player

This is a chance for the DM and new player to learn each other's style and should reduce annoyance when working the new player into the existing group

Thus an encounter for a new player should be varied, with several different situations and many NPC interactions of various emotional levels. DM should use a simple goal to see how the player goes about problem solving.

There should be open communication between the DM and new player to discuss each other's opinion of the other's performance.

The Absolut new player should be guided through the rules in graded steps. The scenarios could "and should" be so simple as to bore and experienced player and the first game a beginner plays should not result in the death of the character. Point is to have fun and not be bitterly disappointed in the first 20 minutes of a playing carreer.

A DM needs to remember that a beginner needs to learn everything, how to walk into a new town, swing a weapon, deal with a spell, or even walk down a corridor with a torch as the only souce of light.  A simple set of mechanics focused encounters might be the best thing for a new player

Ultimately solo scenarios should begin to root the PC of a beginner into the game world

Specific Scenario Ideas
{I'm going to gloss over these}
1. Acquiring a desirable object

2. Guard Duty

3. Acquiring Information

4. Vengence

5. The Random Encounter series
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

jedion357's picture
June 3, 2014 - 4:33am
"The Dungeon Alone" by Tom Little Dragon 157

Reasons for conducting a single player adventure:
1. Practicality- difficulty in scheduling a larger number of people may make it needful to run a single player adventure at some point in an extended campaign.
2. Single player adventure encourages character development.
3. Game decisions are not artificially constrained by having to stay with the group
4. A single player adventure may make sense in the naturally occuring game situations

Special Note: "..a single player adventure is not the same as a solo adventure. A solo adventure is a game session played and conducted by only one person, in which printed mater from a commercial module or correspondent take the place of a Dungeon Master, or where some random adventure generator was used...."

Problems faceds in scalling down for a Single player adventure:
1. fragility- one unlucky die roll can take out the PC quickly
2. fallback- If goal of adventure cannot be performed in single sitting (and its recommended that it not be)
3. no brainstorming with other players

1. No real threat of death- gross violation of the letter of the rules and will lead to player losing interest in game
2. Cannon Fodder- employ NPCs. However, every NPC added to aid the PC reduces the player's challenge. Puts more burden on the DM and since the DM knows the best solution it can take away decision making from the player.

3. Best solution is to relax the rules a little but do so on a premeditated and orderly manner. Guard against guaranteed-survival
A. unconscious in combat- unless the creature being fought against are absolutely fighting to kill, have them abandon the PC after looting his unconscious body.
B. Fatal traps and trick- best to avoid these unless giving ample warning
C. Poison and Paralysis- suggests D&D methods for letting poison and paralysis not taking immediate affects- ie that you were just poisoned and failled the save so the poison will take effect in so many turns

The Finite Dungeon

This section of the article deals with the classic dungeon crawl where PC attack a dungeon and retreat to rest and recover- a solo PC would likely not get far on successive forays thus he suggests that the DM determine that there are only 20 giant rats in the dungeon and when 6 are encountered as wandering monsters that number is removed from the total. there is further suggested a method that of rolling a d20 when the next set of wandering monsters turns up giant rats and any roll of 6 or less means that there were no rats (the first 6 were killed prior) thus on successive forays the population of the dungeon diminishes and the single player should be able to clear it.

The Friendly DM
DM does not have to settle disputes between players or struggle to keep the game moving instead he must entertain one individual.
1. DM should not assume the role of another player
2. should DM sit back when single player is lost, frustrated, confused or misdirected?
3. lending assistance is a subtle art, dont allow the player to wallow in indecision.
if the decision has disasterous consequences block it somehow- corridor is blocked with rubble etc.

Best advice a DM can give to a single player is no advice at all.
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

jedion357's picture
June 3, 2014 - 4:45am
The way I see it the Katherine Kerr article is far more useful for SF gaming since Little's article addresses some specific issues of the the classic dungeon crawl. Her advice on consider the character as well as the player, two kinds of plots and specific scenario ideas are fairly timeless.

Fragility of the PC is less and more of a problem in SF- starting SF PCs have significantly more Hit points than a D&D character but conversely there are some weapons out there that can really lay down the damage.

The weapons used by opponents could come in the stun and subdual variety but not all of them as there should be some genuine chance of harm to the PC.

A robot or two could be used to bolster the PC and increased technological assets can make up for the lack of other PCs

Because this is sci fi and computers and cameras and what have you exist there should be a real opportunity for the PC to generate information on the opposition and thus make a few purchases from the local PGC showroom to aid in overcoming that opposition.

having the adventure play to the strengths of the character and preying a little on his weakenesses sounds sound to me as well. The PCs strengths are no doubt where he has skills or abilities and provides chances for the PC to shine in his chosen realm of endeavor. Preying on his weakenesses can force the player to come up with creative solutions and keep the adventure from being a cake walk.
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!