Going Alone - Introduction

May 5, 2020

I'm a fan of playing D&D in a one-GM, one-player format (henceforth DM+1).  It's something that I've done about as often as playing in larger groups (in terms of number of gaming groups, if not total playing time), it's a style that seems to be less intimidating for first-time players than trying with a larger group, and it avoids the pitfalls of group collaboration.  That all said, there are certain challenges to the format, and the vast majority of both published and informal information for GMs is based on assuming a group of at least three players.  I can't quantify exactly why that seems to be the threshold, but it's my personal experience going between two players and three players is where I make the most change in how I think about running a game to support having a fun experience.  Going to DM+1 is a further exaggeration of that paradigm shift (plus I've got far more experience with that than DM+2), so I thought it might be helpful to put together some posts about running in that style.

While I will write about encounter design as part of this series, I find it's actually not a big deal on the whole.  Near the end of March, I ran Death Frost Doom as my test adventure for trying out online play, and it worked without any changes in the adventure between running for a trio of players and running DM+1.  I've got a weekly DM+1 game with another player, for whom I've been using a mix of Beyond the Wall scenario packs and certain published modules without any changes from how I've used them for groups.  I just ran a DM+1 session on the weekend for an open table group, and again, I didn't make any changes to the adventure itself.  Going alone in a group-based video game like Baldur's Gate or Wizardry is troublesome because they force combat challenges that are meant for multiple characters.  That shouldn't be a problem with a human GM.  Combat should still be an option, certainly, but as long as there are alternatives, group size is a minor concern.

Since I see more value in being able to jump around between the parts of this series than my previous ones, this post shall serve as an outline to help people find whichever parts they're interested in.  Topics and summaries are listed below (I'll edit this if and as needed):

Spotlight

Basics from the non-mechanical side of running a group game where the rest of the group is condensed into one person.

Scope

D&D started out more or less as a war game zoomed in on multiple players controlling single characters.  With a single player, there are benefits to zooming that both further in and back out.

Power Variety

Many modules and GM guides mention promoting a mixture of classes to round out the group's options.  That's usually not needed in reality.

Monsters

Every edition of D&D and almost all of its derivatives have all sorts of beasties to threaten PCs.  Let's talk about the implications of using them with a single player.

Encounter Design

Also known as "how to actually play a story out of Indiana Jones or Conan".

Vancian Magic

Ways of adjusting the amount of spellcasting a single character can do, particularly at low levels.  The simplest is doing nothing, but it's not hard to go a little further than that.

 

I'm hoping that publishing this post will also serve as a motivator for me to put out more content around here, since I haven't been doing much of that during this pandemic.

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