Problems in Two-Player Games

edited October 2013 in Story Games
There are numerous threads asking for examples of games that are designed for two participants, or at least which function reasonably well for two participants.

What problems come up in two-player (2P) games?
How do existing games solve those problems?
What other ways might we solve those problems?


  • My thoughts:

    If you have a classic GM/player game, you basically have one player (and traditionally, one PC). I've run some Basic D&D games and some old Star Frontiers games this way (I was GM, my brother played one PC). My experiences with Murderous Ghosts falls into this category, probably. What this type of game lacks is the camaraderie of a "party" in the classic D&D sense (a bunch of like-minded folks with a shared mission). The role-playing bits of the game can feel flat, as it's one PC role-playing with the NPCs played by one other person. The non-role-playing bits, like table talk and out-of-character planning and scheming, are non-existent. Some games just don't play well without a group. Look at any version of D&D for example. Without a decent balance of roles and skills, your chance of survival decreases. Can a lone magic-user in Basic D&D survive long in a dungeon?

    GMless / shared-GM-role games feel a little different with two players. Play breaks down to "I GM for you, then you GM for me." I've played Annalise this way with Daniel Levine and it worked out pretty well. When GM roles are shared, you can't "just be a player" anymore, and some players don't want GM responsibilities, especially when that gives them GM-like powers over their own characters (even indirectly).

    Let's look at border cases: three-player (3P) games. I've played a lot of games this way, including Fiasco, Basic D&D, Star Frontiers and a host of other 1980s TSR games, Star Wars (WEG), and I think a handful of indie games. Here, you start to feel the pain of having too few players but there's a remarkable difference between 3P and 2P. If it's a GM/player game, then the two players can talk and plan and role-play together, and they cover at least two game roles. In Fiasco, you have three players (shared GM responsibilities) and three characters that form that ever-important triangle (for example, a love triangle).

    To flip this on its head, what do multi-player (MP) games offer?

    * out-of-character camaraderie at the table
    * coverage of multiple character roles (sometimes required for success)
    * better in-character banter
    * more opportunity to avoid GM responsibilities, if you don't want them
    * a third party to break ties or provide a neutral point of view in a conflict between two participants

  • edited October 2013
    Nice writeup, Adam.

    I agree with everything you've posted, and will add another element, from the designer's perspective:

    Resource economies and various types of rules will often "balance" differently with two players if they were originally designed for three or more players.

    For instance, in many games certain mechanics are designed to function the way they do in order to work when there is a conflict between two parties and a third party is involved (interfering, helping, adjudicating, etc). There may be a specific kind of economy at play, and it may need to be changed in order to work for just two players.

    I'm having trouble thinking of a specific example at the moment, but I've run into this many, many times as a design problem. Two-sided mechanics sometimes can't scale for three or more. Mechanics designed for three or more, on the other hand, sometimes fail when you reduce the interaction to two sides only.

    For instance, picture a conflict resolution mechanic where two players compete with each other, and other players get to participate by throwing in extra dice or giving Fanmail, or introducing complications... with just two, you're missing a part of the puzzle (the outside forces intervening in the conflict), and sometimes that makes the whole thing lay flat, or breaks it entirely.

    So you take a game which plays great with three or four players, and try to play it with two... and now something is missing, because there aren't enough "hands" available to operate all the moving parts at once.

    Edit: A really simple example is any kind of voting system. Cut it down to two players, and you can't use that mechanic anymore: now the game is operating on pure consensus. The same might be true for any kind of economy where it's important to be able to receive and compare multiple offers, and then bargain with the originators of those offers.
  • There are also a number of techniques which require players to prepare surprises for each other, like intrigue games, "plot-behind-the-others'-backs" games, or other types of games with hidden information.

    With two players, the secret information is either only available to one player, or it's known to everyone in the game. This means that there are a lot of intrigue-type situations which can no longer be player out in any meaningful way. You can't have two parties secretly collaborating to take down a third, while someone else tries to undermine their loyalty and turn them against each other - it's either known to everyone in play, or it's effectively happening off-screen, outside the purview of the game.
  • There's one thing that 2P (1GM, 1PC) games do well, and that's emulate a particular, common brand of fiction. Especially fantasy fiction.

    Much fiction is built around a single protagonist, written in a single point of view. Multi-player RPGs emulate this only vaguely, working with the idea that each player plays is the "hero of his own story." But then the GM has to be concerned with spotlight sharing, deprotagonization, and other problems that exist only because there's more than one player who wants to be the hero. Multiplayer "mission" games like D&D 3E and 4E, and also Shadowrun, make The Group into the real hero. "Take one for the team" is the winning mantra here. There's not a lot of fiction that really captures this group dynamic (and gives each team member equal time and point-of-view).

    In a 1GM/1PC game, you could easily do a Conan: The Barbarian game, or a Takeshi Kovacs game (based on Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon). Any book that focuses on a single character's point-of-view works well here. (Some romances are single POV, but a lot of them flip between the two participants in the romance, fairly equitably.)
  • Yeah, exactly, Adam—and that's why BW is such a great choice for 2-player games. It already has the structures in place for the sort of character development we expect from a single protagonist in a fantasy novel.
  • Totally with you, Adam. Most fiction is focused on a single character's point of view, or at least a single character's story. Most RPGs are designed with more than two players in mind, and therefore need to accomodate multiple characters as (at least potential) protagonists. There's a powerful tension there whenever we want our games to feel like good stories.

    This, to me, is one of the biggest issues in RPG design, actually.
  • Why don't more people play 2P? Generally, when I've had only one player show up, we put the game on hold or did something else, instead of play 2P. I think most people believe that 2P won't work.

    I think a reduced social footprint of just two participants is a niche that hasn't been well filled by the RPG market. I think a good 2P RPG has to be designed specifically for two players, though. Burning Wheel might give you tools for character development that matches a typical protagonist story arc, but it doesn't solve the other problems.
  • One thing with playing mano el mano is that it's more intense, for good and for bad. If it's a game with a game master, having only one player will give no time to breathe to that person.

  • Yeah, by far the most crucial issue for me is dealing with the increase in creative responsibility and commensurate mental exhaustion. These are rarely issues for me in larger groups, but the times they have come up have often been one-on-one games.

    And it's not just about being able to generate more stuff than usual; I find that with only two players, my sense of a responsibility to what the other person has created is also much greater. Because everything else in the game is made by one person, and that person has my full attention, I am more likely to worry about screwing up their stuff, or stepping on their toes. Of course, communication about such issues will also be much easier with only two people, but that only goes so far; the creative stakes are still higher, which tends to make each decision a little more challenging. More demanding play plus a greater share of the play means it's easy to get worn out, and even more important to take breaks and find ways to insert variety into play.
  • The biggest loss that I've noted is intra-group dynamics. In a setup where one player is the protagonist and the other is the opposition, you need a lot more work to continuously generate new content. With more than one player, the players can always play off of one another, grinding against one another and provoking one another.

    With a 2P setup, the role of the GM often awkwardly coexists with the role of supporting character. Whereas the other player plays the protagonist.
  • edited October 2013
    The last time I did a two player game, was back in my teenage days. We did it rather often then, just to pass the time. It usually ended up giving the player of the character more influence over how the story and his character would turn out and for the GM it would be focussed about doing something for that character. Which lead to some "balance" problems when the character was played in a group together.
    Part of that was our group at that time not being able to handle stuff like munchkinism or balancing well or generally saying "no" to ideas that would just cause problems. Because we were all friends.
    So I do not have the fondest memories of those games. It was were I did my worst GMing I think, over my life, failing mostly as a referee, which would have been a role I should have assumed as expected by the group. Also dealing with the annoying aftermath. After some time I realised that it was kind of a problem and never did much 1 on 1 games after.

    What we can learn in general is that a two player game using characters crom an existing group can give those characters an edge over the other and might harm a wanted balance.
    Also the dynamic is different with a single player and emotions might get in the way of doing things you would easily do to a group. Like harming a character, there would not be a way to save him outside of a GM decision if the hitpoints drop too low. (In games that are about stuff like that) And so you have to design encounters or games in a way that failure lets you continue the story. Also as a GM what you say can be taken personal more easily, since you are always just adressing one person.

    These days when only one other player has the time I rather go for a boardgame or get out the Magic cards. Which I enjoy too and competition seems to work easier with two players.
    But I have to admit that I have no tried to play a 1:1 game at the table as GM or player for about ten years, so maybe it would be worth a try. I will look forward to this discussion and maybe i get motivated to check out a game that does it well.

    I have done one on one character development scenes in a play by post forum however. There it did work, both players having a character usually and just seeing how those two interact, both running the backdrop of the world and the few supporting characters. Since the focus wasn't on those but on the two characters and their interaction it worked rather easily. I have not done long stories in that form either. But prologue scenes and relationship building, both sucessful.
    There wasn't much conflict in those scenes, more exploration of characters and very little emphasis on rules. Which helped to make the scenes work, also the play by post medium makes it easier for players to run the world as well as their characters, because you can be much longer and more detailed in your descriptions.

    What I imagine being harder in 1:1 games is planing ahead, especially as the GM. You do not hear the other players plan ahead and discuss things before a decision. You always have to be there when it is declared. Maybe it would help to make a habit of asking what for example the character is thinking about the clues in an investigation game. But you still might have to improvise more and misconceptions could affect the game more, because just one player is doing all the decisions and information gathering internally.
  • Biest,

    Are you talking about 1:1 games as part of a regular 1:N game? That's an interesting take on the 2P thing--not what I was intent on exploring, but certainly welcome here. I'm talking about "two people get together and play a role-playing game for one or many sessions, with no other players ever."
  • I'm interested in finding (or writing) that RPG that people pull out when there are only two people instead of reaching for the Magic cards or the board game. I'm looking at the question, "Why don't people like two-player RPGs?" and I am hoping the answer is more complicated than "because there are only two players."
  • edited October 2013
    I'm interested in finding (or writing) that RPG that people pull out when there are only two people instead of reaching for the Magic cards or the board game. I'm looking at the question, "Why don't people like two-player RPGs?" and I am hoping the answer is more complicated than "because there are only two players."
    I think the answer starts to lie along the lines of "Because there are only two players, that means X Y Z"

    For instance: because there are only two players, the relationships between characters can get stale, because you only have two players feeding into it. Or because there are only two players, you have to work harder to come up with unexpected material.

    Then you can start seeing how to take care of those problems.
  • I did talk about 1:1 games as I experienced them with was within the context of a bigger group of players or with characters that were intended to be played with more and / or other players later. When I did it I was using traditional systems.
    So to find the game that you can pull out instead of a boardgame I did tell you about the possibility of: "The same as always" and how I experienced it.
  • Thank you, Biest. I thought your post was very helpful. I just wanted to understand the context, too.
  • I've GMed 1-1 before and yes, it means the worldscape needs to be more populated and all those characters need to be more three-dimensional, since one player exploring them without interruptions can get deeper on them quickly. Systems can actually be more complicated in terms of each player turn taking more time, since the world will react inmediatly for her. You need to be more prepared or be able to improvise faster than you do in group games, but overall these effort is simpler because you don't need to be focused in too many individual stories, but a single one.

    Now, about the personal interaction, it happened something funny in our game. Me and my pal used to roleplay at work after the boss was gone; we could talk freely, but we had a surveillance camera on our shoulders so we stayed seated at our workstations, facing different sides of the room. We could still do our work and play, so we had no trouble there, and he had his own set of dice with him and told me whatever he rolled when I asked for him to roll. I could always make up for interesting feedback either he rolled high or low, so he never thought of cheating and I trusted him.

    Fos us both, it was the best game we ever played. Now that I think back about it, I wonder if the fact that we almost never faced each other helped our inmersion. I remember writing a lot each week prepping for the game and using a ton of illusionism at first, since it was his first time roleplaying.
  • edited October 2013
    I find that playing one-on-one is much more intimate than playing in a group. A bit like the difference between going out with a group of friends and going on a date with one other person. Not all the way, but a bit maybe. I think you need to be more comfortable with the person you're gaming with than you do in a group.

    Depending on the RPG, emotions sometimes come up, and I think a crowd offers validation and a measure of support for a safe space. Maybe it's just me, but doing emotional stuff in front of one other person feels more raw, somehow. I think it's easier to assume it'll be ok in a group because you're effectively chaperoned, even if you never think about it.

    if I was in a group of two players with a girl I liked but wasn't sure about, and the other girl didn't turn up, maybe I'd suggest cards that week. It's lower emotional impact.

    It also depends on the type of game you're playing, of course. There's a world of difference between playing a shooting battle like boot hill, and playing Shooting the Moon, for example.

    I also think there's a massive difference between GM'd games, which basically involve one player, and GM'less games, which allow both players to input at a creative level. In my experience, GM'd games tend to need everyone to have high creative input all the time because each person is carrying only one role, while GM'less games let whoever has the bright idea bring it on. I guess one feels like charades while the other feels like dancing.

    Anyway, my experience of playing one on one is limited exclusively to my wife, where we see all of the above (intimacy, creativity, character emotions, dual input) as a good thing. We also find that the game tends to morph towards what we both want much faster because we give each other immediate feedback (eg I want to fight more, not have such a talky game, or "I thought I was supposed to be a master spy, why do I keep failing at stuff"), which might be harder to negotiate with five or six players.
  • Anyway, my experience of playing one on one is limited exclusively to my wife, where we see all of the above (intimacy, creativity, character emotions, dual input) as a good thing. We also find that the game tends to morph towards what we both want much faster because we give each other immediate feedback (eg I want to fight more, not have such a talky game, or "I thought I was supposed to be a master spy, why do I keep failing at stuff"), which might be harder to negotiate with five or six players.
    The bit about immediate feedback is a plus that I forgot to mention. In my one-on-one experience, it's been incredibly easy to adjust the tone and scope of the game. I can do it on the fly, because it's me paying attention to my player's needs and interests.
  • Depending on the RPG, emotions sometimes come up, and I think a crowd offers validation and a measure of support for a safe space. Maybe it's just me, but doing emotional stuff in front of one other person feels more raw, somehow. I think it's easier to assume it'll be ok in a group because you're effectively chaperoned, even if you never think about it.
    Oh my god, yes. That's an amazing insight. Thank you.

    Are there any games that offer tools to make it easier to do this raw, emotional stuff with just one other person?
  • edited October 2013

    Are there any games that offer tools to make it easier to do this raw, emotional stuff with just one other person?
    I tried to do that with my 2-player game, One Shot. (Link goes to full CC-licensed game text). Two players is definitely more intimate. One Shot is crafted to suit that. It's a game of vengeance that is GM-full. Each player is expect to contribute just as much to the story as the other. As well, the mechanics are really only there if you need them. The system is designed to lean heavily on the tropes of a revenge story.

    I don't directly address that intimacy in the text, but the language about how each side should engage in the story accounts for it. There's nowhere else to go in a 2-players game. No one to crack a joke, no one to suggest a smoke break. Just you and the other person at the table.

    If you are aware of that going in and you're looking for the particular type of story that your chose 2-player game is designed to tell, it goes a long way toward helping things run smoothly.
  • edited October 2013
    Playing Dreamwake with just another person is something I did quite a few times, with lots of different persons.
    It works peachy, but there are a few drawbacks...

    A bit more storytelling.
    Dreamwake doesn't allow any one Player to wear the GM/Director/Narrator hat, so the I-GM-You-GM-Me effect described in the OP doesn't really happen.
    But in a 2-Player game you do end up producing most of the details of the game (at least 50%) so it feels a bit less like "I am just playing my PC" and a bit more "I'm telling a story with my PC in it".
    It's no biggie, and many may actually prefer this... but one of the design goals was to avoid just that, so I file it as a drawback :P

    A bit less brainstorming.
    Usually (with 3 to 5 Players) each single participant does not have to think too hard about anything... if an idea does not instantly pop up in your mind it's not a problem, as there are 2-3-4 other brains already firing out alternative ideas.
    And they are very much varied too!
    I've noticed instead that in a 2-Player game the participants often "sync"... which doubtlessly smoothes play and lessens possible aestetic dissonance (Veto and Disagreement are used much less) but it also means that both follow kind of the same train of thoughts.
    If I don't have an idea then you too have nothing ready in mind, and once an idea comes up it's easyer to stay with it than come up with alternative ones.
    This by no means happens always, but it does happen a bit more often than with 3+ players.

    Why not 2-Player games?
    In my personal experience I've often seen people shy away from 1-1 rpgs because of both design & prejudice: many (?) 2-Player games feel less of a game and more of a "just telling a story" thing... and just telling a story to each other feels silly and challenging and not particularly fun... and this prejudiced idea is then transferred from the specific game/design the the experience itself of 2-Player gameing.
    So, as a result, lots of people think that 2-Player games are no fun.

    Also, as @summerdown already pointed out, there is validation and social safety in numbers; even just being 3 instead of 2 means you are a group instead of... not a group? :P
    I encountered many people that seem to feel kind of "guilty" about rpgs.
    They enjoy playing, but they somehow shy away from the "responsibility" of it... it's like if there are 3 players then one can not deny the other two, right? They wanted to play so I tagged along.
    With just 2 Players this kind of plausible deniability is a lot less plausible :P
  • I think 2-player games can be great fun because you can achieve a much better mind-meld between two people than 5... if you as GM always wanted to play a game set in Sigil, but in the style of film noir, it's about 100X easier to achieve this in a 1:1 game than in a group. As somebody else mentioned, genre emulation is a lot easier in some cases, because it's easier to have one shabby private eye poking around than a group of four slightly different private eyes (plus a ninja private eye, because Steve only plays ninjas). This works especially well if you've got a player who's comfortable with Actor stance and doing a bit of co-GM'ing, throwing in their own details. This can almost shift the whole game experience towards something that's a hybrid of collaborative story-telling and conventional RPGs.

    I sort of hate to bring this up in a Forge-ish place like this, but I also find you can be a bit more heavy-handed and illusionist as a GM in a 1:1 game, if only because the player knows that he's not going to be giving up the spotlight. So if you really need to have a thug knock the protagonist out so he can wake up in the villain's hideout tied to a chair, that goes over a lot better in a 1:1 game than with a regular adventuring party. Or if it's going to be a one-shot, you can do terrible things to the PC as long as the story can move forward, because there are no other players to get impatient with the one character who can't walk because somebody shot him in the knees. Of course, I mostly game with people who don't mind some illusionism as long as the railroad has nice views, so YMMV.

    I don't actually think you need awesome storygame technology to deepen the mind-meld, it happens naturally if you've got a good dyadic relationship between player and GM, even with very traditional RPG rules. And even clunky RPG's work a lot smoother when there's only one player doing stuff and rolling dice.
  • Technically, I think you're talking about participationism, where there's tons of hidden GM force, but the player consents to it. But yeah, everything you said.

    I'm imagining some techniques that might help with the brainstorming aspect that's missing from 1:1 games. Use of "prompt" cards (like oracles, on cards, arrayed on the table face-up) could give participants hints about what to include. Either player could add new cards or even remove them from the table to express (without discussion) "I want this in the game" or "I don't want this in the game."
  • The two-player games that I have had the most accessible fun with have been the ones that create an artificial third participant. This artificial participant could be a pre written scenarion, a system that generates content through random tables, etc. This provides something to focus apart from each other as well as relieving the preassure of constant player fiat that I find to be somewhat uncomfortable when playing for example Archipelago III as a two-player game.

    Are there any successful two-player games that do not contain some mehcanic for emlulatin a third participant?
  • Murderous Ghosts qualifies, I think, if _any_ two-player game qualifies. ;)
  • Nah, Murderous Ghosts sorta acts as a participant in itself, because of the Choose Your Own Adventure style of the game. It has very clear fictional leads.
  • So enough structure, and it acts like a GM. I get what you're saying.

    What constitutes "enough structure"? I think it needs:

    1. Situation generation
    2. Resolution of situations
    3. A cycle that repeats 1 & 2

    Here, I use "Situation" in the Forge-y sense, meaning an intersection of Character and Setting with loaded potential for positional change. Setting without that potential is just setting. Situation is the combination of Character and Setting that makes "What do you do next?" a meaningful question.

    In GM/player games, Character is mostly out-of-bounds for the GM, so the GM creates Setting elements. This absolutely includes NPCs (that is, they are not Characters, really).

    Murderous Ghosts has a very focused initial Situation, partly from the book itself, but with elements created by the participants. It gives the GM questions to ask and then asks for input from the GM and player. The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure aspect of the game resolves situation and sets up the next one, till the PC escapes or dies.

    In this game, the book acts like GM, but then what does the GM do? I think it's a GM-aid, not a separate participant. If you play a CYOA book (just you and the book), the instructions to turn to page 64 act as GM where there isn't one. I don't think Murderous Ghosts works the same way. It provides structure for the GM, but so does the dungeon module in OD&D. Would you argue that Tomb of Horrors is an additional participant, too?
  • Hmm, there's one big difference, though. In an adventure module, the GM has an external resolution system that they willfully apply to the game. In Murderous Ghosts, the entire game is pre-scripted to a degree. What the MC does is provide a context for the player's choices. It's their job to give meaning to the world, and to ensure that when the player makes a choice, it's a very deliberate decision. The MC brings the world alive and gives the player something to act against.
  • edited February 2014
    Back to the original post from @Adam_Dray:

    > What problems come up in two-player (2P) games?
    > How do existing games solve those problems?
    > What other ways might we solve those problems?

    I tried at the end of 2013 to design something aimed especially at 2 players: one GM and one Character.

    The result is here:

    As an answer to the questions posted:

    The major issue that I found is to make the situation fair. The poor character is alone and therefore I decided to give points to the GM to spend in making adversities, obstacles and enemies. Without any balanced system, the game could end up too quickly in the character feeling persecuted, or in an adventure made too easy just to avoid making the character feeling persecuted (this hopefully answers to questions 1 and 2, of course from the point of view of that specific game).

    Another issue is the difficulty to narrate face to face, without additional players at the table. There are less ideas to play with, less feedbacks. Also, in a GM/player traditional setup, the player is always the only counterpart of the GM: this can feel a bit difficult, and make it hard for the player to chip in and start talking. The player is invested of a big deal of responsibility - he's the only one that can solve the issue/complete the mission/do something... and therefore he ends up being very careful.

    Again, I tried to balance this in the game by giving points to the GM - but more than this, I simplified the game structure to a point where it feels like a FPS sort of videogame.

    Assuming that it is not possible to dig too much (in average... I am quite sure there will be someone out there ready to tell their wonderful and deep experiences of one-to-one roleplaying), I decided to keep things simple: from the setting (the solitary hero against chaos enemies - no shades of gray), to the mechanics, so that it almost feels like a PvP, and can be played without taking it too personal.

    Not too personal, also because, well, it's supposed to be kind of deadly - so the player will not be too attached to the character, and works well for a one shot.
  • I've been thinking about this a lot, as I am about to begin running a one on one Burning Wheel game with a friend of mine. Here's where my thinking is at the moment. I don't know that these things are always true, but they seem to be applicable as I think about the coming game.

    1) The character is the story. One of the tensions in a multiplayer game - the tug of war between group goals and individual development- is missing. That lets the game linger on the moments that are important to the character (and hopefully the player) rather than the moments that are important to the metaplot of a larger story.

    2)Time is more flexible and more important. Because only one character is in the spotlight it is much simpler to arrange for fast-forwards and cover long periods of time. It's entirely reasonable in a one player- one GM game for the character to spend six months learning to meditate, or a year studying the craft of the master weavers. This makes aspects that might not be important for some games (like calendar keeping) a big deal.

    3) There is the potential to build things. Because of the focus on a single character and the ability to compress or stretch time a one player one GM game has an ability for the player to actively build that is hard to match in a group game. The opportunity is here to found a kingdom, become the scourge of the seven seas, or found a baking company that makes the best Scones in Hybernia.

    4)Loss is more meaningful. With no party to buffer the ebbs and flows of fate, and no potential to just bring a new character into an existing party losses that might sideline the character in a multi player game become grist for the mill. The character who is driven mad, possessed, or crippled remains in the spotlight in a way that might not happen in a group game.

    That's what I have so far.
  • I'm vaguely working on a solo-wizard game (one GM, one player playing a wizard-at-large).

    I'm assuming that the story the GM and player will create is more like fantasy literature than a lot of other gaming stories. There's one protagonist. You can assume this character is going to survive to the end of the story, whatever that means. Most loss isn't going to be directly personal. Character death is totally off the table. Character incapacitation is actually a less painful setback here than in party games; since there's no party waiting around for you to come out of a coma, you just skip forward to when you wake up or whatever. The most important type of loss is indirect: loss of friends, painful defeats, personal guilt, missed opportunities.
  • Actually I'm not sure that character death should be off the table. I'd restate "this character is going to survive to the end of the story" to "the story will end with the death of the character." Other than that it's the same set of concerns about player death that you get in any RPG, and the same set of techniques to deal with it.
  • If your goal is to tell a satisfying story, then don't end the story (i.e., kill the character) until the story is satisfying. If character death ends the story in a satisfying way, then by all means let the death happen. However, death should be a choice, not something forced upon the player by randomness or other mechanics.

    One-player/one-GM games have different story continuity problems than typical games. There are ways around them, of course, but at a basic level, if the character dies, the story ends. With a group, if a character dies, the rest of the party carries the continuity of the story.

    Creative agenda is all tied up in this, of course. I'm thinking along Narrativist / Story Now lines, to be sure. If you want a different kind of game play, then maybe character death just feels Right (Simulationist / Right To Dream), or character death is the penalty for not playing well enough (Gamist / Step On Up).
  • However, death should be a choice, not something forced upon the player by randomness or other mechanics.

    That's generally about where I run my games. I think there's a difference between "death should be off the table" and "death shouldn't be random or meaningless." I think they're discreet concepts.
  • Sure. I guess I meant "death is a choice." Random death is off the table.
  • If you look for a story with a "The End" at the end :-) definitely death should be somehow manageable by other means than pure H.P. - a plot-centered mechanic would be better than gamist or simulationist ones...

    This is especially true if the focus is GM and Character (that character).

    On the other hand, if you plan to play one-to-one in a stable way, you could make the story itself to be able to survive to the death of the character. I.e. if the character dies, another one takes its place (a son? someone the character previously mentored?) and the story goes on.

    This might help also if the game lasts sort of too long, without reaching the final goal. A death, followed by a minor set-back, and then a new character taking over (not starting over from the beginning) could bring some sense of refreshment, and keep things interesting...

    just my 2c...

    (in Demon~marked I did just that - also because it has a sort of gamist attitude... if the character dies, its mission passes to a new character... it keeps the story going, but doesn't force the GM to "hold back" for the sake of not hurting the character... and still, for the player there's a clear challenge in trying to complete the mission with the very first character he made)
  • There's a lot of ways you could do a 1-on-1 with character death and continuation, really. I think an anthology-style game would work really well to, and it'd let you include retirement of a character or simply switching away to another one.
  • The recent one-on-one games I have run in the past few years have been with BW and death was very much on the table but it is surprisingly hard to get perished in Burning Wheel. That said, if it happens in pursuit of the character's beliefs or as a consequence of their actions, so be it.

    I'd probably have the player make a character somehow related to the initial situation and keep playing unless it was a really satisfying arc.

    In a game I played with Storn, his character died and we switched it up, with him GMing a game for me, playing under the severe consequences of his character's epic death.
  • I'm also running mine in Burning Wheel (inspired by this I think the way Burning Wheel negotiates risk is part of what makes it suitable for solo play.
  • I GMed Promethean for three players individually. They wouldn't meet neither in the fiction, nor in reality. Although their choices had some effects on each other. Promethean is about the journey of Frankenstein to become a human being. A sinister version of Pinocchio, really.

    So the game tells GMs to make a list of important lessons the character needs to learn. Some of these points can be defined by the player, but some need to be "discovered". Mechanically the player gains special XP each time the experience such a milestone. The milestones were of tremendous use in the game.

    It was one of the most intense RP experiences I ever had as GM. Emotions were very raw and the game had a certain quality to it that made the moving parts invisible.

    The sessions stopped as soon as I tried to bring those three characters together. The group style broke the intimacy that we felt was required for this Pilgrimage. It's also one of the reasons why none of my players EVER wanted to play a vampire on the road to Golconda (shedding the vampirism). Not that they didn't care, but there simply was no time for it at a group event.

    Just my experiences. Very interesting topic!
  • edited March 2014
    Right on, Georg. Some of my absolute best games ever were just me and one player, typically "lone hero" characters with a network of deeply-intimate NPCs. And yet all of these different "lone heroes" lived in the same game world, and they would occasionally meet each other or even adventure together. Continuity - you'd think it would be an issue, but it rarely was. A key aspect I think was: This was a massive world and a lo-o-o-o-ng campaign. Over ten years. It allowed for very intimate knowledge of the characters and their psychology, in fact the best stories often crossed the line between roleplaying as a game, and roleplaying as psychotherapy. The game system? Fuckin' AD&D!!!
  • Yeah, I although you often hear people preach about system matters (and yes, I do think games kinda benefit from a good system), the best moments can be had with any medium… simply if you're Doing It Right (TM). Understanding what your player(s) want from you (and vice versa) is tantamount.

    My bf and me have one-on-one-sessions without roleplaying rules set in Turnaya. It's what we do for bedtime stories. These have become very important for us. Especially concerning Archmage Cornelius Funkenflug von Abendrot (=our beloved hamster, who has passed away the previous week, and we're still grieving)… his character (who will always be a shared NPC) has taken on such a strong personality that I've decided to finally write a story, so I can let him appear ;)
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