Solo Games - One Player - One GM

edited May 2009 in Story Games
Storn and I have been playing a one-on-one solo game for a month now and it seriously feels like almost a year of solid gaming. I am loving it. AP threads here.

Burning Wheel honestly almost feels like it was made for this kind of play with all of the fiddly bits and advancement through conflict and learning of new skills.

Has anyone else played solo games and how'd it go? How did your techniques as a player and as a GM differ from the group games? Any drawbacks or problems?
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  • I've run Dogs in the Vineyard for a single player numerous times. It works fine, although it isn't optimal for a variety of Dogs-specific reasons. More broadly, it is much more intimate, which is both good and bad. I don't think I prepared any diffrently, but things sure move faster.
  • edited May 2009
    So, probably 50% of my gaming these days is 1n1 play. Partly because with the group's busy social life its always easier the smaller the group, and partly because I live with Mo and that just makes it too convenient.

    Some things that I've noticed about it:

    1) There is no place to hide. In this kind of gaming you both have to be there and you both have to bring it. There is no "I'll sit back while Judd does his awesome for a few minutes." You have to have the energy and focus to go, and the creative juice to pump into the game to make up for the fact that there are only two inputs rather than four or ten or whatever.

    2) The nice thing is the focus. Because of the above, when you do bring it, there is far less noise to contend with. Its really easy to get down and focus on what you want to do right now, to laser hone shit and pound it flat. This works from everything from being able to run single-protagonist games that look a lot more like most novels (as there is only one Conan or Batman, so there is only one PC) or even in games where you're moving around the world (say, IAWA) because there is a tighter ability to jointly and equally author. Of course, clear communications are key to making this work long term. In any 1n1 game I play the other and I always spend quite a bit of time talking about the game outside the game. (Partly because we're geeks.) Doing so really helps make sure things don't go off the rails. (Because if they do, there is no where to hide, remember?)

    3) But it can be weird if your connection isn't right. Playing with Mo (my wife, for those who don't know) is always pretty easy one on one. But the first time I played 1n1 with some other friends it was a little... odd... the first time. There is an emotional intimacy and immediacy (at least with the way I run/play) in 1n1 gaming that comes directly from number 1 and 2. In a group you emotionally connect, sure, but 1n1 you directly plug into each other. Which can feel a little uncomfortable, depending on your relationship. The good news is that I've always found that it goes away pretty fast once you start playing.

    4) Some games require some shifting in play priorities, expectations, or systems because of the way resource management, conflict setting, or expected input works. This can go from very easy to very difficult, depending on the game, your need to play to rule, and the flexibility of expectations. Dogs, for example, can work well 1n1 -- so long as you don't play quite as hard as you do in a group game, or are just fine with the solo Dog being killed every other town. (Without group backup and healing, its rough to be a Dog.) D&D also requires some juggling with conflict scale, as the resources a single character can bring are limited. Other games with niche protection or the assumption that the characters are competent as a group rather than individuals often need to be either fine targeted or have character generation shifted. PTA needs to have fan mail looked at closely, and so on.

    5) Good God can you whip through plot. The rate of play in 1n1 games can be very, very fast and/or very, very dense. With fewer inputs things tend to go more quickly, and you can run through scenarios and adventures and plots and whatthefuckeverforgetermyouwants really damn quick. I'm always shocked these days how long it takes group games to get stuff done. Even with tight, tight scene framing and a group used to working together my group of 4 players is lucky to get through half as much as we'll get through if its only 1n1.

    6) One of the big, obvious shifts in technique that happens in almost every 1n1 game that I play is that we include breaks between almost every scene. In a group game that I'm GMing I'll often keep things going pretty continuously for an extended time, rotating round the table, shifting from focal character to focal character, and so forth. In 1n1 games the increased focus, speed, and need for communication means that between most scenes (except scenes that are tightly linked, like some Dogs follow up conflicts) I'll usually have a pause. We'll talk about what happened, what the next scene could be, and things such as that while we regenerate focus. This isn't hugely different than in group play, but it happens much, much more often.

    I'm sure there is more shit I'm forgetting. Its hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes, when you're right in it.

    I think I talked about this years ago on my blog too.

    Oh yea, I did. Here it is. Jesus I'm a long winded fuckface.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarI've run Dogs in the Vineyard for a single player numerous times. It works fine, although it isn't optimal for a variety of Dogs-specific reasons. More broadly, it is much more intimate, which is both good and bad. I don't think I prepared any diffrently, but things sure move faster.
    The Last Watchdog Over the Faithful: my thoughts on solo DitV.
  • Great reply, Brand. I am going to reply to a bunch of your points, mostly to agree with my own experiences. I will check out your blog link when I have a moment.

    Thanks.
  • I agree with Brand (great post, btw). Brand touched on this, but one aspect I encounter in 1-on-1 that I think deserves some additional spotlighting in the discussion is making sure the momentum of the game narrative and, more importantly at times, the play experience itself is well controlled.

    With no other players to divide time against, each player has to stay in the hot seat during the whole thing. This can be a bit fatiguing after a shorter stretch of time. Consider, even as GM (with your "job" being "always on"), how often you are afforded some back-off and think time when players are discussing things amongst themselves. With just one player, more of that gap time is exposed for what it is, and we gamers seem conditioned to hide it or dress it up somehow (perhaps to create the illusion of a ceaseless play experience to match some unspoken expectation).

    Expressly creating some pause points in the narrative and the play experience is a very good idea. All aspects of pacing, focus, real-time pauses, and such need to be differently managed than in a game with more players and things we are used to treating as secret hidden spaces of rest in our busy game need to be arranged for by the two players or the games will be shorter (but much more packed with story/plot!) than a game with a passel of folk.
  • This is great timing, since I've recently started discussing serious one-on-one gaming with my group, since some of them are theatre people in shows, and one of our regulars moved away.

    Another thing I might add, based on my plans, is that when there's only one player, as a GM I am more willing to create complex houserules that require book-keeping but reinforce some aspect of the game. For example, I have plans to run solo Vampire: the Requiem, and I've come up with a few little tweaks to really turn the Humanity mechanic into something deeper, at the expense of forcing the player to write a bunch of stuff out on index cards. It's a modification I would never propose to a larger group, just due to the hassle of teaching the houserule to everyone, explaining why I did it, correcting people's misconceptions about it, and having to deal with the inevitable "well why don't we just do it like it is in the book?"

    Has anyone approached the idea of doing a one-on-one West Marches?
  • I've always wanted to see more 1-on-1 games where both people play a character, and take turns GMing for each other.

    Like, if it was Lord of the Rings, one person could be playing Frodo, marching to Mordor, and the other could be Aragorn, trying to fight the War. And you switch back and forth.
  • I played a 1-on-1 diceless freeform game with my high school buddy while he did his paper route. Walking while playing kept our energy level high. His godlike character enacted plans, I told him how they turned out. It was awesome.
  • My earliest roleplaying was with 1-1 'talking games'. I was the GM, he was the player (not that we used those terms, not having immersed in the RPG scene yet) and we'd play for hours and hours on end. When I say we, I mean me and various other people.

    At first, it was my buddy Paul. We had 2-3 games going at one time, once. Then I got my non-geeky friend David into a spy-game kinda one. Then my uncle Ron, who is a year younger than I. Once I moved to Phoenix, we'd be on the phone every night playing, and when we could, I'd sleep over and we'd play all damned night. We had two main ones that we always did, one a fantasy adventure thing, the other a sort of fantasy/post-apoc/primitive thing.

    Sometimes these games even moved into multiplayer territory, but still being completely freeform, they still flowed faster than normal RPGs do. The intimacy was lost for sure, and I never felt that same sense of connection with multiplayer players, (unless they'd started out as single-player players)

    Man, but those were some good times.
  • Yeah, I've done a fair amount of one-on-one games with my wife too.

    The topic has come up a number of times at rpg.net and I usually make the same points that Brand does, only not as thorough.

    System can be an issue definitely. The number of games that actively supports one-on-one play is pretty small. Yes, I do have Beast Hunters :)

    Personally, I'm fine with one-on-one play; it produces some very different game experiences compared to group play. The aspect of intimacy is...present, I guess you could say. With the one-on-one nature, you've got this back and forth and focused attention going on. It's the sort of thing you usually only get with really good friends or someone you're involved with (or wish to be). I personally find myself tiring a lot quicker than in group play, because of that "always on" aspect.

    About the only thing else I can think about is an explicit mention of "what you do in the game". Make sure there's a variety. For example, if you're doing D&D, the primary thing to do is fight. That's the basic premise of the game at least. With one-on-one play though, there's only a limited number of fights you're really going to feel like doing, before it's like, "Yeah yeah, we've done that. Anything else?" Just tossing in a couple of skill checks doesn't really break up the monotony. So what Brand was talking about in #4 is what this really relates to, but it's slightly off in a different direction.

    Group play is a lot like salsa. You can get a couple of different types and the spicy might vary a bit. One-on-one play is yummy tabasco.
  • I've played several great 1-on-1 sessions of a Shadow of Yesterday campaign. It has featured some guest stars, where other players participated for a session or so, but it looks like it will keep going as a solo game.

    The first six sessions of Lambert's Redemption are detailed online.

    I basically agree with everything Brand and Judd had to say.
  • Posted By: Paul T.I've always wanted to see more 1-on-1 games where both people play a character, and take turns GMing for each other.

    Like, if it was Lord of the Rings, one person could be playing Frodo, marching to Mordor, and the other could be Aragorn, trying to fight the War. And you switch back and forth.
    I highly recommend this mode of play too. Its really quite cool, especially for the "moving around the world" style games with only two players. When I do IAWA 1n1 we usually have multiple characters each and pass back and forth between characters, and who GMs and who plays, every scene. (Its one of the few ways I've made IAWA totally work 1n1, with only one character the We Owe List goes screwy.)

    Beast Hunters, of course, was built exactly for this kind of play. Christian or Lisa once told me that they usually played one full story, flip GM, play another full story. Mo and I, however, always played it where we'd flip GMs every scene. Or sometimes, in the middle of a scene to create a cliffhanger. (We had an old, old hunting knife that we'd pass back and forth to represent "who's the hunter now." It was fun, and no one lost an eye.)
  • I played/ran a 1-on-1 game a few years back and it was great! My buddy Cam and I played a WoD Vampire/Hunter crossover campaign. I played the vampire character and Cam ran that part of the game for me, and then the next session, Cam played the Hunter character and I ran it for him. We'd switch off each session. Both characters inhabited the same city and we set things up so that their stories were interconnected and their paths would cross from time to time (they ended up becoming allies). It was a very satisfying game with a lot of depth and great character moments. I've got a thread on RPG.net of anyone wants to see that.
  • I've run...about eight full one on one campaigns using actual RPGs, and just as many freeform. I think that with the right person, these kinds of games can be amazing.

    I used D&D 3rd, d6 system, and super-high epic D&D 3rd to the point where it might as well have been a different game.

    I think it has a lot to do with if you 'click' with the other player. Although at one point (in the super epic D&D game) I ran three solos at once in the same world, where the players were gods, and they'd react to each others actions and the shifting environment, periodically teaming up or fighting each other in cross-over events. That was a bitchin' campaign.

    Anyways, its a pretty awesome way of playing. But only when its with people you click with. Fortunately, at least for me, you can usually tell whether it's going to work or not fairly early on, often before you even start. (Although I've ran a couple one on ones with people that didn't 'click' and they sucked. Oh well. totally worth it for all the awesome solo games that worked)
  • Chemistry does play a part and I think that is because of the, as mentioned before, intimacy of it. There is something about sitting across a table from someone and talking for up to four hours at a clip.
  • I'm finding it interesting how often the discussion of 1-on-1 play in this thread involves diceless/freeform/ad-hoc or heavily drifted systems.

    Anyone care to comment on that? It matches with my own experience as well.
  • I am not affiliated with Tom Pigeon or WMG except for the fact that I did start a Yahoo fan group and wrote two reviews on RPG.net about the game. I have been using Mythic products for 5+ years solo. I have been having a blast with all sorts of RPG systems using Mythic but I prefer story-telling game systems with Mythic as they are more rules-lite and more suited to solo play. I highly recommend a look at Mythic: http://www.mythic.wordpr.com/page14/page14.html
  • I played a very enjoyable Space1889 inspired one-off ( two session) game with Elliot Wilen using the GM Emulator last year.

    It also seems to be very popular with a subset of solo wargamers ( who are indeed playing solo, not 1-on-1). By itself, the GM Emulator is extremely rules-lite, and probably really doesn't need the more fleshed out Mythic RPG rules at all.
  • Posted By: komradebobI'm finding it interesting how often the discussion of 1-on-1 play in this thread involves diceless/freeform/ad-hoc or heavily drifted systems.

    Anyone care to comment on that? It matches with my own experience as well.
    Funny, the solo games I've been involved in are by-the-book.

    I'd love to hear others thoughts on their more drifty/freeform thoughts.
  • Posted By: JuddPosted By: komradebobI'm finding it interesting how often the discussion of 1-on-1 play in this thread involves diceless/freeform/ad-hoc or heavily drifted systems.

    Anyone care to comment on that? It matches with my own experience as well.
    Funny, the solo games I've been involved in are by-the-book.

    I'd love to hear others thoughts on their more drifty/freeform thoughts.

    Those two different approaches might not be at odds, the more I think about it.

    In a 1-on-1 situation, there's an intimacy as noted in several posts. It's a "high trust" situation when successful, and undoubtedly crashes extremely fast if it suddenly becomes "low-trust".
  • I don't have much to say about that specifically, Bob. I played free-form because I didn't know to do otherwise. I've never really played one-on-one with a ruleset, though.

    No, wait. I'm lying.

    One of my earliest (if not THE earliest) ReCoil sessions was 1-on-1. It was with a good friend (Alexander Cherry) over IRC.

    The events of the session was atypical to what I was trying to do with ReCoil (more action oriented) but it flowed well, and it was memorable. The system was in playtest form, so I don't know if that fits your ad-hoc or heavily drifted criteria, though I don't think it does.
  • Great thread. Are there any systems that haven't been mentioned so far that people would recommend as well-suited to 1-on-1 play without a lot of drifting, particularly things that have come out in the last couple of years?
  • Well, as mentioned, I like the Mythic GM Emulator, but that's sort of a cheaty answer since that system is built to be inherently drifty/ Build+Refine-in-play.
  • Posted By: komradebobI'm finding it interesting how often the discussion of 1-on-1 play in this thread involves diceless/freeform/ad-hoc or heavily drifted systems.

    Anyone care to comment on that? It matches with my own experience as well.
    Robert, could you talk a bit about our Burning Wheel one-on-one game sessions from your perspective? I know you didn't care for the rules, but I'm curious how the rest of the experience was for you compared to our usual 3-4 player/1 gm games.

    Maybe you could compare/contrast with our other "attempts" at \one-on-one old-school play, like Crimefighters?
  • edited May 2009
    Hmm. I think CF fell flat simply because we were trying to add a dirty-hippy mentality to it. I suspect it would have worked vastly better with a mentality more akin to the one common at the time it was written ( essentially, The GM comes up with a mission, the player plays it while interpretting their character, the GM rects and modfies as necessary).

    BW, in my opinion, was horrifically simmy, a bit like playing CoC without all your necessary bases covered skill-wise. I fact, I can see a pre-written CoC adventure, played straight with only a single PC involved, turning out much the same way: an excersise in frustration due to never having a broad enough spread of competencies to interact with opposition in any manner approaching even a fifty-fifty shot of success in any instance. Throw on top of that the call to add complications due to failure, and it rapidly became a morass of suck with next to no high-points of success to counteract it.

    Except in CoC, your PC going it alone would likely get snuffed or go mad, so at least play could end.

    Of course, that isn't much different from playing B/X D&D one-on-one at low level either. The game mechanics seem balanced towards group play.
  • Huh, that isn't my take on BW at all (obviously).

    Case in point: The Shepherd.
  • I'm an outlier on the whole BW thing. I fully appreciate that there's a lot of love for the system.
  • edited May 2009
    So, on the freeform thing. For me there are three basic pressures that work towards drift/freeform/something else in 1n1 games.

    1) Many of the folks I play 1n1 with (especially Mo with whom I play 1n1 the most) are fans of rules light or freeformy games, and have a strong preference for active gestalt play. They're like this in a lot of games, not just 1n1 games. And so when I play with them 1n1 and under the increased intimacy of the game, it makes less sense to deny them their preference.

    2) As I mentioned upthread, my experience playing a lot of 1n1 games is that they need some drift to work right anyway. Because they weren't designed for it, there is often something -- be it mechanical, procedural, or ephemeral -- that has to be shifted and realigned in order to fit the dynamics of 1n1 play well. So, since I'm often drifting anyway, the propensity to drift just a little bit more is strong. After all, once you've already got the engine open and are resetting the timer, why not add some nitrous too? (Yes, sometimes it explodes, but not always!)

    3) Many systems have as part of their substratal makeup a mode of controlling and structuring procedures of play that has a lot to do with the co-ordination and meshing of different inputs. The more players you've got (IME) the more you need something procedurally strong to keep everyone together and keep things coherent. OTOH, when you've got only two inputs and a clear and open line of communication between both people, the need to mitigate the direct interaction with each others creativity is reduced. Or to put it simply, when I'm dealing with Leo who is doing X, and Sarah who is doing Y and Z and Mo who is doing X and Z, and I'm doing Y and A... we need something to keep us all together. But when I'm playing with just Mo and she's doing X and Y and I'm doing X and Y... the need for external systems to negotiate our social space is much reduced.

    That said, its rare even for Mo and I to do "full freeform." (Whatever that means.) We sometimes do diceless play, but we also tend to have some very clearly understood, if flexible, procedural frameworks around the game. Things that if they were more formalized might start to look a lot like ritual phrases or Jeep form techniques. We're far more principled than ad-hoc in most of our decisions in game, its just that the decisions rarely rely on external mechanics or game-based cues.

    Now, that all said, I've also a few friends with whom when I play 1n1 we become more likely to heavily engage external systems. Sometimes this might be due to a lesser intimacy, but in at least two cases I can think of, its because we're the ones in the group who take the most enjoyment out of the "game" aspects of RPGs. We like to roll dice, game the system, engage in step-on-up, and play the game with the same kind of attention to rules and details that you do to a boardgame. (Where as the folks I was talking about above are much more focused on the story/acting/narrative/memories of events never lived/experience aspect of gaming.) So when I play with those guys we often get really detailed with the rules. In those games things like Judd's "Burning Wheel honestly almost feels like it was made for this kind of play with all of the fiddly bits and advancement through conflict and learning of new skills" and Adam's "s a GM I am more willing to create complex houserules that require book-keeping but reinforce some aspect of the game" really do ring true.

    So, I guess my conclusion is that 1n1 games tend to become more defined by the desires of the two people playing: if you like to game it you may well game it even more, but if you want something else, its likely to become even more that other thing.
  • How often in 1:1 play is the system/hack one that brings some method of external input, whether it's an IAWA oracle or Mythic GM Emulator table or the "random page of Brewsters Dictionary" method?

    I like "campaign/ongoing/long arc play" and worry that, oh I'm a wonderfully creative person and Joe is a wonderfully creative person but we each have our "go to's" and habits and over time we both know it will be tentacles and nothing-is-what-it-seems and bad-ass antiheroes who would rather see the world burn before they compromise their personal ethos.

    Rob
  • Rob,

    For me, almost never. Long term ongoing play isn't a problem, so I've never really hacked a game to do that.

    I mean, I probably have all sorts of semi-conscious techniques that I use to bring in new ideas, but that's more in the realm of "general creative practice" than anything game specific.
  • Well, Brand went and said most of what i was going to say about the subject and then some.

    I will say this about the diceless freeform thing: if you have to take long car trips and/or have a long commute with the same person regularly a game like that, or something that could be resolved with a single die in a shaker is a great way to distract you and your passenger from the horrors of traffic.

    Mickey and I have several.
  • I think that rules light (and perhaps even "setting light") tends to work well for me with 1-on-1 because it's much more frustrating to have to do rule interpretations or look-ups when you only have one person across the table. In a big group, you get a lot of friendly chatter and OOC and IC discussions if the GM needs to dip into the books for a bit. In 1-on-1, as a GM, I get frustrated really easy if I need to take time to reference anything about rules or setting.

    I've tried:

    Various editions of DnD - Not great for 1-on-1, for lots of reasons

    Savage Worlds - Works really well, actually; PC's can often use allies/minions to help flesh things out for any skirmish play, and the rules are light and fast. Great for running 1-shots across different genres, which I did regularly with my son for a while.

    Beast Hunters - Designed to support 1-on-1 play. It's got a fun, competitive vibe, and the loosely-defined setting is awesome.

    Burning Wheel - I love it, but I'm not sure if it will ever actually hit the table. It's just hard to sacrifice the 5 or so sessions I think I'd need before I could get a head of steam on the system, and it's a bit too complex. That said, I've probably learned more about character-driven play from Burning Wheel than any other game I've ever read. It's outstanding.

    Wordplay - just now dipping into this one seriously, but it looks really good. It's as if Burning Wheel and Heroquest hooked up and had a baby.
  • Posted By: JuddHas anyone else played solo games and how'd it go? How did your techniques as a player and as a GM differ from the group games? Any drawbacks or problems?
    Did this in college with Vampire: Dark Ages, and it was fantastic. Much the same experience with getting in a lot of story. In a few months we told the tale of a freshly made vampire passing through centuries, and becoming a supreme power in Northern Italy as the vampire world was being torn apart internally and externally. It helped we were roomates, so we'd game sometimes 3 or 4 times a week.

    A lot more personal stories. A lot more focus on the character's specific goals and plans and personal relationships. Felt a lot more like fiction. Part of me thinks that roleplaying stories work best one-on-one.

    Been planning to try it again with my fiancee and Nobilis, but we keep getting distracted with other things.
  • I believe that some systems are more solo-friendly than others, i.e. Mouse Guard and Dogs In The Vineyard.
    As both systems encourage narrative role-playing they are easily adaptable.
  • I wrote Architects of Aztlan for one player, one GM.
  • edited May 2009
    I ran a 1-on-1 Batman campaign for my roommate in college. Using the d6 system, IIRC. It was fun and we were able to really capture the feel of the comics between the two of us. I also ran a couple of 1-on-1, diceless Call of Cthulhu games for our band's manager way, way back. That was fun. And I ran a 1-on-1 Vampire game for my wife a while back too. Brand hits on the high points in his posts.

    We didn't switch GMs in any of those games. Although I wish we could have. 1-on-1 is really immersive, gets through lots of story and I've found it easier to create collaborative stories 1-on-1. Maybe the comfort factor is higher. Not sure. But I found the goofy factor of a game to often be comparable to the number of people in a game and their median degree of comfort with each other.

    So while 1-on-1 the Batman game felt, smelt and tasted like the Batman, running essentially the same adventure (adjusted for group size) for 7 people the Batman goes all goofy. That's one reason I prefer smaller groups as a rule.

    But I've found it hard to sign gamers up for 1-on-1 play. Maybe there's something creepy about it of which I am not aware?

    EDIT: And, if I may, I'd like to add a +1 to Mythic. I've found it's uses to be practically limitless thus far.
  • Scott,

    I've found a lot, lot, lot of gamers to be dubious about 1-on-1 play. I think the change in structure, dynamic, and intimacy leaves a lot of folks cold -- or makes them think it would leave them cold.

    So yea, that's certainly a thing.
  • Breaking the Ice was written for this style of play, too. The intimacy of having just two players really helps you feel safe and comfortable, I think, playing out sweet romantic events.
  • edited May 2009
    Posted By: Brand_Robins
    I've found a lot, lot, lot of gamers to be dubious about 1-on-1 play. I think the change in structure, dynamic, and intimacy leaves a lot of folks cold -- or makes them think it would leave them cold.
    I've tried engaging several players in my existing group for 1-on-1 play. There have been no takers thus far. We do run small groups on occasion (no smaller than 2-on-1). But it's like we don't escape the inertia of daily life unless we have 4-5 people converging.

    Maybe it's a comfort level thing, though. I perceive the blockers that prevent a group from engaging serious thematic elements in play to be similar to those that block 1-on-1 play. I mean, why does every Unknown Armies game* devolve into the Dresden Files meets Reservoir Dogs? Why does every fantasy game* devolve into Knights of the Dinner Table?

    I'm thinking it's a trust issue and a related fear of intimacy.

    Frankly, I don't know how to get around that. But 1-on-1 play can seriously rock. And some genres, like noir, mystery and horror, really seem to hit their stride with it.

    * - Of course, not every game. But certainly the vast majority of those I've been associated with in one form or another, despite repeated attempts, dreams, hopes and aspirations to step it up a notch.
  • Posted By: smathisI mean, why does every Unknown Armies game* devolve into the Dresden Files meets Reservoir Dogs? Why does every fantasy game* devolve into Knights of the Dinner Table?
    This is, in my experience, less a matter of intimacy issues so much as the goal of the gamers in question. Games usually turn into action and adventure fests with groups that are playing for escape and coolgoodfun. The desire to explore some thematic issue may simply not appeal to them as a use of the SIS. It may be more a video game than an emotional sandbox/mirror to them.
  • Posted By: smathis I mean, why does every Unknown Armies game* devolve into the Dresden Files meets Reservoir Dogs? Why does every fantasy game* devolve into Knights of the Dinner Table?

    I'm thinking it's a trust issue and a related fear of intimacy.

    Frankly, I don't know how to get around that. But 1-on-1 play can seriously rock. And some genres, like noir, mystery and horror, really seem to hit their stride with it.

    * - Of course, notevery game. But certainly the vast majority of those I've been associated with in one form or another, despite repeated attempts, dreams, hopes and aspirations to step it up a notch.
    That there feels like its own thread.

    You say Dresden Files meets Reservoir Dogs as if it is a bad thing.
  • Paul,
    I'm glad you mentioned Lord of the Rings! The notion of the players being on the same "side", or at least not in opposition, reflects the (sadly, dead) CCG Middle Earth: the Wizards. That was the basic set for the game, and players each controlled a Wizard and his agents and allies. Since Wizards are (mostly) all on the same side (that whole Saruman defection wasn't covered 'til a later set...), there was no direct conflict between players; on your opponent's turn, you play Hazards (monsters, Sauron's forces, wild beasts, and misfortune) to hinder and harm his Wizard and his characters.
    They eventually introduced "bad guys" in sets like Dark Minions, The Lidless Eye (where you can play as a Ringwraith!) - these sets featured direct conflict between groups of characters for the first time in the game. I believe there was a set called The Balrog, as well, which focused on the Underdeeps, the sort of tunnels that Gollum knew all about, running under Middle-Earth.
    Anyway, if you have a GM-swapping thing going on, it's important to have the PCs run into each other as infrequently as possible, if ever, lest you get into a situation where it becomes really tricky to manage conflict efficiently.
    Vincent Baker has written on his blag (especially with regard to an old Ars Magica game he played) about the importance of keeping players' interests at odds in some way with something, either that of the GM or of one another. The conflict has to come from somewhere!
  • I GM'd some 1-on-1 RPGs almost exclusively for about 6 years straight. Looong time ago, starting when I was 12 or 13. I had three guys I would separately meet with randomly. They have aggressive personalities and didn't work together very well so we usually just kept to the 1-on-1 gaming.
    Being teenagers when it all started, we all loved DBZ and wanted to experience that world. So I made a little homebrew system the relied heavily on spectacularly detailed fights. It was the most bizarre and mentally taxing experience I've encountered RPG-wise. One of the guys use to come over every day and play for 2-3 hours. He liked to go off and do the most random things... Totally avoiding fights where he could, he instead went about constructing buildings, running businesses, meeting NPCs and chasing tail.
    Easily the most fun I've ever had... I miss the ol' 1-on-1 days... this group stuff just doesn't seem to work for me. x_x
  • That's awesome. I love the idea of a PC in the DBZ universe avoiding world-shaking fights and starting a small business instead.
  • I played one-on-one Star Wars games for years pre-high school. My friend Will and I would generally swap GMing duties back and forth, and it was mostly an excuse to fight stormtroopers and bounty hunters, but we would often play two or three "sessions" every Friday night. Looking back, I don't think there was anything about the game that was particularly suited for one-on-one play, but as some people have mentioned, one-on-one play allows for a lot of room to explore an individual player's desires. In a multiplayer game, if someone wants to run off and develop a business or build a robot sidekick, it takes time away from everyone else, but in a one-on-one game, that stuff is really core.
  • edited June 2009
    I'm gonna chime back in here and say that my friend Alan and I taught ourselves how to play Burning Wheel 1on1. I found it a really good way to get to grips with the mechanics of the game and all the variations on the conflict engine. It also strengthened my muscles for taking swings at beliefs, instincts, and traits.

    ETA: It was also a hell of a lot of fun.
  • I ran a one-on-one D&D campaign for quite a while, mainly by giving the player (who was playing a paladin) a princess who it was his job to protect... and who happened to be a healer. She wasn't combat-useful, but allowed him to recharge quickly.

    Right now, I'm working on my vampire game, ... and cast no shadow, and my wife and I have been mostly playtesting it one-on-one. Indeed, Nerdly this last weekend was the first time anyone else played it! It's been working pretty well as a one-on-one game, which makes me happy.
  • Posted By: Judd

    That there feels like its own thread.

    You say Dresden Files meets Reservoir Dogs as if it is a bad thing.
    Yup. I did sort of go on a tangent there. Not my intent to derail. That's why I haven't pressed the issue much.

    To clarify, there's nothing wrong with Dresden-Files-meets-Reservoir-Dogs. But it gets formulaic if that's the only place you get to go.

    Worthy of its own thread, as you say.
  • I'm getting ready to start some 1x1 play with Daniel Levine. We're talking about doing religious urban fantasy in the style of the movies The Prophecy or Constantine (or some comics that Daniel knows and I don't). The main character will be mortal, have no powers, have no destiny, but get drawn into supernatural shit that he wants to change.

    I'm thinking of using Dogs in the Vineyard with small hacks to make it work. My main concern is keeping him alive, and my first thought was that Dogs lets me push pretty hard as a GM and not immediately kill off the single character. I just need to avoid making his death part of the scene goal / stakes. Daniel can always Give in his conflicts to avoid the inevitable escalation to violence. If he doesn't, and his character dies, then it was a meaningful death.

    Script immunity (or protagonist survivability) seems to be a pretty important aspect of a game suited to 1x1 play. Otherwise, the GM needs to run an Illusionist game to keep the protagonist alive. I have little interest in doing that.
  • Adam,

    Just make sure he knows ahead of time how often he'll need to give. IME the difference between what you can do as a single Dog vs a Dog thats part of a group is pretty major, and the transition will decrease the PCs ability to easily effect change. (Its doable, but you have to go smaller, hit people where they're weak, and so on. It is much rougher, and a lot of people seem to undersell it. Their experience may just differ, but damn...)
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