What happened to one on one games? Every Role Playing Game (RPG) that I get my hands on advise that at a minimum you should have three players. One games master (GM) and two players. I really do not understand where the concept of the one on one game disappeared to. There are even games that highlight themselves as designed for one on one use (e.g. Scarlet Heroes). Why can’t every game be played one on one?
Back in the day…
OK, I am old and I may have missed the point where games evolved to lose the one on one. Where I cut my teeth into role-playing it was not unusual to be one on one for extended sessions. I would go to mates places and camp out in a tent all weekend just to role play. Many of my greatest memories of RPG’s are of my one to one games. They are certainly my best memories as a player. I used to play Mechwarrior, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and MegaTraveller one on one nearly every weekend and had fantastic games.
So at what point did this die? These were games that gave a system and allowed you to play as you wanted. Now most games develop the system but suggest that you have to have three players or more to have an enjoyable experience. I do think that this is a modern concept and I do think that this concept should change.
I will grant you that a lot of this idea probably stems from role based games and pre made modules. The concept in many fantasy games is you will have a warrior, a rogue, a spellcaster and a healer as the optimum team. Premade adventure (modules) that were made through all iterations of these style of games tried to have a balance of tasks for each of these roles to shine. Right there is possibly the genesis of this concept. Most RPG’s have a role based stereotype for the average party. Modern or otherwise there tends to be a leaning toward the group stereotype. Most premade adventures acknowledge this and perhaps this is the genesis of the idea that there must be more than two people playing.
It always makes my stomach turn when I hear those words. Game balance. If you have characters of this level then you must restrict encounters to x level of difficulty. How low has this industry gone? Many people will rail against me and ask why it should be any other way? It isn’t fair if the encounter cannot be handled by the group at large. This attitude makes me nauseous. It is good player advice for the to research their surroundings and opponents to understand the threat. If a group hears that the Black Knight slew the Godling Snort and stole their divine essence, why would they, as a group of lowly adventurers new to the world chase him for a fight?
My favourite encounter of all time was where my half-orc cleric who had defeated the mad mage Minstrel and looted all his items. The character was approached by a werewolf who was a follower of the mad mage and known by reputation. He was bad news. The werewolf approached with negotiation. I had killed the mad mage and should rightfully enjoy the spoils, but for one ring. That ring was not meant for my character and it should be returned. The implication was clear. The negotiation was tense and was a great scene. In the end my cleric handed back the ring, because he was uncertain of the threat and was not willing to risk his life.
Today, I doubt there would even have been a negotiation. Players would throw themselves into battle because they are certain the game has the encounter balanced to something they could handle. A balance that is inevitably always built on a number of players that is “ideal” for the system. That number seems to be never one to one.
What are the advantages to a one on one game?
So many games espouse the need for a character backstory. They tell the GM to mine the backstory for hooks to include in adventures, but doing this in multiple character games can be horridly distracting. We need to get the Eye of Horus now or the world will explode! Hang on, that is my old Invocation teacher getting away out the back – I will only be a minute… One on one you can flesh out backstory, and create a deeper sense of character with new stories that they can relate to the group.
Imagine a game where you are going to miss a group session so your character catches the last freighter to Conoe IV where they heard their lost love had surfaced. The next session you sit down to is one on one with the GM where you play that out. The next time the group sees you there is a ring on the finger and a new spring in your step.
This style of gaming can be so character building. It also offers a much quicker pace. One person makes all the decisions. There is no circular arguments and getting caught up in long planning discussions. You choose the path and the GM responds to it. It tends to progress much faster than a group game, and somehow feels more intense.
But my game says I need three players
Ignore what your game says! It also says you can make the rules what you need them to be. Unless there are core mechanics that require two or more players to combine statistics to make a roll every time you can run the game one to one! As a GM I strongly urge those of you running the games to start ignoring the sections about balance. They are generally designed for a set number of players and varying from that can get into headaches of math. If the player goes into the cave known to house the ancient ornery dragon in their first game they deserve to get eaten. Seriously, getting away from balance mechanics is super freeing and causes your players to think.
Of course, if you follow my advice, tell the players. You may be starting a game with new players who are used to being in a game facing only challenges they can handle. Explain to them that you do not balance via the rules and the player should consider his actions as they will carry consequences if they assume too much.
Your game is just a system to simulate the setting. Most games say that you need 3 or more players just because it is expected to be a social past time. There is no use in believing that you can’t make almost any game available a one to one experience.
Give it a try
Next time a few people have real life issues and have to pull out of gaming night don’t call it all off. If it is just going to be you and Oscar ask if they want to play and build up an adventure framework. Pluck something out of the character background. Or even have a side mission to the current adventure thread that will help the group when they come back and make Oscar the hero. Or if Sheree could not make regular gaming night but you catch up later that week, play out what her character was doing in absence of the rest of the group. These are all opportunities that you can take and I hope you will find them as rewarding as I have. Have fun and keep on rolling!