>Solo Play: Benefits and Pitfalls

>I’m going to try and be as system neutral about this particular post as I can, but we’ll see where it goes.

There are basically two kinds of roleplaying experiences; there’s group play, which involves the more standard tropes of the RPG; GM, four to six players, focus on team dynamics and tactical play – with teamwork! – are usually the emphasis, though this varies depending on the group of course. Some people love delving into things related directly to the characters they’ve created – I fall into this category. Others just want to get together, kill monsters, and take all their stuff.

This does allow for a particular class of stories that doesn’t work well in the absence of a team; the group can also face and overcome threats that any one of them would be unable to defeat. Plus, there’s a certain fun kind of humor that inevitably creeps into the game if you have a good group to play with. And I love playing in group games… as long as the people in them are fun to play with.

A solo game opens up a whole new set of options, however. In a solo game, you can do things that a group just wouldn’t be willing to take the time for. You can develop friendships with NPC’s; you can perform stealth infiltration missions that would bore a large, non-stealth focused party; you can be the Last Son (or daughter!) of a dead planet/kingdom/dimension; you can grandstand and show off without worrying about hogging the spotlight, because it’s yours. You can found a kingdom and protect it, if circumstances allow; you can tell any kind of story that interests the both of you.

A solo game requires one GM, one player, and a willingness to improvise a LOT on the part of both of them. Party based games are often played fairly close to the ‘rails’; with some room for variation, they go where the GM wants them to go. Solo games can’t really afford to have rails; they have to follow the story of the player. If it’s handled right, the world is a big sandbox with any number of things to do in it.

Solo gaming was how I started role-playing; my GM didn’t use a system, which suggests to my mind that there were a few rails that I wasn’t aware of, but basically the story was shaped by my choices, and it was great.

Now, there are obvious benefits to using a system; fair resolution of conflict, avoiding the ‘silver-age’ syndrome where a character makes up their skills and powers to overcome circumstance ‘on-the-fly’, adding the influence of ‘luck’ into the game – these are nothing new to anyone who has used a system with regularity. But using some kind of rules makes sure that the game is fair.

The one problem in the minds of some GMs/DMs is that the game systems we use tend to be designed for groups of 4 or so. How do you fix that?

Well, it depends. But it’s probably not as bad as you might think. I’ll talk about some of those ideas in a later entry, as they relate to my two favorite systems at the moment; M&M 3e, and D&D 4e. Right now, though, all I’m trying to get at is that not having “enough players” shouldn’t stop you from having fun.



2 responses to “>Solo Play: Benefits and Pitfalls

  • Jillian Spencer

    >What it sounds like you're getting at here is the difference between an individualist and collectivist culture of play. It certainly explains a LOT about the times I've played with you. You are very much an individualist, and my friends and I are very much collectivists. Keep that in mind as you contemplate adding us to your game session. We don't even like solving puzzles alone, for crying out loud; we have to bring a friend along. Much more is it necessary for us to have each other on a more complicated endeavor.

  • Jonathan

    >You make a good point, but remember that I'm talking about two different types of games. In a party setting – like the game I'm planning for you and your friends – practically every part of the game is cooperative, collectivist, and generally designed with the intention that everyone will work together to overcome the challenge. It's like the difference between the X-men and someone like Spider-man (Or Superman, or Batman…) The X-men operate almost exclusively as a team, and tend to be niche kinds of characters who depend on each other. Their stories usually focus on how they handle things as a team, particularly any fights they get into.Spider-man is a generalist; he can't afford to specialize too much because he's a solo hero, and HAS to be able to handle things by himself. Superman, Batman, both generalists to a large extent. Both kinds of stories can be very compelling and fun to read, and both kinds of games can be very fun to be involved in. Suffice it to say, you won't be asked to solve too many challenges alone in a teamwork based game like the D&D session I'm working on. You'll have each other, and the benefit of two other players who have played the game before and will be willing and able to help you figure anything out that's confusing. The point of the article was that the less commonly used solo game can still be fun, and opens up its own unique kinds of possibilities – not that group play is any less fun. Group games rock, especially if everyone likes each other and is having a good time. But with this article, I was actually trying to point out some of the benefits of playing solo games to people who might not have considered them, or might have written off roleplaying because they don't have enough people. I hope that answers any concerns you might have about the game. It should be fun, and I hope that ya'll can make it. 🙂

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