>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.