Solo Campaigns


I love running for a group. My prefered size is 3 players plus me, the GM. However, after moving to a new city two years ago me and my fiance didn't at first have time to find a new group. I began running a solo campaign for her in the meantime, and it went really well. Since then, we have come to enjoy it so much that we haven't yet gotten around to finding that new group to play with.

In fact, when we did go to the FLGS to check the postings on the wall (we had had bad luck with finding players on the internet in the past, and so stayed away from that method) we realized that maybe we didn't *want* to find a group. We looked around at the people playing in the store and realized we didn't want most of them in our living room for several hours a couple times a week.

Don't get me wrong...I'm not a snob...but we saw how different our playing style was from the norm and couldn't bring ourselves to try and find new players that would suit our "group". So, now we just run solo campaigns for each other and leave it at that. Our old group was too close to our hearts I guess to find a new one to build new bad-ass-gaming-memories with.

On the upside all the solo campaigns have been really great, and I've recently come back into contact with most of the members of my original group from before I even met my fiance; all of whom are interested in getting back into the hobby now that they know I live in the same city as them, and am willing to run a campaign. However I don't think the group we had before we moved here will ever be topped, even by the veteran crew I'm going to be running for soon...and nothing will ever come close to the solo campaigns I have run for her (and vice versa).

I suppose it's due to the depth of personal story that a solo campaign allows's hard to touch that in a group environment. What's everyone elses experience with solo campaigns?

My experience has been that they don't last long when there is an alternative. Head-to-head play can be a lot of fun, but it requires a commitment on the part of the player and GM that can be sustained despite distractions.

That said, from reading the Gamegrene forums I picked up what I sometimes believe to be a stroke of genius and sometimes believe to be a rather bad habit: blue-booking. Though this is meant to be the sort of thing wherein players write about or summarize their characters' away-from-the-table activities, it became an excuse for head-to-head play, primarily via email, between me and some of my players.

There are definite advantages to head-to-head play, not least of which being the tendency of table-shy players to come out of their shells when alone with the GM. Two of my newer players, as well as one of my oldest (though rather shy), developed intricate threads of their own as spinoffs from the group's activities. This became a sort of interactive storytelling that produced roleplaying the like of which I have rarely encountered before! The downside was that other players became jealous, and some even went so far as to accuse me of "hitting on" some of the blue-bookers (2 out of 3 of which were women) or favoring them because of their looks and gender. This became enough of a source of contention that I actually sank a campaign over it.

Though I have no regrets at all for having indulged my players in "alone time" with their GM, I do regret that it caused some of my other players to become angry with me or the blue-bookers. The complaining players felt that more roleplaying should be done at the table, and I agree; however, the critics didn't seem to realize that the blue-bookers weren't as comfortable playing their characters to the hilt right there at the table. The blue-bookers trusted me, and knew I wouldn't ridicule anything they did, and as a consequence their level of enjoyment of the game skyrocketed. When blue-booking faded as the party started entering isolated locales, these players did not magically become confident roleplayers; blue-booking stopped, but everything else stayed the same.

For a while, I was terribly, terribly spoiled: I had a good story going on at the table, and I had excellent roleplaying and fascinating character development coming from even my shyest, newest players. I had the best of both worlds.

I also play solo campaign with a 12 year old kid on Monday nights. See, I teach English as a foreign language in Thailand. Sometimes I have to cancel his class, 'cause I've got a new baby. Man does he get pised off when I do!

But my adventures seem to be more focussed, and loads of new ideas come to mind as soon as we start playing. I actually prefer it to playing in groups.

I like solo capaigns because of how personal it gets. It's easy to tailor everything to fit one person as opposed to a group of individuals. You also get a lot more done in game than you would with a group, even a small one.

The biggest problem with solo campaigns is that it's too easy to stump the player. They have no one to bounce ideas off of. And once you stump them, it's hard to help them think of something without being super obvious about it.

Groups are nice because you have so many insteresting leads off of the characters' backstories and so many different specialties, that you can do almost anything to them that you want. And if you stump the players it won't be for long. Someone will come up with something to get them out of whatever bind that they find themselves in.

BTW Scott, if you find yourself without a group of players again, I'd recommend hooking in some newbies from work or church or whatever and teaching them to play. That way they will learn your rules and you won't have to deal with any gaming prejudices.

I have successfully done this at my last two jobs, netting 4 players, and by getting married, netting me 5 more players. I got two players when I went to church and could probably get a lot more, but I haven't gone in a few years.

Just a thought...

"Until mankind is peaceful enough not to have violence on the news, there's no point in taking it out of shows that need it for entertainment value."

Hi Cocytus.

I have had some 'interesting' experiences with blue-booking, as you describe it, that kind of parallel your own. In my campaign, player characters often get up to various things outside of the various adventure storylines, along the lines of stronghold development or networking with NPCs, social climbing activities or just plain hanging around. This tends to get handled via e-mail.

There was a case of two characters who split off from the main party to go on some exploits of their own. In order to minimise the need for face-time I handled large swathes of this in a play-by-mail fashion.

One other player in the group found this particularly irksome. Although I had encouraged him to do some 'blue-booking' of his own via e-mail, he complained that he didn't interact very well via e-mail. As he tends to spend a LOT of time playing CRPGs and MMOGs and games like Civilisation, I could only conclude that the root of his problem was that he simply couldn't be bothered. Which was fine by me, except that he was also paranoid about the other players receiving preferential treatment towards their characters because they *could* be bothered. He tended to feel that it should be taken as read that his character would be doing plenty of stuff behind the scenes without him actually bothering to play it out.

In a nutshell, he wanted to restrict the game to whatever could be accomplished in the group sessions because he felt it was unfair on those (like himself) who didn't want to invest the extra time outside sessions.

A lot of his paranoia was unfounded. He believed, for instance, that the other characters might be plotting against his character (which was entirely untrue! They were actually doing something almost entirely unrelated to him on the other side of the continent) and that because they were 'buttering me up' via e-mail I would grant them unfair advantages in carrying out these supposed plots.

It's a shame he felt this way, as he was actually a very good roleplayer when he put his mind to it. He's kind of drifted away from the campaign now, not as a direct result of the above mind you, although it may have been a factor.

Solo campaigns with the missus. Hmmmm. I've seen that happen before, and it *can* slip into Monty Haul-dom very easily especially when there's no contact with the outside world - you're gaming in a bubble with no critical observers to keep you straying from the path of excess. And an intelligent +5 Holy Avenger guarded by a kobold is even better than chocolate or flowers for getting you out of the doghouse....

Though I'll hasten to add, i'm not suggesting your solo campaigns are anything like that, Scott Free. And if they are, and you both like it that way anyhow, who am I to criticise?

I could make a joke about not letting her referee during a certain week of the month but that would be very politically incorrect of me....

Anyway, I'll quit pulling your leg and answer your question. I personally like one-to-one play for the depth of character and story development it encourages, but I also love the dynamics of group play. My ideal group size is around 4-5 players. I find that 3 or fewer players gets a bit stale somehow after a while. 6 is verging on too many players to handle and keep entertained. I actually enjoy a bit of tension and friction between factions within the group, as long as it's confined to the game! Internal conflicts within the party don't necessarily have to come to blows - having mature players helps to avert bloodletting within a schismatic party. I like the idea of characters who don't like each other very much but who are forced to work together to achieve a common goal.

I say, providing you have the time to do both, carry on with your solo campaign with your significant other, but also get the guys together for a group campaign. You never know, you might find that, with your grreater level of maturity, your new campaign will be even more epic than the legendary campaigns of your youth.

Hi Cocytus.
Howdy, gherkin of the lurking persuasion! Long time, no see.

In an inexcusable fit of off-topic banter, let me thank you for the recommendation of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. While I haven't had the chance to read it myself, I bought it for my sister (age: 15), who is a huge Harry Potter fan. She adored it. I bought her the sequel, too, which Amazon is slow in delivering, and which still has not arrived...grrr! Would they treat me thus if I were a historical re-enactor? I think NOT!

I thought that name sounded familiar, by the bye: Brisingamen. Freya's necklace, no?

As he tends to spend a LOT of time playing CRPGs and MMOGs and games like Civilisation, I could only conclude that the root of his problem was that he simply couldn't be bothered. Which was fine by me, except that he was also paranoid about the other players receiving preferential treatment towards their characters because they *could* be bothered.
This was my feeling as well. Jealous of the blue-bookers? Awww, you poor, hapless, veteran roleplayers, you. Why don't ya try blue-booking, then, ya dang retards? Almost all of them eventually did, and thus the tale ends more or less happily. I had one very troublesome holdout who insisted that the place for roleplay is at the table, or barring that, solely between PCs: while I accept that as a desirable ideal, work, fatigue, and countless other factors including the shyness I noted above often conspire to make the ideal not quite a reality.

Balanced correctly, I maintain that bluebooking enhances rather than detracts from the at-the-table gaming experience because it increases player-character depth and engagement with the setting. The one caveat I would offer, as a grudging nod to my holdout, is that it does tend to promote a bit of self-oriented gaming and can fragment the party quite a bit. This fragmentation, as you note, is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's nice when everybody at the table can be engaged and in-character most of the time. It gives the group a sense of itself, and that sense is one of the more important ingredients to a successful roleplaying experience...or so I think.

In an inexcusable fit of off-topic banter

Tsk Tsk. Inexcusable. Nevertheless, allow me to continue....

Glad your sis liked 'Weirdstone of Brisingamen' (Yes, it is a reference to Freya's necklace of Norse legend. Though of course, being aimed at a younger audience it doesn't mention in the book that Freya had to sleep with four dwarves to get it!)

I hope more people re-discover Alan Garner's excellent works before Hollywood does....

By the way, I think it was yourself who cited Ursula K Le Guin as a favourite fantasy author and this prompted me to dig out my old copy of the Earthsea trilogy which I hadn't read for years - and in fact I think I never got past the first book. I discovered a depth to the writing that hadn't impressed itself on my young mind when I first tackled it. In fact it's now one of my favourite works of fantasy. I love the brooding, stormy atmosphere of it.

By a weird coincidence, at the same time as I was reading it, I was also ploughing through my wife's copy of 'The Jane Austen Book Club' by Karen Joy Fowler (I was off sick from work at the time and propped up in bed devouring books) and there's a character in there called Grigg who's crazy for UKLeG and who introduces her writing to a skeptical audience at the book club. Synchronicity anyone?

Speaking of Jane Austen, try to imagine a Harry Potter-esque tale of sorcerers but involving adults rather than kids and set in Georgian times, and actually written in a similar style to Jane Austen, and you've got what I am currently reading: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I'm only about halfway through but already I can't recommend it highly enough (even if the second half turns out to be rubbish, which I very much doubt).

I understand film plans are underway. In all honesty this book needs to be treated with the same respect as an Austen period drama. I have a sinking feeling that it will get the 'Troy Treatment', unfortunately.

Strange and Norrell is excellent. The second half is very far from rubbish. I will be astonished if you don't like the book, overall, as much as I and my family have.

Hollywood does occasionally get book adaptations right - despite what some people seem to think, this is less a question of slavish adherence to the source material and more a question of conveying the spirit of the book. That said, I think Strange & Norrell would be a very, very difficult book to adapt. If they can get the likes of Charlie Kaufman to write the screenplay, there is hope. If they give the picture to a Chris Columbus, well...there is popcorn.