Gaming For Two


Gaming is about, among other things, stories. Stories of heroism, stories of horror, stories of humor. . .stories of people. This is about gaming, so it is, of course, about people. Not enough people, specifically.

Gaming is about, among other things, stories. Stories of heroism, stories of horror, stories of humor. . .stories of people. This is about gaming, so it is, of course, about people. Not enough people, specifically.

The scene: two people, both friends for a long time, one a tabletop gamer who'd lost their group to the various non-eldritch forces that can scatter a gaming group to the winds, one who hasn't gamed much but really wants to try. Neither have anyone in town, or even in a nearby town, they can invite over to get a game going. What is an expectant DM to do?

Game for two, of course. A game for two is a bit unwieldy at first, but after having both played in and run such two-player role playing sessions, I have some advice for those who'd like to give it a try.

If you think you're going to wind up running such a minimal game, a lengthy chronicle probably isn't the best idea. Things beyond the gaming table (school, work, familial obligations, etc.) are frequently a factor in why there's only one player character to begin with, meaning what would be a minor interruption in a multiplayer game will end a one-PC game. Keep stories short, with goals that can be achieved within a session or three if the player is up for a more goal-oriented game.

While you're working on your shorter story, try to build them around the PC, with a mind to what sort of game your player is in the mood for. A two-person gaming session can rely heavily on role playing rather than PC abilities, so have a good NPC for the PC to interact with. Yes, a good NPC rather than a few good NPCs. If there are a lot of interesting NPCs around, the DM winds up doing the bulk of the talking and the player can feel like their character isn't really a part of the goings-on.

One fun two-person story style is fish-out-of-water: where the PC is placed in a new and wholly alien environment from whatever would best suit them, like putting a more combat-oriented character into a lot of social settings. The best fish-out-of-water game I've ran was for Changeling: The Dreaming, and involved a pimp from a metropolitan area getting sent to a rather insular, out-of-the-way suburb to do some research for the tabloid he occasionally wrote for. Being the new face in town, the pimp had to go meet the local nobles before researching the strange occurrences, and the noble decided the pimp had to pass a number of trials before being let in on the town's dark secrets. The trials included, but were by no means limited to, babysitting the Kid Who Can Turn Invisible At Will and Bowling Against The Killer Bunny Knight.

The Killer Bunny Knight was my interesting NPC - a satanic head banger rabbit pooka who lived in his parents' garage and was primarily in charge of tormenting outsiders and keeping an eye on the local noble's son. Be careful if using this, though, as this approach can make players who put a lot of time and care into creating an interesting background for their characters feel like that background is getting either exploited or ignored.

Another two-person gaming style that can work well is the Scavenger Hunt, where PCs are working against the clock to solve some riddle or catch a villain before they strike again. I'm currently plotting such a game to run for someone I usually game with in which frequent monster sightings have the whole town in an uproar and it's up to the player, with the aid of the one major NPC, to figure out what's going on.
The last two-person game is also the one which, in my experience, requires the most planning, as it can go in almost any direction. I call it Freeform Gaming, in which the DM devises a detailed setting full of interesting characters and the building blocks of several possible stories and the PC is just dropped into this environment to explore and interact with the NPCs. I don't recommend this method unless the DM is very good at doing different voices for different NPCs, as it can get confusing otherwise.

The two-person gaming possibilities I've mentioned so far all assume both players are familiar with the game in question and have sufficient time to prepare a few significantly different PCs (so the player can pick the one that will be the most fun in the scenario the DM has in mind) or a number of locales and a good NPC or two to keep the player interested, so if you suspect you'll be playing such a game sometime in the near future, talk with your prospective player or gamemaster in advance so everyone will be ready to start by game-time. If you're concerned about gaming time being cut short or just weren't warned of impending two-person roleplaying far enough in advance, things might seem bleak, but there are possibilities.

First, there's HoL. Human Occupied Landfill, by Dirt Merchant games. The Warehouse 23 website currently sells the most recent edition, if you're willing to spend the money on a new game. The system requires naught but two d6's per player and charts are already in the book; and the core rulebook comes filled to the wackily-excessively-violent brim with pre-made characters (frighteningly intelligent mute mountains of muscle, cute little kids with pet monsters and giant plasma cannons, disturbing clergy people, and knife-wielding gamers, among others), NPCs, and possible settings. I've had a lot of fun running two-person HoL games entirely off the top of my head. Bear in mind that HoL is not for serious roleplayers unless they're very serious about their satirical science-fiction, as HoL makes fun of more conventional roleplaying quite a bit. The supplement, Buttery Wholesomeness, contains a massive network of cross-referenced charts used ostensibly for creating new characters if the variety of archetype-spoofs of the core rulebook just weren't enough. Character creation can take a while, but the points-and-charts system used allows players to avoid rolling on charts they don't like and, in most cases, buy a roll on a chart they like. The charts themselves are entertaining, and the end result includes a background, skills, nifty powers gained through mutations, crippling flaws from other mutations, and the possibility of having a spandex-clad sidekick to draw NPC fire. I've had a number of good two-person gaming sessions where myself and the player were just making characters using the Buttery Wholesomeness chart system and laughing quite a bit, some of which never even resulted in any actual roleplaying, but it was fun for everyone playing (okay, everyone making characters), so there's no need to nitpick.

Secondly, there's First Quest. Well, there was First Quest, an introduction to roleplaying in general and the Mystara setting devised by TSR well before it became an imprint of Wizards of the Coast. First Quest contained pre-made characters, an adventure or three, maps, plastic miniatures, dice, a CD full of music and dialogue and sound effects, and an instruction book for using all this. It was the ideal starting material for a new DM, and is probably nigh impossible to find now.

Of course, you might not want to go buy HoL and Buttery Wholesomeness: the old Black Dog Games release is probably hard to find used at a decent price and the new Cabil release, while marginally easier to find, is still more than you're willing to spend. I don't even want to guess what a full First Quest set would cost now, and you probably don't either. This is a perfectly valid position to take, as I shudder when I think of how much I spent on games over six particular years when I spent the bulk of my disposable income on gaming supplies. That's okay, though, because lastly, there are card games and board games, which, while they don't involve role-playing, do involve two people having fun. Cheapass Games provides a number of card-and-counter games which are budget-friendly and simple enough for two people to learn the rules and have fun with within the confines of a single sitting. Collectible card games can work too, if you and your potential DM/player both already play and have decks. The fun part of games like these is they can be played in-character, provided they fit within the setting of the chosen game, which can create interesting roleplaying possibilities for everyone involved. How would your character (or NPC) play the game as opposed to how you would play? Why does that Malkavian playing the Discordian Society in a game of Illuminati Deluxe Edition keep giggling and destroying his own groups? Would your chaotic neutral thief cheat? Who, even out of their right mind, would try to teach a Byakhee to play checkers? I recommend picking a DM in advance and taking turns DMing if you're going to be doing in-character gaming to resolve issues of PCs using any supernatural methods at their disposal to affect the game-within-the-game. If you're feeling particularly daring or unwholesomely foolish, I suppose you could try having a PC and NPC start a two-person roleplaying session, but that way lies madness and stains that won't ever come out of the ceiling, so its probably best to stick with whatever of the other options sound like fun and leave the rpg-within-an-rpg unplayed.

Rather good stuff... here's my own $0.02

I've noticed that the only time when one-on-one role playing
is the only available group is when the DM lives in a rural
area or is rather young (under 16). Otherwise, a working
knowledge of the comic and book stores should provide
avenues for getting a group together. As a result, it is not
uncommon to find one-on-one groups that have been playing
for a significant time. In other words, if you and your best
friend are the only two who wants to RP, go ahead and think
about a long term story.

Although strict one-on-one role play might come up (it did for
me), a DM may, for some wild reason or another, bring in single
PC tales as sidestories to characters. Naturally, such side quests
prolly won't come up in a hack 'n slash group, but more role-play
intensive groups may benefit from individual spinoffs. In fact, a
properly done White Wolf includes this sort of device, the Prelude.
Certainly, in a game in which the characters have different goals,
plans, motivations, and approaches, a given PC may not want to bring
the whole group in on an action, especially if the others would
protest. Any "deals with the devil" should also be done away from the
other players (I know, I know, good players should play as though they
have no clue, but the knowledge will color the actions of even the best
players). Hence, even in regular groups, the potential for short, quick
"gamelets" become a very useful tool in the GM's kit.

Of course, the suggested short plots do work well in any gamelet, but
when working with individuals of a group, the plotline of these side
notes should generally be rather clear. Just never forget that the point
of any of these would be to enhance the overall story.

Just an observation: that "fish out of water" story archetype really
does fit the description of White Wolf's Preludes. Then again, you're
adding new "unfamiliar" powers to an existing character, and the
players know that it would be coming, so it wouldn't be that shocking
to the players when their well-created characters suddenly change.

Well, hope these suggestions add on to anyone's game. After all,
one-on-one isn't just for groupless DMs, it can be enrichment to
a group-based story.

stores? as in plural? there's only one shop in my area, and all they have going is Warhammer and Yu--Gi-Oh, so i've had to adapt my gaming to accomodate the dispersal of my old gaming group and dislike of the games (and lack of desire to game with the people) at the local shop. O'course, i prefer gaming with existing friends to making friends through gaming, but heartily encourage those who'd rather have a three-or-more game to check at the local comic shop(s) for existing games, provided they don't mind gaming with strangers

Good stuff. I go for the "long stories" theory of 1-2-1 RP though. One-to-one can be the most intense experience with a good DM. I've personally played a char in that setup for 169 sessions and DM'd my DM in exchange through a couple different characters that ran to 80 and 100 sessions. As a DM, the freedom you can give a single PC to explore, experiment, and do whatever they fancy doing in the world is just not matched in most party RP.

A friend of mine was hurt in a car accident and his hip was badly broken. While he was bed-ridden I attempted several times to get a game together, so I could run a game for him and get his mind off of his lack of mobility and insurance woes.

I did run a game with two other buddies of ours but after a few games they couldn't make it, just at a time when his character had been seperated from the rest of the party. I've been running him on solo adventures for a few weeks now and it has been going really well.

I think the biggest part of a solo game working is the DM and the player have to possess some kind of chemistry and/or friendship. Without that kind of creative *click* the game just won't work at all. It isn't something that just happens, it kind of has to be there. This article gives some good advice for setting up, increasing the shot at attaining this kind of chemistry, I think.

Below are links to the write-ups for this game, including the solo games in Story Hour forums.

One is at Against the Shadow, a Midnight fan site:

And another is at EnWorld:



I'd like to see some suggestions for how to work smaller group games into an existing campaign. The group I've played with for the last 10 yrs. recently started a new campaign that was intended to have a long-term continuing story line. But several players have had health or family problems that have interrupted play. The GM really doesn't want to run the campaign with people missing, but I don't think anyone wants to cancel this campaign and start a new one either. So how can we adapt our current campaign to the availability (or lack thereof) of some of the players? Any ideas?

Most of the time I play (and have played) with only one player. We certainly want to get more players, off course. With my best friend we have started about 8 campaigns.

Two of them (GMed by me) ended fastly because we had some other ongoing campaigns and he didn't like game as much as other game we played.

One was very good (GMed by me and my friend, but most of the time I was GM) using our own system and world, but our characters was little bit too boring (meaning not very interesting [or odd]) and so we ended it.

Three games (using previously mentioned system and world of us) was ended when we started playing GURPS. One of them was GMed by me and I decided a lot about PC (I gave him very different character [compared to his other characters]). One other of them is a game which was GMed by my friend, and he used my previous idea (he gave me a knight!), but the game was stopped (because he didn't have any more adventure ideas) and laterly ended. And the third one (GMed by me and my friend, but most of the time I was GM) will probably continue because we both enjoyed it and it is our longest campaign and plot of the campaign was just introduced to the characters (we will probably convert it to GURPS).

Our first GURPS campaign (GMed by me) is still unfinished. Our second recently (last weekend) started GURPS campaign (GMed by my friend) is still (off course) unfinished.

Point of my babbling is that it is possible to play enjoyable games just one-to-one, and that I disagree with morose about the longevity of the campaign.

for the people-missing-from-the-campaign thing, maybe the remaining characters can do some funstuff until everyone can get together for the big extended thing, running about looking for ancient thingamawhatchamacalits that must all be collected for the real storlyline to start.

as for chronicle-length, i'd like my one-on-one sessions to add up to longer chronicles, but due to the stuff i mentioned in the article, i've had chronicles put on nigh-indefinite hold to the point where no one involved felt inclined to picking them up again months later when the opportunity to pla finally arrived. this is why i reccomend shorter things.

If some of my players miss the game, I continue the full campaign regardless. Even if only one player shows up and he does not mind a 1-on-1 adventure, I'll continue the full campaign. If only one player shows up and he does not want to play as the only PC, I'll postpone the session.

I've played the PCs with missing players as NPCs but, usually, I try to make the PCs without players be absent for some believable reason. The PCs without players might be sick or decide to stay in town and coordinate or guard the party's activities there or break his arm in some once-in-a-million accident or be disabled in the first round of a combat. If possible, I try to make the missing PC be doing something vital but dull: negotiating for a good deal on selling treasure, organizing allies or travelling to consult with some sage on a specific rumor or artifact. If I get the idea that the player may be gone forever, his PC may fade from sight or may lurk around for a while until he announces (as a NPC) that he is leaving the party (cue tearful farewell). He can always return later in some surprising way, if the player shows up again.

For all my campaigns, I fully expect that players will absent at times for one reason or another. By expecting it, I can plan how to handle it. I plan for it as part of planning the campaign so the game keeps going when it actually happens.

Cool. This is a pretty good article, with good suggestions, but I think it could site a little more info without going into specific RPGs, which the reader could potentially be unfamiliar with. I've heard of a few of those, but others don't even ring a bell. :) I'm going to be playing a one-on-one game soon, and hope it goes well. By the way VBM... is English your native language, or what? Ha.

Sadie, my native language is Finnish but I let it open that where I am from (hint: Finland). I have to admit that English was previously hardest subject in school for me, nowadays it is lot better.

I remember one winter, I ran a short game with a guy that I worked with. The place we worked (not tellin) is very slow in the winter so we had nothing to do during store hours. He had never gamed before and I used this "mini-campaign" as a way to explain how gaming worked. I had nothing but some paper and a set of dice I just bought.

Basically, he played himself, at work, bored. From that point I started the story, which lasted the whole eight hours the store was open.

He inadvertantly got involved with a local crime syndicate: drug deals, car chases, gun fights, etc. As the game progressed, he became familiar with the D20 dice. I made up the system and kept is simple, to keep the gameplay speedy. I kept the game in Dallas where we both live, this also saved time as opposed to explaining all the surroundings.

The game ended with him jumping out of a learjet with an experimental jetpack in hand. The learjet exploded with the bad guy in it, while Mr. Hero tried to put on the jetpack and activate it before he became 'one with the pavement.'

To end the game on a good note, he got the pack to work and landed a football stadium...during the halftime show.

Anyway, gaming duos are cool. They seem to be fast paced compared to groups. But I still like both.