Table for Two: The Benefits and Challenges of a Solo Campaign

In a world where real life often interferes with gaming, I know how lucky I am to have been playing in the same fantasy campaign for nearly 9 years. The game has survived system changes (from D&D 3.5 to Pathfinder), a move to a different state, job changes, health problems, and all the other obstacles that usually mean death for a game. The GM and players involved are still exactly the same as when the game started, and…

Wait. The same game group, in a different state? How did that happen? Did everyone move together?

As a matter of fact, yes, we did. It was easy, really. The GM is my husband, and I am the only player. Our solo campaign has been the heart of our gaming activities for close to a decade, and while I wouldn’t trade our groups at the game club for anything, the one-on-one game is special to me in a completely different way.

How It Started

In the fall of 2002, my husband was deep in the middle of running a wonderful, long-running campaign with our group back in North Dakota. We got together with everyone once a week to play (though my stupid rotating-shift work schedule meant we had to skip one or two weeks every month). There were many times during the week when my husband and I were both home and itching to play, but no one else was available. We were also eager to try some more adult topics in a game, but while we were comfortable with our game group, those elements didn’t fit in the game.

So my husband suggested a solo campaign, that he would run just for me. I thought it sounded like a great idea! He wouldn’t tell me much about his plans, but did inform me that my character would be a slave at the beginning of the game. Immediately I knew I would have to find a way for her to escape, and that this was going to be a fun ride. I rolled up a half-drow rogue, named her Lithra, and got my dice ready to play.

Nine years later, my little Lithra has reunited with her father – a duke who has since become a king – and taken the title of Crown Princess. She’s traveled all over the realms of Toril, fighting dragons, protecting caravans, and acting as a diplomat. She’s helped a fallen paladin return to the favor of his church, rescued friends and strangers alike from horrible circumstances, and destroyed the tower of Spellhold. She and her companions are either cheered as heroes in every town they stay in, or have to flee in the middle of the night for creating far too much trouble. And she’s had a hell of a lot of fun along the way. She often says, “All I ever wanted was freedom, to find love, and to find my family. I got all those things. Everything else is just a bonus.”

The Benefits

A solo game may be starting to sound pretty intriguing. There are some obvious benefits compared to your standard multi-player game:

You always have a game. Many of us have experienced the struggle of getting a group together, then trying to find a time when everyone can play. Or the loneliness of moving to a new city and not being able to find like-minded gamers. If you and your spouse/lover or a good friend have a one-on-one game, those worries are gone. My husband and I can play our game whenever our schedules allow, even on the spur of the moment. When we first moved to Montana, my work schedule was so horrible that there was no way we could find a time to commit to a game with anyone else. Our game was all we had for quite a while, and we were very content that way.

You can experiment. I’ve talked a lot in my What’s Love columns about comfort levels for romance and other elements in a game. Naturally, my husband and I are very comfortable with each other, so many more adult elements come up at our private game table than in our other games. There are two clerics (and several ardent followers) of the pleasure goddess in the party, and the party members are all quite open with each other, so there’s a lot of sexy rumpus in our game. There have also been a lot of dark elements, as fights against slavers are a frequent occurrence. One of the party’s current enemies is an evil misogynistic group that has managed to take over a number of neighboring lands, and they do horrible things to women – far too graphic to speak of here. These are all things that we might not feel comfortable bringing into a game with other people, but my husband and I know each other’s limits, and it’s made for an incredible gaming experience for us.

Character development, character development, character development. Ever wish you could explore a piece of your character’s background a little more, but you don’t want to hog time at the table? In a solo game, hog away – you’re not taking time away from anyone! If you really want to get into a conversation with the soothsayer and find out exactly what she meant by the fortune she told you, go for it.

I don’t know, fly casual! (This one applies most to one-on-one games between people living together.) Gaming is hardly a formal activity, but if you’re going to be in the presence of others, odds are you’ll still shower and put on real clothes. Many a day, my husband and I will roll out of bed and sit down to play in our pj’s. Neither of us care if the other has bed head.

The Challenges

With everything awesome comes some not-so-awesome things, but in the case of a solo campaign, I think they’re pretty minor.

It’s more work. Unless you want only one PC and one NPC in the game, both the player and the GM are going to have to run multiple characters. Sure, I started out with only Lithra. I now run her, a second PC, two NPCs, and share the work on a third NPC with my husband. And that’s not even including all the animal companions and familiars. My husband runs many important NPCs (from full-time party members to reoccurring characters), not to mention all the NPCs we encounter. There are a lot of stats and character sheets to keep track of, and I admit I sometimes forget Lithra’s fire resistance just because my brain is busy trying to figure out attacks for 4 or 5 characters each round. If you can’t make gimp minds as easily as your Mage character can, be sure to consider that when starting a solo game.

Distraction is…ooh, piece of candy! It’s easy to get sidetracked in any game. Sometimes I think it’s even easier to get distracted when it’s just my husband and I playing, but not just due to the usual things (“Oh, that reminds me, did I tell you the story…?”). If game day coincides with laundry day, the dryer without fail will buzz at a very inopportune moment, and the time we have to take to switch loads and fold clothes pulls us out of character and can throw us off our game, so to speak. Or we suddenly realize we never took any meat out of the freezer for supper, and have to stop playing to scrounge for food. We seem to plan ahead better for games with our group at the club.

It’s easy to push aside. One would think with the freedom to play whenever we want, that we’d play all the time. While there have been times when we’ve played nearly every night for several weeks in a row, the busier we get, the less we play. Our game night at the club is a commitment we try to keep, no matter how many irons we have in the fire. But our personal game? When we’re busy, we tend to feel guilty taking the time to play. Lithra and the other characters have been more than a little neglected these days – something we’ll have to find a way to rectify soon.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, while I love all the games I’ve played in and continue to play in, this solo campaign is especially near and dear to me. I feel it’s made me a better roleplayer, given me a better appreciation for a GM’s work, and has brought me a lot of joy. Your mileage may vary, but I can’t think of a single reason not to at least give a solo game a try.

Have you ever played in or ran a one-on-one campaign? What did you think of the experience?

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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