Designing for adventurous trad RPGs for 1 PC/1 GM ?

komradebob's picture

Random thoughts this morning.

Realistically, what sorts of things, mechanically speaking, need to be in place for enjoyable 1 PC/ 1 GM play, when you're mostly seeking fairly traditional action/adventure RPG play ?

Not really thinking of shared GMing nor more nuanced, artsy drama type games. I'm straight up thinking action adventure, but stuff where not only is there one main character ( perhaps with some helpers of lesser skill), but where the assumption is that two players ( 1 GM, 1 PC) will be the normal play set up ( so not normally 3-5 participants).

I'm open to all suggestions.

Tod's picture

A crew of low-level henchmen or loyalists
Friendly skilled NPCs for specialized tasks
A "home base" or three
A recognized rank or prophecy

Basically, I'm thinking of things that can increase PC agency and invoke some sense of safety in the world, rather than having absolutely everything be potentially agonistic.

komradebob's picture

I like all of those. It had very much occurred to me that a single PC set up almost needed to have "helpers" built in of some sort. Even Buckaroo Banzai and Doc Savage needed companion characters and their specialties.

A big one I'm wondering about is the "hit point issue"- basically, the losing and gaining thereof, how to make it dangerous, but not regularly deadly.

Also, it does occur to me that I'm probably thinking in terms of challenge and gamism for this style of play, something I associate with old school styles. But, maybe, here I need to find lightweight ( as opposed to hard core) gamist techniques?

komradebob's picture

I tend to think of this problem in terms of High Score mechanics.

I'm not sure how to make it work, but basically, you get some sort of points through play, and less points whenever you need a little deus ex machina to save your bacon.

Hopeless_Wanderer's picture

@komradebob If it was me, I would drift it away from gamism a little bit more, and use Pocket Danger Patrol (stats + roles/classes + narrative combat + dice pools + dice mechanics for narrative damage). Since you mention action/adventure and seem to be looking for rules lite and low prep, that's what I'd use. All of the friendly helpers, henchmen, and loyalists, I'd treat them as bonus die, the player can record on their character sheet, and use if the fiction permits. Magic and everything else are also treated as bonus dice.

There are two interesting playsets Dungeon Patrol which adds "Legend Dice", d12, and Gamma Patrol, which added rewards for exceptional succeesses--so that is where player advancement happens. I'd use both those rules innovations. I'd take the three playsets (original, dungeon, and gamma) plus some other random tables I've seen for the game that are floating around the internet, and homebrew up something. I think you're looking at four sheets/ eight pages, maybe.

komradebob's picture

I forgot about Danger Patrol, but I will take another look.

Mostly, I was thinking just more generally, rather than looking for a specific game as a solution.

What would a game in general need to fulfill those wants?

I got thinking about it as I was hanging out with one of my gaming buddies and bemoaning how hard it is for us to get even a small group together consistently for gaming.

My thinking tends to be either

A) Two people are easier to organize consistently ( what this thread is about), so design games for two players ( with a traditional GM/ Character player duty split), or

B) One-shot games that can definitely and consistently be able to reach a conclusion in a set number of hours for a more traditional sized group, but with some possibility of a different sort of continuity ( short stories with sequels ?).*

My man concerns about the topic of this thread are:

Main character death or incapacitation- How do we deal ( or not) with this?

Main character failure that leads to dead ends ( as above, maybe we don't deal with this? )

Inability of a main character to be great at everything, so how do the things outside of their personal bailiwick get accomplished ( the talk of helpers) ? For that matter, they can't really be everywhere at once, either. Do they ( the player ) jump from character to character as needed, or are the other helpers just modifiers, as above? Does playing them do something different from just using them as modifiers? Do the helpers gain experience? If they se helpers, does that mean they should score less points for what they were attempting to do?

And what about points anyway?

Let's say your character fails big in some fashion, but doing so would kill gameplay. Does the PC just score a lesser amount ( possibly zero) for some part of the adventure, but we the have some way of getting them back at the adventure? I could see that working fairly well for mission oriented play, but what about for play where the PC's player has more latitude to wander afield and choose to self-create heir own missions ( a bit more sandboxy)?

Anyway, al stuff that crossed my mind on the topic recently, so I thought I'd crowd source some answers from some clever folks.

* And here, B is the appropriate letter, as I start to think in terms of Braunstein style games and their posited but untested dirty-hippy cousins, Narr-steins. Since everyone in this thread is an SG veteran, you all know how I love those things. Perhaps I will post on that to generate some discussion sometime soon.

DeReel's picture

Here's my take : in action/adventure, failure doesn't exist. There are bad surprises, delays, but disappointment ? Not so. You can soften the fact with a ladder of success / failure. Personally, I think the whole "judging character achievement" factor is not necessary. I'd put it on the side for core design. SWM does that, for instance. If you need it, it wasn't specified in OP, or maybe as "traditional". Anyway, I suspect it's only there out of habit.

Tod's picture

This might be a good opportunity to try out those "Good Bad and Ugly" dice (available from Spencer's Gifts)...
Good Bad Ugly Dice

komradebob's picture

Here's my take : in action/adventure, failure doesn't exist. There are bad surprises, delays, but disappointment ? Not so.

I feel you're correct about that. However, much like the comments about character improvement being mostly tradition...I play with mostly traditional players.

In this case, I'm trying to think of something that would work well for them.

Thanuir's picture

Just run the game as usual. A clever player will figure out that social engineering is much more viable than dungeon crawling, most of the time, or at least will bring hirelings to play.

Paul T.'s picture

1. Structure the game so that the two players swap roles Regularly. This enriches the gameplay, creating two different vectors or storylines.

2. The impact of the adventure and failure or success is felt in some larger context, outside the immediate adventure.

For instance, the player is concerned about the prosperity or survival of a small town or a noble family or some other small community. Each adventure and success or failure affects that community. You’re playing to see how well the community can do.

3. In a similar vein, you’re trying to complete an adventure or win a conflict, and you have a limited pool of people. Perhaps a company of adventurers or a small group of survivors. You take them on adventure, perhaps one at a time, and you see if you can win or complete the scenario before they all die.

4. The impact of success or failure doesn’t end the life or trajectory of the character, by affects their epilogue/aftermath/eventual fate.

For instance, every time your character is defeated in some way, their eventual future grows more and more grim. Every time they discover fabulous treasure, their eventual future grows brighter. Your character never “loses” fully, but each success or failure matters in terms of how this all ends.

BeePeeGee's picture

-none-I'd be interested to see what games already do a good job with this.

One game I find very satisfying for mostly traditional 1:1 RPG is ERA epic storytelling.

Another game is Beast Hunters, though I've just played it once.

It would be interesting to see how and what parts work well with these games.

PS: both are not included in the games directory

webtech's picture

I know I haven't got every game - that would be an impossible task! - so please feel free to submit your favorites to the directory. Best if you actually own a copy of the game in question, because whenever possible I like to include an excerpt from the rules, something that will help a prospective player decide what the game's about, how it works/feels, etc. There's a link to submit games in the main menu, and another one on your "account" page.

Emmett's picture

I've done a lot of this, for a one on one game it helps to have the game focus on stealth, social situations and exploration. I'm sure there are other things you can enjoy in a one on one game but I find these to be the best. Games that support things like spies are great for one on one.

I like the idea of the Facilitator and player swapping roles periodically. One place I could see it working really well is in Cyberpunk with a Netrunner and a Solo each taking their actions in their own domain and supporting each other's efforts.

DeReel's picture

Brilliant ! Extending from there : all the situation that are cumbersome to implement in party based play can be played to satiety here. Typically, those involving hidden information. But maybe others in that lode.