This is a huge thread as the posts are very, very dense. However, this is the definitive source for running duet campaigns (or solo campaigns as used in this thread). Fortunately, HeavensThunderHammer has distilled the information in the first 450 or so posts into a Word document found here.
Introduction KJW - Since joining these boards I have seen numerous threads discussing and usually praising the merits of solo campaigns. After contributing to many of these threads, I felt that one thread that truly fleshed out solo campaigns would be of considerable use to many DMs. I contacted Illion the Red for assistance, mainly because Illion’s contribution to previous threads discussing solo campaigns was always phenomenal. Both of us are fairly experienced DMs and run Group Campaigns, but we are also both married and have run a staggering number of solo campaigns for our wives. Thus all that follows comes from experience and a deep appreciation for the magic of solo campaigns.
Illion the Red – As KJW mentioned, I too, have a passion for solo campaigns as well as a number of years of experience with them. In fact, the homebrew world I am currently running for my Group campaign has the cities and regions developed from a myriad of solo campaigns dating back as far as 1997. I have found solo campaigns to be richly rewarding in roleplaying and nearly every other form of gameplay. When KJW contacted me about this project, I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with someone who not only shares my passion for the topic, but also always managed to hit upon aspects of solo campaigns that I had not considered or had neglected. I truly hope you find this guide as helpful as working on it has been.
Why a Solo Campaign? Solo campaigns arise from two situations – desire or necessity. Desire usually is a result of having been part of a solo campaign and wanting to once again enjoy the experience. Necessity often results from a DM having only one player or the DM needing to run a player separate from the group for reasons important to the campaign. These reasons could include providing an introduction to the campaign world or maybe to teach a new player the rules of the game. Necessity will often lead to desire as many players quickly become enamored with solo campaigns.
A solo campaign is often quite different from other D&D campaigns. solo campaigns tend to be more intimate with far stronger character development, more complex story lines, and incredible roleplaying depth. There are a number of factors that contribute to this, but the primary one is the simple fact that everything revolves around a single character. Once freed from the constraints of a Group Campaign, there is far more freedom for the DM and the Solo PC to create something truly special.
Beyond the potential for great roleplaying opportunities, many DMs and players find that solo campaigns are just plain fun. Without anyone to share the spotlight, a player will often find the ability to directly influence the pace and style of play to significantly enhance the game beyond what a Group Campaign is capable of achieving.
Solo campaigns provide a near perfect opportunity for both the DM and the player to try out new ideas and explore options that may have not been explored previously. In short, it’s a time to take some chances and see what happens.
We would be thrilled to have other DMs who run solo campaigns post additional advice or ideas. Additionally, any questions or issues are welcomed as well.
Table of Contents Original Guide to Solo Campaigns-Illion the Red & KJW (1-8) Breaking Your Own Rules - KJW (80) Building an Organization - KJW (190, 202-203) Critique on Guide’s Analysis of Wealth - The Hive Custodian (71) Dungeons - Ormiss (89) Failed Solo Campaigns - KJW (85) Fully Solo Campaigns - Illion the Red (79) Handouts - KJW (103) Narrations - Ormiss (36) NPCs, DMPCs, & Romance - Ormiss (76) Prologues - Ormiss (42) Romance Entanglements-KJW (Post 18) Solo Campaigns and Epic Play - Illion the Red (170) Specialization & Attention - Ormiss (72)
Discussions How to ’Affect’ the Player - (91-92, 98-101) How to Start a Solo Campaign (137-143) Music (116-121) Pre-Published Adventure for Solo Campaigns (129-136) Discussion of Guiding v. Railroading PCs (193-195)
Character Creation When creating a character for a solo campaign, the DM should discuss the campaign world/idea with the player and decide on a creation method. A creation method that allows for more powerful characters than normal is recommended. This is to compensate for the character having to essentially fill every role in the party. Such methods can range from 32+ point-buy, to 10+1d8 per ability, to 18,17,16,15,14,13 array, to arbitrarily selecting abilities.
Another option for increasing the power of a Solo PC is to use the Gestalt option in Unearthed Arcana which takes the “best of two classes” and combines them into a single class. This will give you a PC that covers more bases than the single-classed or multi-classed PC.
Yet another option is to have the player create, and run multiple characters simultaneously. This is not the recommended practice as one character inevitably becomes the primary character and the other(s) become little more than PC-controlled NPCs.
A final option is to create a number of NPCs that will adventure with or support the PC throughout the campaign. Although this option can make things easier for the PC in terms of survival, it makes the DM’s job significantly more complex. This leaves the DM in the position of balancing NPC knowledge and abilities with his own knowledge and abilities. The DM in this case often winds up metagaming with the NPCs or underutilizing their abilities significantly. This is far from an ideal situation and may contribute to dissatisfaction on behalf of the player, the DM, or both.
The most important thing to consider, however is the style of gamplay that the campaign will be centered on. If the campaign is going to be combat-heavy, the PC had better be able to fight. Similarly, if the campaign is going to be a roleplaying-heavy affair, a character with social skills is pretty essential. As a DM, it is critical to tailor your campaign to the PC created.
The player should be reminded that all essential skill checks will be made by his or her character, so skill selection is important. A potential modification might be to make certain skills class skills for all classes such as Listen, Search, and Spot. Additionally, increasing the PCs skill points per level is often a wise move.
The DM should weave plotlines throughout the campaign that interact with the PC’s background and facilitate development of the character. In order to achieve this, a richly detailed character background is essential. Remember, there is only one character in the story and, as such, the story should revolve around that one character. The details of the character’s background serve as a source of material for the DM to draw upon and create plot hooks from. In a “normal” campaign with four characters, 3-5 plot hooks from each of those characters should be enough to fill the entire campaign. With one character, more depth is needed to provide plot hooks that are relevant to the character.
Campaign & Story Development solo campaigns allow a PC and DM to explore the campaign world in a depth not typically possible with group campaigns. With only one PC, the DM can tailor adventures directly to the interests of the player/PC which allows a break from the more generic campaign arcs commonly found in group campaigns.
Game Balance & Experimentation As there is only one player, keeping a balance between PCs is an obviously unnecessary exercise. Additionally, the focus of a solo campaign is usually more on roleplaying, so many of the mechanical elements, such as combat, often fall to a secondary role. This allows the DM to experiment with the rules, perhaps to give the Solo PC abilities or resources that would not be wise within a party dynamic or to playtest a house rule before the DM adds it to her group campaign.
Character Development v. Story Development Group campaigns are typically story driven with character development as a secondary goal. While story is an important element in a solo campaign, character development assumes primacy. Whereas a group will usually amble along with a good story arc, a Solo PC is more prone to refuse to follow a story arc that does not mesh with their vision of their character. This situation ties to the fact that neither the DM, nor the player need be concerned with party cohesion or other players’ enjoyment; thereby freeing the player to directly pursue ideas and story arcs that mesh with the PCs long-term goals and aspirations.
The story needs to be tailored to the PC, and this means tailoring the story to the goals of the PC. This is usually an easy task, but the DM must be cognizant that the story must be about the Solo PC and not necessary a brilliant campaign idea that would work for a group.
Greater Depth Group campaigns often fly through campaign worlds skimming the surface, while solo campaigns usually plunge deeply into the campaign world. Because there is no need to share game time with other players or to reach a consensus on direction, the Solo PC is wont to pursue their interests in far greater depth that they ever could in a group campaign. There are some advantages to this greater depth. Firstly, the PC will likely remain tied to a location far more readily than a group of PCs would, thus the DM’s work in designing a city or other “base of operations” is far more likely to be used. Secondly, the solo campaign will greatly increase the depth of a campaign world, far more than a group campaign as most NPCs will have significant interaction with the PC and need to be fleshed-out with history, goals, and objectives to support lengthy conversations. Jezebel, the Barmaid needs more than a name, a physical description, and a menu of drinks. Thirdly, the roleplaying opportunities for both DM and PC are more numerous and rewarding, which is one reason solo campaigns are so popular. The DM in a solo campaign should expect and, indeed, encourage extended roleplaying sessions to develop both the PC and the world surrounding him or her.
DM Tool: Political Structures solo campaigns often thrive on politics and intrigue. The DM should take steps to ensure that there are opportunities for these activities, which means a complex political structure should be developed. This is not just for governments, but also for churches, guilds, and other organizations. What follows are some ideas and considerations for developing political structures: 1) Power should be decentralized. For example, while there may be a sovereign of a kingdom, he should be reliant on the trade guilds for revenue, on the churches to manage the courts and keep the people content, and the nobility to manage the kingdom and lead his armies. The more distributed and delegated the power and authority, the more intrigue and politics. Another alternative is having a Monarch who must answer to a council of Nobles who ratify the Monarch’s decisions. 2) Pseudo-democratic institutions are excellent political structures. For example, the thieves’ guild is ruled by a council of nine master thieves and requires majority vote for any decisions, there is political maneuvering and even assassinations to win votes. In any situation where votes are required there will be ample roleplaying opportunities. 3) There should be a faction that the PC will support. This is important. The DM should always try to create a faction that the PC will at least respect. This provides the PC with a discernable interest in the political structure. The faction could be in power if you have a PC who thrives on loyalty and service to a cause, or the faction could be out of power for an ambitious PC who could lead the faction back to power. 4) Conflicting loyalties create roleplaying opportunities. For example, the PC is a knight in service to the king, but the PC’s noble family is opposed to the king and the PC’s secret faith is being persecuted by the central church that is allied to the king. 5) Distrusted allies and respected opponents are a necessity. The PC needs friends she doesn’t trust and enemies she can respect, this may seem like reverse logic, but it really adds to the quality and realism of the campaign. For example, the PC rogue belongs to a thieves’ guild populated with backstabbing and ambitious individuals, but a paladin-constable opposed to the guild has worked with her to oppose a greater evil. 6) A crisis is needed. Ac crisis is essential to the conflict that will build the Character into an entity greater than the paper it is written upon. This is the heart of any campaign focusing on politics and intrigue, but, in this case, the crisis should be specific to the Solo PC. For example, the king is planning on ceding dominions to a neighboring kingdom as a result of defeat in war, and the Solo PC is one of the lords of these dominions, this is a massive crisis to the Solo PC, but not necessarily the rest of the kingdom. The level of the crisis should be tied to the abilities, stature, experience, and driving motivations of the Solo PC.
Challenges D&D is filled with various and sundry challenges. Some challenge the player’s reasoning ability, others address tactical choices. In a solo campaign, it is important for the DM to select and scale challenges to both the player’s and the Character’s abilities. Whereas a normal-sized party can be reasonably expected to overcome the vast majority of challenges placed before them, a solo-PC should not be held to a similar standard.
The key to not overtaxing the player’s abilities in this case is to know the limits of the player’s ability as well as the Character’s limits. There is no substitute for past experience DMing for the player in this regard, but a good DM can ratchet up the difficulty and complexity if the player seems to be easily overcoming the challenges set before him or her.
Roleplaying and other non-combat challenges are an essential element of running a successful single-PC game. Combat is risky – a single well-rolled die can cause all manner of havoc to a character. Therefore, emphasis should be placed on things that will steer away from such situations. Conversations, investigations, puzzles, and other thought-provoking and reasoning challenges are highly recommended. Political machinations can lead to some very rewarding situations that involve little to no combat yet offer challenges to the player of significant complexity and difficulty.
Combat, of course, is nearly inevitable in D&D and special care should be taken with these situations. There are several factors to consider such as Challenge Ratings, Effective Encounter Levels, numbers of enemies, quality of enemies, etc.
Challenge Ratings D&D is designed around a 4-character party; therefore, a single-PC party has ¼ of the resources, actions, abilities, and equipment of a party that the CR system was designed for. There are a number of options for addressing this, but primarily, a Dm should consider using encounters of roughly three levels lower than they normally would. This is by no means an absolute rule; however, it works well as a rule of thumb.
What to Avoid Take care when designing encounters not to overwhelm the single PC with numbers. Remember that there is great strength in numbers. Six kobolds can overcome a single 4th level fighter if they are smart about it and use clever tactics such as all of them aiding one to grapple and pin the fighter who now has no dexterity bonus and an additional -5 to AC. Even more basically, flanking enemies can really ruin the single PC’s day.
Another thing to avoid is situations commonly referred to as “save or die.” Such situations exist when a spell or ability can kill the lone PC on a poorly rolled saving throw and can end a solo campaign quite prematurely (Finger of Death, Bodak’s Gaze Attack, Gorgon’s Breath, etc.). Such an event would not be a satisfying end for either the player or the DM.
The quality of enemies is of equal importance to the quantity of enemies. A single enemy with multiple class levels can be on overmatching challenge for a single PC if the class levels are pointedly selected to counter the PCs strengths or exploit his or her weaknesses. The point of encounters in a solo-PC game should not be for the PC to be overmatched from the start.
Help for the PC NPCs can, and often should, be available to help the PC out in various situations. This can vary from an NPC Healer in the PC’s base town/area of operations that is willing to provide discounted healing magic for the PC to mercenaries ready to hire out their swords or spells to assist the PC in battle. These NPCs can be a source of materials, information, or direct support. It is important to ensure that abilities the PC does not have access to through class features be available through such channels. Self-sufficiency can only take a PC so far.
Organizations can also provide support and aid for the PC. If the PC is a member of an organization or is in their employ, the organization should be willing to aid the PC and perhaps fill many of the roles that the NPCs suggested above would fill.
Rewards In a solo campaign, the spectrum of rewards is often easier to manage than in a typical campaign. This is influenced by the ability of the DM to tailor rewards to the PCs goals and aspirations. For example, if the PC’s ultimate goal is establishing a kingdom of his or her own, then the DM can incrementally provide rewards that lead towards that goal.
Experience The primary source and measure of rewards for any PC is experience. Experience can be earned numerous ways, with the most common being through combat. This is, however, where many solo campaigns diverge from the norm. Experience point awards are often granted for action outside of combat, especially if the campaign does not focus on combat.
Combat experience in solo campaigns that focus on combat can lead to very rapid leveling of the PC if the DM doesn’t stick to lower Challenge Ratings and fewer enemies. This is a result of the fact that the chart was designed with a four player party in mind. The expectation is that the experience would be divided up between all four players and not given to a single PC. The normal offsetting thought that there would be less encounters as the PC would need to rest often can hold true, but in combat-heavy solo campaigns, downtime is only needed for a single PC and therefore, tends to take up less “real time” than it would for a full party of adventurers. For these reasons, combat-heavy solo campaigns often rapidly lead to a higher level PC (or a dead one).
Roleplaying awards are very common in solo campaigns and serve as a means to advance a Character’s power and ability without physically endangering the PC. If a Character is heavily engaged in the political machinations of a local court, there are ample opportunities for the Character to engage in opposed roleplaying activity.
Opposed roleplaying activity presents challenges to the PC that can be fairly easily equated to combat challenges. Use a similar system of determining Challenge Ratings for the opposed roleplaying challenges. The subtlety of such a system lies in the DM’s determination of how well or completely the PC overcame the challenge. A range from 10% to 100% of appropriate Challenge Rating experience is recommended for these situations.
Another recommended roleplaying award is the spot award. Since solo campaigns involve a continual one-on-one roleplaying experience, if the player can come up with something to enhance the experience for both the player and the DM, a spot award would be appropriate. It is the DMs job to make sure such awards are scaled appropriately.
Wealth The second most important and common form of reward for a Character in a solo campaign is wealth. Wealth is measured primarily in material goods, magic, and cold hard cash. Characters in a solo campaign often have a tendency to acquire wealth at a rate far exceeding that of a Character in a normal campaign. This should not be a cause for concern. Remember that the PC is the entire party in one individual and the treasure tables are designed around a group of four Characters. There are several ways to address this.
Primarily, the recommendation is to “do nothing.” A Solo PC with the same wealth and items as a party of the same level is significantly weaker than the party. Even though the wealth can be concentrated into a smaller number of more powerful items, the lone PC has only a fraction of the options or actions that the full party has available.
Another option is to tailor the treasure, magic, and equipment available to the needs of the PC. This option usually appears to be as contrived as it sounds and is hard to implement without a serious need for suspension of disbelief.
The opposite of the previous option is, of course, to tailor the treasure so that it is sub-optimal for the PC and the PC will likely have to sell it at a discount to purchase equipment that is either more suited to his or her skills. The treasure in this option could consist of items that the PC simply cannot utilize due to class features or other similar restrictions.
As a Solo PC is likely to gather significant wealth, it is incumbent on the DM to provide means for the PC to spend this wealth. This could be anything from the ability to contract for customized magic items to ostentatious clothing, buildings, or equipment. The ability to convert large amounts of coinage into more portable form is a near essential for a Solo PC.
Magic Magic is the lifeblood of most D&D characters. Without magic items, most characters’ power falls off dramatically when compared to monsters of appropriate challenge ratings. This is even more evident in a solo campaign. Once again, the Solo PC is forced to fulfill the role of an entire party and doing so without magical assistance will significantly increase the difficulty of the task. Unless the campaign is specifically designed to be low-magic, the PC should have significant magical resources to draw upon. These resources could be spells from class levels, magical items, NPCs, or even other sources such as racial or other special abilities.
It is recommended to allow the Solo PC to optimize their equipment if they so desire. In a normal game, such things can lead to an imbalance in power between party members. In a solo campaign, there is only one party member, so game balance is not an issue. This is not to say that everything should be handed to the character without effort – everything should have a commensurate price whether it is gold, experience, or the Character’s own lifeblood.
Unique Powers/Special Abilities A solo campaign revolves around a single character that has a disproportionate influence in the world around him or her. One way to enhance this feeling is to provide the PC with abilities that go beyond the norm. Such abilities can be a reward for exceptional roleplaying and achievement of goals or it could be something that the PC begins the campaign with. No matter how the Character acquires them, special abilities can be hallmarks of memorable solo campaigns.
Special abilities should be scaled to both the world and to the Character involved. Such abilities should enhance the uniqueness and playability of a Character. Abilities can range from the minor (darkvision, bonus feats, minor class abilities) to the extreme (spell-like-abilities, planeshifting, major class abilities).
Care must be taken not to be overly generous in granting such abilities. Such abilities are meant to be a reward for the player, not a means to grant the Character the ability to shape reality at will.
NPC Roleplaying by the DM The skill of NPC Roleplaying is one of the keys to running a successful solo campaign. Certainly, this is an important part of any D&D campaign, but when there is only one PC the demands upon the DM are significantly greater. There are three techniques that can be very useful in helping handle NPC Roleplaying for solo campaigns: Learn to Talk to Yourself, Develop Meaningful NPC Relationships, and Stop and Smell the Roses.
Learn to Talk to Yourself There is only one PC and if all conversations are PC to NPC then things will become very stilted and unnatural, so the DM must learn to speak with herself. This will feel very awkward at first, but with a little practice it can be a very effective technique. To be able to do this a DM must 1) know the personality of the NPCs, 2) understand the relationship between the NPCs as well as their relationships to the PC, and 3) understand the context of the conversation. With practice these steps can be internalized, but starting out it is a good idea to have these elements written down in front of her as reminders. What follows is a classic example of a situation where the DM must talk to herself, the council meeting.
Running a Council Meeting Sometimes the PC must take part in the classic council meeting, where a group of individuals gathers to discuss in order to make an important decision. These are the hardest NPC dialogues to successfully pull off because often the DM will be handling an insane number of NPCs. While difficult, the council meeting can be a useful device for analyzing a complex campaign and to provide a course of action when the PC is faltering. Council meetings can range from large conferences from numerous factions addressing something of cosmic importance to a local lord calling in his advisors to discuss a proposal to raise the poll tax to an adventuring company discussing how to sack a dungeon. Here are some useful tips: 1) Someone is in Charge: Someone needs to be running the council meeting, it is best when the PC is in charge, but often it will be a NPC. If a NPC is in charge, the PC should have a relationship with the NPC that allows the PC to speak freely. If a decision needs to be made then there should be a mechanism for making a decision, maybe a vote, maybe the person in charge just makes a decision. 2) Issues should be Clear: There is no reason for the DM to muddle the situation for the PC and should make sure the issues and arguments are as clear as possible. Certainly, people may be lying, but things should be kept focused. 3) Most Participants are Silent: As in real life, not everyone is a talker; even when dealing with a large group of NPCs it is very likely that most of the NPCs will merely watch and listen. As DM it is important to focus on the key NPCs, try to pick the extreme views to highlight the differences of opinion. 4) Arguments are Good: Arguments are great drama and keeps things interesting, it may be difficult but if the DM can run a realistic argument between two NPCs this will greatly increase the realism and entertainment value of a council meeting. Also arguments are a good way to get to the heart of an issue by highlighting major differences of opinion. 5) Diversions: Sometimes diversions are good, maybe the participants take a break and an opportunity for less intense roleplaying occurs, maybe the meeting is attacked, the DM should have a few ideas on things to spice things up if the meeting gets bogged down. 6) End the Meeting: At some point the meeting should be ended, if the PC is in charge then it is up to the PC to do this, otherwise it falls to the NPC in charge. A decision should be made, which may be a decision for the PC to go out and get more information, but a council meeting should give the PC some immediate focus to her efforts.
Develop Meaningful NPC Relationships There are many other sources for ideas of running effective NPCs, but in a solo campaign the key is not just interesting personalities but that there are meaningful NPC relationships. Understanding these relationships will help the DM run NPC to NPC and NPC to PC conversations, which, indeed, are a necessity for a successful solo campaign. There are four primary relationships, there are others, but these four define most relationships the PC will have with NPCs. It is important to note that many NPCs may have multiple relationships with the PC.
Friend-Friend In a group campaign the relationship between PCs is typically that of friends, and few PCs have genuine NPC friends outside of the adventuring party. In a solo campaign all of the PC’s friends will be NPCs and they must be played as such for this relationship to exist. There really is not a need to lay out the relationship of friends; it is usually based on trust, common interests, and a relative sense of equality.
Mentor-Student It is often useful to give the PC a mentor at the beginning of solo campaigns to give the PC focus and someone for them to model their behavior on. Some PCs need extra help to get into character and find their place in a solo campaign others like to have a mentor because they enjoy the roleplaying of being a student and learning in a fantasy setting. The reverse is also a great relationship when the PC becomes the mentor to a NPC, there is nothing like an apprentice, ward, or squire to provide a fun foil to a PC. Here are some guidelines for this relationship: 1) Mentors Push: If you give the PC a mentor, remember that a good mentor will push her student, so the mentor will likely give the PC considerable autonomy to either succeed or fail. Keep a mentor in the background, and only available for assistance if necessary. 2) Mentors Protect: Even with autonomy, a PC will have some protection from a mentor, which is quite useful at the beginning of a campaign when the PC is pretty vulnerable. 3) Mentors are Resources: A Solo PC will often need advice or counsel especially in a complex campaign and their mentors are great resources, even after the PC ceases to be a student. 4) Lineages: While mentors provide quite a bit, they also carry a burden. The PC will by default inherit the lineage of his mentor including enemies, rivals, and responsibilities. These can be great adventure hooks and also can provide goals to the PC. 5) Students Graduate: At some point the mentor will release the student, this can be a rite of passage, a special ceremony depending upon the context, but is definitely a turning point in the campaign. Sometimes a mentor will die and thus end the relationship, but the acknowledgement of no longer being a student by their mentor is a wonderful moment and reward for a PC.
Master-Servant This is a common relationship in D&D and represents many NPCs who interact with a PC from the stable boy to the mercenary hireling to the scribe to followers. Cohorts often fall into this relationship, but are often also friends which help define their unique relationship. Servants are usually obedient and loyal, as long as well treated. From my experience PCs will not tolerate incompetence; in fact they are more willing to tolerate an unruly servant than an incompetent one. Servants are usually best played as silent and reliable as this is what is respected from this relationship.
Superior-Inferior This is similar to the mentor-student and master-servant relationship, but is different in that the NPC and PC are members of the same organization and this creates special rules based on the relationship. In this situation the DM has to understand the organization and what it requires of its members. A tyrannical organization probably requires inferiors to act closer to servants, while an order of healers may require inferiors and superiors to treat each other as friends. Superiors though are a great means of focusing a PC by assigning missions or in some cases being an obstacle. Additionally, PCs often like to have inferiors to command and these can also be successful NPCs.
Example In the following example the DM wishes to give a warning to the PC about his plans to attack a dragon, maybe the warning is a caution, maybe it is to highlight the tension, maybe the NPC is afraid; whatever the reason, the DM wants to give a warning. The relationship is the foundation for interaction and upon it is laid the personality of the NPC.
Friend: “John, I think this may be folly, remember the last time we faced a dragon it did not go well. Perhaps, we should reconsider our plan.” Student: “Master, my study of dragons has been limited, but…it seems that…well, we might be in some danger.” Servant: “Yes, sir, off to face the dragon.” Mumbles that he should have been a bricklayer like his mother wanted him to be. Inferior (knightly order): “My lord, I will follow you to battle and though we are likely all to die it will be for a noble and just cause.”
Stop and Smell the Roses DMs should always take their cue from the player as to length of conversations, sometimes the player will want to fly through a conversation, but every now and then a player will really enjoy a conversation and the DM should linger. This is the same with romance, shopping, interviews, and other things which may be secondary to the DM’s sense of story, but are more important to the PC. Give them what they want and slow down if necessary, solo campaigns cover a lot of ground so there is no rush. Always keep in mind that there are no other players clamoring for attention. Keep the spotlight squarely on the PC and his or her interactions.
Concerns and Caveats Comfort Level & Relationship solo campaigns are far more personal than group campaigns. The DM and player must find their comfort level, and this usually reflects their relationship. Spouses who are a DM and a player will run a more personal campaign than college roommates. No matter the relationship, a solo campaign will always feel a little awkward at first, the trick is to plow on and find the level of roleplaying that makes both DM and player comfortable.
Scheduling Less people means easier to schedule. If the DM and player are spouses, roommates, or similar, then solo campaigns can be run almost every night. The key is to find a balance between the needs of the DM and the player. The DM will need time to do adventure design and to rejuvenate the creative juices. They player also can get fatigued from continuous gaming, but the need for a break is greater upon the DM. Communication is necessary, as is being honest about your needs.
Overwhelming the PC v. Spotlight on the PC There is a delicate balance between keeping the PC in the spotlight and overwhelming the player. It is important to remember that while the spotlight is on the PC, this does not mean she controls the campaign world nor should the DM dump that responsibility upon the PC. The PC may certainly influence and change the world, but the scope of the PC’s responsibilities must be limited. The DM must remember to not heap upon the PC the responsibilities that would normally be heaped on an entire party, unless the player is up to the challenge. What follows are some specific situations to watch for, as well as a few tricks for the DM to use this balance in adventure design.
The PC Micro-Manager vs. NPC Delegation The PC should delegate tasks to NPCs; the PC who wishes to micro-manage the entire campaign is heading for burnout and probably failure. players who do this either wish to maintain control, do not have the ability to prioritize, or do not trust NPCs. The DM can correct this problem by providing reliable and competent NPCs to handle tasks or a trusted NPC who can give constructive advice to the PC. The DM should also not hesitate to realistically play out scenarios where the player’s inability to delegate and prioritize impairs his goals.
Adjudicating NPCs off Stage: The PC sends a trusted NPC on a quest, does the NPC succeed? This is often a difficult decision for the DM to determine, usually it is best to be generous to encourage the PC to rely upon NPCs, but failure that results in the capture or death of an NPC can be quite effective in advancing character development. The best rule is to use common sense, for example, sending two low-level NPC halflings to destroy an artifact at the heart of an evil deity’s stronghold should result in the death of the NPCs and the loss of the artifact, some things the PC just needs to do herself.
The Indecisive PC vs. NPC Authority solo campaigns entail tremendous freedom and authority, but some players are indecisive and need guidance. This may be from inexperience or personality, but the DM can assist these players with NPCs who can provide orders and direction. The DM should provide good leaders and not manipulate the PC, the indecisive player needs confidence before they can handle many of the challenges associated with solo campaigns. Certainly, the PC should have autonomy, but providing them with orders and immediate goals is often of great assistance to indecisive players. The challenge for the DM is to increase the authority of the PC at a pace that both encourages them to be decisive and does not overwhelm them, a cautious approach is advised till the DM knows the player better.
DM Tool: The Ultimate BBEG Weapon – Promotion In intrigue or political heavy campaigns the opponents of the PC may decide that the best way to distract her is to give her more responsibilities. For example, the PC is closing in on a death cult hidden among the nobility, when she is asked by the king to investigate rumors that a neighboring kingdom is threatening invasion. Of course, the king picked the PC based on the suggestion of members of the death cult, but no matter the PC has now been distracted.
DM Tool: The Sacrificial Decision If the PC is over burdened with decisions, for example the PC controls a dominion and is also waging a war against a death cult then the DM may want to set up a sacrificial decision. This is when the PC is faced with a decision in which one goal must be sacrificed for another, perhaps the death cult is led by the king and the PC will lose his dominion and be exiled unless he abandons his war against the death cult. When the DM realizes that the PC is overburdened it may be time to force a sacrificial decision, which will ease the PC’s responsibilities and often provide a great roleplaying opportunity.
Ending a Solo Campaign At some point a solo campaign should end. There are three reasons to end a solo campaign: 1) either the DM or player is bored or frustrated with the campaign; 2) the story is finished; or 3) death or incapacitation of the PC.
In the first instance, there needs to be communication between the DM and player. Often one will want to end the campaign while the other may be happy. Sometimes ending the campaign can be avoided by changing the direction of the campaign or taking a hiatus. If there is communication, the nature of any problems can be found and a suitable change instituted. For example, the player may be fatigued with political intrigue and the DM can change the campaign by sending the PC off to war. A hiatus often will mean the end of a solo campaign, especially if it is replaced by a new campaign that is more enjoyable to both DM and player, but sometimes a break is needed to save a campaign. Sometimes the problems cannot be solved and then the campaign should be ended. This is often when the player’s character concept simply does not work for the campaign envisioned by the DM, and no compromise is readily available. It is best to simply acknowledge the failure and start over on both counts.
In the second instance, the story has been told. The PC has vanquished her enemies, been crowned Queen, and is happily married with children on the way. Now is the moment to let the character go and to end the solo campaign. The story may not always be epic, but at some point the PC will have reached the moment they long pursued. Certainly, another story may present itself for the PC, but it is often better to end the solo campaign on a high note. You can always return to a favorite PC when a great idea hits the DM or player, but high-level play can often reach the ridiculous and completely overshadow the great story which spawned the PC in the first place. It can be hard, but letting go of a character at their moment of triumph is often the best tribute to a great solo campaign.
In the third instance, either the DM or player seriously messed up. Certainly, the PC may have died the ultimate in heroic deaths, but that would be an example of the second instance of ending a campaign. In this case the PC is dead and the solo campaign is over, unless a reasonable solution is found. It may be possible to raise a character through the heroic actions of NPCs or maybe the PC’s deity sends her back for one last mission. It is also possible that the player draws up a new character to finish the work of her first character. As can be imagined these situations should be avoided and a good DM should always have an emergency plan for such a situation.
Solo Adventures for Group Campaigns We have focused our discussion on solo campaigns as completely separate from group campaigns, but sometimes a DM may want to run a solo adventure that is connected to a group campaign. What follows are some guidelines and ideas about how to run these types of adventures. There are two key concerns for using solo adventures as part of a group campaign: 1) Balance. 2) Timing.
Balance In most solo adventures advancement, wealth, and other rewards are accumulated considerably faster than a typical group campaign, but this could be disruptive when the solo-PC returns to the party. While the solo-PC should be rewarded for her efforts, the material rewards should not be out of balance to the other PCs in the group campaign. Therefore the DM should be more conservative in rewarding material rewards. There are some other rewards though that do not affect game balance, but are excellent rewards for a solo-PC. 1) Character Development. 2) New NPC Relationships. 3) Special Knowledge.
Timing Before I started my first group campaign in college, I wrote up a solo pre-adventures for all the PCs that would bring their characters to where the party was to come together. It did not work out that way. I had one PC get killed, another ended up joining a crusade, and the other two ended up on opposite sides of the continent. Eventually, I was able to pull them together, but my original campaign idea had to be scrapped. When you pull a PC off for a solo adventure you have to pay special attention to the timing aspect, especially as solo adventures can cover far more ground that a group adventure. Here are a few tips: 1) Keep the solo adventure tightly designed, if it is too open-ended your solo-PC may never return to the group campaign. 2) Try to run solo adventures when the group campaign will be doing lots of down time or traveling as opposed to intense adventuring like dungeons, which takes more game time for less time passage and can result in a greater disconnect between the solo and group campaigns. 3) Fudge travel times to correct any time discrepancies between the solo adventure and the group campaign.
Type of Solo Adventures linked to Group Campaigns Pre-Adventures These are transition adventures designed for a PC to bring them into a group campaign. They should be tightly scripted and can be tailored as tutorials for new players. Remember that you have to build up good reasons for the PC to be joining the group this can include having been ordered to do so or out of some sort of necessity. Pre-adventures can also be used to provide each PC with special information or goals for the campaign. Just remember these are preludes to the group campaign and should be kept relatively short at best 1-2 sessions.
Side Adventures These are solo adventures for a PC that may be related to the group campaign, but are more likely for character-development. Recently, I ran a side adventure for a halfling bard/ranger who wanted to get married and who set of for the homeland to find the love of his life. No matter what the reason the previous warnings about balance and timing are the keys for successfully reintegrating side adventures to the group campaign. It is not a bad idea to have the missing PC run a NPC while his character is off on her side adventure.
Retirement Adventures Sometimes a PC will retire a character and replace her with a new PC in the group campaign, but would really like one last adventure with her old character. These adventures really depend upon the PC and can range from a final glorious battle to running a few days in the life of a retired adventurer. This is a great tool for closure and it is a nice reward for a player who put a lot of effort into his character.
Campaign Example #1 What follows is a brief synopsis of a recent solo campaign I (KJW) ran with my wife. This was a successful and enjoyable campaign and gives an idea of what is a typical solo campaign, though there really is no such thing.
Solo PC: Camina Gravescribe a cleric of my campaign's Church of the Dead (LN Greater Deity), her alignment was lawful good. When Camina's mother died her father gave her to the Church of the Dead as payment for the funeral. Camina started off in a group campaign, that went disastrously as the party was nearly TPKed several times and my wife decided that Camina was done with the party and drew up a new more combat orientated PC. We were considering starting up a new solo campaign and decided to spin off Camina into her own campaign.
Premise: My Church of the Dead is a powerful faith that is focused on the burying of the dead and protecting the remains of the dead, while their god judges and sends souls to their afterlives. It is also a very complex faith, it would take many pages to describe the faith in detail, suffice to say that there are many orders and factions within the faith and its political structure incorporates all of the elements listed previously. We decided that Camina would be assigned to supervise a few cemeteries and try to advance up the faith.
The Challenge: Demarche Camina Gravescribe started with a number of obstacles. She was LG in a LN faith. She belonged to the holy surname of least status, Gravescribe. She was low-level, lacked political connections, and was cash poor, which was almost a sin in her faith. Through the early part of the campaign there was a Succession War running in the background that caused shortages, tremendous price fluctuations, and all manner of difficulties for her holdings and her church. There were also complex machinations occuring within her church that she was initially ignorant of, but would quickly become embroiled in. The main challenge, though, was her holdings.
The Custodian of the Crypts of Duchess Street: Demarche Camina was charged with running two cemeteries and maintaining the family crypts of a poor and debauched noble family in Duchess Street. This neighborhood of the city of Calbrien was poor, corruptly managed, overrun by the thieves' guild, home to rundown and fiercely competing churches, plagued with lesser undead in the sewers, and home to several cults including the Church of Bones (LE Intermediate Deity of Necromancy and Undead). Demarche Camina was given a young Ghost Knight (low-level NPC fighter) and a few prayers of encouragement and expected to probably be killed like the last three young demarches sent to Duchess Street.
Beginning Adventures Demarche Camina went to the other temples, include the Church of the Dawn (CG intermediate deity) to propose combining forces to battle undead, she was able to build a small party of clerics and faithful warriors to slosh through the sewers. Demarche Camina took the bold step of contacting the Assembly (thieves' guild) and asking them to stop dropping bodies in the sewers and to just chuck them over a wall of one of her cemeteries and she would take care of them. Demarche Camina took an even bolder step when she made contact with Church of Bones and told them to stop taking bodies from the cemeteries, and if they did that, she would not delve too deeply into their activities. Within a few days, Demarche Camina had aligned herself with the key powers of the district and protected herself from assassination. For several adventures, Demarche Camina got to know people across the district, fought undead, and built up connections, but was still very isolated from the rest of her church. This was part of her plan, because she realized that many of her policies would not be seen positively by her faith.
Many of our adventures dealt with putting down undead, getting ghosts to pass to the next life, investigating special murders, handling estates, and trying to expand the faith. There were also meetings and discussions with other clerics of the faith and some of them are pretty theological in nature, as Demarche Camina starts to seriously explore her faith. There were also side plots, such as the Succession War which was changing the kingdom, but which Demarche Camina was happily uninvolved with, additionally Demarche Camina had a mute prophet as her ward and was involved with various charitable activities.
Campaign Intensifies Demarche Camina is contacted by an Elder Demarche from a different region of the church to provide intelligence on the Church of Bones as there would be a development to eliminate this rival to the faith. Demarche Camina investigates, using her ties to the Assembly to learn that the Elder Demarche was aligned with the Cult of Orcus against the Church of Bones in a conflict known as the Bone War, which was being fought across the campaign world and in the outer planes and was coming to Duchess Street. The Elder Demarche tells Demarche Camina to make sure she is not in the district one night, and Demarche Camina decides a LE deity of necromancy is better than a CE deity of necromancy and gives a warning to the Church of Bones and her other allies in the district. She stays that night and tries to protect the cemeteries, undead enter the district and a grand battle is fought between the followers of Orcus and the followers of the Church of Bones, who are also indirectly aided by other factions. Demarche Camina and her small group fight off undead trying to desecrate the cemeteries. When things quiet down, Demarche Camina goes through the streets and sewers gathering bodies of the undead and their treasure and bringing it back to her cemetery for cremation. In the morning she sends all of the treasure to her church, except for scrolls, potions, and a few items for her own use.
During this time her ward, the mute prophet was assassinated as part of a side-plot and this was a major turning point for Camina as she desperately wanted to raise her ward, but this was against the teachings of her faith. She decides in the end to let her ward pass to the next life and thus finally comes to embrace the ways of her faith. She also starts to become a spiritual leader and having finally dealt with death is able to better articulate her faith.
Campaign becomes High-level Demarche Camina becomes embroiled in the politics of her faith and Duchess Street. Due to her major behests to the church she is given funds to build a crypt, ie. temple in Duchess Street. Due to her political ascension she is given an additional cemetery to manage as well as Novice Demarches and a few more Ghost Knights. One of the scrolls from the great battle, was a scroll of teleport circle that looked to lead back to a temple of Orcus. Demarche Camina kept this for herself and recruited a group of high-level adventurers, much higher-level than herself, to take out this temple. They teleport in and fight a tremendous battle, Demarche Camina keeps in the back dealing with lesser undead and providing support to the high-level NPCs. After this mission, Demarche Camina is wealthy and a potent cleric and has seriously crippled the Cult of Orcus within the kingdom.
This is about when the campaign winded down and went on hiatus, Demarche Camina married a royal magistrate, became an Elder Demarche, was named a teacher at the Seminary of the Dead, and became a disciple of a epic-level spiritual leader of her faith. There are many adventures waiting to be embarked upon and my wife has hinted at returning to the campaign, but the story of Camina Gravescribe has mostly been told and this is where we left it.
Yes, we know that was very long, but Illion and I wanted to provide enough information to answer most questions and issues concerning solo campaigns. Our intention is for this to be the ultimate thread on solo campaigns, so if anyone has additional suggestions, ideas, or examples of successful solo campaigns please post them here.
If there is interest we can do more examples from our campaigns, clarify any points, and of course, answer any questions with the help of our fellow DMs.
We hope that our 'little' project is of some assistance.