two happy people

5 and 5: One to One Gaming

We’ve all been there; you’ve just picked up a shiny new RPG that you’re really excited about, but you’re currently in the middle of an extended campaign with your current group, so getting to try out this new amazingness is impossible. Or maybe you’re not already in the midst of something, but getting your players to buy-in is proving difficult. Or perhaps something else is getting in the way of you playing this new game; regardless, you aren’t getting the chance to play something you want, and it’s frustrating you.

What is one to do?

Luckily we live in an age where a plethora of options exist to facilitate our gaming; today, I’m going to address some of the pros and cons of an option you have perhaps not given a lot of thought to: gaming with a GM and a single player, otherwise known as one to one gaming.

One to one gaming seems to be gaining some traction in recent years, with Pelgrane Press’s recent release of Cthulhu Confidential, Sine Nomine Publishing’s Scarlet Heroes, and Expeditious Retreat Press’s 1 on 1 Adventures line for the Pathfinder RPG coming to mind.

Kelly and I engage in one to one gaming on a regular basis (minds out of the gutter folks, we’re talking dice and character sheets here), and find it to be a great way to enjoy time with one another, but there are a few pitfalls to keep in mind as well.

The Good

1. Scheduling

Getting a group of four to six people together to play a game regularly is challenging, especially as players get older and their priorities and responsibilities shift. My group is comprised of six players as well as myself, all in our late thirties or early forties, and it is rare that all of us are attendant at a game session with work and family obligations understandably taking precedence. Finding time to get together to game with one person is undeniably easier.

2. Character Arc

How many times have you had a killer character concept that either didn’t work at all because of the other characters in the party, or just fell short of its potential due to being lost in the crowd, or for some other reason. This shouldn’t happen in a one to one game. The PC is the protagonist. There is no sharing of the spotlight because the campaign is all about them. In a one to one game, the two people playing should be able to focus on the aspects of the campaign that really appeal to them. Want to play a game that focuses on debate and intrigue, where the mere act of drawing a blade means something has gone horribly wrong? Do it. Want to play that campaign where the PC wanders the countryside on a quest to become the best swordswoman in the land? There’s no other players there to stop you.

3. Less Conflict

We always get along with our fellows, right? We’re adults after all. Sure. The more people there are in a group, the more likely that tensions will erupt. Everything from varying rules interpretations, to interpersonal issues, to resentment over who grabbed that last Dr. Pepper can lead to arguments. While there will certainly still be disagreements over some things in a one to one game, it is much easier to be reasonable and discuss things when it is just you and one other player rather than having a myriad of voices jumping in to add their two cents, or just as bad, have the rest of the group just sit there awkwardly while two people verbally (hopefully just verbally) spar.

4. You Can Just Play

I sometimes think that my gaming group spends three minutes goofing around for every minute they spend focusing on the game. In reality it probably isn’t so bad, but I still feel frustration when someone interrupts to tell a joke, or show another player something “hilarious” on Youtube, or spends more time looking at his phone, or my admittedly awesome collection of comic books than listening to what is happening in the game. One to one gaming doesn’t allow anyone to do that though. With only two players, the focus is primarily on the play experience. While there will always be small interruptions, an anecdote here, a brief discussion of some errand there, one to one play offers a much speedier experience.

5. Inspiration Abounds

Anywhere you look, you can find inspiration for a one to one campaign. Did you love playing through Dead Space? Me too. And translating that video game into a tabletop experience for one player is as easy as finding the game maps and a walkthrough online, and deciding which monsters you’re going to reskin as the game’s necromorph enemies.  Are you a big Harry Potter fan? One to one gaming allows you to be the Boy that Lived without having the rest of the group pouting that they aren’t as special.

So that’s all good, right? Well it isn’t all puppies and unicorns…

The Challenging

1. Heavy GMing 

One to one play can be awesome, but it has a heavy load for a prospective GM. With only one player, the GM needs to prepare more material than for a group, because it can be played through rapidly. The GM also has little downtime in play because there are no other players to discuss matters with; The GM is almost always “on.” While one to one games can be very rewarding, they can also be exhausting.

2. Paradox of PC Choice 

Similarly, the player in a one to one game needs to make every substantial choice; there isn’t anyone else to bounce ideas off of, and a GM rarely wants to use an NPC to tell the player what the best option is. Players that have difficulty making decisions may find a one to one game gets bewildering and stressful.

3. Some Game Aspects Are Problematic 

When you only have one player, certain things need to be avoided. Commonly used fantasy tropes such as mind-affecting magic and fear need to be designed around or avoided entirely. Any effect that takes the control of the character away from the player can only be used sparingly as a plot device if it is used at all.

4. Most Adventures are Designed for a Group

Most published adventures, regardless of system, are designed with an expectation of a group of players and altering them for one player can often be more work than just designing your own scenarios from scratch. GMs that want to be able to just run a game from published material with minimal fuss may have difficulty doing so in a one to one game.

5. It Can Get Real

I’ve found that one to one gaming can occasionally trigger unexpected reactions in one or both players. It shouldn’t be a surprise really, there is an opportunity to really delve into the characters and world in a one to one game that I rarely find in typical group gaming. Players that really get into character, so-called method actor players, can find themselves dealing with real emotional trauma as a result of situations in game. One to one gaming can demand that the two players involved trust one another more than typical group situations do.

Grab a Dance Partner!

I personally recommend gaming with one GM and one player, at least some of the time. It has been very fulfilling for me, and has offered me the opportunity to play some campaigns that I wouldn’t have been able to with a group.

Have you played an RPG with just one player and one GM? If so, tell us how your experience was in the comments below.

Wish

Ken’s Gaming Bucket List – Campaigns

I turned forty this August. Despite it being a landmark of a sort, at my request it was a quiet day spent with immediate family and a couple of close friends and their kids. It was near perfect.

A birthday like this, of course, has led me to assess my life to date, to revel in the victories and throw another coat of spackle over the parts I’d rather put far behind me (in reality, I’m prone to constant self-critique, but for the purposes of this piece, let’s pretend that isn’t the case). While I’m certain that a reckoning of my neuroses and an itemized list of things I have yet to accomplish would be a riveting read, let’s get to the meat of this article: the RPG campaigns I want to run but have not yet had the chance. What has made this storied list? Well, for starter’s there is:

Eyes of the Stone Thief – Pelgrane Press (13th Age)

I’m not a big fan of megadungeons. A series of keyed encounters heavy on combat but light on role play just doesn’t do a lot for me. Eyes of the Stone Thief is a different beast though. The Stone Thief is a megadungeon, certainly. But it is also its own character, and if the GM does their job even reasonably well, their players will hate this vindictive and evil place.  The fact that Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is one of the best adventure scribes in the business helps as well; if it will help make the GM’s task easier, he has likely included it. From adventure hooks, to icon relationships, to campaign structure, to dungeon configuration changes, to a chart that makes it easy to track when the titular living dungeon will/should dive back into the bowels of the earth, the tools are close to hand.

Chance of Playing: Good. Eyes of the Stone Thief will be conquered by my players one day. Or it will consume them. It is just a matter of time.

Zeitgeist: The Gears of Revolution – EN Publishing (Pathfinder RPG)

Zeitgeist is likely the most ambitious campaign produced for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game to date. In its twenty levels, the player characters will advance from being lowly constables attempting to prevent dockside riots to key players in their world, defeating nigh-godlike fey titans and, ultimately setting the course for the next age of the world. The world deserves some mention as well; despite the relative brevity of the Campaign Guide, Zeitgeist’s world, calling it a fey-steampunk marvel doesn’t do it justice, is compellingly well drawn. Zeitgeist is a campaign full of heavy themes, that will demand the best of the GM and players, but if it plays half as well as it reads, it will provide one seriously epic campaign.

Chance of Playing: Excellent. I will likely run this as a solo game; the intrigue and emphasis on role play over dungeon crawl will appeal to Kelly.

The Darkening of Mirkwood / Tales from Wilderland – Cubicle 7 (The One Ring)

When it comes to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (other than The Hobbit), I prefer the films to the books. Yes, I am a godless philistine, I’ve come to terms with it. My current favourite fantasy RPG, The One Ring, however, hews much more closely to the literary source material than to the shield riding shenanigans seen on the big screen. While it may seem to be a bit of a cheat to list two adventures here, there is a good reason: The Darkening of Mirkwood is a sprawling campaign frame full of lightly sketched adventures that cover thirty years (!) from 2947 through 2977. Tales from Wilderland, on the other hand, offers a handful of discrete, excellently designed scenarios that a Loremaster (GM) can slot into the above campaign. There’s a lot to like in these books, but I think my favourite aspect is the expectation that the PCs be heroic. After playing RPGs with largely the same group of people for twenty years, I’ve seen every flavour of douchebag mercenary behavior (“I’m just playing in character, Dweazel the Hamstringer would totally burn down the orphanage just so the populace could see him rescue the orphans from the blaze. How else is he supposed to get a special ladyfriend…) it would be nice to have them actually be the good guys, just this once.

Chance of Play: Moderate. Though ToR is not a difficult system to learn and use, it isn’t D&D or a derivative thereof; getting my players to buy in will likely be difficult.

 

Eternal Lies – Pelgrane Press (Trail of Cthuhlu)

 Eternal Lies is a monster that spans generations as well as continents. While I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, it is a horror-mystery after all, it is safe to say that the sins of the fathers (and mothers) come home to roost, forcing subsequent generations to fix their forebears grave mistakes… or die trying. The nice thing about this campaign is not just that it’s a compelling story; this book is laid out in a way that makes it easy to use. Information is clearly called out. Keeper (GM) material is clearly delineated from player information. Designer notes and anecdotes are copious. The campaign is also open, so while there is definitely an overarching plot, the investigators are free to go where the clues take them without worrying that they’ll miss out on something important.

Chance of Play: Good. When the stars are right, I will run this. Depending on her leveI of interest, I can run it solo for Kelly if necessary; Pelgrane Press does have rules for one Keeper one player play after all…

 

The Dracula Dossier – Pelgrane Press (Night’s Black Agents)

Pelgrane Press hits my bucket list for a third time, as does designer Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. There’s a reason for these trends: Pelgrane Press makes fantastic system-seller material for their games, and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is a top-tier RPG designer. The Dracula Dossier is two books, The Director’s Handbook, which, as the name implies, contains all of the material an NBA director (GM) needs to run the campaign, and Dracula Unredacted, which is the “real” story as transcribed by Bram Stoker. The two books are extensively cross referenced and both serve to build not just an epic GUMSHOE campaign; they are simply the best RPG adventure I have ever read. I’ve read a lot of adventures over the last thirty-two years, and none of them matches, let alone exceeds this. Honestly, nothing else even comes within spitting distance. The best part isn’t the extensive research the authors obviously did. It isn’t the almost excessive work done to make such a sprawling sandbox easily playable for the director. It isn’t even that whoever gets to play in this campaign is in for something truly epic. The best part is that I could hand (or more likely send a PDF) a copy of Dracula Unredacted to my players and say, “Read this in whole or in part… and tell me where you want to start.” This campaign can be completely driven by the investigators, and the material is presented in a way that the director won’t have any real trouble in adapting to their moves. I’m not sure how Pelgrane Press, or any other company for that matter, will be able to top this.

Chance of Play: High. One way or another, I will run this campaign eventually.

 

So there it is…

While there are other campaigns I’d be happy to run, these five are the ones I’d be most excited to. I was hoping that Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition would have produced something to add to the list, but no luck so far. Not that there aren’t good campaigns for 5e, all of the ones Wizards of the Coast has produced so far have been good, some very good, but none of them are superb in my opinion. This is still better than 3.5 or 4th Edition which had one excellent adventure each (Red Hand of Doom and Madness at Gardmore Abbey respectively) and a bunch of dreck otherwise. Despite producing some of my favourite campaign settings, 2nd Edition AD&D has no memorable modules or campaigns I can think of off the top of my head…

Comment Below

Which campaigns are on your bucket list? Let us know!

Human Star

Reviews Matter

Reviews matter!

They help writers write what you like.

They help game companies produce materials you like.

They help other potential customers discover a product you like.

They help.

And they help you since with your feedback, more products you like will potentially be created.

Ask any small 3PP company and they will tell you the same thing.

(Seriously – even as I wrote this toward the end of July, Fat Goblin Games was thinking the same thing and released a similar post before this one published!)

Ratings are great, and they do help.  They are a great confidence boost to the creators, and they might help potential purchasers make a decision, but even better than a rating is a rating with a few quick notes about what was great, what you’d like to see more of, what you’d like to see less of, etc.

But there’s already reviewers out there…

Yes, there are, but isn’t more than one person’s opinion better than a single opinion? Maybe there’s a review of a product, but you have a completely different point of view than that reviewer, or the review is skewed?

Would you rather buy a product that has one 5 star rating? Or one that has one 5 star rating and two 4 star reviews detailing what the reader liked and didn’t like?

There are lots of 3PP companies out there.  It doesn’t hurt to have lots of people writing reviews.

Reviewers like Endzeitgeist do a fabulous job of pouring over dozens and dozens of game files in a month and producing just as many detailed reviews.  Not everyone can do that (and hey, speaking of help and reviews – he can’t do what he’s doing without help, so if you love his reviews consider backing his Patreon). Not everyone should even think of aspiring to that size and volume of reviews.

Every little bit helps.

Little reviews are good too.  Well written concise reviews.  A few random thoughts.  A play account. A deep look at one aspect of the file.  Constructive criticism or praise for well written work.  All of these help the game industry.  And if you are a gamer who loves 3PP work, that means it helps you.

Bonus? Lots of 3PP companies are happy to give out review copies, especially to people who consistently follow through on their promise of a review.  (It’s something we touched on in a previous post.)

So Write a Review!

If you read one of our products and haven’t written a review yet, think about writing one!  As a special thank you from us to you for taking the time to write a review, we’ll send you a copy of any one of our products.

Seriously.

Write a review, post it to Paizo or DriveThruRPG, and then contact us with the link to the review and a request for one of our other products.  We’ll send it on over, and you will have one more resource for your game night!

How do you contact us? On our website, by email, or even over on Facebook.

But don’t just think of us.  If you have read something you loved, write about it! The little guys like us will thank you!

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July 2017 Reviews

In case you missed some of our products the first go around, or you’ve been sitting on the fence about them, we’ll compile the monthly reviews of our products into one blog post each month.

The full reviews can be found with the products (linked to in the product name), and in some cases, on the reviewer’s own blog (linked to the reviewers name).

Continue reading July 2017 Reviews

flawed rose

Flawed Foe: Billet Hamperstand

Some NPCs make excellent allies, others are debilitating nemeses, but some are just sad. In this series of posts we bring you Flawed Foes.  These NPCs may once have held great potential, alas, their flaws have created substantial hurdles.  Don’t let that stop you from enjoying some good old role-playing fun though!


“What foul and wretched creatures stand before me? You do not deserve to breathe the air of this world, let alone grace the halls of my home.”

Royston and Petunia were a match made by the gods.  Both dedicated to the intense study of magic, the pair were a match for just about any that crossed their path.  Petunia had begun her studies early in life and excelled quickly.  When she met Royston the two maintained a friendly feud for a time, but eventually admitted how they both felt. Their love was intense and pure, as strong as their combined forces against those that would move against them.

Petunia was kind hearted and generous, no matter how powerful she became.  At her insistence, the pair helped those in need, and always came to the aid of the rulers of the kingdom in which they resided.  They quickly developed a reputation for charity and Petunia especially was beloved by the villagers. After some years together Petunia became with child, and their son was born some months later. Little Billet with his brown ringlets was celebrated by everyone in the kingdom, and Petunia and Royston had never been happier.

One day, when Billet just a toddler, a band of orcs that had been growing restless in the nearby mountains attacked the city. Officials, as well as Petunia and Royston, had been keeping an eye on them, but they had seemed disorganized and scattered.  The sudden organized attack had been impossible to predict.  Petunia and Royston hurried to assist the city.  Petunia hid Billet in a nearby home with some trusted acolytes and proceeded to the hilltop where she would have the best vantage to fend off the opposition.

Billet Hamperstand

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art ©Rick Hershey/Fat Goblin Games (https://fatgoblingames.com/)

She had almost reached her destination, and smiled at the sight of her beloved Royston aiding the town, when a she heard a squeal from Billet.  She pivoted on her heel, concerned her young child had followed her into the danger zone.  Her eyes met his only for a second before the assassin who had snuck inside the walls was upon her.  The unsuspecting halfling was no match for the silent murderer, and right there in front of Billet, she perished. It was a single wound to the throat, but all Billet could see was blood, so much blood.  The young halfling fainted.

Royston, also hearing his son, had turned and seen the whole thing. He and the nearby guards quickly dispatched the assassin, but it was too late.  Despite her husband’s best efforts, and those of the local healer, Petunia could not be revived.  The city managed to fight back the orcs, with a number of casualties, but none were more grievous to the city than that of Petunia.  Royston was devastated, but he collected Billet, and prepared himself for a life without his beloved.

His father, consumed with Petunia’s death, poured all of his energy into his own studies, and those of his son in whom he instilled the idea that he was destined for greatness, that he was to follow in the footsteps of his parents.  Royston became increasingly powerful, eventually surpassing the skill of his late wife and drawing the attention of numerous people, both admirers and enemies.  Royston no longer wished to assist the helpless citizens of nearby towns.  No one else in his family would sacrifice their life in service to the weak and incapable.

Billet struggled with his studies, much to the disappointment of his father.  When he reached puberty, Billet was sent to an arcane academy, where his father hoped he would finally excel in his magical studies.  Billet despised the school. Each day he was expected to spend countless hours pouring over old tomes, making notes, and inspecting and studying various components.  Most of the other students were thrilled at the chance to learn under the watchful eyes of the instructors, but Billet just wanted to explore the world and be left alone with books full of incredible tales of wonder.

Billet would write to his father, begging to return home, but he was always refused.  Royston loved his son, but he was consumed in avenging Petunia’s death and eliminating any threat to himself and his son. His actions resulted in many enemies, and eventually a powerful band of mercenaries caught up with him.  Inside his own home, the great and powerful Royston Hamperstand was slain.

When Billet hadn’t heard from his father in some time, he requested leave to go check on him.  He was denied, but snuck out of the school anyway.  Billet made his way to his childhood home and there he found what remained of his father.  Even with Billet’s lack of medical training it was clear the death had not been quick.  The place was a ruin and remains and blood covered many surfaces of his father’s dining hall.  The sight and smell of blood, dried as it was, caused Billet to faint.

When he came to, slightly bruised from his fall, Billet forced himself from the room and vowed to avenge his father’s death, to make his family proud. He swore he would not return to his studies at the school, and began to amass followers by announcing himself the son of Petunia Hamperstand, the beloved arcane protector.  Many of those who remembered his mother came to his aid. His father’s home was cleaned and Billet began to build a new life for himself.

Inside the walls of the great tower Billet’s arcane studies have ceased, despite the plethora of tomes, but his love of books in general has grown.  The walls of the tower are now filled with any books Billet can procure, and he memorizes the stories, telling the accounts of protagonists as if they were his own, recounting numerous tales of grandeur and adventure.

Inside the walls of his father’s tower, Billet’s hatred of orcs and mercenaries festers. He takes his frustration out on his minions, belittling them with verbal tirades before apologizing to them with grand promises. The occasional reminder of his family’s legacy and his birth right keeps the majority of them devoted, and those who falter are replaced and announced as traitors conspiring with orcs or mercenaries.

 

Billet's Stat Block


You can find more unique NPCs in our Tangible Taverns and 5e NPC collections on DriveThruRPG.

Open Game License


What did you think of this NPC? Did he make an appearance in your game session? 

letters from the flaming crab logo

Gnomes vs. Gremlins

Earlier this year J from Flaming Crab Games contacted us and asked us if one or both of us wanted to be a part of an upcoming Letter From the Flaming Crab.

gremlin gnome coverThe company describes them as “a monthly series of Pathfinder-compatible supplements. Each Letter focuses on exploring a different topic to give gamemasters and players new, exciting options that can be dropped into any campaign.”   

If you haven’t checked out this line of products, they are quirky and a lot of fun. Kelly has had the pleasure of working on several of them in the past (including Dinosaur Companions), and Ken had fun being a part of the team for World Tree.  Which meant the answer was an easy yes.

 

So What’s it About?

The product features two different races – gnomes and gremlins.

The easiest way to break down the writing was by race.  The gremlins (or Mogwai) were written by Margherita Tramontano, who has fifteen different credits to her name with an assortment of publishers, and the gnomes (or gyrenomes) were written by the team here at Dire Rugrat Publishing.

We are quite proud of our little gyrenomes, and while we won’t be giving away any big details (you’ll have to learn about these guys in the Letter!), they are a whole new take on gnomes.  Delighting in the thrill of creating technology, an area most of their fellow, more typical gnomes would dare not touch, these underground dwelling inventors would love to be left to their own devices and underground warren, but Margherita’s troublesome mogwai are proving to be a bit of a nuisance for these guys and gals!

We worked together on the malfunctions chart, which adds a whole bunch of fun when your players try to use a device that has been tampered with, or just wasn’t made quite right.  These two feuding races are fun in their own right, but by combining the two of them into one PDF, Flaming Crab Games has handed GMs the perfect setting, along with several notable NPCs from each community, to insert into their own campaign, or just use for a one off session.

In short (and we’re a bit biased here), J Gray has lead a capable team in creating a pretty fun little PDF….

And it’s available on DriveThruRPG!

inkwell and feather pen

June 2017 Reviews

In case you missed some of our products the first go around, or you’ve been sitting on the fence about them, we’ll compile the monthly reviews of our products into one blog post each month.

The full reviews can be found with the products (linked to in the product name), and in some cases, on the reviewer’s own blog (linked to the reviewers name).

You can find previous review round ups here.

Continue reading June 2017 Reviews

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May 2017 Reviews

In case you missed some of our products the first go around, or you’ve been sitting on the fence about them, we’ll compile the monthly reviews of our products into one blog post each month.

The full reviews can be found with the products (linked to in the product name), and in some cases, on the reviewer’s own blog (linked to the reviewers name).

Continue reading May 2017 Reviews

inkwell and feather pen

April 2017 Reviews

In case you missed some of our products the first go around, or you’ve been sitting on the fence about them, we’ll compile the monthly reviews of our products into one blog post each month.

The full reviews can be found with the products (linked to in the product name), and in some cases, on the reviewer’s own blog (linked to the reviewers name).

Continue reading April 2017 Reviews

Rugrat #1's Electric Shocker Weapon

Weapons Galore by Rugrat #1!

There is a lot of variety in PFRPG weapons.  Like a lot.

Perhaps designers love them some weapons. Perhaps every PC needs a chance to have exactly the right weapon.  Or perhaps PFRPG just has so many darn rules and mechanics that it is inevitable there will be countless magical weapons. (I mean, there are seriously a lot of weapon properties.)

Regardless, one day Rugrat #1 walked up to me and handed me a stack of papers.

Here mum!  I thought you’d like these. You can use them for your game!

He had been sitting at the table for a little while, focused on his colouring, and unknown to me, whipping up a few weapons.  He loves to colour. We’ve even shared some of his RPG inspired art before.  Now, stats and such are not a lot of interest to him, but the ideas and art – that he was all over.

Rugrat #1’s Weapons

Dragflash
“This weapon can move at night time, and it scares people in their bed.”

 

“This is a fire type weapon.”

This is a ground type weapon. It makes the ground shake! There’s a huge earthquake!”

“This is another ground type weapon. It makes the ground shake, but not as much as the other one. It also helps you dig through the ground, and you can ask it to dig for you.”

 

fairy weapon by rugrat#1

“This is a fairy weapon. It’s really good at fighting goblins and ghouls. It has water and fire gems.”

“This water blast weapon blasts people with water, like 1000 water guns together! Like 13 water hoses!”

 

“This weapon scares people awake. It has ghost heads!”

 

Electric Shocker Weapon

 

“This is a steel weapon. It can freeze things in its tracks. It makes people wonder if they should keep going or just stare at it. If you don’t keep staring at this weapon it will attack you with shields and swords.”

If you have kids, how involved are they in gaming? Do they draw pictures about it?