So for a while I tried DMing a single person and found you could run a fun 4E game. However changes are needed to how you typically run it. Last time I talked about the general ideas of DMing a single person for a D&D game. This time I’d like to get into some tips to make the game work mechanically.
Three is the magic number – Coming up with interesting encounters was a challenge, until I just decided to round out the party with a few NPCs. I originally used PC types with a limited power selection of one at-will, encounter, and daily power. After the DMG2 came out, using companion characters was another option. However, I found with a smaller group the use of a daily power was really needed over having a utility companion power.
With a trimmed down list of power choices, having the player helm another NPC in fights wasn’t a difficult task. I ended up running the other NPC in combats. Having 3 combatants gave me enough of an XP budget to provide interesting opposition for fights. I could field a fair mix of monsters with even some traps/hazards thrown in.
Spread the skills around – One critical thing was making sure the NPCs in the party complimented the player. I think with a larger group, you can have a lot of repetition with character roles. However with a smaller group you really need to cover a lot of different roles in the group. It gives the player enough resources with the abilities of the NPCs to help them get through fights, recover after them, and keep the action moving.
So I would really try to make sure different class roles are covered. My player was running a rogue, so I complimented them with a fighter (to maximize the player’s ability to get sneak attacks), and an artificer for a little healing and some controller abilities. If any class is needed, you should really try to make sure there is a leader-type with the group. Even if it is a secondary role, such as a paladin or druid, having that little bit of healing utility really helps out.
The player is still the star – Even with a few companion character/NPC types around to make fights more interesting, I kept the player the center of the action. The character is the leader of the party. The NPCs in the ‘group’ defer to his/her judgment and listen to the boss. Occasionally I’d feed the player some information via a group companion character, but very rarely. Once I kept this up the player realized that they were in charge and decided the plan of action. They never bothered to metagame and prod the party NPCs for info. I’d reply they had no idea and defer back to the player.
For skill challenges, the player was the one making the checks. I kept NPC skill checks to a minimum and made sure that the player was the one actively doing things in challenges. I would frequently limit the NPCs to just making aid another checks for skill challenges. It was a nice way to give a little help to the player, but not have NPCs dominate skill checks. I also made sure I made all the skill rolls for the NPCs, to reinforce the idea that the companion characters were there to support them and help out. They were simply a resource for the player, but not the ones driving the action.
Using these tips I kept things interesting for the player, with fun fights and just enough resources to allow them to have some heroic adventures. Even with the other NPCs, the player felt in charge of the action and was the center of the story. Having some companion NPCs also allowed me to slightly push the story a certain direction if needed. However they really added to the player’s game, rather than dominating their influence on the story.
To wrap things up, you can run a 4E D&D game with a single player as the party. It takes a little work and a willingness to have a few NPCs tag along. Yet in the end the player has enough resources and abilities at their disposal to strive for some exciting challenges. All the while they are the center of the story and can make for some engaging and interesting adventures.