• Aaron K

Playing in a Single Player Campaign

Hey Reader!

In our last post we talked about playing with a rotating GM, and in that vein today's post covers how to best play a single player campaign. This is a campaign where there is one player and one game master, with the player character's arc being the central arc of the story.

We will start by looking at why you would play in or run a single player campaign, and then discuss some things you should keep in mind if you play in or run a single player campaign.

I. Why Play in/Run a Single Player Campaign

Single player campaigns have four advantages. First and perhaps most obviously, a single player campaign works best for small gaming groups: sometimes you only know one other person locally who wants to play, and you're not interested in finding a group online of complete strangers. When this happens, having 1 player +1 GM can be a good option for you.

Second, it can be a way to pursue a more niche campaign concept. Maybe you know one other person who loves Ancient Rome and you're interested in a campaign where the main characters are gladiators, so it works best to just run that one player in the campaign. On a related note, if you want to run an individual competitor setting like The Hunger Games or Survivor, having only one player saves you the problem of, "What if we want to off/vote off one of the other player characters?"

Third, single player campaigns allow you to focus more on the story arc of the main character, as they are the only primary protagonist. Sure, there will be allies forming the supporting cast, but they are not the main characters, so they don't need to have their backstories highlighted and their progression underscored. So if you really want to delve deep into a particular story arc, a single player campaign can do that far better than a standard adventuring party.

And finally, combat is faster. Since you have 1 player + 1 GM, the GM knows already what all is going to be in the combat, and can streamline things beyond what the player does. Combats generally involve less NPCs, allies can be pre-rolled for, etc. to save time. And with less players needing to look at spell lists/abilities, turns tend to go faster.

II. Best Practices for Single Player Campaigns

Here are some things to keep in mind for single player campaigns:

  1. Recognize roll limitations. Standard adventuring parties have more variance in strengths, can split up skill proficiencies, protect the party from different dangers, etc., and you don't have this without the assistance of allies (more on that next). So keep in mind that a single character will have limits to what they can roll that a standard party of adventurers do not have.

  2. Be careful with allied characters. You are centering the story on a single story arc - the player character's story arc - and the more allies you add, especially if they are close to/higher in power than the player character, the greater the risk you run in overshadowing the main character. So while you can use allies to meet specific needs, generally you should keep them weaker than the main character, filling needs without overshadowing him/her.

  3. Talk routinely to the player about the character's arc. The story is all about them, so make it all about them! We need to know what areas of growth they see, where they want them to go, whether the character's arc is meaningful to the player, etc. And since we only have one player, we can afford to go heavy into meeting those needs.

  4. Don't spare the protagonist. Push the character hard, giving him/her real challenges that will put them in serious danger. Once they are there, let them find a way out: don't hand them a McGuffin, don't use a powerful NPC to save them, and don't tell them what to do (with mission prompts obviously excepted). Let the player solve the problems, let them find ways to conquer the opposition, and let them shine as the heroes of the moment.

Playing in a single player campaign is fundamentally different from other styles of play, as you are aiming for depth over scope. So plan accordingly.


With the world being the way it is as of this writing, if you find yourself in isolation due to government mandates, a single player campaign might be far more useful for you. It's also a great way to test a module that looks fun before bringing it before a larger group, or to test ideas for a standard campaign you are playing, learning what the NPCs can and cannot do thanks to the test run in a single player campaign. So whatever your need, consider adding this to your arsenal as a GM.

In our next post we're going to go even more streamlined by looking at how to play in a No GM Campaign: just one person doing everything themselves.

Until next time,

Aaron K