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Solo PC-gaming in Mystara AC1000

by Niels Just Rasmussen

After many years of GM'ing Mystara campaign and several solo-adventures I thought I would give my opinion about how it open up for much more in-depth play than normal group-playing.

A) Preparation:
When creating the campaign you have to choose whether the single player has to play a character created by you, or you create a character together. It's often a choice of taste. Many experienced players will often like to see what the GM can offer, while newer players still are very much in love with the fun and frustration of character creation and depressive dice rolling for stats. What is important is that the character is in tune with the campaign you have in mind, so you have to be strong enough to say no to certain player wishes. A dwarf in Glantri would rather blow the chance of playing a "Great School of Magic campaign".

For me fun gaming it's important that the life of the player is very much sketched out before the game starts. You need to have parents, siblings, friends and some important people from the childhood and upbringing of the PC character. Don't bother to much about stats or level unless you envision them as important NPC, but have a general character frame. Then you work out a past history of the PC. Any trauma and specific interests. Was the person popular or bullied among parents or other kids, or did the PC grow up in isolation on a farm? Making this past history form a basis of the character to be - then you can include what is the immediate wishes of the character (get away from home, being a hero etc) and the general personality [world of darkness "nature" and "demeanor" can often be used -> the inner personality and the outer personality as a start]

To spice up the character you give it 3 quirks.
Three things that makes the character unique. This can be done together with the players and is great fun.
For a modern day adventure a player and I choose these three for a doctor working for the CDC in Atlanta:
1) Animal lover; he is very affectionate with his golden retriever (forget what we called it) and cannot stand to see animals suffer. 2) Cannot function at work without getting coffee - and it needs to be good coffee or he will get irritated and snap at people and it affects the quality of his work. 3) Have a collector-obsession with third world surgical instruments. He will overpay for a chance to get his hands on them. If not for sale he might? even goes so far as to steal it (the PC shudders at the idea since his self-image is being a doctor-do-right and hope such an opportunity wont arise - sadly he is at the mercy of an evil scriptwriter).
Having a special remark and certain way of saying things also spice up the character. "Golly", "La Vache" (typical for a Averoigne player), Great Scot (a must for a Klantyre player). Our CDC doctor spoke slowly and deliberate with all s's becoming z'z with a slight German accent and would be a bit embarrassed to admit to co-workers that he likes "schlager" music [and maybe even DJ Ítzi ("Anton aus Tyrol"), but it was not out yet when we played].

B) Starting the game
NB: Keep the discussions between PC and NPC's "in role". After 2-3 game nights you should both be able to envision the character in great detail. Suddenly you both have a new character you know.

The first games should not be adventure but a preparation for it. I often find it funny to start the player as 0 level. So during the adventure it becomes like the PC decided its class - though the GM can control that through the NPC meet later on.
So start with a lot of interaction with friends and family. Crying mom, dad upset that his son is leaving since who will help him with the harvest, jealous or supporting friends, little sister wanting to know when you come home again etc. Make sure that the player actually have some emotion (good or bad) for leaving these people.
Getting the gear together could be a challenge if people know the PC are leaving, suddenly the price can go up "because it's you"? You would wish you hadn't stolen sweets from the grocery shop as a kid, since that fat and oily Frikadello really doesn't like you. If you can't afford it do you dare steal again?!
Who to travel with? Alone or with someone you just met at a bar for "adventurers" or whatever bar the PC visits? Choices have to be made.

Always try to avoid generic NPC's.
A good rule-of-thumb is describing them with 3 special characteristics and always have a name ready. [For instance immediate behavior, physical appearance & conversation type]
The PC is approached by a ?beggar? introducing himself Heinrich von Holleberg (or another name that sounds noble) slightly bowing and lifts his very worn black hat. He is acting like a man of stature, but clad in once fairly fine clothing that are dirty and turning slowly into rags. He is around 30-40 years old, tall, gaunt and with yellowish taint and very unsteady eyes. He is eager to talk about the weather and is offended if anyone feel sorry for him and will excuse himself fumbling his pockets and bringing forth a obviously broken watch/sun-dial (depending on the setting) and saying he is like for an important social gathering. [this character is based from the danish-swedish-norwegian film "Sult" (eng. Hunger), based on a book by Knut Hamsun].

Leave it up to the player if he want to follow the man or just ignore him. But is he a deluded beggar, a real noble falling on hard times, a clever thief luring a hapless victim to follow him into an alley? Is it worth investigating or a waste of time? Make it all up to the PC to make that choice. If the PC seems somewhat interested but can't really make up his mind right then, the NPC can be met again later where the GM have had more time to build the background of the NPC. Make the PC work hard to find out this little mystery because Heinrich should not be a man to just present his secrets to the player. Information should never come easy to the player.
But Heinrich will only be important if the PC thinks he is - he is not necessarily a GM prepared campaign hook. If you introduce character after character after character he has to decide eventually, but it's all HIS decision not the GM pushing him around. That will tend to make the player much more careful with time of the choices his PC makes. After being GM at Cons. I see so many passive players that only react to information given by the GM. It so much more fun when a player acts and the GM reacts.

The point of this example is that often the player only meet in-depth described characters when it's important for the story. [The same happens if you start to map out the surrounding, the player is alert right away, but if you do it quite often, then he is not so sure - the same way roll dices quite often, even in conversations and fake some sighs so they player thinks he missed an opportunity].
In a solo adventure you can bombard the lone PC with people - and he has to decide where to turn the story. Some encounters can be a complete waste of time, leading the PC into trouble or send both both GM and PC down a totally fresh path to the fun of your both.
When your PC first is a bit paranoid it gets really funny. I love when the player have no idea what to expect from these encounters.

When you have a group of players they often feel secure because of the number of PC's adventurers create a quite capable force. A lone PC has no one really trustworthy to guard them when drunk or at sleep. Ambushes are a real threat and if money and items is stolen from the PC, what then?! It makes is possible to develop over the course of the campaign several phobias that makes interesting character play. A PC should never be killed by the GM unless the PC makes a very severe and really stupid mistake. I choose to knock them unconscious with 0 hp waking up the day after captured and with 1 HP and a severe headache.
The PC should always have someone bailing them out, but often with a heavy price of obligation. I usually don't have a lot of fighting in my games, but use fights sparingly so the opponent(s) are characters the PC really hate & fear - but that makes a victory so much sweeter or being severely wounded and captured so much more frustrating. I wont kill a player over a random dice roll unless it is the campaign-ending climax - because why kill a good story!

So I plan to give some examples in the future of some non-campaign encounters that the player can be drawn in to or simply avoided. [They can actually turn out to be campaign in itself if both player and GM elaborate and continue probing the matter]. The player will never know what could have happened, since you always have a real campaign if the bait is not taken.

So have others had the same game experience and taste for game development or am I being rare running solo-games in Mystara???