One plus one equals four: Solo Gaming With 4e

Let’s face it. Four Edition D&D is unashamedly geared toward group play. This is a game which has taken a leaf out of MMORPGs (and, I would argue, the superhero genre) and each character has a specific role and set of duties in a team. The Defender acts as a shield for the others, the Controller takes down hordes of foes, the Striker goes against them one by one, while the Leader inspires, aids and heals as required. This is a version of D&D which puts the team play front and centre, and it’s all the better for it.

But where does that leave the solo player? Not as out in the cold as you might think.

It’s far easier to organize a game between one player and a GM than it is to get a group of five or six gamers together at the same time (the phrase “herding winged cats” comes to mind). This is great if you want to run an adventure to give your character more of a backstory, or to try out a class before you commit to it in a long-running campaign, and the spotlight is on your character all the time.

From the GM’s perspective, running a solo session with one player is also an option if one of your players can’t make the regular session; catch up with them later, give them a solo one-short to explain their absence, and they can bring their new-found knowledge back to the team the next session. For example, if the group’s Rogue couldn’t make the game, perhaps he was kidnapped by the local Thieves Guild, and managed to escape with a map of the sewers. The session continued without him, he gets a solo adventure later in the week, and everyone is happy. Job done.


Building Characters

So, which Character Classes are the best choices for one-on-one play? The short answer is any of them, but some are likely to play better than others. Exactly which ones are “better” depends entirely on the type of player you are. It’s worth thinking hard before taking a class that is designed to buff other characters (any class with the Leader role), but if you’re the type of player (and have a willing DM) who favours immersive role-playing over combat then you might find playing a Cleric involved in Temple Politics a whole boat-load of fun. I know I would.

The class you choose will have a huge impact on the style of the session. The classic choice for a solo Character is the Rogue playing solo urban adventures among the rooftops of a vast fantastic city. That’s a very different style of play to running a Mercenary Fighter selling his sword down the Savage Coast, or even a Wizard who travels from village to village solving crimes.

The Essentials line provides some great choices for the solo player, as well as having the advantage of being somewhat simpler to play. The classic Thief with his emphasis on movement skills is a good option if you want to play a roof-runner, and the Knight is a terrific choice if you want a Pendragon-style experience in your D&D. Select the Cavalier and your hero could be trying to join the King’s Guards and end up fighting duels against the Red Cardinal’s Men.

Each class brings its own style and story to the table. Pick one that appeals, and convince your GM.

The key to creating a well-rounded solo character is to make sure your hero is equipped for solo play. Without a Cleric to watch your back, stock up on Healing Potions, and without an Elven Ranger by your side, remember to buy a ranged weapon. Every class can make Basic Attacks with any weapon, so even if you lack proficiency, pick up a Sling. You never know when a slung stone will be needed to distract a guard, or to smash a window, right?



One option is to give your solo character somebody to talk to. This could be a Squire to your hero’s Knight, your Wizard’s Apprentice or a street urchin your Rogue has taken under his wing, or any other type of character that the hero feels responsibility for. Let’s call them Cohorts, for short.

A Cohort is a simplified character (much like a Familiar or Companion) that is controlled by both the GM and Player. The way we play it, the Cohort is run as an NPC by the GM until combat occurs, then the player controls him on the battlemat. As well as providing NPC interaction and acting as the butt of your PC’s jokes, they also exist to help provide Flanking and other tactical bonuses in combat, and aid in Skill Challenges or times when the hero just needs an extra pair of hands. These heroes-in-training could ultimately become full PCs later, should they survive so long!

Here’s a few sample Cohorts. Any unlisted stats are 10 or 11 and any unlisted Defences are 10+level. As the hero levels up, so does the Cohort.

These characters are fragile by design; they exist to provide role-playing fun, a small amount of help during combat (though they may well flee and hide under a table!) and be someone the hero needs to take care of, not be equals.

Human Squire
Ability Scores:
STR 13, CON 12
Size: Medium, Speed: 6 squares
Defences: AC 12+level (Leather), Fortitude 13+level
Hit Points: 12+8/level
Melee Basic Attack: Shortsword +3, 1d6+1
Trained Skills:  Athletics & one other

Elven Apprentice
Ability Scores: INT 13, DEX 12
Size: Medium, Speed: 6 squares
Defences: AC 13+level (Leather), Reflex 11+level, Will 12+level
Hit Points: 10+8/level
Melee Basic Attack: Dagger +3, 1d4
Magic: Magic Missile (at-will, one target, 3 damage), plus one Cantrip/level
Trained Skills: Arcana & one other

Halfling Street Urchin
Ability Scores: DEX 13, CHA 12
Size: Medium, Speed: 6 squares
Defences: AC 13+level (Leather), Reflex 13+level
Hit Points: 10+6/level
Melee Basic Attack: Dagger +3, 1d4
Ranged Basic Attack: Sling +3, 1d4
Trained Skills: Thievery, Streetwise & one other

Building Encounters

But what of the poor GM? He is the one who has to design challenging encounters for a solo character, and that is as much a fine art as it is for designing them for whole parties.

Expanding the information from DMG p56 and p57 downward, we get the following for a 1st level character:

Encounter Difficulty Encounter Level XP Budget
Easy -1 – 0 50 – 75
Standard 1 – 2 100 – 125
Hard 3 – 5 150 – 200

100-125XP might not sound like a whole lot of XP, but that’s enough for the lone hero (and Cohort, who doesn’t add anything to the XP Budget) to face off against 2 Kobold Minions, each riding a Giant Rat (booyah!), or a Rat Swarm. or a Goblin Warrior and his Cutter young brother. At this level, use Minions where possible to fill your XP Budget and use non-Minion creatures for significant NPCs and challenges.

For example, you could use a couple of level 1 or level 2 Minions such as a Human Rabble (ideal fodder for urban solo adventures) for Easy Encounters, and a Wererat with 2 Human Goons would make an ideal Hard Encounter to end a session on a high.

As with a regular party, as the solo hero increases in level, so does the choice of monsters you get to bring to the table. A solo adventure could be the ideal opportunity to try out a new beastie before introducing it to your full game. The other heroes might laugh at the Rogue’s tale about a Feathered Dragon he encountered while lost in the jungle – until they see it for themselves next session.

Good gaming!

2 Comments on “One plus one equals four: Solo Gaming With 4e”

  1. This was an interesting read and good food for thought. A few months ago my wife expressed interest in a solo game to help her ( a relative newbie to tabletop gaming) get the rules under her belt and it was difficult to pull of. Judging difficulties in particular was hard. It was very easy for a single character to get overwhelmed.

  2. Lots of great advice here – solo campaigns must have extra challenges for the DM, whether under 4e or otherwise.

    I’m trying to plan/run a two player (plus DM) campaign and this is a great starting place for scaling things down.

    4e style Minions would be pretty useful… I wonder if the idea would run under other systems??

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