Friday, October 2, 2009

Solo Gaming with the wife

Today's main post is about solo gaming and meeting expectations - co-written by my lovely @thePrincessWife (she of the "tie goblins up and parade them about town" gaming).

What started this post was something that Archmage writes in his blog:
We have different priorities when it comes to gaming. We both want to have fun, but our ideas of fun are light years apart. ... The mistakes I'm making when I try to run D&D with her include:
I over-prep
I say no when i should say yes
I get impatient that she isn't interested in the aspects of D&D that I'm interested in
I become upset and feel guilty that I'm not running a fun game for her

I don't know how to break out of this. Could it just be that I can't DM D&D for her? Should I try a different game? Am I just so out of practice, and so stuck in a certain style of gaming that I'm ruining gaming for her?
Trollsmyth, over at his blog, gives some great advice:
- As much as you can, outline what you want from the game ahead of time.
- Prepare to compromise, and to stand fast where it's necessary. And then honestly adhere to this social contract.
- Demolish all the boundaries you've created in your minds about what the game “must” be about.
- Obviously, you both love the fantastical, so there's some strong overlap there. Find those points of interests in the movies and shows and books you both enjoy and mine them for ideas.
So I sat down (virtually, over GTalk) with @theprincesswife (tPw) and we talked about it - this is a condensed version of our discussion.

Me: So you've had a chance to read those posts, what do you think?

tPw: I think no two people "imagine" in their heads alike. To me, the entire game is in my head. Since I don't really know (care) about the rules, it's more about the story in my head.

Me: It sounds like these two have come to the table and they have two different games they want to play.

tPw: No, I see it as the same game, two different ways to play. Imagination creates your style

Me: Right... so if they both imagine in different ways, then it becomes difficult. Do you think we did/do that?

tPw: I am sure we do. For us, yours (way of playing) does not really rub mine the wrong way. Mine pretty much just flows in my head. I think you and I are very different in how we play, maybe ?

Me: How so? [Ed. Note: I was REALLY surprised...]

tPw: I see you pouring over the books and writing them and all the rules and stuff and it just doesn't interest me. Instead, my head is always wondering, what am i gonna do when i get back to the dragon... whats next ...

Me: If I'm more into the "game" than you are, why does it work well for us at the table?

tPw: You're not more into it, just into it in a different way. I am busy picking out the pieces that interest me. It doesn't bother me - the other stuff that you are into. I'm always busy with the "story" in my head. If you were trying to push the story, we would rub.

Me: So the way we play, my interests and your interests don't collide so much. And the fact that I'm letting you tell the story helps?

tPw: It's (the story) everything to me in our game, the part I enjoy the most. You set the stages.

Me: So your expectation is to tell your story, and my expectation is to set the stage by which your story is told.

tPw: Yes. If the DM cant help the expectation of the player, quite frankly and honestly the player is not gonna have fun. They wont want to play.

Me: Right... can you think of anytime where we did rub?

tPw: Ahhh, I can only think of one time i didnt have so much fun. The whole puzzle of the doors with the statue. Frustrated the crap out of me. [Ed. Note: The turning statue in the Tower of Zenopus from the Holmes Basic book.]
Me: Right - you were pretty stumped there. What ended up helping?

tPw: My imagination was "stuck!" LOL. Your patience helped and you gave some big hints. When you're solo, you dont have anyone to bounce ideas back and forth. Sometimes the NPC has to be a player. You think it's railroading ?

Me: We've talked about that, how I worry about that fine line between you being in control and me being in control.

tPw: DM's don't want to be players? You have to, or I might as well play by myself.

Me: I do want to play.. but it's a different play. The problem I've always worried about is Tironell "taking charge" too much so that you're playing in my story, rather than me presenting, the stage for you to play your story. We've done pretty good so far though.

Me: What would you tell this couple with the game issue?

tPw: I don't know. It is kind of like giving marital advice to a couple you don't know. They are locked in their own expectations, maybe? Why should they care what the expectations are, can't they both have what they want ?

Me: What advice would you give her and him?

tPw: For her: Play it how she see's it (in her head). For him: Give a game to her how she wants it, but if he can't - he can't.

Me: True. Archmage talks about wanting to do a lot of stuff he likes. I was thinking in our game, I have alot of stuff going on that I like... but your story overlays it. I have a sandbox, but your focus is your story, so I go with that.

tPw: I get what I want, the fun imagination story, so when you put the other stuff in there it doesnt really rub me?

Me: I get what I want -- dungeons, hard tough monsters, a world that continues to revolve with or without you... some old school things like hirelings and the real threat of death.

tPw: Thats all cool to me to though.

So in retrospect, I guess what has worked for us is that I have a game where we both are getting the elements of what we want. I have a setting that I'm able to put into motion and have elements of the game that are important to me, but in reality, it's the story she's following and concentrating on (finding the murderer of her family) that sets the tone and pace. It's a sandbox with a plot that she drives.

Thank you, @thePrincessWife!


Zak S. said...

I agree with the Princess--I'm a big fan of the "everybody-at-the-table-simultaneously plays-the-game-they-personally-want-to-play" philosophy--i think that's what makes the older RPGs work so well for mixed groups.

I've played solo with my girlfriend once and have played a few times with just her and one other (girl)friend.

What happens in these games is, I tend to notice things about her play style that are "camoflaged" when she's in a bigger group.

For example:
She is great at puzzle-style problem solving, but is hopeless with tactics--i.e. getting out of a cursed painting is no problem, but, for example, figuring out which weapon makes sense to use against a stone golem
is just not going to happen.

Another example: her motivation tends to "drift" toward whatever's in front of her--if someone says "bring me a branch from the cursed oak!" she'll go "Ok, time to go get a branch from the cursed oak, I guess". The fact that she gets x.p. for killing monsters or getting treasure and so can decide on her own how to do that doesn't occur to her.

DM's often write adventures that work like : "Think the way I do, and you'll win!"

When DMing with a small group of people, you have to do the opposite--when I prepare a dungeon that I know my girlfriend'll go through solo (or with a single, like-minded pal), I tweak it so that the goals are clear, the puzzles are far harder than I would expect anyone to guess, and there are clues about tactics built into the battles.

It's important to consider the character class and level when DMing, but thinking about PLAYER class and level is even more important.

Tim Shorts said...

Great interview and I think your wife has a great understanding of the game. As a player my main priority is the story. Rules come and go with systems, but you always need a good story.

The Rusty Battle Axe said...

Awwww, romance is not dead after all.

Great post.

Marcelo Paschoalin said...

Do you think there's a real death threat in your solo game? I mean, once her PC dies, would tPw invest time and effort on a new PC?

I fear if the she becomes too fond of her PC you may unwilling try to fudge any possible death as that could be the end of the campaign. If she was a regular player on a gaming group, the PC death would be simply a risk of the adventurer's job--and she would be ready to create another PC quickly and join the group once again, maybe even using one of the hirelings as her new PC...

If her PC dies, it's a TPK!

Chgowiz said...

@Zak - I tend to tweak the adventures less, but the NPCs and hirelings reactions more. The world is the world and she'll operate in it as she's going to. Just because there's one PC doesn't mean half the orcs run away. There are plenty of ways for her to gather a posse and trust me, she does on a regular basis! It's a running joke between us. :)

However, what I do tailor is I pay a great deal of attention to her story and I present the situations she's looking for. If she wants to explore a Wizard's tower looking for clues, then I'll have one ready for her to go thru. At the same time, the world does go on and she goes with it as she makes her way in it.

Chgowiz said...

@Tim - indeed! I'd much rather have the players make the story, far more interesting :)

@Rusty - you bet! :)

Chgowiz said...

@Marcelo, I'm glad you posted this!

Yes, there is a real threat of her dying. The NPC mage has pulled her can out of the fire once, and the other time, she got lucky. She has learned quite well the art of running away, even at 3rd level!

We've discussed this very subject and she knows that the dice fall where they may - I roll in front of her. She's aware that I'm fair and I won't pull punches. She also knows that I'm adaptable and readily willing to use the "relatives inherit" rule from OD&D if her character should die.

She's also learned the art of having a posse and of running away to make the situation more advantageous, which rocks!

I do know that if I ever do kill her character, I am not sleeping well that night! :D She's extremely competitive and hates to "lose".

I also know there are some deus-ex-machinas I can use - such as her loyal henchmen taking her back to the temple for a "Raise Dead" attempt...

Zak S. said...

Yeah, I don't go in for the henchman so much. The idea of my girlfriend going around exploring dark towers with a bunch of "friendly NPCs"--I'm jealous already.

Marcelo Paschoalin said...

Chgowiz said: "I also know there are some deus-ex-machinas I can use - such as her loyal henchmen taking her back to the temple for a "Raise Dead" attempt..."

Maybe it's my style of gaming, as I don't easily give access to Raise Dead, but deus-ex-machina on a solo game seems more forced than on a regular party.

In any case, I don't play many solo games, so my experience is very limited on this matter, and I'm just theorizing about it.

David said...

thePrincessWife & Chgowiz~

Thank you. I really appreciate your taking the time to consider my problem, and to write about it. I'm glad that it got you two to talk about your own game.

This weekend we're going camping, and I'm bringing Microlite 20 with me, and we're going to give it another try, this time using your and trollsmyth's advice.

I'll let you know how it goes!

LordVreeg said...

I have run 2 solo campaigns in my setting with my wife.

Both went pretty well. I do have some notes that might help, and I will share 2 things.

1) Let her run 2 characters. I did this both times, and this cuts down on the TPK thing. One of thr groups actually had 3 deaths, but she always had one still alive. Kept things moving when a kill would have ended it.

2) I learned after the first adventure to ask her, what type of adventures she likes and if she could play a character in a book, what would she want to play in what books. I learned a lot by the literary preferences.