Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gaming Solo...With A Group


I wanted to address a fairly common issue in role-playing games that I have been encountering more and more over the past couple of years and find out what other GMs do about it.

At least I am going to assume its common. Prior to experiencing it off and on (and then more on) since 2007-2008, I never really encountered it before so I am venturing a guess that in falls in line behind other common occurrences I haven't had much experience with like Min Maxing, Power Gaming and Hack n' Slash.


From my earliest memories in the hobby to around 2006 (and even a bit after), the groups I played with were made up of good friends who went back a ways. That is to say, the players in these groups were friends, long time acquaintances and even family members for a stretch of time before they were gaming together.

Combined with our rather unusual reference points (we didn't think 'Fellowship of the Ring', we thought 'Justice League of America' and crew of the Enterprise), this high level of camaraderie meant our parties were not just collections of individuals who all had the same idea of ransacking the same dungeon. We were a team. All for one and one for all. The occasional Thief who steals from the party or the Double Agent type character could still be seen from time to time but they never lasted very long. Once revealed, the rest of the group would put them in a world of hurt. They had betrayed The Team.

In my current group, I have a player named Marcus. Marcus is not a team player.

Actually, Marcus can be a team player but prefers to be a lone wolf.

Marcus is the guy who logs on to World of Warcraft (or some other MMORPG) and solos 99% of the time. The second 'M' in MMO, 'Multiplayer', is of no real interest to him. He doesn't team unless he has to or it's with an NPC.

This is how he plays table top RPGs as well. He is in the same party as the other PCs but he is only on their side because he isn't against them. Technically, Marcus' characters are on Marcus' characters' side.

Furthermore, if there is a chance for Marcus' PC to go ahead of the rest of the party and engage the enemy or investigate a haunted tower without them (while the other members of the group research exactly who the enemy is or how to drive the ghosts from the haunted tower), he will do all he can to take advantage of that opportunity.

Sometimes it works in his favor. OK, more often than not it doesn't.

In our last campaign (Champions), his maverick/loner approach got him fired from the SHIELD-type Superhero Support Organization and  ambushed by a clever supervillain.

In our last session of Ars Magica, Marcus attempted to investigate an ancient tower/fort once used by the Vikings on his own (actually his Magus, the Magus' Companion and a young NPC Priest). Meanwhile the other PCs rested from their ordeal the day before. When they woke up, they learned as much as they could about the tower/fort and discovered Marcus' guys were missing. The group decided to take a boat to where the river forks and head for the fort themselves. Eventually Marcus' characters, who were travelling by horse and who made a stop to pick up the Priest NPC, end up arriving at the old haunted tower at virtually the same time as the rest of the PCs travelling by water.

Anyway, I am not posting this to berate Marcus on his particular style of play. I have seen him work together with other players on a number of occasions. The lone wolf approach is his preferred favorite however.

  • Have you experienced this in your games?
  • Do you have a player who tends to want to do his own thing regardless of the rest of the group?
  • Have you done this yourself? Why?
  • Why do people do this?
  • How have you handled it in the past?

One of the games I really want to run with this group (heck any group) is Star Trek but a fellow like Marcus would hate it (and in fact, Marcus said flat out he doesn't want to play Trek). Why? The ranks and military structure of Starfleet would prevent (or at the very least significantly limit) him from being about to go off half-cocked and get himself into trouble or glory without anybody's help.

Barking Alien


  1. I have a friend who, while he was in the army, used to blow into town, drop into whichever game I was running, upset the group dynamics/mess up the scenario by striking out on his own/occasionally get another character or the entire party killed, and then blow out of town again.

    Why? He just really wanted to play, and he wanted it to be all about his character. In retrospect, it would have been better to run a solo game for him first off, to let him blow off steam, before slotting him into a party game.

    Would this work with your guy?

  2. I am not sure. While it might work, time is a factor. With rare exception I only really have time to run something once a week and its based on when we all (the entire group) have a day off.

    Good idea though. I'll think about it.

  3. This is a great question, and I'll admit to running into this form of gamer more than once. At the risk of sounding like I'm pimping my blog, my answer was too long for a comment, so I put it over on my blog instead:


    1. No apologies necessary. If I inspired another blog to blog on a subject I posted its win-win as far as I'm concerned. :)

    2. Can I just say how much I love Star Trek RPG's as well? As I said, you can find other players for the group.

    3. I wish it were that easy.

      I New York City, with its ridiculously high population, there are surprisingly few available gamers it seems. Partly this is because people's schedules are hectic and partially because for all its supposed diversity, everyone is playing the same old game of D&D. :(

    4. I started a article series, but only got to one, about getting people to game with you:

    5. Very cool idea for a series WQRobb. I am there!

  4. In my son's gaming group (he runs DnD 4e for us and I run Classic Traveller for the same group) there is one young man who constantly wants to go rogue... killing, burning, destroying, whether it helps the group or even him, or not. My son and I both allowed this to get the group in trouble with local NPCs, and the rest of the characters learned quickly enough to restrain him for their own sake. I'm actually surprised he still plays with the group, since he clearly wants something very different out of the game than anyone else.

    Years ago, I ran a 2e D&D campaign in DC, and a new guy showed up at work looking to join a game. Since we didn't know him, I let him know he was in for four sessions, after which the rest of us would talk it over and let him know whether he could join us full time or not... he was a good player, but his style was not a good fit for the group, so he was out. As far as I know, there were no hard feelings, since we'd been up front with him about the "interview process." Like you, I didn't have time to run a separate campaign.

    1. At present I have only three players and honestly, I like all three of these guys. They are good people and good players but yes, their styles are different not only from what I am used to but from each other.

      As with every GM and group, I am looking for the sweet spot. That place where what I like to run and what they all want to play (and how we all want to play it) overlap enough to create the best campaign we can put together.

      Honestly I think more players would help. Especially if I had just one more person who was a more flexible, role playing over rules, story driven, genre junkie like myself. At least then I could really show off my best work and the current group could get to see what it's like.

  5. Lone Wolfers tend to die in my games. The wandering monster tables are not kind to characters who travel alone. In addition, many of the situations and areas in my game are designed with multiple characters in mind.

    if the Lone Wolfer is okay with the fact that he'll probably go through several characters, great. If the party is also okay with having a loose canon, great. If the game becomes less fun for the group because of any player, they are no longer invited to play. I no longer have the time or patience for people who get in the way of the group's fun, and I prefer games with fewer players anyway.

    1. I tad iron-fisted for me but that is in no way a criticism. I am totally in agreement with you about not having the time for that which is not fun for all.

      Unfortunately we differ on our preferences in the number of players. I currently have three, which is waaay too few IMHO. My GMing style often feeds off the PCs. Fewer PCs means less material to work with and less inspiration for campaign ideas.

      I'm also just used to larger groups. To me five players is kinda small.

  6. I was always the GM for my first 8 or so years of gaming, so when I went away to college and found games where I could PLAY, I was ecstatic.

    And my very first campaign as a player was utterly ruined by a lone wolf, showboating gloryhound. (He was obnoxious in Real Life, but generally harmless and personable enough...but he was insufferable while slangin' dice.)

    It wasn't him constantly changing his name, schtick, and powers (with maximum tweakage) that ruined the campaign.

    It wasn't him trying to pettily kill a fellow PC--and accidentally killing the wrong fellow PC in the process--that ruined the campaign.

    It was the fact that the group planned an elaborate trap / ruse to capture our elusive arch-nemeses that was absolutely, positively foolproof, as long as each PC did their part. And it took us many months of campaign sessions and independent work (drawing maps, solo adventures, etc) to have it happen juuuuuuuuuust right.

    And when it came time for the big reveal? The whole thing fell apart, and we were all utterly, totally baffled and shellshocked. And then our lone wolf sheepishly explained that he'd kinda-sorta changed up his part weeks prior, and didn't tell anyone but the GM...and he actually said the words that he was "just playing in character".

    I remember just getting up and walking out. Never played a superhero game with him again, and I could barely stand to be at the table with him in any other game--rpg and board alike--from that moment forward.

    I'm a firm believer in booting problem gamers early. If they can't play nicely with others, give them the heave-ho!

  7. This is an often overlooked benefit of the D&D alignment system - it may or may not tell you about the characters but it can often tell you something about the players of those characters:

    Lawful Good - I can probably work with this guy

    Neutral Good - I know I can work with his guy

    Any Neutral - he's clearly played before. We'll see.

    Lawful Evil - I'll give it a try for now but we will have to see.

    Chaotic Evil, Neutral Evil - oh no no no. This is likely to end with a cry of "But I was just playing my character!" followed by a chorus of "So were we" accompanied by hurt feelings and possibly tears.

    1. See, I have always found this strange.

      I have met very few people who have ever actually played Chaotic Evil or Neutral Evil characters.

      I have on the other hand met numerous people who play Chaotic Good, Lawful Good and Lawful, Chaotic or True Neutral and act like totally evil bastards.

      They then excuse their actions by noting, "I only tortured, maimed and killed those people because they were obviously in league with the Orcs. I just saved everyone. I'm the good guy!"

      "You mean those, old, crippled Orcs we saw near the rivier in town, begging for spare change?"

      "Yep. I have no tolerance for those evil bastards or their sympathizers."