I have a regular gaming group but do to peoples schedule I end up running solo sessions and at times games for quite sometime before we can all meet again. Solo games tend to exact a high toll on me in terms of preparation and other management issues do to not having a full group.
What Id like to know is how do you handle solo games and one of my key curiosities is encounter design. I think in the -PFRGP- core book it says less then 3 people subtract one from the Encounter level or whatever the exact wording is but it doesn't suggest how to go about designing a game for a solo character. Till now I just wing it and hope the player survives the encounter and so far that has worked but Id like to just be able to design an encounter the easier, standard way by building it like any I would for a full group.
Anyway, thanks for any advice you might give. Id love to hear how you handle solo games not just encounter design.
I ran a pretty epic solo campaign for my friend in college, and he had a blast, but the problem of being the only character (and a wizard at that) meant I had to supply him with "companions" that were essentially DMNPC's (shiver). Now a lot of people seem to dislike that option, but if used properly, they can alleviate that problem. You would have to make sure that they are there to help the PC, but not outshine him/her, and not be the PCs slave. More of a balancing act for you then the PC, but if you can come up with some very interesting personalities that the PC has to work with, it could be very fun. Just don't let the DMNPC's hog the glory (well at least not too much, they need to help the PC kill things) or treat them like they're your characters. In the end he had around eight or so characters that were DMNPCs, four of em died at the last fight. He had fun and felt like he was the star, so thats all that mattered.
Mr. Fishy runs solos For his Trollop. Low level solos can run on npcs talking and social puzzles. Throw in a fight once in a while to keep it interesting. Mostly write down what the NPCs are doing so that the player has some one to play againist.
Mr. Fishy drops a few NPCs into the game and keeps the one or two that best fit the story and character's [player] personality. A foil or a love interest, or a friend [Dr. Watson].
Mostly Mr. Fishy writes NPCs to act as buffers [meat shield for PCs].
Solos can be fun but they are challenging if you have anything else to do like sleep or eat.
I've run a few dozens hours of epic solo campaigns for good friends and about your specific question I have to point out:
-A lot of eople do RP and no roll in solo games, it's the most common advise I find. However, I introduce a lot of combat sincem y players like combat a lot and it works fine as long as you keep in mind a few simple things.
-It really depends on the particular character you are playing and against what as they are (usually) single classed without the overall balanced abilities of the party upon which the CR system is based.
What I mean is that my fighter guy can take toe to toe about 3 melee beasts of his CR, while a mage 3 levels below can subdue him with an unlucky save from and initiative from the fighter.
With each of the characters I play with, I have a very short mechanical indicative description about his abilities, just writing down the 2 things I mentioned above and another 2 or 2 under his name in a clear format under my eyes to make the eyeballing so much faster.
-Reduce save or die effects to a minimum. You do not want to end the campaign just because of a die roll.
SR and well balanced defenses are a nice counter to said effects. Also introducing a background NPC with resurrect or such can work nice. Replacing character death with capture and/or striping out of items, scarring, etc can be a nice touch that gives a scary, creepy feeling that keeps the exitment up without ending the campaign.
-Directly related to the point above, if you have a doubt about a challenge being challenging enough or not, most of the time you want to pull it down just in case.
-I very often have around a DMNPC or 2 to spice things up a bit, requiring for them a personanlity that develops over time to give them some verosimilitude. Sometimes the PC wants to go alone as well.
I've had some great experiences with solo games. The DMPC thing works out, but you either have to take it nowhere (the mute meatshield) or really go all out with it and have a really well developed character that meshes perfectly in some way with the PC (one of my all time favorites had a lot of the feeling of a Hope-Crosby movie, and that sort of thing wouldn't have worked if there was a 3rd person involved).
However, the one most useful rule for solo games is think challenges, not combats. Hoist straight up fights rarely. Instead, this is when and where to break out the interesting stuff: stealth missions, swashbuckler-like use of terrain, magical duels, gravity nonsense - just not standard tactical warfare. Give the player opportunities to use creativity to make up for the loss in numbers and overall sort of party strategy.
I'd love to suggest a solo adventure for you:
The Wooden Mouse by Roger Smith. It can be found in Dungeon Magazine #11. Solo thief game for about 6th level. The PC is hired to break into a mansion during a party and steal a simple carved mouse. The mansion is well-detailed, cleverly executed, full of devious little traps, and would be a pretty easy on-the-fly conversion for Pathfinder, even. Pick up a copy on eBay and give it a read. One of my all-time faves and even great to introduce new players to the game.