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Thread: small number of players campaign?

  1. #1
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    small number of players campaign?

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    Hey there,

    I'm going to be setting up a campaign for a small number of players - probably as low as 2. (2 players, 1 DM) (yes, ignore that previous comment) In 4E, there's a strong delineation between the classes and their abilities, but I think the two should be able to build more generalist characters so that they won't be caught completely out of sorts. Given all this, any advice from those who may have run a small group campaign in 4E? I look forward to hearing from you.

    Cheers ~

    icky ricardo

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    Off the top of my head, the encounters have to be tailored to the duo (even more so than normal); lower-level encounters than suggested is a good start, before tweaking the monster composition.

    You'd want to find the right mix of PC Awesome (letting the character's strengths shine) and challenge, which is much harder without a 'full compliment' group. That is, you prolly don't want to send them up against a horde of minions without an area-attacker, and a brute or two would be more than a few handfuls for lower-damage duos. Elites could be reasonable stand-ins for Solo monsters.

    Also, potions. If need be, you could monkey around with the healing surge cost of potions, if they're running out on basic encounters. (I'd look into the encounter construction and make changes there, first, though.)

    Or you could do what my last DnD group did and have pseudo-PC tag-a-longs. Either the DM runs a side character, or a player(s) has (have) effectively two combat characters. Not an elegant fix, nor what I, myself would do, but it's there.

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    allow for hybrid characters. That way each player could take 2 classes with different roles. Even without hybrid, it is usually helpful to make sure the secondary roles of each class covers the four bases. A warlock and a sorcerer would probably be a bad combo. A paladin and a druid (however), could be a pretty nifty combo.

    I agree with the lower level encounter idea. At least for when you want more baddies in the battle.

    ORRR-
    you create one or two NPCs to help the party. They have HS, but very limited in terms of abilities. Like one daily, one encounter, and one @will power.
    "I'm not going crazy. I'm going sane in a CRAZY world!"

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    I concur with yukonhorror. The hybrid option is a good idea. I have a Dragonborn Barbarian/Sorcerer written up. It's synergies aren't bad and it's similar to the ubiquitous Fighter/Mage or Fighter/Wizard combo. It's just an example but you get the idea. I have GM'ed this scenario before, I usually run 1 NPC as if I'm one of the players complete with history background.

    2 hybrids + 1 solid npc to cover any missed bases should work out ok.
    You won't be able to take on huge amounts of monsters since you don't have the numbers but it can still be a lot of fun and it can be advantageous since you have a small group there is less chance of people fighting for "special time" and if you are running a well thought out NPC with background and meshes into the campaign/adventurer then you have created an environment in which cooperative storytelling can take place.

    anyway.. enough of my ramblings.. have fun.. and hope this helps.


    "but hey, that's just my opinion... I could be wrong!" - Dennis Miller

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    I have the two players in my group run two PC's that fill each role. Not the best way, but doable. Then they can drop a PC if a new person comes to play (though that hasn't happen).

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    I think I'll tailor the campaign to their classes. Give them challenges they can meet (while still being difficult) and see what I can do to alter combat rounds. Fortunately, I've got two players who aren't insistent on killing every breathing creature (and some non-breathing creatures) in the game. Its kind of refreshing...

    Thanks for the tips!

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    As a DM, I rarely run a campaign with more than two chars. I find that there are essentially three combos which work best:
    1) paladin and ranger
    2) cleric and wizard
    3) two bards
    The paladin and ranger compliment eachother with their ability to stand and fight but also their ability to get out of the action should the need arise. Ranger (of course) acts as striker and Paladin as leader/defender
    The cleric and wizard are less effective at survival but can deal tons more damage than the other group, its probably a good idea to get the cleric's armor prof. up as high as possible.
    The two bards: BEST DUO EVER! Both can cover the basic essentials (hide armor + high dex = invincibility) and both can deal with almost any situation, healing eachother, providing rogue essentials, and can multiclass apart from eachother depending on the circumstances of the campaign.
    The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed...

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    I would have to go with a pair of NPC's - one to augment PC knowledge and let you as a DM help the group along with insights that would normally come from having a larger pool of players... and another NPC to aid in the actual combat scenarios more than anything else.

    The scenarios can be a little less restrictive with a couple NPC's like that.

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    I've run some scenarios for parties of two or three PCs. I'm not really seeing issues with balancing; they're overcoming the encounters in the way I'd expect scaled-up parties to handle their encounters. I'd just say, if you're nervous, start with weaker encounters (level - 1, or 75 XP per PC at 1st level), and ramp up gradually. There are also the suggestions from the DMG 2: more minions, more lower-level monsters (as opposed to fewer higher-level monsters), and skill challenges of complexity no greater than the party's quantity + 1.

    If you wish to add NPCs (or a multiplicity of player-controlled characters) because it fits the story, then you should certainly do so. However, please don't overlook that this is an excellent opportunity to have adventures like those in literary fantasy, where you're more often dealing with one or two heroes rather than a Tolkienesque Fellowship (and even then, he split them up pretty quickly). Having two PCs work together to bring down a single ogre is not a bad experience at all, for example.

    Compared to running small groups and one-on-one adventures in earlier editions, handling small groups in 4th is a breeze. DMing a level one magic-user in 1st edition AD&D or Red Book D&D, that's pretty tricky.

    Solo adventures aren't bad if players play their roles. Strikers take down lone opponents, and do hit and run on multiple enemies. Controllers work the opposite way, with the key to knowing what's coming in advance. Defenders can't rely on their Marks but otherwise they are singularly equipped for solo adventurers that rely on fighting. Leaders are the most lackluster by themselves. In that case, you may really want to consider adding an NPC sidekick to give a Leader someone to actually lead. In all cases, you'll either want to make it clear to the player that they're on their own, or let them have some free retraining. Tailoring challenges to fit the classes, to paraphrase Spazzle, is certainly the way to go in this case. Also, strongly consider adding exciting non-combat encounters and skill challenges in greater proportion to the combat encounters.

    In solo combats, sometimes a bit of narrative license on the part of the DM will go a long way. 4th edition is the least likely to feature two characters standing toe-to-toe trading blows, but this pattern might reassert itself in a one-on-one match. In this case, the DM might wish to combine some aspects of a skill challenge with a monster, as well as some dramatic flair. Make it a nice, brawling affair with lots of effect and less worry about who's pushing, pulling, or sliding whom. Tackle that orc into the campfire; have it hurl a handful of red hot ash into your face and roll away; get in some parries and ripostes. Have the kind of fun it's harder to have when there are four other players waiting for their initiative rolls to come up.

    Make the adventures personal, but with impact. A ruined watch tower with one or two monsters in it is a nice prospect for a single player: it's like going through a dungeon on you own. Being the bodyguard to an NPC and defending them against infrequent attacks, or taking on various dangerous jobs in a city over the span of weeks lets a single player have a meaningful existence, and gives them lots of rest in between encounters so that they can be at full strength for each one. Having a running battle spanning days, across fields, ruins, and villages, with a single NPC enemy, that's a really memorable challenge for the lone player character.

    Once you're up to two PCs, you can pretty much send them on regular adventures with appropriately-scaled encounters. One difference to consider is that small groups are not the self-supporting combat factories that large parties are: there needs to be a good way to either allow the party to extract itself from danger or preserve the lives of the PCs. Examples would be opponents with reasons they can't or won't pursue a withdrawing party, and enemies that have a motivation to capture the PCs alive should the party be overcome.

    In many sorts of campaigns, all PCs need to learn that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. One of the least-remembered pieces of advice from the 1st edition PHB was the one entreating players to flee from all wandering monster encounters and only deal with set encounters that directly lie between them and their goal. I'm not that harsh, but I think some groups develop where running away isn't even considered an option. That does fit a certain heroic mold, but I think the risk of a TPK should be accepted if one's going to take that stance.

    PCs in smaller groups are more acutely affected by the need for the occasional retreat, and unless the DM is going to contrive for it not to be necessary, this should be very clear. It sounds like Spazzle's party is already familiar with the concept. It might turn out to be a benefit; sometimes it's the large groups that don't learn this tactic until it's a little late for them.

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