How to Play Dungeons and Dragons By Yourself

 

How to Play Dungeons and Dragons By Yourself

It’s cool being a lone wolf. No pun intended.
Image © by Jeremiah Morelli

***My new website, “The Lone Crusader” is now online and the first few articles released. For content related to solo play in D&D, click here. This content includes conversions of existing adventures into solo adventures and other related articles.***

***The solo adventure for D&D 5e that I’ve been writing is now online and can be accessed by clicking here.***

While Dungeons and Dragons is a social game, it is possible to play Dungeons and Dragons by yourself. There may be reasons why you want to play alone. Your friends might not share your enthusiasm for D&D (I’ve been there!), you live in a country/area where D&D isn’t popular or you simply don’t like your D&D group and want to leave.

Here are some things to bear in mind when playing by yourself (this article assumes you know how to play D&D):

Play by the rules

How to Play Dungeons and Dragons By Yourself

At least there’s no one else to share the loot with…
Artwork © by Tommaso Galmacci

This goes for everything, from character creation, combat, traps and everything else documented in the rules. The biggest temptation is to be lenient on your characters and fudge some die rolls, disregard rules and make it so that the PCs survive. In this case, you might as well just write a book instead.

The beauty of playing by the rules is that any and all outcomes will be unpredictable. For example, the heroes are having an easy time of a battle, until a cultist wizard gets lucky and kills the party cleric with a finger of death. What’s worse is that retreat at this stage is simply not an option.

This would make for much better drama than if you simply played all battles one-sided. Imagine the emotional reactions of the PCs – the unscrupulous rogue toying with the idea of betraying his comrades to save his own skin would certainly consider it a real possibility now…

The only exception to this is if you want a scene to be more dramatic or believable. For example, a dragon failing his saving throw against a finger of death in the first round of combat would be anti-climatic.

Default behaviours

Decide for each character what he or she will do when exploring a dungeon. For example, the barbarian will continually use spot to detect danger before it can strike and the rogue will always search the whole room for traps.

It is also a good idea to decide on some default behaviours for a character based on his personality. For example, a reckless barbarian has little patience for strategy and will simply charge at the first enemy he sees.

Follow the dice

How to Play Dungeons and Dragons By Yourself

Take your pick…
Photo © by PortBaron

The biggest problem with playing D&D alone is that everything will be laid bare for you to see. You can see the maps, what dangers lurk inside each room you are about to explore, where the secret doors are and where the reward at the end of the adventure is. This cannot be avoided since it is also necessary to look at this information in order to ensure you don’t miss anything important in the adventure.

In this scenario, you can let the dice decide which direction you will take. For example, you are in a room with three doors. In this case, you assign each door with a number from 1 to 3 and roll a d6, ignoring all results above 3.

This should not override common sense. For example, if you are trying to escape a dungeon and you can clearly see the way out through a window on one of the doors, it’s only logical to assume that this is the door you should take – even if it’s an illusion…

React only to what you can see.

If you are using a published adventure, read the description of the room in italics and then stop. Decide on what action you will take based on that information and then read the rest. Allow any spot checks to detect hidden foes as necessary, but if the PCs fail them, continue as though the hidden enemies don’t exist.

Take no prisoners

Some enemy creatures are ‘chaotic evil’ for a reason, so unless a hostile NPC has any reason to take the PCs alive, don’t show any mercy towards the characters in combat. You must play an NPC intelligently, leveraging every advantage you have for your own victory – or survival. For example, a barbarian character looks dangerous with his great axe, so the NPC will keep his distance and use his bow.

Creatures with very low intelligence scores (6 or lower) are easier since they will simply charge the first enemy they see and concentrate on that foe until one is dead –  unless it is interrupted/attacked by another character.

Also consider the alignment of a creature. A good creature might be more inclined to show mercy compared to one who is bloodthirsty and evil.

Lastly, pay attention to the ‘tactics’ section of an encounter, but don’t follow it to the letter – they are only guidelines.

Keep a journal

You may end up in a psychiatric ward if you are caught roleplaying out loud to yourself! You should consider keeping a journal of your adventure/campaign instead, writing it all out like a story and including any dialogue between PCs and NPCs.

UPDATE:

As I intend to take this blog in a different direction, some of the blog posts related to this particular subject will no longer be accessible from the main feed, including this article.

If you wish to retain access to this information, please ensure you have these pages bookmarked.

Here are a few links to blog posts that have been taken off the main feed and are related to this topic:

Playing Dungeons and Dragons Alone – Discovering Monster Weaknesses
Intruder Alert: Keep Calm and Carry On?
Vault of the Dracolich – Not For the Faint of Heart

I will continue adding more articles to this list periodically and once the number of articles exceeds a certain number, I will look to build a new website focusing specifically on solo play in D&D.

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10 Comments

  1. Stephen Ayers April 5, 2014 4:02 am  Reply

    Very helpful! Where I live DND is no man’s land. Internet play is too impersonal. Plus I have a better imaginatation than most I think and am a loner. So tired of people saying this can’t be done. DND is all about adjusting the rules to maximize fun so why the blazes not? Great advice that is much appreciated. Thank you!

    • Ken Wai Lau April 5, 2014 11:08 am  Reply

      It does take some getting used to, but it can be done. I think having a good imagination is definitely key.

      What I’d love to see is the release of new solo adventure modules in the mould of ‘Blizzard Pass’ or even something similar to the old Fighting Fantasy roleplaying gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, but using the newer D&D rules (3.5, 4e and NEXT).

      Anyway, it’s a pleasure. Glad you found this article helpful :).

  2. Robert Stellhorn July 6, 2014 6:14 am  Reply

    Very cool I have been playing D&D solo since I was 11 years old that was the oringinal red box set , But I always wanted some feed back and you hit the nail on the head. I keep a loose leaf binder with my game journal I also use 3D terrain and minitures which helps alot. Well with that said Game on my friend Freind me on FB Robert Stellhorn Milford MI

    • Ken Wai Lau July 7, 2014 8:26 am  Reply

      Great to hear that, Robert! I’m considering converting a few adventure modules into solo adventures, but that’s dependent on whether or not I get the time.

  3. nile October 20, 2014 2:04 am  Reply

    I like to play dnd alone but im not sure exactly how i would rather do it with boot hill

    • Ken Wai Lau October 28, 2014 3:55 pm  Reply

      If the demand is there, I might write a free ebook on the subject. It won’t be released here, but on a new website I plan to launch.

  4. Ace October 26, 2014 12:43 am  Reply

    I love dnd, but I’m to shy to play with other people. Plus my friends don’t share my love for it this is helpful, thanks.

    • Ken Wai Lau October 28, 2014 3:39 pm  Reply

      Hey Ace,

      I totally understand and I’m glad this information has helped you. I will also be announcing the launch of a new website that tackles solo play D&D.

      So watch this space :)!

  5. jdreece December 10, 2014 3:21 am  Reply

    after growing up playing the original edition with a DM who was incredible with generating creative and addictive role play, I have have often wondered if playing solo was an option. I just don’t have the time to get plugged into regular play with a group – would love to follow when the email updates are set up!

    • Ken Wai Lau December 10, 2014 9:33 am  Reply

      Great to hear. I know what you mean about not being able to find the time to play regularly. thelonecrusader.com aims to address that by offering solo play as an option.

      The first pieces of content on that website will be released soon, as will the email opt-ins, so stay tuned :).

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