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New GM: Question about Players

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Hi there fellows,

I'm a long-time RPer and gamer who has just picked up Dark Heresy. My friends and I are long-time D&D players (4ed now), and my buddy is our usual DM for that game. However, we also (this friend and I) play Warhammer 40K tabletop (CSM for me, Tyranids for him) and so have a good level of interest in the 40k universe (not to mention being big fans of Dawn of War, 1 and 2)

So, I decided to pick up the Dark Heresy core book and GM Kit and try my hand at GMing THIS game. It's quite a bit different from D&D, but I have always been one who has appreciated the more RP-heavy elements (as opposed to all combat) of that game, and being a big fan of the 40k universe, this appealed to me quite a bit.

My question is, basically, aside from this one other friend, there's only one other person who is showing interest in participating as a player. I am set as the GM, so my question is really, how well does the game work with just two players? The core book says you need "at least three people", but in my tabletop RP experience, my groups have always been 4 or 5 people, if not more. (Our current D&D campaign contains the DM and 6 players).

In the experience of you guys who have played and GMed, would a group of just two players be competent enough to handle the various threats straight out of the book, or would it require stat tweaking, etc in order to make them able to survive reasonably dramatic-sized encounters?

Thanks!

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I am currently playing a game with my friend and its just the two of us with me being a character and Game Master. Its a pain in the butt. I want to be as realistic as possible as to how many people would show up to a given action if a firefight were to break out but am forced to scale down the realism for safety. If we fight more than three people, were in big trouble, as three is already a handful and ould possibly die anyways. I would say avoid this at all possible but you can still play a dubbed down version like me and my friend are. I would also add +5 wounds to both characters to make up for the lower firepower. This is our third run through and its a trial and error. Good luck.

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What we often do if people don't show up and we only have 2 players show up, is have some low level npc's that are nominally under the control of the players.  So the players mostly control the characters, but the GM has to power to prevent certain actions, like the players using the npcs as bait or trying to sacrifice them to save themselves etc.

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i am making a game whit 2 PC's and think it's ok. I have a over powered back-op if i can see "oh that to manny enemys, in whit the back-op seveter" but i have also given them som extra EXP to start whit, and some ekstra traints becouse the don't have a healer (psyker) or a teck prist so they don't think "what now?" all the times. And to make i ok batle take some Scum as enemys and a abirator that is after the scums

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Depends at what you're throwing at them and how combat capable the characters are.  Arbitrators, assassins, guardsmen, scum, and sororitas can be pretty lethal at the start.  They can handle a small number of cultists on their own.  With a modest amount of gear or xp, they'll be able to take on bigger challenges.  If you want more detail than that, you're going to have to be specific about what challenges you want them to overcome.

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The group where I play has 3 players, but when one can't make it, we have "back up" additional characters, so each player runs 2 characters.  It has worked out fine for us.

It's sort of a personal choice thing though.  I love getting a chance to play 2 characters at once as a player, but would never go for it in my own game.  (So I guess my GM is just nicer on that front than I am.)  When I run, I won't run with less than 3 players. 

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Three players, in my opinion, is the optimal group size - small enough that each invidual gets plenty of screen time, but large enough to give you a real variety of insights.  However, I have run 2 person and even solo games before and done so quite effectively.  This option allows you to focus even more on each individual's story line and really flush it out.  Stories tend to be very rich and rewarding at this level, so everyone tends to enjoy themselves quite well.  Just be certain you throw them an out when you misjudge things ... don't be affraid to flub dice if you need to and be certain that - dispite them being such a small group - they still feel like they are occomplishing something important. 

 

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I am also running a 1 on 1 game. However, while it does make more work on the gm side of running multiple NPCs (keeping track of them all has been a chore!), I have been having a surprising amount of fun with what has become a truly epic story. It has been rather interesting being able to totally focus the storyline on the antics of a single pc. He has gotten himself into some tight spots, but seems adept at dancing right outside the edge of the fire.

Running a lower count game can get rather tricky however, because your players have to be even more creative than if they had others to bail them out. My suggestion for you is that you keep the storyline very, very flexable and to sit down beforehand to draw up some fairly beefie and quirkie npc's that you can use to support the player(s) if need be. Lower count settings also have a tendancy to get the pc's into tight spots they normally wouldn't get in. Allowing them the freedom to wiggle their way out of the corners they paint themselves into through rp though can be quite fun.

The pc that I am running with is very creative and tends to surprise me with his actions quite regularly. At one point he almost got himself in quite a fix by questioning the honour and priorties of an Ultramar Chaplain to one of his Brothers. Not something that I would advise if your pc's wish to remain in one piece for any length of time by the way, but it allowed me to set up a scene for him to be confronted for his witty words. After tracking down another npc, he found himself in the middle of one of the ship's long coridors with a rather miffed Chaplain stalking towards him. He had about 5 seconds to decide his fate... and what does he say? *I calmly sit down cross-legged on the floor and wait for him.* I sat and blinked at him for a moment. 'In the middle of the floor?' *Yeap* Since that wasn't quite the response that I was ready for... he was able to wrong foot the npc, keeping himself out of the apothicarian's care and earning the rather begrudging respect of the Chaplain after all was said and done.

Hopefully your game will go well with the lower count (be sure to explain to your players that it may be a bit rocky at first). If not, you can always seek to add in more players after you have started the groundworks!

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I only have two players in my core group with an occasional third and fourth floater and the only real difference between two and four players s0o far has been the amount of extra work I have to put into it to make sure it remains interesting for 2 players. With 4, the players are able to bounce off one another in rp but with just two, the characters become like an old married couple much quicker meaning I have to work a bit harder to introduce interesting NPC's and situations to rekindle the flame and add spice back to the rp.

Since you're coming from a D&D background, you might have a bit of extra work on your hands as you will have to rethink your approach to story design. A two player group is very fun and doable. It's strength is is in it's intimacy. You can spend a LOT more time on individual characters, their lives, desires, etc without worrying about leaving a whole gaggle of players out in the cold. Likewise, don't think in terms of epic battles and big climactic fights to end all fights to wrap things up. You don't have a large group of operatives, but a duo, two partners out in the field. Look to things like the X-Files and Supernatural for ideas and inspirations for story set up. Both predominantly feature a duo partner set up where two people investigate strange and otherwise not good situations and then seek a way to end them, sometimes with the ehlp of some supporting cast now and again.

Don't try to set up situations where the PC's must find the Evil, then single handedly exterminate the Evil unless the Evil is a small Evil. With a duo set up, if you want them to single handedly exterminate the threats they find, the threats will have to be small in scale (rouge psyker runaways, incompetent cults, etc). When/if they uncover major cults and conspiracy's and other big big threats, then think of their job more as intel gathering for the eventual purge that will be handled by arbiter kill squads, PDF troops, Sisters, and what-not. This works wonderfully for many situations in my game where the two main acolytes are trouble shooters. They go in, find out what's what, who the target is, where the target is, and how to best take the target out. Once they get the information back, then the hammer comes down on the target they've identified based on their advice for how to remove the target with them on site to act as field advisers for the purge.

The real threat and tension in this kind of set up is not in the big climactic final battle, but in keeping their heads attached to their shoulders long enough to find out what is what. It's not fighting and shooting things that is dangerous (though they do shoot things a lot... usually by their terms on their conditions) but the unknown. They never know if the guy they are talking to is the Big Bad or not, if that sound in that basement is just the pipes of a daemon, etc. They know it's not up to them to exterminate what they find, but they still have to find it so they can get the right people to exterminate it with the right weapons. It took them a little while and a couple of botched purgings to get used to this. They used to gather the least amount of info possible ('yup, there's something bad going down here. Lets just get the hell out of here and get the kill teams in here pronto!") but this usually lead to mass casualties in the purge teams (and in one instance one of the PC's who was advising and didn't know there was a giant worm monster in the basement of the churches the arbiters were storming... if they had bothered to check it out instead of chickening out...) and in three instances, the arch heretics escaped without being identified to crop up latter, even worse then before. They have since learned to be a bit more through in their fact finding before calling in the hammer.

When handling purgings by the massive NPC groups, i don't run it in combat mode. If the PC's supplied good intel, then the purging will go smoothly. I will usually just describe the purge from the PC's point of view with a few quick cut scenes to the major heretics quickly and efficiently being crushed under the arbiters' jack-boots (this is especially satisfying when said NPC caused the PC's a lot of grief; they love seeing the tables turned on the villain brought low by their command and then delivered to them for information extraction... their revenge time). If the PC's supplied faulty, incomplete, or just plain bad intel, the purging will simply go wrong, very wrong. No dice rolling 9unless the PC's are immediately involved), Just logical carry through of actions.

Either way, the bullet points of this:

  • A duo can be very satisfying in a buddy-cop movie kind of way
  • Think in terms of intel gathering for a latter purging, not fighting the bag guy and all his guys one on one all the time
  • Focus on the characters in a personal way as, with only two, you can to great effect.
  • The real fun in such a set up tends to come in problem solving as well as interacting with interesting and bizarre NPC's in interesting and bizarre locations, not in massive battles and combat.

 

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Thanks for the replies guys, especially you Graver, I found your post to be extremely enlightening and helpful.

I'm probably going to start off by running one of the pre-fab adventures, just to get both my and the player's feet wet. I've heard Edge of Darkness is a good one to start with, so I downloaded that and have been reading over it. After that I will probably try my hand at creating my own story, and I think the idea of a sort of 'buddy-cop' dynamic is a really good idea. Plus, it's a way to throw in story elements that a larger, more combat-oriented group wouldn't necessarily get to face.

My only concern now is that my one buddy is dead-set on playing a Techpriest, and considering how the book describes them as cold, distant and unsociable, not to mention horrifying to look at, I wonder how well he'd fit into that sort of scenario. Then again, I suppose if it was a partner he came to knew and trust he might end up becoming a little more friendly...

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Exaar said:

 

Thanks for the replies guys, especially you Graver, I found your post to be extremely enlightening and helpful.

I'm probably going to start off by running one of the pre-fab adventures, just to get both my and the player's feet wet. I've heard Edge of Darkness is a good one to start with, so I downloaded that and have been reading over it. After that I will probably try my hand at creating my own story, and I think the idea of a sort of 'buddy-cop' dynamic is a really good idea. Plus, it's a way to throw in story elements that a larger, more combat-oriented group wouldn't necessarily get to face.

My only concern now is that my one buddy is dead-set on playing a Techpriest, and considering how the book describes them as cold, distant and unsociable, not to mention horrifying to look at, I wonder how well he'd fit into that sort of scenario. Then again, I suppose if it was a partner he came to knew and trust he might end up becoming a little more friendly...

 

 

 

First, glad i could be of some help :-D

second, how would a distant and unsociable (and probably a bit of a bore) fit into the dynamic of a duo? Why, he'd be the strait man of course ;-)

Of course, just because a career typically has a certain type of character associated with it, it doesn't mean exceptions won't occur. Take THIS short story posted elsewhere on these boards as an example. I really love that story... it has to be the most original concept for a Tech-Priest I have ever read.  Definitly shouldn't confuse him with your average Tech-Priest, but it just goes to show, just about any kind of character can fit into any career despite the stereo-types.

Beyond that, don't worry too much about the PC dynamic. That's for the players to worry about and mull over. The best ones tend to evolve organically out of characters you never thought should ever be put together in the first place.

 

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 Not all Tech Priests are unsociable people, in my group our tech priest has a thing for calling everyone "lad" or "lass", it's the little touches like that that make the character different from the stereotype, but not so much as to detract from the...I dunno, the feeling that it's a tech priest at your side, not some augmented soldier. If your player can work on making his tech priest believable, then the duo will have no problems :D

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Using NPC followers or agents will help to balance things out just a bit. You should still then be able to run the game with your smaller group, just make sure to work the NPCs into the story where the players will actually want to work and protect them. That way they won't just use them as fodder.

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