Two Players

When I have an opportunity to run a game with two players — that is, a GM and two players — I almost always punt and suggest a board game.

I’ve been thinking about games explicitly designed for this configuration, and I can’t think of any. I can think of quite a few two-player games — Mars Colony, Murderous Ghosts, and so on — but not two and a facilitator.

I mean, on the one hand you can just run any old trad(ish) structured game with two players. But it’s sort of weird, or possibly ultraweird depending on the game you’re running. It’s not quite as weird as running a single character through a trad RPG, where both the GM and that single player have a lot of work on their plates. 

Or possibly it’s weirder, come to think of it, and here’s why: Does the game make any assumptions about this pair of protagonists? Their relationship, their interactions, leadership dynamics, etc? Most mainstream RPGs don’t really talk about this at all, but I think the dynamics of two protagonists is fundamentally different and maybe less explored than leader-and-follower or “a party.”

So like…what could you do with a game designed for a facilitator and two players? Let’s assume up front that I’m most interested in an equitable division of whatever: screen time, authority, sympathy. 

  • Hero + Sidekick: assuming the game actually provides asymmetrical support for these roles, I think you could actually write something neat around this. This feels like the kind of thing that some small-press game has poked at at least once before.
  • Best friends
  • Enemies or rivals
  • Spouses or other binary love-relationships
  • Business partners
  • Time travel; you both play the same character but from different points
  • Evil parallel universe interloper, perhaps with a sinister goatee

I’m totally just spitballing here. Also still wonder about what titles might be out there that I know nothing about.

0 thoughts on “Two Players”

  1. I regularly run ‘trad’ games with just two players. Sometimes it works out like a buddy cop show or Fafhrd & Grey Mouser. Sometimes its a rotating GM so everyone has a PC and whoever’s GMing has their PC controlled by one of the other players that session.

  2. Most of the two-player RPGs I can think of abstract the GM.

    Some story/parlor games give one of the three people at the table a hybrid judge/character role. I think I remember that in The Rivals the hinge of the triangle — the person the romantic rivals are competing for — has a job like that.

  3. I hear ya. The thing about two non-GM players is that they have one relationship betwixt the characters. With three non-GM players, that triples the number of relationships in play compared to two non-GM players.

    I think that has a lot to do with it.

    Also, I think Shooting the Moon does this?

  4. We did this for years as the Durham Three. We played whatever struck our fancy, which makes me think you might be overthinking it.

    Shooting the Moon is a three player game that works with two, not exactly what you are after but maybe close.

    I think 1 GM and 2 players is luxurious and awesome. I really like that configuration.

  5. 2 players + 1 GM is honestly maybe my favorite RPG configuration. Just enough that the game doesn’t stall if one person runs out of steam, not so much that anyone gets bored waiting for the spotlight.

  6. My current fixation on PbtA games is probably why this was on my mind. I mean I have also run many games in exactly this configuration.

    Murky brain, poor disambiguation.

  7. Yeah; with two PCs in a PbtA game, you have exactly one relationship that they both feed off of. When you add a third player, it becomes a triangle and multiplies the possible complexity and diversity of relationships.

  8. Some very famous Indie games run best (and sometimes ONLY) with a GM+2players (or with three players and no GM): just to cite some names:
    – Dogs in the Vineyard
    – Polaris
    – Sorcerer
    – Trollbabe
    – Shooting the Moon
    In general, most of the games that can’t be played like this are the “characters party” games, the ones where a group of characters have the same adventure and they are differentiated by their specialized roles: to allow “parties” of 5-up gamers the characters are iperspecialized to the point where you need at least 3-4 of them. Or there are relationship rules to keep them together that need that number of characters.
    Even in these PbtA times, there are a lot of games that don’t share these features.

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