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Partner vs Group Play

I’ve been mulling over the differences between how RPG’s play with only two players (and GM) and larger groups. My chief conclusion is that partner games can really hit the sweet spot between depth and breath. They give enough breadth of interaction between the two players and any NPCs they may meet. What’s more with just two characters you can get amazing depth from your story. The characters seem so much more real because there motives are clear, the time required to flesh out their personal story is easy to find. What’s more the people around the table tend to have a greater focus on the game and there is a more intimate atmosphere.  This isn’t to say that games with larger groups don’t have their own strengths but it seems that many people don’t feel your can even play an RPG with a small partners group. The blame rests partially on D&D, and its class system. However there are scores of game systems that work very well for partner games. When I think back on memorable RPG stories that I have played and GM’ed many are of the partner variety.  The three games I ran after my very first playtest of Superheroes Unleashed were all partner games. I have fantastic memories of a two player Call of Chthulu game that a friend ran, and excellent memories of running several two player (new) World of Darkness games. At Spellstorm 2012 I had a great time in a game of Runequest with one other player and the Designer of the game. Part of this was his strength as a GM, but their were two other components as well. The first was that learning the game probably would have distracted from the story significantly more in a larger group. The second is that the adventure was cleverly tailored to our characters and their passions (a neat Runequest mechanic.)   Superheroes Unleashed has a mechanic that helps tie characters into the story and the world in a way somewhat similar as Runequest's passions: Relations and Values. Invariably when I run games for partners, as GM I easily weave the characters Relations into the narrative (with the players help of course). Occasionally after running games for larger groups I realize that the characters Relations have barely played a part in the story. This illustrates the lack of depth that can happen in some group games. You may have great group conversations and character interactions, and vast sprawling combats. However it usually lacks that focus, depth and coherence that characterize partner games.  When I think of the two games I ran at HammerCon IV in November (both games were for two players new to the system) I realize that they were among the most satisfying games I’ve run in the past 6 months. Both were scenario’s I’ve run before, and had a blast with, so that is saying something. (For the curious the scenarios were House of Bolchavar, and Mortorcycles and Lasers (with the villain Barricade).)
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