After years and years of GMing for (generally) the same group of folks, I’ve come to realize a hard truth. You can get all of the people together some of the time, or some of the people all the time, but you cannot gather all of the people all of the time. As such, I often find myself with some free time and only a couple of free players. Through experience and experiment, I’ve discovered a few games that prove perfect for the “buddy cop” dynamic. Enjoy!
1 . The Call of Cthulhu
While larger groups tend to support more “pulp” filled games, a smaller group seems more conducive to the horror aspect of CoC. It might seem obvious; less players means more terror. Without companions to rescue them, your players will soon find themselves trapped inside the dark basement or eerie attic. These two investigators will have more time in the spotlight, and thus more time to get to know their characters. This makes the loss, trauma, and insanity inherent in a well-executed Call of Cthulhu campaign or one-shot all the more powerful.
2 . Mekton Zeta
The Mecha-Anime game built on the same engine as Cyberpunk (and by the same creators of said game), Mekton is, in this gamer’s opinion, the greatest of its genre. Broad, sweeping narratives can be told in a fantastic setting, with characters that shine just as brightly as the various vistas created by the Referee. At the core of the game resides its Mecha creation system. You can, with the supplements released, create nearly any robotic monstrosity imaginable. What’s more, by narrowing the focus of the game to two chief characters, the Referee facilitates scenarios that showcase the players’ painstakingly designed and built meks, in addition to their inevitably over the top anime archetypes. Just make certain you’re prepared to deliver the awesome action and drama that this game demands!
3 . Mage: the Awakening
Of all the games on this list, Mage benefits the most from a small party size. Each spell cast brings new complication into the world, and a large group of mages make spellcasting that much more difficult to manage. A duo of wizards wields enough power to alter the course of entire cities, and eventually, given time, the cosmos. What’s more, these two mages could progress past their limitations and become Archmages. The game changes drastically at that point, becoming more of a deep and intriguing thought experiment of the highest realm of philosophy. Archmages deal with the nature of the soul and reality. As such, a larger group of Archmages would be almost too difficult for the most seasoned of Storytellers to handle. Have two competing conjurers via for control of the cosmos instead, and watch what incredible feats they will accomplish.
4 . Legend
Legend is a little known fantasy game by Mongoose that uses the same core rules as Runequest 2. The system is based on BRP, which isn’t lauded often for its combat systems. Legend improves greatly on its predecessor in this regard. It is, however, the breadth of options available for character development and advancement that make Legend a great choice for a smaller party. Two seasoned players are more than capable of creating very different characters that can play off one another well. A merchant and his bodyguard; a wizard and her apprentice; two brother-knights; these combinations are easily constructed and handled by both GM and player in Legend. On a tangential note, I love how easy it is to adapt this system to whatever fantasy setting you create. Have an idea for a wonderful new world? Try it in Legend. If it works well enough, the open-source format allows you to publish your setting using Legend’s ruleset. Just make sure you follow all open-source rules!
5 . Exalted
White Wolf and Onyx Path’s high-powered high-fantasy juggernaut of a game, Exalted needs little description amongst hobby veterans. Those who’ve played the game may have run into the same problem that plagued me a few years back. Large groups of super-powered Exalted can be difficult to manage. While it appears that the game calls for a party of five or so, I submit that the game works just as well, if not better, with paired players. Exalted sports a deep, but relatively complex combat system. More people at the table always means combat goes a bit more slowly, and with Exalted this slowdown becomes especially problematic. What’s more, with the 3rd edition changes, Exalted has even more to consider and track during and outside of combat. With two players, your players will be able to hog the spotlight, take more time to craft incredible stunts, and really take advantage of social and physical combat.
If you haven’t already attempted a game with just two players, I highly recommend it. The comradery that builds when each participant has only one friend to rely on is really something special. What other games provide a powerful platform for pairs of players? I’d love to hear what you all think!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, check him out at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.