In D&D, spells have four key parts to their casting: casting time, range, components, and duration. This post is about casting time and when in your duet game you might want to overrule the official casting time to follow the rule of cool.
what is the rule of cool?
I first encountered this concept in one of Matt Mercer’s YouTube videos on DMing. The short version of the rule of cool is that the story and characters matter more than the mechanics. So if you need to bend (or break) the rules to enable what’s happening at the table, go for it. The rules exist to help add stakes to the story. They shouldn’t get in the way of your player getting to shine or their PC getting to do something awesome.
example from our duet game
This past weekend in our duet game, my PC Persephonie needed to convince an orcish priest to help her remove a curse placed on her adventuring companion (and romantic partner) by a large fang knife the priest had enchanted.
Our first impression was less subtle than I had hoped for, so we started the negotiations on our back foot. Persephonie knew going in that there was one of two ways to break the curse: She either had to get the priest to break it or to kill the priest. The legends were unclear about which course was most likely to succeed.
Since the initial encounter went poorly and the priest thought (reasonably) that he was being attacked, Persephonie had to figure out a different way to win him over to her side. And so she decided to try a spell that she’s only cast once before, unsuccessfully: geas.
We’ll take a step back from the story here for a moment. In my excitement to try out this spell and the urgency I felt to save Persephonie’s partner, I forgot that the casting time for geas is one minute. That’s ten rounds of combat in 5e, which is significant.
But luckily for me, my DM (Jonathan) thought that Persephonie’s idea and the wording of what she was trying to accomplish was really cool! It was a more creative and interesting turn to the combat and, little did I know, he had a second wave of it planned anyway!
So Jonathan overruled the one-minute casting time and let the action of our story continue.
This is the rule of cool in action: Make an adjustment when it serves the story and the needs of the table. The rules are there to help you, not to get in the way.
you have permission
Over the years of writing this blog and talking to DMs about playing D&D one-on-one, Jonathan and I have come across a few common threads or concerns among the duet-ing community. One of the most-occurring of these questions involves DMs wanting permission to change rules-as-written or adapt an adventure on the fly.
In almost every case where a DM is asking me about this, their idea, or what their player wanted to do, is original and unique and so much more interesting than what’s on the paper in front of them. Can any of us resist quoting Pirates of the Caribbean here and saying that the rules are more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules?
Of course there are some aspects of 5e rules that probably need to stay concrete at your table (in most cases). And absolutely the rules of common courtesy, kindness, and safety need to exist at your table at all times.
But outside of that, your obligation as the DM is first to your player and then to the story you’re telling. Then you can make space for the adventure text in front of you or the specifics of rules or mechanics.
I think it’s especially important in duet D&D to say that you have permission to make the adjustments you need to make at the table. As long as you’re letting the PC be the main character of the campaign, as long as you’re letting the player co-drive the narrative with you, you’re set!
If I could write you a blank permission slip to trust yourself and your instincts at the table, I would. We’ll let this blog post stand in for that instead.
One of my favorite authors likes to remind writers that we’ve been hearing stories since before we could walk or talk. We’ve internalized stories from the very beginning of our lives. And your subconscious knows more about stories than your conscious brain ever will. So trust yourself, trust your player, and follow where the story leads.
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