Where do we start when adapting a published campaign for one-on-one play? What should you take into account as the player in this situation while you prepare your PC?
For the short answer: have an idea as to why the PC is going to take part in the storyline. Why will they care?
For the longer answer, please keep reading.
An Invested PC
One of the first considerations you’ll want to make when adapting a published campaign for one-on-one play is answering why the character will participate in and follow along with the narrative.
If possible, aim for a deeper motivation than heroism, doing what’s “right,” even better than “the BBEG has kidnapped my whole family.”
Different considerations for adapting published campaigns
People we’ve talked to who have been running duet campaigns for an extended period of time often talk about crafting a narrative around the PC. However, running a published campaign in a one-on-one game is going to make that more difficult.
In these cases, the narrative has already been crafted for you, and it becomes the task of the player and the DM to together work on adapting and telling that story.
The Key: Planning for Scope/Scale
This is where communication at the beginning of the character creation journey and planning out your campaign is key.
Depending on the level of the adventure and its general scope, you’ll have different considerations and motivations when planning out your character’s trajectory and what’s driving them.
Example Character Scope Problem
We ran into this issue with our Waterdeep: Dragon Heist game. We had talked about taking our characters from Waterdeep into the Descent into Avernus campaign.
However as we’ve gotten closer to that possibility, we’ve found that it’s not completely clear if the characters from our Waterdeep campaign would conceivably be the ones to take on this new mission.
Of course there are things that could happen that would drive them to go into the first layer of Hell to solve a problem, but the campaign might run smoother and happier with new characters.
There are only a few things, for instance, that would drive my sweet and happy PC, Persephonie, to going into hell, and we want to work with a narrative that’s cohesive. It might be more fun for her to remain in Waterdeep and continue on her adventures and to begin our Descent into Avernus campaign with characters designed for it.
(Right now I’m leaning toward a Circle of Wildfire druid named Evelyn…)
Crafting PCs for Campaigns
The couple we’re playing through Waterdeep with and myself crafted our characters specifically for that campaign. It is a lower-tier campaign, ending at level 5, and that’s a different type of hero than one who’s going to easily and willingly go through to level 10, 15, even 20.
If we look at the Marvel movies for example, Spider-Man at one point makes the decision to remain in New York City and be a local hero instead of taking on the world’s problems like the other Avengers.
So how can we get out in front of these character motivation problems before we are confronted with them?
You’ve probably heard the advice to begin with the end in mind, and that tactic works well here as well. You don’t need to know the entire narrative in order to create your character, but it might be helpful to have some sort of an idea of the campaign’s arc and direction.
The Harder Way
We came upon this issue again discussing a stream or YouTube recording of us playing Out of the Abyss as an example of adapting a campaign for duet play. (Stay tuned for updates if that sounds like a fun idea to you, and consider supporting us on Patreon!)
As you may or may not know, we have been playing an adaptation of Curse of Strahd, but our re-vamp has gone so far afield of the written text of Curse of Strahd that we are re-examining what will be the most beneficial way for us to talk about our experience.
Jonathan has heavily revised the adventure not only for duet play but also to fit around my PC, Briseras, and the time-intensiveness of that process is part of what’s motivating this post.
I’m calling this character-focused adaptation the harder way because we fit the campaign around the character. It’s really fun and enjoyable, but it’s a lot of work on the DM’s side.
What we’re looking to do here, instead, is put in some work as a player from the get-go so the DM can run the campaign for two people (themselves and the player) with minimal adaptation.
The Easier Way
For Out of the Abyss, we really want to go into the campaign with a PC and a DMPC as closely tied to the story world as possible, and we want to set you up for adapting a campaign as simply as possible as well.
Adapting Out of the Abyss
In Out of the Abyss, for example, the PC begins trapped in a drow prison in the Forgotten Realms. It is also a higher level campaign, topping out around level 14, and the character will at some point need to face the Abyss and the Demon Lords.
Since many of us play heroes in ttRPGs, we may or may not question what would drive a character to want to take on a Demon Lord, but for really immersive RP, and a believable narrative, we need to ask ourselves that question before our campaign begins.
Character Motivation Drivers
For my new PC, Artemisia, I’ve been trying to figure out what would drive her to continue on her heroic journey, and how I can make that a different motivation than what drives some of my other PCs.
- Does it need to be something related to her family, or is she still even connected to her family?
- Have they been captured and she’s the last person left? Or is she an outcast from her community?
Bringing in her entire druidic community to answer this question seemed too large and like it would potentially derail the main narrative of the campaign, so I’ve switched thought paths, and I’m now thinking that someone she cares about from outside of her community has either been taken or has gone missing.
This broken connection can remain a driving factor for her as she delves into the beginning levels of the adventure.
Setting a Baseline
You of course don’t need to have everything figured out right from the beginning. I’ve said everything I know at present about Out of the Abyss in this post already, so my knowledge of the specifics is very general. That leaves almost everything up to surprise besides that at some point, there will be roving demon lords, which I’m not going to tell Artemisia.
Adapting Other Campaigns
You can do the same when you’re looking at adapting a published campaign for one-on-one play. DMs, give your player the barest amount of information necessary for them to craft their character.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist
If you’re playing Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, for example, make sure that you have:
- a character with ties to Waterdeep,
- a reason to care about the city,
- and activities or hobbies that can interest them for their down time.
Descent into Avernus
If, on the other hand, you’re playing Descent into Avernus, you might need a more daring character, or one who is going to be less worried to look danger in the face, maybe one who has less to lose.
One of the things I have enjoyed about our Curse of Strahd game is that my character likes Ravenloft more than where she came from. She doesn’t have ties keeping her to her point of origin, and that’s opened up some new and interesting areas inside of a narrative that typically assumes a PC has been taken from their homeland into this random, sketchy, and somewhat hellish environment.
So you absolutely can twist the foundational notions involved in the campaign, or even subvert some of the initial expectations.
But you will also want to make sure that you’re making the job for the DM as easy and straightforward as possible so that most of your collective energy can go into the two of you playing instead of the DM or yourself adapting things after the fact.
Further Thoughts for Players
Players, after the DM has given you the general guidelines or some ideas for preparing your character, get creative and feel out what’s right for you in the character creation process.
Maybe you already know the type of character that you want to play or the internal conflicts that they’re going to be struggling with during the campaign. Run with those, but work them around the campaign’s storyline elements that you’re aware of, such as scope and location.
Secondly, share your thoughts with your DM. Most of these character details don’t need to be a surprise that’s revealed later in the narrative.
As the story develops, you’ll figure out unknown or summarized facets of your PC’s backstory in more detail to unveil in RP situations during the campaign. Just make sure they don’t completely derail your character, and you’re set.
It’s so important in duet-style play for the two of you to be collaborating together. When you’re on the same side telling the story, it’s a lot more enjoyable for both parties involved and you can really enjoy your time together.
We will keep working on adaptation posts for officially published campaigns throughout this year as we also work on our own duet campaign. If you want to be a part of making a duet-focused campaign happen, we would love for you to support us on Patreon where we create small pieces of the campaign each month.
You can also be on the lookout for a new project in the near future as well as new titles coming to DMs Guild!
Let us know
Is there a campaign you’re looking to adapt or want help with? Have you adapted a full-length campaign for one-on-one play? Let us know in the comments below!
If you like what you’re reading, please consider supporting the blog by purchasing our adventures and supplements in our shop or on DMsGuild or sponsoring us on Patreon. We’d also love for you to follow us on Twitter and Instagram. We appreciate you so much! Thank you for reading. – Beth and Jonathan