During our duet game this weekend, Jonathan and I had a fun and surprising experience of co-writing a piece of lore while in-game in a way that we haven’t tried before. It came about naturally, and we remained in-character the whole time. (You know we love supporting and maintaining immersion!)
This lore addition developed the backstory of one of our party members. It was a classic “yes, and” situation, but it started with me as the player asking, in-game, if I could write something in. Then, as my PC talking to her goddess (played by Jonathan), we created a beautiful story that is integral to the personal history of our party’s world!
In this post, I want to share with you how we (accidentally) set up that opportunity to co-create and how you can incorporate it into your game as well, on purpose!
What is Co-Creation
In one-on-one D&D, co-creation occurs when the player and the Storyteller (DM/GM) work together to invent details about the story world. This can be anything from the NPCs who live and work in a particular location to the locations themselves.
One thing I love about duet D&D and part of what makes it so special is this proclivity to co-creation. The worlds are richer, more unique, and more vibrant because they’re the result of two people working together—two imaginations and not just one.
How to Co-Create
However you prefer to refer to it, co-creating a world together, live, during your duet game needs two things: a flexible Storyteller who opens themselves and the story world up for player interaction and an active player.
In-Game Setup for Co-Creation
Now that we’re all on the same page, I’m going to walk through how we managed such a naturally integrated instance of co-creation that you can easily insert into your one-on-one game too!
This lore write-in occurred while my PC was talking with the goddess of fate, her patron, and asking for her advice. And part of what my PC needed to know was backstory for our world, something that had occurred a few hundred years ago.
This piece of lore was a Romeo and Juliet-type of scenario, where two opposing houses had crossed bloodlines, and my PC wanted to know why/how this had occurred.
Now, in this moment, Jonathan had a few options:
- He could have demurred as the goddess and said that my PC would find out in time. The reasons behind that choice could have been story-based—it’s not time for my PC to know these details yet. Or they could have been practical—he as the Storyteller doesn’t know yet, so my PC will learn about it at the proper story time and, conveniently, after he finds out!
- He could have summarized what happened and left it at that. (This option leaves space for adding more details later.)
Instead, he gave my PC a story opening. Her goddess said, “Now that is an intriguing love story.”
This answer alone left open the two options above. But it also created the space for my PC to say, “Ooh! Can I guess?” The goddess nodded, and my PC proceeded to recount how she thought the love story might have gone. After she’d finished her account, the goddess said she’d guessed almost exactly right, but tweaked some of the details to make them more unique and a more intricate fit with the story world.
Now, that’s how the RP exchange went. Let’s look at what was happening behind the scenes.
A quick caveat: There is nothing wrong with asking the PC to wait to find out something! Whether or not you (the Storyteller) know, you should feel at ease waiting for the story to unfold. This is something that I (Beth) struggle with as a GM. I get excited about where the story is going and want to share it with my partner. However, I also want to encourage you to invite help from the player, especially if you’re not sure about something. Some of our best lore ideas have been co-creations outside our game, talking about an event, place, or person between sessions. You always have that option too! And you don’t always have to have the answer.
Behind the Scenes
As Jonathan and I were having this exchange, my PC and I had a cool idea for how such a love story could have unfolded. Then, his story invitation gave me the perfect opportunity to see if I could share my exciting idea.
I didn’t want to add something in if Jonathan already had the story set up. So my PC saying, “Can I guess?” was both her asking and me asking. I love the story aspects of D&D, and I get so much enjoyment from guessing the story my PC is in and being surprised by it!
Jonathan/the goddess saying yes told me that I wouldn’t be trampling over something he’d carefully prepared, so I shared my story guess.
His response acknowledged what I’d shared and added to it, tweaking some of the story’s details so that they better fit in this past culture that he knows a lot more about (as does the goddess he was portraying) than my PC does. But my story setup gave him a framework from which to innovate and add interesting details that were new to my PC (and me).
We sat back for a moment after this in-character exchange and smiled, knowing we’d just discovered a cool new way of co-creating together! Jonathan even thanked me for adding that in, giving him the chance to build on my idea.
This is one reason that being an active player is so important! You are not a passive participant at the table having a story unfold before you while you sit back until it’s time to roll initiative. It shouldn’t be up to the GM alone to create the story and world—they need your help!
I want to clarify one last piece of why this setup worked so well. We’re nearing the end of a major story arc, and my PC has a lot of the details of what’s going on. However, there’s a second part of the story opening up as we get closer. She understands the stakes for the world and has been active in trying to avert disaster. But it has been much less clear how she and the party are personally involved.
That is, until our last few sessions, as we close in the end of the arc. We’re past the point where the PC is still trying to figure out where to go or what to do. We’re beyond running around to several NPCs and trying to find the story threads. (I’ll work on a future post for when to give the PC information and when to hold out.) This made the opportunity perfect for my PC to have a new revelation, because it added to this point in the story and reinvigorated the party’s belief in their mission. Our characters have done the work of getting this far, and part of the reward for that is a better understanding of why they’re on this adventure—what it has to do with them and not just their world.
When you make the PC the main character, the conflicts they encounter in the world are about them. The degrees of personal involvement can vary, but there should be a story reason that they’re the adventurer who needs to solve this problem and not someone else.
GMs, I don’t say this to ask you to overthink it or put too much pressure on yourselves. Whether you’re creating your own campaign or running a duet campaign, like Land of Vampires, for your player, the tweaks you make to the story and world to make it more fun at your personal table will naturally orient themselves toward the player’s character.
Humans are natural storytellers! Your subconscious will work on this whether you’re sure how to consciously do it or not. And that’s really cool! We just want to help you lean into that more. So let’s look at the framework for adding this co-creation into your home duet game.
At Your Table
During your next session, see if you can incorporate a “Would you like to guess?” or “Can I guess?” interaction. (Rephrased as appropriate to your character of course!)
This is also a great tool to have in the DM toolbox for when you’re not sure about a story or lore detail and would like help coming up with it.
As a reminder to both players and DMs, you don’t have to get something “right,” and you can always tweak a reveal or story detail as needed later. There’s something really special about lore created in-game—you haven’t over-thought it, and it most often comes directly from your creative center. So take the pressure off of getting it perfect and just share what comes to mind. From there, you can co-create your way to what feels right!
Storyteller, DM, GM
You may have noticed some switching back and forth between Storyteller, DM, and GM in this post. All three terms refer to the person who has prepped the storyline of the game and is facilitating the session for the player. I love the term “Storyteller,” but I worry that using it deemphasizes the player‘s role as a co-storyteller. We want to do everything we can to make sure the player is empowered to be an active participant and narrative driver at the table!
However you call your role at the table, I hope that this post has given you some ideas for co-creating with your partner! Feel free to share any thoughts of questions you have in the comments below!
Live the Adventure
Would you like to escape into an exciting story world that gradually unfolds before you, with surprising twists along the way? What if we combined the extended narrative and intimacy of one-on-one gaming with the lyrical, immersive experience of epic fantasy fiction? What if the story emphasized and invited your engagement, and arrived in your inbox every week? Would you answer the call and join in the adventure?
If this sounds like fun to you, I hope you’ll join me (Beth) for The Tree of Silver, an extended story experience based on our duet game that whisks you along, week after week, on an exciting narrative journey across the magical fantasy world of Eldura? Click here to find out more!
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