In this post, I cover my top three tips for DMs of one-on-one D&D as well as two bonus tips!
Tip #1: Establish and Maintain trust
The player has to know that you’re rooting for them and their character.
While this is true for all DMs, it’s especially important for DMs of one-on-one games. You’re asking your player to be vulnerable with you and to contribute a lot to the world and story. They need to know you’re on their side.
Areas that can break trust
Tip #2: Let Player Preference Be Your Guide
Skew the game for the things the player likes and avoid the things they don’t.
If they find open exploration or shopping trips boring, skip them! Fast-forward to the parts the player finds more exciting.
And while we’re at it, feel free to include plenty of what you like as well. I’m a firm believer that both the player and the DM should be having fun.
At the end of the day, if they’re enjoying the challenges you’ve put in front of them, you will be too. We have a whole post on navigating between your individual preferences to help you out!
What if they’re not sure what they like?
If you’re just starting out, you might not know what you think is fun or what you’re not interested in during games, and the same rings true for your player. This is the best situation to be in! Be as open as you can and experiment with all the different types of play.
Even if you’re not new, stay open to the various gaming elements. Personally, I’m not a big fan of puzzles, but I love creative problem solving in RP or combat situations—a unique type of puzzle! And our tastes shift and evolve the more we play.
A Note on Combat
I hear from plenty of people who are uncomfortable with combat, so I want to pause here for just a moment.
Some questions for reflection: How much of this discomfort comes down to a lack of practice or feeling like the game slows down during combat? Can you as a DM or you as a player find creative solutions inside of combat that aren’t necessarily violent?
If you’re playing a nature-based character, for example, perhaps try something like speak with animals before you resort to drawing weapons.
Combat can be intense for both players and DMs, so make sure you’re both talking about why this particular aspect of the game is making you uneasy and that you aren’t holding yourselves to unreasonable expectations. D&D duets are as unique as the DMs and players inside them!
We’ll have a post soon with more specific strategies for getting comfortable with combat, but I hope this tides you over for now.
Tip #3: Collaboration is Key
This has a few implications for your duet gaming table.
First, let your player do some of the work, and don’t put everything on your own shoulders. Let them drive, and set them up to move the story forward.
Check out our post on collaborative worldbuilding for more.
Basically, you’re inviting the player to actively participate in determining narrative direction and to let you know what their character wants to do. This is a unique opportunity and primary responsibility for players in duet D&D, but they need the space and permission to feel that they can actively contribute.
Lots of DMs put themselves under pressure to “not overshadow” the PC in one-on-one D&D. The motivation behind this is thoughtful and important, but I’m concerned it partially misses the mark.
Rather than focusing on a sidekick or DMPC not overshadowing the PC, you should be focused on not overshadowing the player. I talk about that balance in more detail in this post. You do want the player to have a versatile PC, and there are lots of ways to go about that, but you can let them move the action forward and occasionally have the DMPC roll more damage dice than the PC.
Which brings us back to communication!
Keeping the Player Informed
This is an intimate form of play, so make sure you’re communicating with your player that you’re enjoying the game and that you think what they’re adding to the narrative is cool.
There may be situations in collaborative gaming where the player comes up with a unique solution or direction that totally throws off your plans. An easy way to celebrate this happening is to let them know that they’ve surprised you and that you may need a moment to reset.
Keeping this line of communication open relieves tension for both of you and won’t lead to the player thinking they’ve done something wrong.
You can keep these moments simple and straightforward while also giving the player access to what’s going on behind the DM screen. For example: “Hey, I need just a minute to set something up,” or “Wow! What a crazy choice! Ok, let me wrap my head around this. We may need to pause here for an hour while I adjust my plans.”
Just in case you have a session that needs a longer pause or things end on a weird note, we’ve put some strategies together for dealing with that too!
We’ll go into more detail about these in future posts but, for now, here are my two bonus tips for DMs!
Bonus Tip #1: Take Breaks
When playing two-person D&D, you’re both hyper-involved, and there’s not very much downtime for either of you. Look for natural opportunities to take breaks while you’re playing, which will give each of you a chance to add to your notes, grab a snack, and reflect on your characters and choices.
Bonus Tip #2: Use a DMPC
Similar to my advice earlier about not worrying so much about overshadowing the PC so long as you’re giving the player creative leeway, I think one of the great things about one-on-one play is the opportunity for both people to share roles as DM and player!
When you’re setting up for a session, absolutely keep your DM hat on and plan accordingly. But, once you start playing, see if you can relax into your characters and perhaps dive into the RP of a sidekick, DMPC, or both!
We hope these tips have been helpful and interesting for you! If you want to hear about them in more detail, you can check out my conversation with Mike Shea here! Please leave any questions or comments you have below!