One of the very best parts of running a duet is, since you are most likely playing with someone very close to you, games can happen as frequently as you desire. This can, however, result in a lot of work for the person that is DMing.
Especially if you are playing together in a co-created homebrew world, it often takes a lot of prep and mental work to bring a good game to the table every time you play. This is where swapping the roles of player and DM can be extra beneficial. If you are sharing this work, it can stay fun without descending into something that is a chore.
Swapping DMs in the middle of a campaign can sometimes be tricky. Below are some methods that we have used in our one-on-one game of D&D.
1. The “Meanwhile…” Method
Using this method, a player and DM can switch responsibilities while the party is split or groups of lesser-developed NPCs are doing something away from the main party. It can be especially fun if the swap happens at a tense or climactic point for your central party.
There are a number of advantages for using this method. Foremost, filling in the experiences and personalities of your secondary characters (either the non-PC members of the central party or other NPCs) is an incredible way to add depth to your world. Putting characters into the spotlight that do not normally live there allows your game to explore personality types, play styles, classes, and ultimately themes that are not always possible when you have your primary player character in the limelight.
In our game, the primary party was on a mission to rescue an important NPC from some Drow that were holding him underground. Meanwhile, another secondary party of sailors (pirates) was in a port some days away with the aim of gathering new crewmembers. This minor job would normally be hand-waved, but the port city was interesting and we were keen on developing the leader (a charismatic figure from our main character’s past that had recently resurfaced). So, I DM’d the high-stakes Drow infiltration and rescue, then we immediately shot back in time a few days, switched seats and perspectives, and explored the same time period with this secondary character and different location.
It was great swashbuckling fun, gave me a break, allowed us to develop a character who is now a core member of our central party, and we explored a whole new location and characters that are integral to many of our primary people’s stories.
2. Side Quest Method
In this method, the main party gets side-tracked or has an interesting experience on the way to a primary objective. Sometimes getting from point A to point B can be extraneous. I really appreciated the Angry GM’s thoughts on travel when I was getting going. He gave permission to simply hand-wave moving from one place to another if the journey itself did not serve a narrative purpose. This was so liberating! Instead of “false action” for the sake of having something happen, you can just skip it.
OR it does serve a narrative purpose and there are real stakes, in which case it may be the perfect time to swap DMs for a bit as your primary party traverses your dangerous world. I call this the Side Quest method because it happens en route to the next major story-beat but does not necessarily tie directly in with said arc.
If you know the party must move from one place to another, but you don’t have exciting things you are planning on throwing in their path, maybe your devious co-creator has some ideas.
In our world, the Elven Realms comprise a large and dangerous forest, made all the more deadly by the Elves’ abdication of their ancestral duties to care for the land and their flight to more urban environs. Our primary party needed to traverse these lands in order to rendezvous with the rest of their people in order to confront our arc’s BBEG [Big Bad Evil Guy].
Beth took over the travel and added some new layers and complications to our game that I would have never thought to bring in. She introduced a new major conflict with important consequences for the land we were leaving and our characters. This conflict bound our characters to the place and made it all the more difficult to go. I am sure they will return.
3. Turning the Table Method
Beth and I have experimented with sharing both DM and primary player responsibilities in the same session. Often this can be at a predetermined milestone that is achieved during the session, or can happen more fluidly depending on where the “camera” is focused.
Sometimes (oftentimes) it is difficult to know where a session of D&D will end up. Perhaps in your session, you hit one of the two previously discussed flipping points early. No need to stop playing or put up your 5 different sets of die! Just switch spots.
More interestingly though, flipping responsibilities could be tied to where the focus of the narrative takes your game. Or, more precisely, on whom your narrative focuses. Beth and I share ownership of all of the characters in our game to an extent. That being said, it is not an even share. I have way more control over our first DM-PC [Dungeon Master’s Player Character, or first central party NPC], the paladin that Garren from our First Blush adventure is loosely modeled after in our series on DMsGuild.* In the same vein, I would never presume to have Beth’s primary character do something if it was against her direction.
In a game of Dungeons and Dragons, and especially in a duet game, the narrative focus may wander and shift. In a game involving a group of players, the DM may single out a character to develop, challenge, or flesh out. At a table of two, this same maneuver takes a little more trust and flexibility.
An Ongoing Project
This is something Beth and I are still working on. There have been a few times when she is developing a plot for a planned DM/player swap when she will, while I am DMing, tell me to roll a check or tell me that one of “my” characters notice something. Recently, while I was DMing and her character was taking a long rest, she just took over and DM’d my character’s dream.
This method adds a lot of surprise, but certainly requires a heightened level of trust between the people involved. I can imagine some DMs having a hard time giving up control mid-session and being subject to, instead of the giver of, another player’s story.
Have you ever had more than one DM in a continuous campaign before? What do you think of mixing it up and letting someone else play God for a while? As always, we are interested to hear what you think and curious to know what you’d like to see more of.
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