We got a question last week about why I kept playing our duet after I had been so hesitant to start playing. And by hesitant, it took a full year. I tried to answer said question last week, in “Why I Play D&D: A Love Letter,” but, while I meant every word, that response is a bit more me-specific than is necessarily helpful. And it doesn’t quite answer the question of how you get someone to play, or to try it out, who doesn’t want to.
I’m going to skip the obvious pieces of advice like “don’t nag them” and assume that you’re already well aware of that.
Instead, I will still advise patience, because that’s always helpful to remember, digging into why they don’t want to play, trying out a gateway game together, and figuring out what aspects of RPGs you think they might most like to nerd-out about.
Jonathan discusses this somewhat in How to Start Playing a Duet, but I think it’s worth reiterating. As excited as you are to play with your partner and as much as you love your RPG of choice, they will very likely eventually be that excited about your one-on-one campaign with them and perhaps play in multi-player parties at some point too.
So hold on to that vision:
Your partner, as you’re falling asleep or texting you late at night or saying over coffee, “I’ve been plotting this amazing thing about [my character,] [about this big bad,] [about this setting,], but I can’t tell you! You have to wait till we play!” And then they get the really satisfying moment in-game of revealing their genius plan.
Maybe it seems really distant now, but if you keep holding out your hand and inviting them to share this passion with you, they’ll eventually give it a shot.
Note: do remember to keep the invitation low-stakes. They’re likely nervous or intimidated to play because it means so much to you, and what if they don’t like it? How are they going to tell you? Help them see that this is a fun thing to add to the relationship, not something the relationship is hanging on.
Why Don’t They Want to Play?
I don’t like playing games very much. I especially don’t like games that involve strategy, paying close attention, and/or a lot of rules. And yet D&D is my favorite hobby and something I’m super passionate about and love to do and play.
Growing up, playing Hearts, Spades, or whatever else, my parents not only wanted to play but also wanted to talk about (read: analyze and fuss at me about) what had happened while we were playing.
The same thing went for putt-putt or bowling. We need to critique this thing so you can be better at it.
Quite naturally, this led to a reticence to playing a wide variety of games.
But this was something, when Jonathan was trying to convince me to try out playing with him, that he was really conscious of. So instead, he approached it from an angle that I would find more interesting—people!
This took some figuring out and working through for both of us. If I could go back in time and tell past me: “Listen, you get to hang out with your best friend and pretend to be a sexy redheaded half-elf who’s a badass, shoots a longbow, and has magical abilities gifted from nature itself via her connection to the moon,” I might have started playing much sooner. But so far time-travel doesn’t work like that.
His approach looked more like laying the groundwork for a character, creating a family for her, and developing a city-state around that. He left lots of blanks for me to fill in, knowing that that’s the kind of play that I love to do.
He didn’t just say, “you can play a half-elf and have darkvision.” Instead, “Your character” (who I got to name,* which was also fun) “is the bastard daughter of a prominent noblewoman in this fantasy kingdom by the sea. You’ve never met your elven father. You and your mother were close when you were young, but after she reconciled with your step-father, and as you entered adolescence, the two of you have grown apart.”
This was so helpful because it gave me a structure in which to play and develop my character and work on her backstory. Just enough to pique my interest and creativity without being overwhelming, and it left me space to get to know her as we went along.
*I don’t think we’ve mentioned this site yet, but Fantasy Name Generators, run by Emily, is an absolutely incredible resource. If your partner is genuinely considering playing but wants your help, this is a great first step to send them out on their own to play around and come up with something themselves while you help with the character build.
Be thoughtful as you find out why they don’t want to play and see if you can address, objectively, their concerns.
Possible concerns that the one-on-one form directly addresses
Maybe they’re intimidated by the number of rules or number of dice?
Simple—you, as the DM (I’m assuming) are going to be patient with them and walk them through step by step. And they won’t need to know ALL the rules anyway! Most basically, all they’ll be asked to do is react, either in character or by saying “I would like to…”, and then when you ask them for some sort of check or roll, almost always they just need to pick up their d20 and you can help them with modifiers from there.
Perhaps they’ve had a bad experience in the past, with other players talking over them, feeling stressed about how much more everyone else knows than them, their character not being taken seriously or getting ignored—there’s a litany of things for this category.
These past experiences should absolutely be taken seriously and thoughtfully, but what you know, and can find a way of relaying to them, is that each set of people playing an RPG together is different. And you’re going to tailor the experience exactly to them and their preferences. After all, you’re asking them to try it out because you think it’ll be a fun way for the two of you to spend time together.
To me, duets are an incredibly way to introduce someone else to D&D or another RPG. In a two-player campaign, you as the DM get to make a lot of allowances and tweaks to suit the preferences of the player. And that’s freeing for both of you.
Try out a gateway game
I don’t know that I would have every played D&D if I hadn’t tried and fallen in love with Diablo III first.
Much like D&D, I didn’t like video games, mostly because I’m really bad at them, the controls are usually backwards, and they make me kinda dizzy.
But Jonathan was sure that I would like Diablo, and he was right. And honestly, the way it helps players slowly learn the controls, among other helpful aspects, is a really great model for guiding someone else through trying out D&D.
You learn one button at a time, and then when you have that pretty much down, you add one more button. Simplifying and breaking down an RPG to the bare-bones where the player feels invited instead of alienated is a great practice for helping them to get into the game.
The rules and dice are there to add weight to the decisions and to add stakes; they’re the skeleton on which to build your story. They’re not meant to be a barrier, so play around and customize what you need to in order to help ease your partner into a level of comfort that allows them to engage.
Playing Diablo with Jonathan helped me to discover a new way of spending time together that I didn’t think I would like. But I loved playing! I started doing research online for the best builds for Demon Hunters, read the fictional backstory for why she became one in the first place and why her eyes are yellow, and these forms of digging deeper into a game world were the perfect seeds to get me hooked on D&D.
Note: I think the effectiveness of this might change depending on the preferences of the person you’re trying to get to play, but, thinking back, Jonathan’s passion and excitement for Critical Role was another element in the positive procession of dominoes that needed to fall in order for me to play. When he talked about the storylines and, most importantly, the depth of characters and internal and external conflicts, it opened my perspective and changed my understanding of what D&D could do.
If there’s a podcast or streaming show that you love, maybe that could help them figure out that playing isn’t as difficult as they thought, and it can look lots of different ways, and the goal is for it to be fun for everyone at the table.
What about D&D are they going to most like?
I love that question one of the 30 Day D&D Challenge asks the participant what got them into D&D in the first place. We all have a story about why we love a particular RPG or RPGs in general.
What about your RPG of choice is going to resonate with your partner?
Will they think the math side of it is interesting, looking at the wide array of stats that creatures with the same CR level have? Will they enjoy optimizing their character right to the verge of meta-gaming without going over?
Are they more interested in human nature, individuality, or psychology? Will they enjoy creating their character’s backstory? Delving into political intrigue? Helping you create NPCs? Forging a relationship between their character and the central party?
Will they be excited to throw themselves dramatically into the role-play? Or really enjoy playing a badass who does villain-ending damage each round of combat?
You don’t need to tell them what they’ll like about it by any means. And maybe you aren’t quite sure. Do express your own excitement and passion for the game (just not all the time), the things you think are really cool and can’t stop thinking about. This will help them come alongside you as you try and open doors till you find out what they will want to geek out about.
Passion and enjoyment are contagious. Maybe you can think of it as modeling RPG-joy. There’s something about playing, maybe even the fact of play, that they’ll like about it.
Working it in naturally
As a final point of advice, see if you can help your partner find the time in your shared schedule where you could work your duet in. They’re probably already busy, and being asked to do one more thing might stress them out.
But that’s not what you’re actually asking. In reality, you’re proposing a different way for the two of you to spend time together. A way that’s a lot more intimate, engaged, and interesting than watching Netflix, and a lot more affordable than going to your favorite restaurant for three hours each week.
I hope this helps as you and your partner consider playing. Though I wrote it mostly thinking about an audience of people who want someone else to play, I am also crossing my fingers that this perspective might be meaningful and encouraging for those who, like past me, don’t think of themselves as gamers and can’t picture themselves playing.
Finding a bonus reason
My favorite author, David Mitchell, brings up D&D often in interviews as something that he and other writers talk about at conventions. If and when I get to meet him, we’ll have something to talk about. This was another underlying reason in my decision to play.
Matthew Lillard, who plays Shaggy, is active in and doing some really cool things for the D&D community. Same goes for Joe Manganiello (include my great hope that he and Sofia Vergara will see our blog, start their own duet, and become our friends).
So, remember: be patient, address their concerns, help them open up to the idea by considering other ways of spending time together, and get to know their inner nerd a bit better and see what they’ll like.
Here’s a bardic inspiration from me.
Once they accept!
Because it’s always a good idea to have an optimistic game plan ready to go, here’s a brief overview of our steps to help your duet get started:
- Creating the primary character
- Trying out First Blush* or other one-on-one adventure
- Building the central party
And then once you’re off the ground running:
After First Blush, we’d love for you to try out the sequel adventure, Second Glance, now available on DMsGuild.* Though we do offer our adventures as pay what you want titles, we would love for you to support our blog and our future writing efforts by purchasing your copy.
*We do receive a small commission—at not cost to you—if you follow the affiliate link from our site to DMsGuild and make a purchase.
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