You caught the D&D bug, but are finding it difficult to find a full party of other people interested in playing. You are tired of your weekly D&D session falling prey to the group’s sundry life events, general flakiness, or immersion-breaking antics, and are looking to play more consistently. You have struck up a new relationship and you want to share your passion with your non-gaming partner, but you’re not sure how to bring them in while not freaking them out…
Whether you are just starting out with role-playing games or you are a well-seasoned veteran, starting a duet, or a one-on-one D&D campaign, is an amazing opportunity to explore your favorite tabletop role-playing game in a fresh new way. The good thing about duets is that you only need to convince one other person to buy in. Sometimes, though, that can be a daunting prospect for a number of reasons.
Maybe the words “Dungeons and Dragons” makes your significant other guffaw and tease. Maybe the game’s books of rules are an immediate turn off or seem intimidating. Maybe there are concerns about the time commitment.
Whatever the situation, here are a few guidelines and things to consider as you prepare to start your duet:
0. Be Chill and Patient
Less can often be more when it comes to sharing your passion. You’re excited! That’s awesome. Channel that energy strategically into getting someone else to share that passion with you.
However, do not steamroll or bully someone into playing. Be patient. Relationships take time and duets depend on the relationship between the two people playing.
1. Plan Your Approach
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One-on-one games are all about the relationship between the two people playing. In standard group-size games, oftentimes the only obstacles you have to overcome to get people to play are preconceived notions about the game itself and scheduling.
However, when you are trying to get a duet going, it is essential to meet the other player where they are and make a plan to speak to their specific concerns or preconceptions.
Anticipate objections they might have about starting to play and plan ways in which you may address those problems.
For instance, Beth’s family is very serious about rules in board games (to the detriment of fun at times) and as a result, she is not. Because I know her and knew she would be concerned about that, I made sure to reassure her that the rules were not the point of the game, but merely the bones on which we would flesh out our shared story.
Anticipating objections is only part of it. It is equally important to know what the other player is in to. For instance, if they love Harry Potter but can’t stand Star Wars, it is your task to identify why. The beautiful thing about D&D is that it is so adaptable!
If they get excited about the story of a magical outcast slowly growing to wield great power, D&D can do that. If they love the close relationships between a core circle of friends surrounded by a colorful cast of supporting characters, D&D can do that. If the idea of slinging arcane devastation against terrifying foes makes their heart race, D&D can do that.
Your game of Dungeons and Dragons can incorporate all of these themes and more. Often in one session. The trick is knowing what cocktail to prepare for your player.
2. Pitch to your Partner (Listen)
Execute that beautifully thought-out and considerate pitch you’ve been planning. It’s a good idea to communicate some of the reasons why you find the game so compelling and highlight the personalized reasons for why you think your prospective partner may be interested.
And then pause. Make sure that you’ve actually piqued some interest before proceeding. If it seems that they are not about it, back off gracefully and bide your time. It took me months to get Beth to play D&D with me. If you’re talking to someone that is worth playing a duet with, a close friend, partner, child, family member, or significant other, then you will have other chances to pitch (or not) as you choose.
Note from Beth: He had actually been playing for a year before I agreed to try it. But playing with just us was a lot more palatable to me than playing with a larger group, and the fact that we would be making it together, along with how excited he was about it, really helped.
If you manage to generate a bit of interest, make sure that you are balancing the rest of that conversation with a healthy dose of listening.
One of the mistakes that I made early on was getting overly excited and complicated when Beth and I first got started. I was so excited that I was getting to talk about my new hobby with my favorite person that I am sure I made things more complex than necessary.
This can be very intimidating to your prospective partner. Take a deep breath!
Don’t steamroll the person that you are trying to get to play. That does not suggest that your game will have the balanced back and forth essential for a successful roleplaying game. That balance is even more important when there are only two people.
Working on that balance also gives the other person the time and space to get as excited about your duet as you are.
As best you can, speak to any concerns or objections. Consider jotting down some notes and ideas that the two of you generate during this conversation in order to set up the next step.
3. Pre-session Planning
If you are experienced with creating and running games of D&D, then you likely have a good idea of what to do next. Just make sure that you are adjusting what you normally do for the smaller, more intimate table/party. We have lots of ideas for you for how to do that!
With only two people playing, there are fewer brains at the table to fill in gaps, think through solutions to a problem, or fill in roleplaying encounters. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to come into the session with plenty of prep.
When Beth agreed to play with me, I hadn’t been in charge of running the game before. Sure I had played, but I had never been a Dungeon Master. I made lots of mistakes DMing, but I did do a few things right. Having more experience, here’s what I wish I had known:
Set an objective
First, figure out what exactly you want the player character to accomplish in the session. What do you want them to experience and where do you want them to end up? It’s a good idea for the first session to include a little taste of the three main pillars of play: exploration, combat, and roleplay. Start with the end firmly in sight and then you can focus on your overarching story beats.
I designed our first session to introduce a little bit of role-playing at the very beginning as I thought this pillar of play would be the most exciting to Beth. I did this by introducing two NPCs: a trusted mentor figure and then a scampy best-friend.
Prior to our playing the first time, we had talked about my character and created her together. I came up with her name, and Jonathan narrowed down the classes for me, knowing how I would most likely prefer to play and which classes I would relate to. I picked my character’s race as well, and he set up her family and went over it with me a few days before our session so I could be thinking about her in more detail. One of my favorite things he added to this was a picture of my character that he had picked out—that extra thought and attention to help me get invested in my character and our game meant a lot.
I did my best to consider how I could portray a depth of character and interpersonal relationship as quickly as possible. I spent a good chunk of the prep time figuring out who these NPCs were, what they looked like, how they would talk, what their relationship was like with our PC, and what they wanted.
I took a beat from Homer and started in media res, though the “action” in question was a lecture on some inane subject by her character’s mentor. After some low-stakes roleplaying, noticing the primary character’s waning attention, the mentor directed her to her next task which opened up space for describing her home and the next scene with the best-friend who was pining for a better life.
And then mix it up
Secondly, I wanted to introduce exploration and combat. Both of these were accomplished as she was tasked with running off to her regularly scheduled training session. This was basically a fancy obstacle course designed by her combat instructor (a third trusted NPC) that culminated in a sparring match. I included some directional decisions and skill checks. Doing something low-stakes like this cheesy simulation gets new players accustomed to making choices, navigating their sheets, rolling, and adding modifiers.
Emphasis on low stakes! And I would add in quick! I got to practice figuring out what to roll and describing what my character would be doing in a situation where if I had a question or didn’t understand something, it didn’t throw us off, and I felt comfortable having the space to figure things out. This is important for new players especially. If they’ve agreed to play, they want to give it a real shot, but it can be intimidating when the other person knows the subject really well and you don’t.
Finally, through your classic teleportation mishap, I planned to bring all these pieces together and introduced stakes. Our PC was dropped in an unknown, faraway place and needed to solve riddles, navigate obstacles, and fight to free her first sidekick.
Especially for the first session of a one-on-one game, proper planning can be the key to unlocking a long-lasting, relationship-deepening shared experience.
We wrote an introductory adventure specifically to help you start your own two-person campaign and, if needed, to introduce someone to the game. It follows the three steps above, beginning with RP, moving to low-stakes combat, and culminating in a mountainside dungeon where the PC can find their first traveling companion. Check it out on DMsGuild!*
4. Set Expectations (and Tease)
There’s a reason why most people enjoy getting to the movie theater right at showtime even though it means waiting through ten minutes or more of previews. We love looking forward to things! Ask yourself, how can you build excitement and anticipation as you and your duet partner get closer to game day?
Depending on your partner, you may or may not get immediate buy in. There are a number of ways to get your partner excited, even if they don’t want to roll HP die with you. Consider penning or printing a letter to their character from an important NPC and giving it to them in real life. If you are going to start in a place that their character is familiar with, send them the map ahead of time. You could create a shared Pinterest board filled with place and character pictures and art. Anything you can do to invite them into the world of your game before you actually sit down to play will do the trick.
Keeping the interpersonal stakes lower and expressing your appreciation to the other person for simply giving something you’re passionate about a chance sets them up for a fun and genuine experience instead of a stressful, high-pressure one.
If possible, it’s also a good idea to give your partner a heads up about how the game actually works. There are some great videos that I have used in the past like this video from the good people of The Dungeoncast that sums up the conceptual basics.
I worked out a sheet ahead of time fleshing out some of the relationships that our PC had with important people. We worked together on a character history. I told her my idea for the general mode of play. We talked through the mechanics of character creation. Through the week I built up our game as if it was an exciting date night. In essence, it was.
As your one-on-one game gets more established, don’t forget this bit. When you can tease and hint about what’s coming up in your game, it lets your partner know that you are thinking about them and the time that you all spend together. It can be as simple as shooting them a devious look and when they ask, saying, “I’m scheming!”
It’s finally Game Night! Beforehand, gather your materials and supplies, set up nice drinks and snacks, prep the mood with lighting and music, get into your best acting/DMing frame of mind, and launch into your new game.
Deliver as well as you can on promises you made during your pitch. Use all that preparation, but do not grip too tightly onto your plans. As anyone that has played D&D before knows, the most memorable moments that happen are the ones you didn’t see coming.
Also, refer back to Step 0- Be patient and chill. Now that it’s game time, this includes you. As you are running the game, you will make mistakes, you will forget rules, you will keep the fight going for longer than you intended, but that’s ok. One of the best things about playing with one other person in a duet is that you have more space to be vulnerable, unsure, or to figure things out in a satisfying way than when you have 6 people hanging on your ruling or decision.
Be patient and chill with your partner as well. Watch the tone of your voice when you are explaining rules or consequences. Roll with what they want to do as much as
possible is fun for both of you. If you are playing with someone who hasn’t played before, go slow when explaining rules but keep the excitement and momentum up with everything else.
Following these steps should get your two-player game set up and started. There is always a ton to learn and new things to try with a hobby like role-playing games. The best way to learn more about it is to jump in, not worry about making mistakes, and allow for feedback.
Speaking of feedback, please email us or comment below and let us know what more would be helpful for you to read or learn more about.
If you’d like to try out a one-on-one campaign but don’t know where to begin, we’d love for you to check out our introductory duet adventure on DMs Guild!* It sets up a three-part storyline, beginning with a first level character and going through level three, for one player and one DM. It comes with maps and stat blocks as well as example character sheets with backstories to make starting your two-player game as easy and straightforward as possible.
A Video Example
We received several requests from our readers and patrons for a video example of one-on-one play, which we now have together for you! Yay!
We play through the first half of our First Blush adventure, which was really fun!
If you’d like to help us create more content, our next sponsorship goal on our Patreon is a wider collection of video resources. We’d love for you to join us!
*We do receive a small commission from DMs Guild—at no cost to you—when you follow the links from our site to theirs 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 and/or for you to share the blog with your friends. We appreciate you so much! Thank you for reading. – Beth and Jonathan