How can you adapt your one-on-one D&D campaign if your player isn’t fond of (or is actively opposed to) combat?
We have a few ideas for you in this post!
Keeping reading below or, if you prefer, check out the video!
How do you run a low-combat duet D&D game?
This question had come up twice in last couple weeks, so I decided to make a video (and post) to share these ideas and suggestions in case you’re running into this dilemma at your duet gaming table too!
One of the most important things to keep in mind with duet D&D—and something we say often—is that you should make adjustments at the table depending on the preferences of the people at the table. (For a recent post on this, read about how the “rule of cool” played a pivotal role in one of our gaming sessions.)
As one example, in our Tabletop for Two video about playing D&D with kids, we encouraged parents and caretakers to add in as much combat as possible, as rolling all the dice and attacking monsters seems to be very popular with the younger demographic.
Start With Why
But let’s say you’re a DM and your duet partner isn’t fond of combat. There could be a few reasons behind that:
- Perhaps they don’t like how combat slows down gameplay
- Maybe they don’t like the idea of using violence to solve problems
- Or maybe they don’t enjoy the mechanics of their PC in combat.
It’s also possible that your player simply prefers the other aspects of D&D and would like to keep combat to a minimum.
So if this describes you or your player, what do you do?
The answer is going to depend a lot on why the player would prefer to have a low-combat campaign. And if neither you nor they are sure, then you might consider playing around a bit with the solutions we’re about to talk about and see if that helps.
Solution One: Theater of the Mind
Rely on theater of the mind instead of elaborate setups with minis or virtual tabletops.
Personally, I love theater of the mind combat. For me, it helps me to be more creative and contribute more to the environment where the combat is taking place. And I also appreciate how it keeps the pace of the game more consistent with the pacing of one-on-one games in general. (Combat can be clunky!) There are also plenty of times where you don’t need to pull out the combat map and minis and can end the combat with just a few rolls.
That being said, there have also been instances where we pulled out a map for combat and ended up resolving the situation verbally between the characters. So there’s a helpful tool to keep in your pocket, DMs! For me, those moments in-game keep my options as the main character open: I can resort to violence if needed, but it can also be a cue from Jonathan for me to take a step back from the situation and ensure I fully understand what’s going on.
Theater of the mind can also be a helpful tool playing on a virtual tabletop. I’m a very tactile gamer, and fiddling with the tokens quickly becomes overwhelming for me when I’m trying to tell a story and describe what’s going on in combat. But again, the beauty of this playing style is that it’s flexible!
(Need help with your virtual tabletop game? We’ve got you covered here!)
But let’s say that your player doesn’t like combat at all.
Solution Two: Adjust the type of campaign you’re playing.
This was the solution that worked best for the first DM I talked to who had a question along these lines. His wife loves crime shows, and she’s not the biggest fan of the combat aspect of D&D. So he had been considering running an investigation-heavy campaign with her as an investigator, and he would play the Watson to her Sherlock.
I thought this was a brilliant solution to their quandary and suggested they try out Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. Investigations can work really well in urban environments, and the setting for that campaign feels so immersive. There are so many little details in the campaign that make the city feel real.
And setting her character up as an investigator leads me to solution three.
Solution Three: Adjust the PC’s class and stats
Adjust the PC’s class, subclass, and/or stats to help the narrative frame fit with their preferences.
The second DM I spoke to explained that his partner doesn’t like combat or violence at all. It doesn’t matter if the monster is evil—she doesn’t want to fight it. And I think that’s perfectly reasonable, and it’s certainly going to create an interesting campaign for them!
I suggested that she consider a Circle of the Shepherd druid for her character for if and when combat did come up: She can cast conjure animals and let the spectral Feywild companions deal with whatever the party has encountered and then they float happily on back to the Feywild. (Or that’s how we read that spell at our home table.)
I also think that a high Wisdom or Charisma character would work well with something like this: Let’s assume that the character has adjusted to a world with monsters roaming around the wilds, and they’ve adapted to this scenario by being hyper-vigilant and incredibly persuasive. That way you maintain the PC’s flexibility—which is key to the PC in a duet campaign—but you also set the player up well for the type of game they prefer.
Example from our game
We’re trying out something along those lines in our new home campaign right now. Jonathan’s playing a swarm-keeper ranger named Owyn, and he’s primarily been traveling in his favored terrain, so he and his companion have successfully avoided most of the combats I’ve thrown their way because Owyn’s Perception and awareness are high enough that he is aware of the creatures they come across before they’re aware of him.
To follow along with our new campaign and get access to the campaign sketches for Moonlight & Honey, join the Story Conclave over on Patreon!
I also forgot to say in the video, but I’ll leave here in the show notes: the adaptation of Blue Rose for 5e should be really interesting in this regard. It’s more about political intrigue than it is attacking monsters, and I think they’ll have some really neat suggestions along these lines.
The final thing I’ll add here is that if the player doesn’t mind combat if it’s clear that the creature they’re fighting either isn’t experiencing pain or is causing harm to others, then I’d encourage you to check out our Land of Vampires: Stepping into Shadow campaign! There’s a lot of RP potential in each of the chapters and locations so the PC can avoid combat if they wish, and there are also plenty of undead who the player may not feel the same qualms about attacking as they would someone who’s still living.
I hope this has helped and has given you some interesting things to think about!
If you have other ideas for running low-combat duet campaigns or have a follow-up question about this or another one-on-one D&D topic, let me know in the comments below!
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