Can we gush for a moment about how wonderful one-on-one D&D is? Surprise! As a special treat for all of us, Matt Colville has featured duet play on his “Running the Game” series!
This post covers some of the highlights of Matt’s great video about one-on-one play, along with some of our favorite quotes and advice.
I have long been a huge fan of Colville’s work. In a crowded field of voices offering advice for new Dungeon Masters, his remains some of the best and most thoughtful. I turned to his Running the Game series when I was starting out. His style of DMing and his energy will forever be part of how I run Dungeons and Dragons.
We waited with bated breath for his Strongholds and Followers supplement to come out and have explored using some of his rules for Retainers and Strongholds in our home game. Since then, we have been looking forward to Kingdoms and Warfare.
You might imagine our excitement when he specifically made One-on-One D&D the focus of his latest Running the Game video. I thought I would break down some of the key takeaways below.
Just Do It
“If you sit down to play D&D with just one player, they’re going to love it… because they are going to get 100% of your attention.”Matt Colville
Playing D&D with one other person offers up the wonderful chance to spend focused time with that person. Their character gets to be the star of the show. Playing that character is going to feel awesome!
It’s really a win for both the player and the Dungeon Master. Without five different tastes to cater to, the DM gets to spend more time finely honing an adventure that will resonate well with their player and their own preferences.
Be Careful with Encounter Design
In 5th Edition, being outnumbered puts even strong characters at risk. Combat is going to take on a different tone. You might consider running more encounters with just ONE bad guy.
And when your PC is fighting just one enemy, that enemy can take on more narrative weight. You can spend more time describing actions and effects. Fights can be more cinematic than rolling saves and reporting and recording numbers.
One-on-one D&D can make combats run faster, which then emphasizes the other pillars of play: exploration and social interaction!
Remember to take special consideration with action economy when building your Dungeons and Dragons combat encounters.
The Fourth Pillar: Debate
“In the absence of a party, there is no one for your solo player to talk to. No one for them to plan with.”Matt Colville
Without other players to argue with about what to do next, your player sets the agenda, and then the plot gets to move forward. Content flows by more quickly. You can get through much more material in a session.
Pause before adding Secondary PCs or Sidekicks
Allowing the player to run more than one character is an option for many tables, but be careful to question the motivation behind having one player run multiple PCs. If it is just to normalize combat, you may want to reconsider what doing so would add to the experience.
You might consider giving the PC a Sidekick that the DM runs. When things go poorly, you, as the DM, can just decide that the Sidekick makes that clutch attack. Matt’s Retainer rules in Stronghold and Followers work really well for DMPCs.
Make sure the player understands that they are in charge! The Sidekick defers to the player in a supportive way. Sidekicks are meant to be helpful, but not the star of the story.
Find the Way that Works for You
There are as many different ways to play two-person D&D as there are tables. Find the way to play that works for you and your player.
Be conscious of fail-states. Rolling poorly shouldn’t just end a situation, but should add to it, making it crazier/more complicated/higher stakes.
Don’t forget to prompt the player by encouraging them to share their thinking and narrate their actions.
One-on-one games tend to resemble the ideal version of D&D new players have in their heads. It is overwhelmingly narrative. It is, by definition, character-based. You never argue about the rules. You spend all the time on the world, and the plot, and the character. A lot of people, once they play this way, they find it hard to go back.Matt Colville
Thank you, Matt, for such an amazing video and for providing great advice and inspiration for new DMs in particular! If you’re reading this and just starting out, we highly recommend his Running the Game Series—lots of great takeaways there!
Did you have a favorite part of the video that we didn’t cover? Something you’d add? Let us know in the comments below!
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