Dear fellow players,
This post is for you.
There are so many resources for DMs out there, including lots of ideas and advice on our site for those running one-on-one games or who are new to DMing.
But I think it’s time to address the players very specifically.
While there’s plenty of crossover between being the player in a one-on-one game and playing in a group game, the unique thing remains that you are THE one and only player in two-person D&D.
As we discuss in many of our character-building posts, you are the protagonist of the entire campaign!
This post seeks to point out two key tips for you in a duet D&D campaign.
- Be active
- Know your character
There are assuredly other guidelines and best practices, but I think these two are the most important, and they’ll function as an umbrella for a lot of the others.
We often say that some things will change depending on your own preferences, as well they should, but hopefully these two points can help both you and your wonderful DM enjoy the two-person D&D experience.
What’s so different?
In terms of adjusting from a typical D&D narrative to a one-on-one story, the narrative in a 1:1 is usually much more one of the hero’s journey than one of a group or party of people who change the world. So Iron Man instead of The Avengers, for example.
This difference means that we can take some key principles from playing D&D in a group to playing in a duet.
And, if you’re like me and you started playing D&D as part of a pair instead of with a larger party, have no fear! All of the advice below should make sense regardless of your level or type of experience with the game.
So, as you’re the star of the show, what are some things you can do to better collaborate on a story with your DM?
Earlier in 2019, Stephen Colbert and Matt Mercer played a one-on-one game, which I’ll link to below. I would highly encourage you to watch it, and we have a video of us playing one-on-one as well that’s also linked below.
What Stephen Colbert did so well during that game, and what I would encourage you to do as well, is he consistently told Matt, the DM, what his character wanted to do.
“I would like to speak to the blacksmith and see if they know anything about…”
“Can I search around the forest for signs of footprints in order to…”
“During the festival, I want to try and befriend a noble so that I can…”
These are all hypothetical examples, but they each involve you taking control of a situation and expressing 1) what your character wants to do and, ideally, 2) why your character wants to do it or what they’re trying to accomplish.
Key for new players
That final point is really important for new players or if you’re hitting a point in the game where you feel stuck. When you’re new to D&D, there are lots of different options, and it can be difficult to know what your character is capable of or what the various mechanics for actions are.
That’s ok. That’s why you have a DM.
If you’re not sure how to do something, let them know what you’re trying to do, and they can meet you halfway with some ideas or ask for a particular roll as you try something out.
That’s part of their job. Yours is being an active, vocal participant in the world. Without you, we have no story.
You’re the one driving the plot, or the one around whom the plot takes shape. This can feel confusing, like setting off to a destination with no idea where it is or how to get there, but your DM will help you out. Again, tell them where you’d like to go, and interact with the bumps they put under the tires along the way.
This brings us to our next point.
Know your character
One of the easiest ways to know what you’d like to do is to know who you are.
This involves your character’s primary motivation as well as their ideals, goals, dreams, hopes, fears, friends, allies, heroes, etc.
Please don’t feel like you have to know all of this at the beginning. It’s totally fine to get to know them as you go. Playing the game will provide opportunities for you to get to know your character and for their personality to develop.
Pinterest to the Rescue!
I feel like I am almost always recommending Pinterest lately, which I hope is alright with you. I think it can be a great way to mull over your character if you’re a little unsure about them or are trying to develop them in more detail.
I have two character boards that I’ll bring up really quickly.
The first is my board for Persephonie Arelle, my character in our group game of Waterdeep. This is an example of where I’d recommend you get started. Pick out a lot of different options for their appearance, clothing, mood, mannerisms, etc., and put them all on a board.
Though I’ve gotten to know Persephonie in greater detail, and I hope to have a character portrait of her to share soon, I’m leaving this board in the early phase so you can see where you might get started.
The second board is for my character in our duet game, Iellieth Amastacia. I’ve been Iellieth for well over a year now, and I have a really strong understanding of her character. Her board has morphed from a collection of pictures of redheads and druids to a board that brings together the room where she grew up, her love of books, her dire wolf companion Daphne, and her past as a dancer.
I have a few other Iellieth-inspired things around our Pinterest boards, but this is home to a lot of it at least.
Methods Besides Pinterest
We have a few different posts on personality that I would encourage you to check out as you get to know your character.
But, as a general rule, if you think about how you might get to know someone else, that can help you establish your relationship with your character.
Motivation and Immediate Goals
Start with the more surface-level things: what are their immediate concerns and goals. These will probably be related to your campaign arc.
What’s shaped them?
Then you can go a little deeper. What’s something from their past that shaped part of who they are? Did it establish an ideal or a fear? Are they more thoughtful when dealing with others after a particular experience?
You can pivot back and forth between their backstory and the present while also letting your campaign continue to shape their character.
Push back against cliches
While common character traits and tropes can be a convenient place to start, we don’t want to leave their story there.
One common trope is a character who grew up with little to no money being greedy or thinking that acquiring wealth will allow them to experience freedom, security, whatever this central lack or desire they experienced in their past was.
If this were part of your character’s backstory, how could you make it more detailed, unique, or interesting? How aware is your character of this problem?
Remember they’re not alone
If your character can’t be trusted with money, then why would other characters want to join their party or help them?
Answers to questions like these, where you zoom back and think about your character necessarily having to interact with others, can be really helpful in making vibrant and nuanced characters.
Stephen Colbert and Matt Mercer
I think this video is an incredible example of one-on-one play. While I wish that Matt got to play another character instead of a bee as Stephen’s character’s companion, there’s so much that goes really well here.
Key takeaway for this post: Stephen is constantly taking charge and saying what he wants to do, and Matt helps him accomplish those things.
Us Playing First Blush
As a different example, in this video, we play the first half of our intro adventure, First Blush!* Many thanks to our patrons for requesting this, and we hope to have more helpful videos up in the future, especially as part of our next funding goal!!
I’d love to know what questions or concerns you have as a player in a duet campaign! Or, is there a tip or trick you’d like to share with everyone that’s worked for you really well?
Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay
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