Greetings our wonderful duet family, and happy 2022!
This first post of the new year is also the first in a new series: Roguish Reflections on Our Duet.
If you’re part of our newsletter community, the Circle of Story, then you already know that at the end of last year, Jonathan and I started a new campaign in our home duet game. I’m DMing for us, and we’re playing with an all-rogue party. It’s been so much fun so far!
I promised to share my reflections on running a duet for a single class, and that’s what this series is all about.
We’ve gotten lots of questions over the years about balance in duet parties. Our usual advice for empowering PCs and designing DMPCs/GMPCs is to make sure your party is flexible. This might look like adding a magical item to help bail your PC out in case of an emergency. Or perhaps the DM makes sure the party has easy access to healing potions if neither character can cast healing spells. (We did a no-healing party in our Land of Vampires home campaign, and it was both scary and awesome!)
But deliberately choosing an all-rogue party, we both knew, meant that we were forsaking balance. Our two characters would be limited in some respects and very skilled in others. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what that would look like in-game, and it’s still something we’re figuring out as we go.
I did bake a little bit of balance into the design of my DMPC. Jonathan’s PC has the observant feat, and he’s an investigation-oriented rogue. I wanted to have at least a foil to that with my DMPC, as much for character and story variety as anything else, so I made her more of a charisma-based rogue. She has high deception and insight skills and isn’t as good at walking into a room and noticing every tiny little thing. (Every Sherlock needs a Watson!)
In favor of something else
Later posts in this series will explore adjustments and discoveries we’ve made in-game, such as how fun and powerful sneak attack can be, but how quickly things can turn sour in a one-on-one combat situation for a rogue when they can’t use sneak attack.
But for this first post, I want to share one of my favorite of our discoveries: Feeling like a badass in and out of combat is fun.
A Scene from our game
Imagine for a moment that you’re playing a level nine rogue on a secret infiltration mission to retrieve a friend who’s been snatched by one of your enemies. You encounter ten plus guards on your way through the castle dungeons, each of whom rolls much lower than you do on their perception versus stealth chances.
Do you take any damage on your way through the halls? Nope. Even when they’re two against one, you can uncannily dodge out of the way or they just so happen to miss while you strike true.
Leaving the trail of bodies behind you, you silently creep onto the mezzanine and listen to the villain who’s abducted your friend monologuing. (Classic, right?) While this person drones on, you assassinate yet another guard and, tired now of the ruse of hiding, attach the bomb you brought with you to the guard’s body, which you then pitch over the balcony railing.
The body lands on the floor with a splat, which would be horrifying enough, but then it explodes. The shrapnel wipes out three of the five remaining guards. Before the dust clears, you slip over the balcony edge yourself, landing in a flutter of cape. You take aim with your crossbow, the arrows carefully coated in wyvern poison, take aim at your enemy, and shoot.
Naturally, you roll a nat 20, so you double the considerable damage, plus sneak attack since the villain is holding your friend hostage within 5 feet without them being incapacitated.
The villain, much to your DM’s surprise, is so dead.
How much fun was that?!
The description above is almost a moment-for-moment retelling of one of my favorite occurrences in our new campaign. Jonathan rolled really well and had a good plan going in, and it was fun for both of us to watch his character effortlessly do the thing he’d been training for years to do.
After this dungeon-y excursion, Jonathan observed how he had a new outlook on balance during combat now. It made story sense and was incredibly enjoyable for his character to blow past standard guards. And while it’s fun to have a victory-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth combat, it was also fun to excel and be way more powerful than your opponents could even dream of being.
When he’s DMing for me, most of our combats involve really high stakes, in part because combat isn’t my favorite part of play. (Though I make an exception for creative spell use!) But in our new campaign, most of the combat has been theater of the mind, and that can be a bit easier to manage when the stakes aren’t so dire.
So, how does this fit into any and all duet games, regardless of the classes you and your partner have chosen for your characters?
Just for fun, the next time you’re designing a combat for your session, see how it feels to throw a softball to your player. This will vary depending on setting and class, and it also doesn’t have to involve a string of murders like I described below. Maybe you equip your ranger with a bunch of traps that allow them to hamper their opponents long enough to gain access to a secret mountainside chamber. Maybe your bard gets to sing the praises of a self-important court, all while pilfering the jeweled goblets stolen from a rival kingdom or otherwise charming the hapless nobles toward the bard’s own ends.
We all know that glowing feeling of operating in our strengths, doing the thing we feel like we were made to do. How can you set up the characters at your table to feel that way too?
Thanks so much for diving into this new series with me! I’m excited to share more posts about roguish duet-in with you in the coming weeks! And between now and then, please leave any questions or comments you have in the box below. Happy adventures!
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