This summer, Wizards of the Coast released the Essentials Kit which includes rules for creating and leveling up a sidekick.*
If you’ve been wondering how to incorporate a sidekick in your own one-on-one game and the mechanics surrounding their inclusion, you’re in the right place! In this post, I talk about why you might want to use a sidekick, when to add them, who runs them, and general best practices to make it easier for you to increase the number of adventurers in your party without increasing the number of people at your table.
Why Use a Sidekick?
Having a sidekick, someone we’ve been referring to as a member of the central party, is really helpful when playing D&D one-on-one for a couple different reasons.
- If the DM isn’t using a DMPC (Dungeon Master’s Player Character), a sidekick gives the PC someone to talk to and can do double-duty as the DMPC.
- Most creatures and encounters in D&D are scaled with the assumption that there will be four or more people in an adventuring party. Having just one makes taking on a monster a lot more difficult.
- Related to point two, the various classes in D&D assume different levels of skill and capability, most often referred to as proficiencies. One character isn’t going to be good at everything, so having a sidekick (or two!) helps to round out your PC’s skills.
When to Add a Sidekick?
So now that you have some practical reasons to add a second, third, or fourth member to the party (assuming a PC, DMPC, and perhaps a second PC if you’re playing in a small group), you’ll need to determine when you’d like to incorporate a sidekick in your game.
We cover these ideas and mechanics a lot more in some of our core posts about running combat with multiple PCs and creating a central party, but I’ll summarize best practices for different situations below.
If you are brand new to D&D
If you’ve just started playing D&D, my suggestion would be to focus on learning how to run your character and getting to know your class and the general mechanics.
DMs in this situation, I would suggest creating a well-developed DMPC, such as Garren from the Crystalline Curse Trilogy, who will help to support the PC and give them someone to talk to, plan with, and travel alongside.
If you’d like to use a full character sheet for your DMPC (that’s what we do!), then please do! You’ll follow character creation rules for leveling them up. If you’d prefer to work from a stat block, then you can use the sidekick leveling tables in the Essentials Kit for a streamlined version of leveling.
After you’ve been playing for a bit
After you’ve grown familiar with your character or if you’ve been playing for some time and are wanting to try out one-on-one play or sidekicks, then you can look at adding a sidekick character, or a secondary PC, to the party.
This might be in addition to your PC and the DMPC, so you’re at member number three! You have a pretty full, well-rounded party at this point! Yay!
My general advice is to wait till you feel comfortable with your character sheet and with your character (their personality, motivation, backstory, etc.) before you add someone else to manage.
Who Runs the Sidekick? And When?
The answer to both of these questions will depend on what you each feel comfortable with and how you want your party to function in RP and in combat.
What has worked best for us is for the DM to run the sidekick characters so the player can focus on being the central character in the narrative. This, I find, helps with character development and leads to vibrant relationships between the PC and the rest of the party.
Some of this may depend as well on how permanent you want a sidekick character to be. If it’s one you really like who your PC wants to continue traveling with, then my suggestion is for the DM to play that character.
If it’s a cool character concept that you’ve come up with that you want to try out but don’t want to become a fixture, then I think it would work great for the player to be that character, and perhaps they could help give the DM an opportunity to further develop the DMPC’s personality!
For us, we try to avoid this by having one of our sidekick character be flexible between the two of us. So if one of Jonathan’s two DMPCs needs to talk to him, I’ll play that character, and if my PC wants to talk to him, Jonathan plays him.
On the flip side of this advice, we have combat scenarios, and this is where I think the sidekick rules are especially helpful.
The advantage of having multiple characters join your party is your group as a whole is stronger and more versatile. That means cooler, more powerful monsters!
It also means that you’re in a better situation to face multiple combatants. The biggest danger for duet play in combat is not over-powered monsters but action economy.
Action economy is the number of combatants who can be affected per round. One PC versus five adversaries, even if they’re all a lot weaker than the PC, is going to struggle. (Read more about scaling encounters for duets here!)
The PC will be able to affect one, perhaps two of them per round while being hit by five attacks per round. It will probably take at least five rounds for the PC to kill all of them, assuming the PC can take out one each round. That’s a long time to be taking damage from multiple entities each round.
Sidekicks are great in these situations because they help even out the action economy, protect the PC, and increase the party’s pool of hit points.
When the player runs the sidekick character(s), they free up the DM to focus on more challenging combat scenarios and more intricate monsters.
So long as everyone is ready, this is a win-win for your characters and for you as player and DM!
When do they take their turn?
When sidekicks take their turn in combat is going to be up to the DM and player. If you’d like for the sidekick to go one the PC’s turn during combat, almost like a ranger’s companion, that can keep things simpler.
You can also roll a unique initiative for them and add their Dexterity modifier to the roll to see when they go in the initiative order.
I recommend a unique initiative roll for people sidekicks and a companion roll for animal sidekicks. My PC has a dire wolf companion, so Daphne goes on Iellieth’s turn, either before or after her, depending on what works best. I’ve used the beast companion guidelines for adjusting her dire wolf’s AC and hp (from the Ranger: Beast Master archetype).
One of the choices that surprised me in the Essentials Kit was giving sidekicks stat blocks instead of smaller or simplified character sheets. But what you decide to do in your own game will depend on your own preferences.
As a player, I find it easier when I’m working with one character sheet to be looking at other character sheets. However, that’s not going to be true for everyone, especially when we’re talking about multiple character sheets and a myriad of possibilities on each character’s turn in combat.
So, at first, I’d recommend trying out the stat block since it is a bit more streamlined. If you don’t like the layout, you can always transfer the numbers over to a simplified character sheet.
Note for DMs: If you are using stat blocks and the player is running the sidekick, be sure to specify which ability score you need when you ask for a skill check. For example, when you want the sidekick to make a Perception check, ask the player for a Perception check using the Wisdom modifier if the sidekick isn’t proficient in Perception.
As a DM, you’re probably used to sorting out which ability coincides with which category but, depending on your player’s character sheet, they may not be. You can also keep the Player’s Handbook nearby, turn to the back, and see which ability score coincides with which category on the character sheet in the back.
This may seem like a small thing, but especially when running multiple characters is new, the player’s in enough stress, and this tweak in what you’re calling for will make their life easier. It’s important to remember, too, that the player is trying very hard to keep the central party alive as they are meaningful to both of you. However much you love your villains, and however hard they’re meant to make the heroes’ lives, there’s a lot of pressure on the player’s shoulders to get your mutual friends safely to the other side.
Lane Matthews has created an amazing resource on DMsGuild—The Essentials: Sidekicks Expanded. It has rapidly become one of my favorite supplements on the Guild, and it adds a lot of value for just $4.99.
The title includes nine new sidekick types and nine unique sidekicks with backstories ready to join your PC on their quest to greatness!
It includes leveling instructions up through level 12, like the Essentials Kit. (The Essentials Kit book contains leveling tables and adventures for 1-6 and a code for adventures and leveling tables through level 12.) You’ll also find stat blocks at levels 1, 3, and 5 for each character.
The art for the book is gorgeous; it’s well-written, and, if you’d like, Lane’s made a separate title with character sheets for the sidekicks if you’d prefer that option to running them with stat blocks.
You can read our review of The Essentials: Sidekicks Expanded here.
I hope this has helped you decide how you’d like to add a sidekick to your own one-on-one (or small party!) D&D game! We’d love to know in the comments below which sidekicks you’ve tried out and how the new mechanics are working for you!
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