What do you do when the player in a duet game is stuck or unsure of what to do next? How do you help your player be more decisive and sure in one-on-one D&D, especially when they don’t have other players to bounce ideas off of?
In this blog post, we cover some tips and strategies for getting your player “unstuck” in duet D&D.
One of our patrons wrote to us wondering how they could help their player be more decisive in their one-on-one D&D game. The DM wanted to find ways to encourage their player to engage and to make the decision-making process less intimidating.
I thought this was such a good question, and it’s one with a variety of answers. Many of the strategies outlined below shift depending on how long the player has been playing D&D, what their overall level of comfort with their level and class is, and their confidence with RP.
My go-to advice when faced with this problem would be to use a sidekick character to encourage immersion. You can also read this post on sidekick best practices if you’d like more ideas for running an adventuring companion in your duet game!
However, in the case of this particular question and the advice that follows, the DM is already using a sidekick character, though the player is a bit hesitant to engage with them.
If you’re already using a sidekick…
If you’re already using a sidekick character but it doesn’t seem to be helping, we have a few points of consideration and strategies to try below. Feel free to experiment with a few different methods till you find a method that seems to help. And remember that it takes time to feel comfortable at the D&D table!
Consideration: Different types of players & gaming experience
One thing I want to make sure we acknowledge is that RP and in-game interactions can be intimidating, especially at first. Depending on a player’s unique personality and their feelings toward how long the DM has been playing versus themselves, for instance, can do a lot to shape their ease with RP.
One of the first times we played D&D with Jonathan’s family, there was some frustration around which options one of the players had and when they could use them. When are we in initiative and when are we not? What exactly does that mean?
One of the cool things about D&D is that you have so many choices of what to do and when, but a plethora of choices can also be paralyzing, especially at first when you’re still getting accustomed to the game.
Strategy: Ask “What’s your character thinking about?”
If it’s a case of the player not feeling comfortable, maybe they need more time to step into their character’s shoes. So, we can find out what’s going on with their character in a less direct way. As the DM, pull out of the RP scenario and ask the player: “What’s ‘character name’ thinking about right now?” “What are they trying to decide between?”
Consideration: What’s getting in the way?
Before we look at another strategy, I wanted to cover a few possible blocks that might be getting in the way of the character engaging in RP.
On the one hand, they might feel like it’s cheating to ask the sidekick character for help. It’s like one of those awkward moments in school when you need help on a test but can’t figure out how to phrase the question without it sounding like you’re just asking your teacher: “Yeah, but what’s the answer?” or “Ok, but am I close?”
The second, I think even more likely possibility, is that they think there’s a right answer or a particular way forward that the DM wants to see. If so, they probably won’t want to mess that up and/or won’t want to be “wrong” in what they’re choosing.
This possibility takes us into strategy three, the meta-conversation.
Setting RP Aside for Now
At the end of the day, you want to play together, and the player feeling comfortable during RP may just take more time. So, if it’s not working in-character, try having a normal conversation about it as DM and player and set aside the characters for the time being. Ask something like: “Ok, so what are you trying to decide between?”
The conversation mimics the sort of debate players might be having at the table while trying to decide which door to step through. It also addresses the two concerns we laid out above—As the DM, you’re demonstrating that it’s ok to ask you for help and emphasizing that there’s isn’t a “right” answer.
I’d also encourage you to try working through some of your thought process as a DM with the player. For instance: “Well, if we go into the Haunted Forest, I have some cool creatures picked out for us to encounter, but I could also see stopping in this village first to get more supplies and perhaps see if we can track down that magical item your character wanted.”
Thinking again about choice overwhelm, it might be helpful to go ahead and narrow some of the choices if they’re really stuck.
After you’ve gotten closer to the core of the problem that’s preventing the player from engaging in RP, you might try some prompts to help them break out of their shell a bit.
One question Jonathan said he uses a lot at D&D Club is “What does that sound like?” We can apply a similar question to combat scenarios. “Awesome! So how do you take down the wraith?” Or, the ever-glorious “How do you want to do this?”
I hope this has given you a few ideas and strategies to try out for when your player gets stuck in your one-on-one D&D game! We’ve love to hear any comments or questions you have in the comments!
Want an in-depth look at this conversation? Check out our video on encouraging RP and getting your player “unstuck”!
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