D&D with 1 player is called a duet. The reason for this should be obvious since it is just two people. Playing D&D with 1 player is very different than a normal group.
D&D with 1 player requires you to play differently. The player character is the focus of the game and not necessarily the story.
Of course, the players are the center of any D&D game but you as a dungeon master might focus on the story more. After some experience, here is why you need to pay more attention to your single-player.
In a normal game of Dungeons and Dragons, you are able to craft a linear narrative and have your party follow it. You are also able to craft a sandbox experience. Read about them here.
As for D&D with 1 player, the game has to change. If a player doesn’t want to follow the story then you need to get with the program. If a player wants to follow a linear path then you have to get with the program. It is about both of you crafting a story.
I talked about how to make a game based on your skills as a dungeon master and only changing it when your players want something completely different. You don’t have multiple players that will like and not like your style, you have one.
This is where you will have a different type of session 0. You should still cover everything like in a normal session 0. If you are curious about how to run a session 0 read this article here.
In your session 0 you will be having more of a discussion.
You will talk to your player and figure out their class, race, and what they want to do. If they want to play a game with minimal combat this is extremely important. You have 1 player and that 1 player needs to want to play your game.
If you are having trouble deciding on how to make non combat encounters we have an article for you here.
If your player wants non combat or more combat orientated encounters we will go over those later, but for both, you need to know their class.
It is not a good thing to tailor your fights toward tightly enclosed spaces when your player is an archer. It is also not great roleplay for a barbarian to be stuck in a wizard tower for the entire game.
Okay, it might actually make for great roleplay for a little bit for an entire campaign when your 1 player wanted to play a barbarian makes it not work as well.
We have gone over a lot of ideas here for D&D with 1 player so let’s dive into them a bit more.
I talked about how the player will be more involved in session 0. I also talked about catering the campaign towards your player’s class.
This is very important since you don’t want to design a campaign that doesn’t appeal to your 1 player. If you D&D with 1 player leads you to make a game about a wizard tower and all the research that is done there then great! It won’t work too well if your player is a barbarian though.
Now don’t get me wrong, this could be a very interesting session or part of a campaign. It can generate some laughs, be a bit of fun, and possibly interesting. However, it will not be interesting for an entire campaign. It also probably won’t be interesting if your player wanted to play a normal barbarian.
If you work this out beforehand then that game could be interesting. If you don’t work it out beforehand it will be a disaster.
While that example could lead to an interesting game or a complete disaster, most instances of not caring about your players’ class will lead to disaster.
Imagine that you as a dungeon master have designed a whole bunch of tight and narrow encounters. Now imagine that the player is an archer. This is terrible and will lead to a lot of frustration.
But what about non combat encounters? Once again, imagine that the player is an archer. They fall into a puzzle room that is only decipherable based on their knowledge in religion. This would be great for a cleric but a nightmare for other classes.
You have to listen to your player and figure out what class they are going to play. If you do not do that then your game will not go over well.
Speaking of tailoring your game to the player’s class let’s talk about tailoring the game to your player.
Tailoring the game
The game should revolve around your player. Normally this is true but it is even more so than in a normal game where you have multiple players.
Have you ever created story arcs for specific characters to go through? Have you created story arcs for your entire party before? I have done just about everything and you might have made some arcs for characters as well but today you are making one long story arc.
There is no worry about favoritism. There is no worry about if you can tie this arc into the rest of the overall plot, your story arc is the plot!
Can you imagine trying to make a game all about story arcs boosting one character above the others? That is exactly what you should be doing.
Does your character need to find the person who killed their family for revenge? Find em and murder the person! Then make it bigger. Make this part of an organization or possibly a group of people who carried out the murder.
Make a whole campaign out of these specific arcs.
But how do you even make that kind of campaign for D&D with 1 player?
Making the campaign
D&D with 1 player is a bit harder to make a game for. It is also easier to make a game for 1 player than for a group.
With a group, it can become complete chaos. Your group might be like mine where planning is almost impossible since they have the amazing ability to sniff what I planned and do something completely different. This makes planning for a normal group very difficult.
The great news is that you do not need to worry about this with 1 player. D&D with 1 player is much simpler. You know that player, is tailoring the story to them so that they will want to do it and chaos will be less likely to ensue.
The only problem is that you will have to make more content since they will go through it quicker.
But what content should you make?
If you have followed the previous steps you have an understanding of the player’s character and their class. You have gone through session 0 together and figured out where to go.
Now you just need to put the campaign together with the desires of your player in mind.
Non combat campaigns
D&D with 1 player opens up a whole host of options. Normally with a group, they will want to have some battles or do a bit of everything. The group, after all, isn’t specialized in just 1 thing. Your player should be a little more spread out than a normal character and we will talk about this later, but they still cannot do everything.
Your 1 player has strengths that you should cater to. If your player is a person who is not strong in combat, make non combat encounters the focus of your campaign.
All that you need to do is follow the non combat encounter guide, but I have a bit more for you. Players like more than just the standard non combat encounter.
Non combat campaigns could be where your player is a detective who solves mysteries. If you are interested in how to make a good mystery look here.
Mysteries may not be everyone’s thing though and I understand that. Instead, you might want to deal with puzzles.
Puzzles by themselves cannot make a campaign but they can always be a great addition to any campaign. That is why I also have an article about puzzles to help you out.
Keep in mind that your player is the only one in the group so you might want to add some tips to help solve puzzles or make them optional. There is nothing worse than not being able to progress because of a puzzle. I know this from personal experience and pray that you have not. When you are alone, it gets even worse and arguments can start to break out.
I would hazard to say that non combat encounters will be the majority of most D&D with 1 player games.
If your player is a barbarian who only wants to fight though, you can still fight but it will be a bit tricky.
Combat with 1 player
Combat is deadly. With 1 player combat is extremely deadly. D&D with 1 player means that you will not have those healing words.
We like to play whack a mole with players in a group. One goes down, they get healed for 5 by a friendly cleric/bard and get hit for 7 damage. This repeats round after round until the enemies are dead and all the players are alive.
This mechanic builds tension and makes any player death completely on the players. It also makes players in 5th edition D&D not die often.
The problem is that you don’t have anyone else with you to make that whack a mole effect happen.
Even if you have healing spells, you can heal yourself for 7 and then get hit for 6 damage. That heal was your action and you are not really winning this fight. So healing by yourself with 1 player is also very bad.
This is why you should make any encounter 2 cr below what the normal cr would be. Be cautious though! Cr is not everything. Cr lies and is not to be completely trusted. If you wish to learn a bit more about Cr and why I say this read our article about why Cr is a lie.
You can do combat with 1 player, but it will be difficult. Not only can the player not go down but if they do you have to have a backup plan that makes sense.
If you are thinking about adding NPCs to make combat easier then let’s get into NPCs for combat.
NPCs for combat
You are playing a 1 player game. Not a 3 or 4 player game. If you want to add more bodies into the game in order to solve some problems like we mentioned above then you can add NPCs. I, however, would highly suggest not to.
NPCs seem like the obvious solution for combat problems. The player goes down and then the NPCs bring the player back up. Sounds great! But the cons out weigh the pros.
Your NPCs are able to make your life easier because your encounters can be balanced normally and if you or the player screw up it is not game over.
There are friends with the player so that they can interact with their buddies.
The NPCs can outshine your player and make them feel less powerful than they should.
Your NPCs are extra pieces for you to manage. If you are managing 3 orcs in a fight you are managing 6 bodies with 3 NPCs while the player is managing 1. That makes you basically play with yourself while the player is the second wheel who just watches.
It is hard to do NPCs right when they are DM NPCs in a party.
If the player manages the NPCs it is now 1 player managing an entire party. This doesn’t work out well. I can tell from experience that it is manageable if a forever dungeon master is in charge of a party but even then roleplay is almost impossible.
The game becomes less about you and your partner. It instead becomes more mechanical and drains out the fun without most people realizing it.
NPCs for combat is mostly a bad thing. There are so many possible negatives that it is hard to do right. There is only really 1 ‘right’ way I have found NPCs to work.
Give the player 1 NPC that is unable to give input and helps the player.
For example, I have given a cleric to a wizard. This cleric was divinely told to keep the wizard alive at all costs and follow him to greatness. It was a short game, but it led to some great comedy and roleplay while giving the player complete control of the game.
I have also given people fighters, warriors, and the like to keep the player in the spotlight.
1 NPC for combat can be great as long as they never outshine the player.
Lastly, for NPCs in combat, I recommend to not have them use a lot of spells. The cleric that I used only healed since he was told to keep the wizard alive. If you have to manage spells as a dungeon master it gets complicated.
Are you metagaming? Will using these spells effectively make the player think the NPC is better than them? How should I manage all these spells? All of these thoughts will cross your mind.
If you have more than 1 NPC in combat you are destined for failure.
Have at max 1 NPC in combat that does not outshine the player.
But how should you manage NPCs in the rest of the game?
NPCs in non combat
It is always good for a player to have a friend. D&D with 1 player should keep that player as the focus of the game, but everyone needs someone.
I played D&D with 1 player as a paladin and it was boring. The game was a bit boring because I was alone. It was fun at first, but then we both stopped playing because it was just a run of the mill fight and do stuff rawr.
Every person needs a friend. This friend also does not have to be powerful.
Matt Mercer and Steven Colbert did a game where Steven had an NPC friend. This NPC friend was a bee.
The bee was a very interesting part of the game. It couldn’t do much in combat but was the player’s companion. It meant a lot and really added to the game. If he was alone it would have been a fun game but missing a close friend makes the game a little bit hollow.
Since we want to share in the victory with a friend you should give your player a companion. This companion doesn’t need to be humanoid. It can be an animal.
These companions outside of combat are extremely important to have in the party but once again they cannot outshine the player. The player makes the decisions and moves the story forward. Never forget this.
If you are looking at how to make other NPCs that will not travel in the player’s party we have an article on it here.
With the player not having any great and powerful NPCs, how are they supposed to survive?
Buffing the player
I would not recommend buffing your player.
It may seem like D&D with 1 player needs to have a buffed player, but hear me out.
If you buff your player then they will think they can do everything and be unbeatable. They will end up dying to overconfidence and it will end up bad.
Normally it is good to specialize since others will pick up the slack. In a duet, you don’t need to worry about this.
The wizard won’t be able to do a strength check oh no! Just don’t make them. Why would a wizard encounter a strength-based obstacle that cannot be overcome with spells?
Another example was used earlier.
The barbarian cannot read or understand the immense amount of religious texts on the walls. He cannot progress.
The answer to this is simple. Don’t do that. Don’t do things that make no sense. You have tailored a game towards your player. The player has strengths that you are catering to already. You do not need to beef them up on dice steroids.
‘But what about combat?’
You need to plan your combat out better. Remember, -2 cr and if you are ever think something might be too hard it is. Easier is better. The worst thing that will happen is that your player will be happy they are so awesome.
If you still want them to be able to do a bit more let them have at least 10 in their stats, maybe 1 18 and a 16. After that 10 or 12s only unless they are rolling for their stats and roll well.
If you are still concerned about combat there are a few variable options that you can do.
If you are concerned that D&D with 1 player will lead to death in combat don’t do combat. If your player wants to do combat but you don’t trust yourself you can give your players legendary actions as they have in the monster manual. This way your player can fight more enemies and feel like a boss.
Speaking of bosses.
Make your player a villain:
Normally evil campaigns are bad. This is not the case with 1 player. Normally heroes or good guys are reactive and villains are proactive. The villains make the problems that need to be solved and whenever an evil game happens the players have to pretty much run it and make all the content.
In D&D with 1 player, you are able to work with the dungeon master and create an awesome evil empire. This can be a villain for you to use in a later game with their permission and even have that person possibly fight their own character.
You can also do this with a good character. Use that character as an NPC in your future games if the player is fine with it. This is an awesome way to build your world.
In most DnD games we have to deal with trash. Trash is the monsters before the boss. These can be referred to as minions but most of the dungeon components are meant to widdle down the player’s resources.
Get rid of it.
Get rid of this part of the game and make the player fight the boss or end villain right away.
If you do this then fights can happen more organically and it kind of makes sense. A group should fight more in order to achieve their goal. 1 person should fight less trash if any to fight the boss since they will respond quickly.
If you don’t do this and I did a D&D duet with you as a player I would just want to be a stealthy character to get past all of the trash anyway.
My site is not the only one with some content about D&D with 1 player. In fact, there is a whole site dedicated to D&D duets at D&D duet.com.
They have modules and more that you can learn about.
I have tried to condense everything that you need to know before playing the game and you can start playing a D&D duet now if you want. I just want to give you extra modules and options that D&D duet carries.
There is a lot to cover when you play D&D with 1 player.
D&D with 1 player is not the same as normal Dungeons and Dragons, but you can play with just 2 people.
I hope that I have been able to give you the tools and ideas necessary to make your duet a wonderful experience.
I have had a lot of experience with this and hope that my experience has helped you have even more fun in your 1 on 1 session.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!