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Running a duet D&D campaign

One of the most fun DMing experiences I've had is running one person sessions and campaigns. Giving free reign to a single player will take you in directions that you wouldn't get from running a multi-person campaign, and can be a blast to DM. That said, it also presents a particular set of challenges that you need to be prepared for. While a lot of people shy away from one person campaigns (and as a result, there's not a huge amount of info about them, or pre-written campaigns to chose from), I want more people to enjoy this DMing experience - so as such I'll recount a bit about my own experiences and how best to prepare yourself for a duet campaign.

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Prepare to talk a lot more!

One of the most significant differences between single-player and multi-player DnD is how much more you as the DM (and the player themselves) will talk compared to a conventional session. This obviously stands to reason - with fewer people to do the talking, each of you will do a larger share than normal. But I was still surprised by the difference - and actually find my voice straining a little on some of the sessions I run. In fact, I tend to run shorter sessions in my single-player campaigns - partly for this reason.

Single-player DnD is more intense

Linked to the above point, single-player DnD is a way more intense DMing experience. Not only do you need to talk more - but you need to think on your feet a lot more as well. In a multi-player session, you get moments as a DM where you can kick back and let you players do some roleplaying between themselves, or where they spend a few minutes discussing their plan of action for whatever issue they're currently facing as a group.

In single player DnD though, not only are you as the DM going to be involved in all the roleplay moments, but you also don't get any heads up on what plan your player is coming up with. Instead of having a couple of minutes while the group discusses some course of action that you'd never considered, to think how on earth you're going to weave it into a story or how it can work mechanically, you literally just hear it for the first time when your player says that's what they're going to do. Then you have to figure it out on the fly! It's not for the faint of heart - but if you enjoy improv-heavy sessions, then single-player DnD is a must for you!

Learn your player's preferred play style

Everyone has different elements of DnD that they enjoy. Combat, roleplay, dungeon crawling, mystery and intrigue, puzzles etc. While running a multi-player campaign, I try to talk to my players beforehand to find out what aspects they enjoy the most, so that I can provide a nice balance within my game, which caters to everyone's interests. In a single-player game, this is even more important! You don't want to run a gritty, combat-heavy campaign for someone who hates combat and prefers chatting to every NPC and trying to befriend them. As the campaign goes on, you'll get a feel for what your player enjoys and then you'll be able to dig down into that - but asking ahead of time (perhaps during a Session 0) will save you the stress of having to figure that out, and make your sessions super enjoyable from the outset.

Give them a companion

Giving your player a companion will open up new creative opportunities for them, and also increase the roleplay options for your campaign. Having a second 'player' in the party gives them chances to create diversions or use the companion's strengths to try and engage with other NPCs etc. In general, I tend to roleplay this companion (one of my least favourite aspects of being a DM is having to roleplay two characters talking to each other - so I definitely wouldn't ask that of my players!) but when it comes to combat, I let the player control the companion as well as their own character. You could experiment with having more than one companion if you like, but I tend to find that one is about right.

Start with something you know

Given the increased unpredictability and all the improv involved in single player DnD, for your first outing, I'd recommend running a pre-written campaign rather than letting them loose in a homebrew world. Having a pre-ordained story-arc to follow can give you some much needed structure when things go a bit off the rails. As you become a bit more experienced you won't necessarily have to stick to this rule, but I would recommend it for your first time. I chose Lost Mine of Phandelver (the adventure in the Starter Set) the first time I ran a one-person campaign, as it was something I was familiar with, and was comfortable improvising around the main story beats. You don't have to choose this campaign, go with whatever you want - but be sure to remember that you're going to have to drastically alter the difficulty of any encounters, as they've probably been written assuming a party of 4-6 people. It might take you a little bit of time to find this balance - but you can even adjust that on the fly as you go, if you're worried about killing your player's character 5 minutes into the campaign...

So there you go. Those are the tips I wish I'd known when I set out on runing my first single-player campaign. If you're in any way on the fence about running one, maybe commit to doing a single-player one-shot first (I find them a lot easier to run) to see what you and your player think of it. And if you enjoy it, then go for it. I'm sure you'll have a great time!


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