Duet D&D: A game where there is one PC (player character) and one DM (dungeon master).
Duets are not common in D&D. D&D is above all a social game, and it’s designed for around 4-6 players. Any less and it can be difficult to tackle bigger challenges, any larger and it starts taking an hour just for each person to have a turn in combat.
So why do it? As I trawled the nets looking for information on how to run one, I found a lot of people who had a lot to say (hello, internet comments). Most people wanted to introduce their spouses or kids to it. Some had only one other friend who was interested in playing.
In my case, I did a duet session with a friend who wasn’t sure if she would be interested in D&D and wanted a kind of introduction to it.
I found a few modules designed for duet sessions on DMS Guild and other places, but I knew the session would need to be simple. As it happened, I was watching Matt Colville‘s Running the Game series on Youtube and the very first few videos were about running a dungeon he created on the fly.
It was simple, it was fun, and it included everything a dungeon needed; traps, hidden rooms, a riddle, and the reason for being in the dungeon in the first place.
I promptly printed the map and got underway.
I decided to run two other characters alongside my friend who would be her guides and also buff up the party, since a one-person D&D party can pretty much handle a pack of rats and little else.
My friend had chosen to play as an elf wizard, so I added a dwarf cleric and a human fighter (you might recognize these as the pre-generated characters offered on the Wizards of the Coast website for new players).
Other than that, I had my books (DMG, PHB, MM) and I was ready. I printed the maps, one unmarked for her and marked for me, wrote up a quick opening hook to get the scene underway, and was ready to go.
I was nervous. I shouldn’t have been, by any means; after all, I was playing with a dear friend I’d known for years and had a very simple map to play through. But I knew I would get stuck on a description or confuse her by saying the wrong thing or forget some vital mechanic…and all those things did happen, but it was okay.
It took longer than I had anticipated too. I had expected it to be an hour at most, but we played for nearly three (very typical of D&D, by the way). I had a lot of fun being two characters myself, and she got through the dungeon and found the secret room and completed all the objectives.
What Went Well
I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I loved running her through the dungeon and building the mood with music and words.
(I can’t give her impressions, of course. She said she had fun, but as to the particulars, I have no idea.)
The map itself was really good for a first time player or DM. It was simple enough that I didn’t get confused about where I was or where the bad guys were, and there weren’t too many areas or monsters to worry about. The Knightly flavor included in it was a nice touch as well since it took it from basic dungeon to something with a bit of history.
What Didn’t Go Well
As I said before, I was nervous. I forgot to give players and monsters advantage at certain points, and it was a lot harder to track monster HP than I’d realized. I mean, like, stupidly hard for me for some reason. I didn’t have minis, so I had to try and remember where each monster was along with who had struck them, and I didn’t give them names, just numbers, so I had to kind of guess when each one went down.
I realize now I should have created the most basic of charts for that beforehand. I was also way more worried about her experience than I should have been. I wanted to make sure she knew all her options and didn’t feel lost, so I focused on her more than the dungeon. Another difficulty I had was having the characters I was running alongside hers be just companions, not guides. I didn’t want to tell her what to do through them.
I don’t think duet sessions are that bad, but I wouldn’t recommend them for new DMs unless you do a much better job of preparing than me (and I thought I had done). Especially since I was running two NPCs alongside my friend, it was simply too much to remember and juggle all at once.
But I did enjoy it, and my friend said she did too, so I’m calling this a success!
Final Note: this is really not how D&D is meant to be played! It was fun, and I think if you have an experienced player who can run several characters it could be fantastic, but the fun for most people lies in the team experience, the social aspect, and in a duet session you just can’t get that. I made sure to tell my friend that this wasn’t how a usual D&D session felt, and if you introduce a friend to the game this way, I’d make sure to tell them that as well.