4e For Two

A common complaint amongst fans of Dungeons And Or Dragons is that organising a playgroup is hard. It’s a game with a lot of investment, a lot you can do outside the game to play with it, and people love to play with it in those ways – I mean what are these articles if not me playing with D&D when I’m not playing D&D? – but there’s a thing that people talk about from time to time when trying to circumvent the challenges of running D&D which is:

an icon of a dragon's head

What if D&D but fewer players?

It first came to my attention how hungry people were for this when I saw people talking about using ChatGPT to DM a solo D&D campaign.That struck me as behaviour of some extremely thirsty people drinking the sand, to quote an American President. Getting ChatGPT to fill in for a D&D DM is a great way to experience a thing like a game, but also you’re only ever going to get the most generic version of whatever it is you’re doing. I understand the want for something so bad you’ll get a crap version of it, but it strikes me as at that point, you might just want to play a videogame, right?

Anyway, if you upgrade from Solo D&D, which I’ve no real familiarity with beyond, like, all of this I do, but if you add just one player, you have two players, and that means you can have a DM, and a player, and that means you’ve got all you need for a campaign, baybee.

Nnnow setting aside all the two-person RPGs that exist, and all the two-player print-and-play games you can do, let’s say you’re intent on playing D&D, and you have one other player, such as say, you have a long term partner, and they are into D&D and they want to play D&D and they want to play, dagnabbit. The idea that there are better things for the task is irrelevant, and anyone who brings that up with ‘why not play other things’ in this case, is being annoying. You want to play D&D, so you want to play D&D.


Anyway, how does 4e work as a two-player game?

an icon of a cup and rolling dice

Let’s look at this first of all in terms of what 4e offers you as a D&D game to play two-player. What’s stuff 4e does really well?

  • The mechanical balance is very tight. Every class can function and every heritage has things to do, which means that you’re not likely to pick something to do that won’t work
  • Monster encounters are easy to sling together
  • The combat is tactical and has room for characters of all types to do things. A fighter and a wizard are playing the same game.
  • Decisions matter in the combat system and turns are very rarely just whaling away at a thing once the threat of it has been neutralised.
  • The skill system gives distinct and specific examples of what you can do
  • The ritual system means that a lot of tools that would normally be class-limited were available to all kinds of characters.
  • A good sensible action economy, where monsters are clearly made to be aware that they are fighting a group and therefore can’t just do nothing most of the time.

And in the other hand, what are some things 4e doesn’t do very well?

  • That action economy is built for a team of three to five characters, which means a single player character is below the floor of what that system handles well
  • The role-based team-building system means any single character is going to be built expecting there are other people around for them to do things with and to
  • The combat is tactical, so if you don’t want to do that, there’s got to be better systems for that.

These are broad categories. But they are also worth considering that these are problems that crop up if the game you want to play is 4e. Again: If your advice for ‘how do I run a two-player game of 4e’ is ‘don’t’ then you’re not engaging with the question and you’re just being a bit of a dick. I love 4e and I wouldn’t recommend running it as a two player game just because that’s not the kind of game I want to run.

an icon of two rolling dice

There are a few tools that can work to address this. First, you can just eschew combat. I think that’s a waste of a thing 4e does well and that I find exciting and interesting to do in that game, but it’s still an option. There’s also the option of allowing a player to control multiple characters. You could do this in a flavour way so the player isn’t primarily playing a blob of characters relating to one another and providing all the banter themselves:

  • A character who has multiple ghosts/versions of themselves and splits into them at the start of combat
  • A character who can summon allies from another world, or protected by guardian angels or demons that work like player characters
  • A character who is focal to the story but is just also part of a professional adventuring group, so they separate from the group outside of combat, or have to negotiate with that group as normal NPCs

Another option is to scale combat encounters down. This is pretty doable but it does require some familiarising yourself with the math. A lot of campaign runner websites and tools do this math for you but I don’t want to presume you have them because most of them are a litte ad hoc and if you come back to find this a year from now they probably won’t be there any more. It’s like trying to reference library a caravan park.

an icon of a dice with question marks on the sides.

The most important thing though, is to dig into what it is about 4e that the player is interested in. Is it the feeling of D&Dness? I think 4e handles being solo better than 3e, the edition I know next well, and much better than 2e. You don’t need to dream up something overpowered for that kind of character, you don’t need to make them a chosen one, you can just use the system as it is.

1 Comment

  1. @updates @Talen_Lee my best DnD campaign was 4e and started with me and one person and ended with just one more. Over 200 sessions from level 1 to level 30, starting from fighting kobolds to saving the multiverse in one coherent story

    Small groups are a lot of fun, I think

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