Can You Play D&D WIth Only Two People?

Session Zero

If you’re just getting started with Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) in general, the single most daunting task is usually finding a group to play with. If you don’t already have a circle of friends who are into the game, putting one together involves a ton of legwork and “game evangelism” that can really make you wonder if it’s worth the effort (short answer: it is, but we get that it’s not easy). Even then, what if you can’t find enough people to put together a solid adventuring party? What if it’s just you and a friend? While one great option for you could be a professional DM and player matchmaking service like you can find at Camp Dragon Online, you might also find yourself asking “Can I play D&D with only two people?” 

Understanding D&D Group Dynamics

Dungeons & Dragons is typically played with a Dungeon Master (DM) and 3-5 players, which allows for a balanced mix of skills, roles, and personalities. By bringing their own strengths as players to the table as well as the different abilities and niches of their characters, your party covers a broad range of solutions to problems that encourage dynamic role-play scenarios and add strategic depth during combat encounters. Large groups come with their own challenges, though, not the least of which is the dreaded secret Big Bad Evil Guy of every campaign: scheduling conflicts. How about making sure each player gets the same amount of time in the spotliight? What about that player who just won’t engage with the plot because their character isn’t central enough to it? These are some of the factors that can really make a two-person campaign a focus, flexible and fantastic experience for player and Dungeon Master alike.

The Two-Person D&D Experience

What could be more immersive and intimate than a single player and their Dungeon Master? In a two-person campaign, the DM has the chance to plan encounters, plot points and locations that are laser-focused on one character’s experience of them, making for a deeply personal narrative for that character with higher narrative stakes than a campaign that’s trying to satisfy multiple players and their characters.

With only one player character (PC), there’s no need to “share the spotlight” with other PCs or their players, meaning no one zones out in combat on someone else’s turn or while their character isn’t in a particular scene. “I’m sorry, what just happened?” isn’t a problem here. Not only that, but with a fraction of the number of players at a normal gaming table, the Scheduling Conflict Beast dies in round one. 

Practical Tips for Two-Person D&D

Tips for the DM:

  1. Adjust Encounters for Balance: Too many enemies will be overwhelming, so you’re going to need to scale most encounters back to a reasonable challenge for one PC. 
  2. Focus on Narrative and Character-Driven Stories: This one is practically a gimme: every plot thread only has to connect to one PC, so naturally, that PC becomes the jumping-off point for every single plot thread! 
  3. Use NPCs to Support the Player Character: Give the PC a non-player character (NPC) or two to help them along the way. Henchmen, companions, family members; this help could come in many different forms, but it’s best when they connect to the PC’s background.

Tips for the Player:

  1. Build Your PC for the Campaign You Want to Play: If you’re looking for a more standard D&D experience, build your character as a sort of generalist, able to rise to a broad range of challenges. If your PC specializes in a particular sort of challenge, however, like stealth or extraplanar threats, these will quickly become the sort of thing that the campaign is about. 
  2. Communicate Openly with the DM: Let your DM know what you enjoy and find challenging. Clear communication is essential in creating a game that is fun and engaging for both of you.

Shared Tips:

  1. Set Clear Expectations: Tone, style, play schedule, what content is appropriate; there’s no shortage of details that are best decided together. Make sure the two of you are on the same page as much as possible and communicate clearly about your expectations!
  2. Utilize Online Tools and Resources: Share notes via Google Drive, maps via Roll20 or another virtual tabletop (VTT), use character builders to keep the character creation process simple. With only two people, getting buy-in to consistently use online tools is MUCH easier than with a table of players of varying interest & skill levels.
  3. Keep the Game Engaging and Dynamic: Engage the PC by playing into their strengths and challenging their weaknesses. Look for tropes or conventions to both invoke and subvert. When in doubt, trying something new.

Insights from Veteran Players

To give you more insights, we reached out to some experienced DMs and players who have navigated the two-person D&D dynamic.

"I used one-on-one play via the game RUNECAIRN to get my eight-year-old into RPGs. Since it was just me and him, I could focus on the parts of the game he found fun and ignore the parts that didn’t resonate with him." - Adam M., DM of 40 years.

"The best part about our two-person game was the flexibility. We could play whenever we had free time, and the stories felt more like a collaboration between us rather than a pre-set script." - Jamie, player and occasional DM.

"One-on-one games can be more intense and rewarding. The focus on a single character's journey allows for storytelling that can be both intimate and epic." - Morgan, veteran DM.

End Of Session

Who says you need a full party to have an epic adventure? With a single DM and a single player, your game night becomes an intense, immersive collaboration. While your PC may have fewer fellow travelers on their hero’s journey, each step on that path centers them – really you – in the plot, experience and drama. Adventure awaits and it’s calling your name – both of them!

Bonus Action: GM-Less Games

As a parting thought, another option is becoming more and more prevalent in the past few years: GMless TTPGS! In these games, players share the responsibilities and privileges normally reserved for Game Masters or Dungeon Masters, which causes some folks to consider them “GMfull” rather than “GMless.” Some notable titles to watch out for include WYRD Dungeon, Fiasco, Alice Is Missing, For The Queen, and A Quiet Year. We recommend all of them!