A Game for Two

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 26 April 2010

This past weekend I quickly designed and ran an adventure for my brother and husband. A number of people on twitter expressed interest in running adventures for small parties so here are some of the things I learned from the experience.

Know the Characters in Advance
Two-character parties will have weaknesses. They might lack a controller who can take out large swaths of minions or a defender who can stand up to a big brute. Unless you want to risk the game ending early, craft your encounters, traps and skill challenges around the characters, even more so than you would with a full party.

Player Level
For a number of reasons, we started off with 1st level characters. In this case, my brother is new to 4e and a first level character is easier to run. However, if that is not a concern, start them out at a higher level, perhaps at least 3rd. This gives the DM more flexibility in monster choice since he now can pick creatures a level or two below the PCs instead of having to pick everything at the same level or above.

Traps and Puzzles
One nice way to add encounters to the adventure is through the use of traps and puzzles. For older traps and hazards, be sure to double check the DCs to ensure they are using the newer DCs from the errata. In this game, we had one room that was nothing but flamejet statues. Fortunately, the rogue did pretty well, and the party got through unscathed. But it was a nice way to add drama and tension to the game while limiting a fair amount of the damage.

Player Class Synergies
Certain player classes work particularly well together. For instance, a player who chooses rogue may want to pair with a defender instead of someone squishy. My players created a fighter and rogue tag team, although they mentioned they might want to try again with two rogues instead.

Speed and Detail
With fewer players and monsters, the game can go by pretty quickly. However, the smaller group might encourage greater immersion. If they have the time, DMs should plan this in and add lots of little detail to the world. My planning time was a bit too short to full develop a lot of these things, but my game would have been much better with them.

House Rules and Gifts
The DM can always give them some companion characters to help round out the party. However, sometimes it's just better to make a couple of house rules and gifts. In this game, we house-ruled that anyone can spend a healing surge as a minor action and they found some healing potions and alchemical fire. The house rule and healing potions would help not having a healer and the alchemical fire could be used as a burst attack since they did not have a controller. Another thing to think about is ignoring certain conditions, such as dazed, immobilized, dominated, etc.

Overall the session went pretty well. They started off with no gear and equipped as they went. Given this, I made sure the first encounter was pretty easy, 2 minions with some gear, a warded door, and an armory just on the other side of the door. They had a lot of fun as well and cleared a pretty stocked dungeon. I'll write the dungeon up later as a downloadable delve.


Good advice on the technical side of things (for D&D). I've had great success with very small parties (is it still a "party" at that size?) regardless of the game system by using, funnily enough, role-playing.

And this is good advice for any low-powered party regardless of size as well, but for me, it's about looking at where level doesn't matter. Interaction is one place where your hit points, number of spells or sword skills don't necessarily matter, so having a large component of interaction helps. Characters can get involved in epic politics, and still be 1st level shmoes.

I also like to take the focus away from group encounters and attrition strategies and instead build up a single opponent (or equal number of opponents). Not so much monsters, but the one rival/enemy that the PC wants to stop, defeat or annoy. He or she can be or equal power.

Yeah, I would have loved to do a lot more interactions and I whole-heartedly endorse it. The problem in this particular case was just I didn't have a ton of time to plan and all of us were pretty darn tired. But they did get to save a bunch of people, defeat some scary traps and monsters and put an end to a plan to create an army of enslaved peasants. :-)

And as long as you all had fun, it's a success!

(Still, you're getting me to put my thoughts into a longer form on tomorrow's blog. Thanks for the inspiration, I'll link back.)

Great ideas, i did a similar thing for my girlfriend when she asked what D&D was like, i ran a 1 person campaign, gave her a little story, a skill encounter and a combat encounter, now when i tell her what happened in a session she understands what im talking about. Look forward to the delve-post

Nice article. I am in two groups with only four players. I like the houserules you came up with. I hope to hear more about how these rules play out and if you get the sense of difficulty and challenge you want.

As for the classes etc. I've found that with a bit of background, power, and feat customization you can end up with a pretty stealthy fighter. Especially if you do some class customizations around armor proficiency so the fighter gets the same AC in lighter armor types. Two thieves might be great fun to play but there is no necessity that they be rogues. Also, the Hunter build on a ranger can make a very good stealthy character if you want to go with two strikers.\

Thanks again for the great read. Nice to read on a Monday. :)

Forgot to give credit to @Milambus for the second wind as a minor suggestion.

With a smaller group, you can do things like run mystery and investigation stories that are not as easy to do with a larger group.

I currently have two-player group in SWSE and we are doing an investigation arc and having a lot of fun.


I have ran a game for two people only once, on the fly, and only for a single session. That was a few years ago, and I'm not sure if I would ever do it again. Hmm, that's something to think about.


My more complete "answer".

Something I also do is create subplots with certain players that sometimes evolve into the need for a one-on-one session (a lesson learned in running DCHeroes RPG). These help sharpen the skills required for small party adventuring.

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