What’s the perfect party size for your Dungeons & Dragons games? Do you like the standard amount of 4 or 5? How about large parties of 7 or 8? Personally, I tend to like smaller groups, but until recently, I had no idea that a game of D&D could work with a party of one. However, that is exactly what our guests create! Today, I am so thrilled to introduce you to Beth and Jonathon Ball of DnD Duet. They create one-on-one adventures for one Dungeon Master and one player. Their adventures are wonderfully crafted stories with clear explanations on rules and ideas to keep your player engaged. If an encounter seems like it may be too difficult, they offer NPCs and suggestions for ways to get around the challenge. For a first time DM, the duet style was the absolute perfect way for me to learn the ropes, and we had the added benefit of trying something we hadn’t been able to do before: enjoy a D&D date night! So far, Brenton and I have tried out two of their games and intend to play several more in the coming weeks. We’ll tell you a little bit about these campaigns and then dive into a super fun interview!
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So what is a duet in the context of Dungeons and Dragons? It’s simply a one-on-one game for one player and one Dungeon Master. For a game that traditionally caters adventures for 4-5 players, the duet style certainly offers a more intimate setting for an adventure with its own unique challenges and advantages. Whether you’re a brand new DM, a brand new player, or an experienced rpger that’s looking for new experiences, we can now say with authority that playing one-on-one is a delightful way to enjoy the game, especially if you’re trying to figure out how to enjoy a D&D date night. DnD Duet is absolutely the way to start.
When I first started chatting with Beth, I asked her which of her stories she would recommend for a first time DM vs. a more experienced DM. Brenton and I both wanted to try leading one of these duets because oh no, an excuse to have another D&D date night! Beth enthusiastically recommended First Blush for the “intro” adventure. As this was my first time DMing a D&D campaign, I was a little apprehensive, but I can now say that it absolutely was the perfect way to start! This adventure is an amazing way to introduce either a new player or a new Dungeon Master (or both!) to the world of D&D. The beginning of the story gives the two time to learn the rules and figure out the basic mechanics. It’s presented in a way that is so reminiscent of the starting zone of a video game: you learn how to do social encounters, ability checks like strength or
dexterity, and combat via a practice fight with low stakes. You can roll through that first portion pretty quickly, and then you’re whisked away into a treacherous tundra. There is a mystery to explore, a puzzle to solve, and a terrifying encounter with a frost giant. It’s a short adventure, but it is jam packed with action and intrigue. It is an absolutely fantastic start to a campaign.
Brenton and I both really enjoyed playing it, and I’ll be leading him through Second Glance soon!
As I mentioned, we also wanted to try one of their adventures better suited for a more experienced DM and player. Totems of the Svalich Woods is a spooky adventure that Brenton led me through. I had him write up this part of our review:
Brenton: I ran Totems of the Svalich Woods for Courtney shortly after we played through First Blush. I have a passing familiarity with the Ravenloft setting, so it was pretty exciting to play the duet session as a precursor to a Curse of Strahd campaign. DnD Duet did a fantastic job filling the adventure with descriptive info to give players a taste of Barovia and the horrors waiting just within the shadows. Courtney got so geared up to explore the mysterious Castle Ravenloft that I had to guide her away from certain doom!
There’s plenty of opportunity for combat, intrigue, and encounter hazards in the module–more than enough content to possibly fill two or more sessions. Plus, the homebrew monsters and magic items are well crafted and might see use in our future home games. I did make the mistake of having two NPCs assist Courtney’s character when it should have only been one, so some combat encounters turned into me rolling dice against myself for much longer than Courtney’s turns took. That’s just a balance we’ll need to continue to work through as we play more duet games.
Aside from that, I would definitely run this module again for other players or even adapt it for a larger group. She definitely wanted to keep going when we reached the end!
As you can see, we both really enjoyed leading and playing both of these adventures, and we’ve already snagged several copies of many more DnD Duet campaigns. So, without further adieu…let’s hear from Jonathon and Beth!
It's Interview Time!
Introductions! What’s your story? How did you two meet?
Hello! We met at orientation for our MA in English—I (Beth) was, quite fashionably, thirty minutes late to the department-wide meeting (whoops!). Our friendship developed over that first year, and we started dating during the second!
Jonathan started gaming after we moved to Greensboro for Beth’s PhD, and he played with one of the other new teachers in a county-wide program. It wasn’t till a year of weekly D&D had passed that I (Beth) finally agreed to try it out—I don’t like things with lots of rules—but he finally convinced me to give it a go when he said he would start a campaign just for us that we could call Duchess and Dragons, which I liked the sound of much more. It was about three sessions in, when our characters really started clicking, that I was hooked.
For both of you: what is your favorite D&D race and class?
Beth: I loooooove half-elves and druids! I love the connection to nature and the flexibility of the druid class.
Jonathan: I tend to gravitate towards Paladins. Those strong Charisma types and the steely righteousness of the Paladin speak to me. Magic knight? Yes please.
What is the DnD Duet story? How did you get into writing D&D campaigns, and what inspired you to create your Duet stories?
DnD Duet started after we discovered that RPG Duet, this website that Jonathan was certain existed and was very helpful, didn’t actually exist. He’d been talking about it for six months at least! The week we discovered that there were really only a few posts about playing D&D one-on-one, all of which were a few years old by then, we saw at least two people on Reddit asking for help with playing D&D with a spouse or partner in a duet. They got a few helpful tips, but they also got a lot of “D&D is a group game. Just find more people to play with.” And seeing that always makes me mad. So, we decided that since DnD Duet didn’t in fact exist, that we should make it! We spent the last couple months of 2018 writing blog posts to get ready for launch, and we opened the site to the world January 1, 2019!
I don’t know how exactly we decided that we should start writing adventures too—I think a combination of wanting to share things from our campaign and there not being very many duet-specific adventures available. The first adventure we ever wrote, First Blush, is heavily based on the first adventure Jonathan ran for me to teach me how to play. It breaks up the different pillars of play so that first-time players only have to juggle one thing at a time, and then after a surprise twist, they get to put everything they’ve practiced to that point—social interaction, exploration, and combat—together!
What was the most challenging part of starting and running D&D Duet? What about most rewarding?
Beth: The most rewarding part for me has been the connections we’ve made in the community, both with fellow creators and people who also play duet games. I love hearing that we’ve helped someone start a campaign or given them a cool idea of something to try in their one-on-one game! There’s a special spot in my heart for people who are just starting out and want to connect with a loved one in this way. There’s so much information on D&D out there, and it was overwhelming for me at first when I was learning to DM, so we’ve tried to make sure that our blog posts are super-informative and focused with actionable examples.
Jonathan: The most challenging part has probably been the time-management aspect. We have so many more ideas than we have time to execute them! While it’s a good problem to have, it can also be frustrating.
For those who aren’t familiar with your work, how would you describe your campaigns? Do you prefer to stick to any central themes like mystery, horror, adventure, etc? Or would you say it varies across your stories?
Beth: Such a good question! I think it depends a little bit on which of us is the lead writer for the adventure or campaign. We like to have really vibrant, well-developed NPCs who can give the PC someone to connect to alongside an intriguing adventure, and we love including unique mechanics and/or interesting monsters. My adventures almost always take place in a forest or an environment-centric location—I want to provide as much ambiance for the DM as possible to help make it feel like the player is really there.
Playing one on one is certainly a different experience than playing with a larger group of people. What are the unique challenges and rewards you feel come from playing with only one DM and one player?
Jonathan: The rewards definitely outweigh the challenges. Playing one-on-one is such a marvelous way to spend time with someone who matters to you. It’s creative and fun and exciting. Playing one-on-one allows you to explore the aspects of the game that you enjoy the most, and leave behind those that you find tedious. For example, I found out early on that Beth is not particularly fond of puzzles in her dungeons. She subtly communicated this to me by having her character walk through a hall of traps instead of solving the riddle for the safe path. Now, in lieu of puzzles, we have more RP that we both enjoy. One of the challenges can be prep time at first. When you have a group, they can argue for an hour about how to open a door. In a duet, those decisions are a lot less fraught, so you need to be a little more prepared to deliver on the plot side of things.
What advice would you offer a DM about to embark on their first one on one adventure? What about a player?
Jonathan: I encourage DMs to find out and then lean into the player’s preferences, but don’t sacrifice your own either. The DM is still very much a player a needs to attend to their needs at the table too. Also, DMs of duet games shouldn’t feel bad about “main charactering” your PC. It’s easier for them to be the chosen one than when you are DMing for a group. For players, get in touch with what drives your character. The more you have a plan, the easier it will be for you to meaningfully contribute in the co-creative process that duets entail.
Now for the hard question! Which of your publications is your favorite?
Jonathan: Our very first adventure First Blush will always have a special place in my heart because it was the very first thing I wrote for our duet. We’ve grown so much since then, but you can’t beat the first for sentimentality.
Beth: I love this question! I’m going to cheat and pick more than one. “In the Heart of the Forest” is one of my favorites. I love the atmosphere of the adventure and the NPCs and story. It was on the darker side of things I’d written at the time, and it felt like I had taken my RPG story design to a new level. Recently, we’ve been working on a series of vampire adventures called, very subtly, Land of Vampires, and I love them! They’re based in a campaign Jonathan ran for me and in some of my fiction, and they’re so much fun!
How often you do you two get to play together? Do you take turns as the DM?
Have any of your fans ever told you a fun story that resulted from playing your games?
Such a good question, and I had a really hard time choosing! We hear from people pretty frequently that they’re starting a duet game, or they’ll tell us snippets or funny things that happened in a session! It’s honestly one of my favorite things about our work. I had an email recently where someone was telling me what an amazing DM his wife is and all the cool NPCs she’s created on the fly, and I loved hearing about that! Another favorite was being tagged in an instagram post where they had created the talking door from First Blush and made a really neat map for the adventure!
Without telling us ALL your secrets, what’s an upcoming product or update that you’re most excited about?
Beth: I’ve been obsessed with the Feywild for quite a while now, and there are several fey adventures in the works that I’m excited about! We recently released an adventure set in the spring fae court, but soon-ish, we’ll have one for each season!
So now that you’ve joined us in our desire to be best friends with Beth and Jonathon, we HIGHLY recommend that you go check out their stuff. Let us know which adventures you pick up, and we hope to hear about all your fun stories!
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