Recently, I had the pleasure of acting as the developmental editor for Anthony Joyce’s adventure, The Blood Hunter, which is designed for one player and one Dungeon Master. There’s some debate in the community surrounding the correct terminology for these adventures, which are sometimes referred to as “solo adventures,” “one-on-one adventures,” or “duets.” Regardless of what they’re called, Anthony and I quickly realized that these adventures present unique challenges to designers.
Anthony is a good friend of mine. We talk often, so I knew that this project impacted him as a designer. I asked Anthony how he felt about designing this one-player adventure and what lessons he learned from it. He decided to share some wisdom for future designers.
At the time of writing this article, The Blood Hunter has sold over 200 copies in less than a single week.
Anthony Joyce is a Hispanic, ENnie-nominated Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition designer, husband, father of three boys, and U.S. Army Strategist. His works include The Heir of Orcus: Verse I, II, III, & IV; Weekend at Strahd’s; The Curse of Skull Island, Baldur’s Gate: The Fall of Elturel, Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters, The Little Astralnaut, and The Dreams of Prince Papo.
Designing Adventures for One Dungeon Master and One Player
Anthony Joyce’s Top Three Lessons Learned from Designing The Blood Hunter
“Trying to keep each chapter to one page. Four chapters total. A four page adventure?! Can I do it?!” These were the famous last words I wrote in Discord to my friend Justice Arman as I ventured on the endeavor to design The Blood Hunter, a two-hour Blood Hunter adventure for one dungeon master and one player. I thought since I’d authored several well-received adventures, I could easily design an adventure for one-on-one play. I was wrong.
Below are the top three lessons I learned while designing The Blood Hunter.
Design the Adventure Around the Character
When I first started writing, I realized that every scene, every moment, needs to be tailored to a single character. I decided the one way to maximize immersion is to design the one-on-one adventure around a class, so that I can design encounters or situations around their character’s class features and thematic flavor. In The Blood Hunter, every creature, every ability check, and even the theme of the adventure is tailored around Matt Mercer’s Blood Hunter class to make the player feel 100% useful and epic throughout the entire session.
Note from the Editor: A Game for 2-6 Players
As the editor for this project, I worked with Anthony to develop some of these concepts and make sure the adventure was truly balanced for a single character. It reminded me of the many board games that my wife, Samantha, and I have played, eager at their advertisement of 2-4 or 2-6 players, only to realize the game loses its teeth when it’s just the two of us. Just as fantastic two-player board games like Seven Wonders: Duel, Onitama, and Spirit of the Wild require dedicated design, so do one-on-one D&D adventures.
I knew it would be different, but I think the moment that it dawned on me was when Anthony toyed with the idea of making a banshee from the Lost Mines of Phandelver be a primary figure in chapter 4. Initially, this was an attractive option because he could include alternative ways (other than combat) to solve the encounter without harming what was already a beloved NPC to some tables – players and DMs who’d met the banshee during Lost Mines of Phandelver.
“Can you include a banshee?” I mentioned while chewing on a protein bar during one of our afternoon calls. “You’ll have to be careful, otherwise she could kill the character outright,” I said, thinking of the banshee’s Wail ability, which can instantly drop a character to 0 Hit Points, with no remaining party members to rescue them in a one-on-one adventure. Ultimately, Anthony elected to swap the banshee for Gilgar the wraith, as monsters in 5th Edition are designed around a a party of four adventurers!
One-on-One Adventures Require A Higher Word Count Than Traditional Adventures
During initial playtesting with my wife, Jen, I discovered combat encounters lasted roughly five minutes as opposed to ~30 minutes during traditional group play. Roleplaying went quickly and seamlessly, since the character doesn’t need to consult with other characters or achieve consensus. This required much more content to fill a 2-hour period – hence more words. I was blown away by the amount of content required to fill 2-hours for one-on-one play. Heed this advice before deciding to write your own one-on-one adventure since it’s likely going to take 8,000 words for 2-hours instead of a conservative 4,000-5,000 words for a party of 4-6 adventurers.
Keep a Tight Focus on Your Hook
Gameplay during one-on-one play moves much faster than traditional group play; it also relies on a single player making decisions without the need to consult others. This dynamic alters the traditional story hook concept, in which a majority of characters must buy into the story hook and pursue a common goal. This requires you to design an adventure in which the story hook universally always applies to and invests the character. It must be precise and focused to immerse the player in their characters’ story. The adventure is all about that character, so make sure the hook is strong enough to captivate them during play, especially since there are no comedic party members at the table to capture their attention, it’s just the Dungeon Master, the player, and their story.
I hope these lessons are useful to any designers out there looking to make a one-on-one adventure. The main takeaway if anything, is that one-one-one adventures require a fundamentally different design approach than normal group play adventures.
– Anthony Joyce
Did this article help you? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as my milk-themed carnival adventure, Step Right Up, Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contracts, or Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.