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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Ser Loras's Avatar

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    Default Small Party Size

    Hey all!

    I've been dabbling in D&D for a while, on both sides of the table, though by no means do I consider myself in any way approaching a comfortable grasp of the rules. One of my biggest ongoing nuisances is anything to do with CR and XP Thresholds and knowing exactly how far to push things and when to dial back.

    This hasn't harmed previous games I've run - I've had parties do quite well in encounters that I would have honestly thought might be pushing the boundaries (I have a dreadful habit of contriving ways for monsters to hold back in fights that I think may be too hard, only to realise that, actually, the party is doing just fine and I needn't have worried hahaha).

    However, an upcoming game of mine is going to feature only 2 players, and I'm on edge about it. As I see it I have two options for how to proceed:

    The DMG suggests that if a party is less than 3 players, to refer to the Monster XP Multiplier table and use the next highest multiplier for whatever number of monsters there may be (the starkest effect of this is, of course, that you multiply the XP of a single monster by 1.5 in order to work out its difficulty in relation to the party's XP Threshold). I'm uneasy about this for a couple of reasons; firstly, it immediately limits a lot of what the party can face, and when, in terms both of number and monster types. The other is that I've no idea how accurate and trustworthy this system is; it does seem a little haphazard and shaky.

    The other option, and the one I am currently working with a mind to pursuing, is simply to create an NPC to fight alongside the two players, which has the double benefit of allowing me to give them a class to cover ground they're lacking (most likely a Cleric, for obvious reasons) as well as keeping the default XP Threshold rules. The one major downside that I see is that both of these players are first time gamers, and I don't want the game to feel a little forced and contrived by having a DM-controlled NPC following them around (I've considered outflanking the issue by giving both of their characters' some sort of apprentice, another PC they could control but, again, this being their first game I don't want to water it down by immediately saddling them with 2 characters where they should really only be playing 1).

    So I guess my question is, what experiences do people on the forums have with parties of 1 or 2 PCs (I ask about 1 since I know i'll be playing a one-on-one game with one of the players in future, and I'm also interested to hear opinions on how that works out). Is the XP Threshold multiplier rule enough to offset the party's limitations, or am I better off going with an NPC to shore up their capabilities?

    Thanks!

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: Small Party Size

    Well going with the NPC in the party is in many ways the simpler solution. The trick is that the NPC should not overshadow the players nor should it really dictate what they do or how they do it (classic example using an NPC paladin to force the party to do good gets on some players nerves).

    I think you have the right general idea of class as I do think outside of filling in an exact hole support classes are best in these situations. They tend to not be, or at least can be made to be, the highlight of the group but are important in the back ground. In addition to the cleric bards can do well at this as well just build it to support the group.

    That handles the mechanics part of the equation but on the character front typcially I find that most complaints about a party MPC happen when the NPC becomes the focus, steals the spotlight, dictates how the party acts, or a combo of these or more. To avoid that I would say make a character like Chewbacca from Star Wars. He is awesome but is mostly a silent character (even if he does talk most cannot understand him anyway). He does not generally dictate what anybody does in Star Wars (though at times acts as Han's morale guide but not often he really is just reminding Han of who he really is). Chewie in the movies is rarely the spotlight character, he is a side kick that kicks butt, and he does not force the group to change everything. I think that is the best way to go.


    4e actually had the best party NPC class in the 'lazy" warlord (and other lazy builds). A lazy build is a class that is fully effective without actually making any attacks at all. The warlord would take all the powers that when activated gave attacks to all your allies so your allies got all of the focus and the warlord was just a facilitator.

    Potentially you could do that in 5e by say giving your cleric (or other class) an at wil ability (such as a cantrip) that gave an ally an attack instead of the cleric with a bonus. If the attack costs the other character their reaction (like the BM maneuver does) then I would recommend giving a bonus to the attack to compensate. This could make your players feel more awesome while still giving them the effectiveness of having an additional person in the party,
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  3. - Top - End - #3
    Orc in the Playground
     
    GnomeWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Small Party Size

    I think you're in a "good spot" in your head for this. You see the concerns, and thus are aware of what might go wrong.

    In my current game I decided that 3 was TOO SMALL and gave them the OPTION of taking a 4th body as an NPC. I play their "RP" interactions, but they make all the combat/dungeon decisions. It has worked out pretty well so far as the NPC is a Monk, so some extra DPS, but not SUPER amounts of extra utility.

    But I also did one other thing: I did NOT make them proficient in Perception, or Persuasion (or related social skills). So I'm making sure that anything "win/loss" (seeing hidden doors, monsters, etc) is probably a player roll, NOT a roll of the NPC, even if the players are "playing" him at that time. It lets the NPC be combat-useful, but not-quite-as-useful non-combat, keeping the players the focus of the game. I would recommend to any DM to do similar if needing to "add on" a hireling or whatever for combat-purposes.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    GreenSorcererElf

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    Default Re: Small Party Size

    For two players, I recommend two hirelings. Have them make a sidekick each. Same level (or one lower). The sidekicks are quiet in social situations, they get tasks for camping, etc. Maybe give them set physical skills for proficiency like acrobatics and athletics. Maybe give them some knowledge skills to round out party resources.

    I recommend simple hirelings or mechanically simple PCs in that case. Fighter champion and Life Cleric, for example. Players are responsible for their decisions and some of their RP. DM can use either one as a spokesperson if need be.
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    Halfling in the Playground
     
    BlueKnightGuy

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    Jul 2017

    Default Re: Small Party Size

    I run in a group of three players (that includes the GM).
    We've all been doing this a long time, so each player runs two PCs.
    It works just fine. The only thing that is wierd is when you are heavily role playing your two PCs and they get into an argument.....

    But it can work for some groups.

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    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    RangerGuy

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    Feb 2016

    Default Re: Small Party Size

    I'm a big fan of letting the player's figure it out. If they want to make a pair of characters that compliment each other so well that they can duo combats, great. If they want to hire a couple thugs to back them up for a tougher fight, great. If they want to rely on sneaking through and avoid fighting altogether, and devote enough resources to outrunning any potential enemy that finds them, great! Since they can mix and match among these, or other more creative options, it becomes another way for the players to have agency in the world.

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    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Coretex's Avatar

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    Default Re: Small Party Size

    In addition to the ideas you already have I would suggest changing up the encounters to allow more preparation and let them find tricky solutions to problems.
    (emergent gameplay if you will).

    It is more realistic than regular D&D where somehow most every encounter with bad guys you experience will "only just" be manageable for your group, somehow. And that is if things are going well. It is also better I think than adding NPCs to take focus from the PCs.

    Basically, approach encounter planning with the idea that the foe be realistic, and options for taking them out be equally realistic but plentiful.

    A pack of goons in an alley might outnumber the party, but they can do any number of things to prepare if instead of saying "a group of goons is ahead, roll initiative" you say "you have heard that goons are plentiful and aggressive here, how do you proceed". Every class has options for approaching this encounter that can swing the tide massively in their favour. They could approach from a favourable angle and use the environment to their advantage (drop a load of lumber, etc), they could co-opt some hardy folk into a posse and scare off the goons, they could snipe the goons and use hit and run. Don't limit the fight to a battle map. A real fight can take place in a huge area and is often mostly won before one side engages the other. Let them have the advantage of preparedness a lot of the time and the small numbers will actually just encourage creative methods of... disposing of enemies.

    An army of orcs would pose a ridiculous challenge to any party (except maybe a bunch of fireball happy dragon sorcerers). However there could be an ambush crevasse they could be lured to, a squad of elven scouts in the vicinity, an angry beast that can be drawn into their path. And the goal can be any type of surgical strike to steal/kill/rescue a target, they will still feel like they beat an army of orcs when they succeed, which is more than many parties can claim.

    Some battles should be surprises still, you don't always have the benefit of knowing what is behind you, but for those fights you describe in greater detail the environs and let them work out how to turn it into a victory/successful retreat. Balance encounters not by "XP budget the party can battle" but instead "options the PCs have to make it a win and their obviousness". It might be a little harder to prepare, but it will be much more fun and realistic when the party beats decent odds head on, or crazy odds with their wits, than the more common and unrealistic "reasonably balanced encounter attacked -> was faced -> was defeated".

    You might need to ease them into it and explain what you want from them, but it will be fantastic fun.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Halfling in the Playground
     
    BlueKnightGuy

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    Jul 2017

    Default Re: Small Party Size

    I once ran a game with four younger players. All wizards. Seemed crazy at first, but quadruple fireballs solve a lot pf problems before they start.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Orc in the Playground
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    Jun 2014

    Default Re: Small Party Size

    I'll agree with Eriol... you are likely fine if you are thinking about it. You know it is an issue and you can prepare for it.

    I personally like smaller parties as it means more roleplaying time, quicker combats, you can focus on characters without boring/excluding others, etc. My general advice for a small party...

    Get "Out of Jail" Item Give the party a get-out-of-jail item. Typically, a charged or one use item which is vastly more powerful than their level. Chances are they'll horde it and never use it, but... if you make a mistake... it is an easy way for them to get out of trouble without meta-gaming. A scroll of teleport, a ring which casts dimension door once, a potion of polymorph (small bird), etc.

    Don't Use Published Modules/Campaigns Others may differ, but in making your own campaigns you have a lot more flexibility in setting it up such scaling, settings, resource availability, advancement, etc. can be set by you based on their abilities. You have better control over advancement, rewards, etc. Many published modules/campaigns aren't so flexible. If you are a wizard who can't find/buy spells, a fighter who can't get platemail, etc. for 3-4 sessions because the campaign is on a water adventure... that can really hurt.

    Safe Place At lower levels, have the party with a relatively safe place where they can easily pull back, rest, and retry something. Avoid long dungeon crawls, wilderness journey's, etc. to start with. They should have access to purchase equipment, minor potions, someone who can heal. This doesn't need to be a city, it could be a ship, caravan, a keep, etc.

    NPCs I'm not a big fan of having NPCs adventure with the characters, but... you can have NPCs provide aid, assistance, items, equipment, information, etc. This is a good roleplaying opportunity. Give lots of 'rewards' in terms of items (potions of healing), armor, weapons, etc. At times, I allow NPCs to 'adventure' with PCs, but I try avoid using the same NPCs, try making their help seem like a 'reward', and don't generally use NPCs to aid in combat.

    Watch Numbers Small parties can easily get overwhelmed but numbers. It be hard to block, have area control spells, etc. Tailor encounters carefully. Two bugbears might be a better encounter than ten goblins for a party of two low-level PCs.

    Use 'Advantage' Use fairly standard CRs, but allow players, through roleplaying, cunning, research, scouting, etc. to get themselves in to good position during combats. With small groups, scaling back combats often seem 'fake' or uninspiring. Yet, if you don't scale them... PCs are easily slaughtered. Limiting monster equipment, attacking while they are sleep, etc. can all make hard CR combats possible with small parties. I've had a group of 3, 2nd-level PCs face nearly twenty gnolls plus wolves -- only the PCs were defending a 20' wooden tower with bows and oil flasks. Creatures attacked in waves and eventually feed. The result, it feels 'epic'... yet the risk is highly reduced. Giving PCs ambushes, weapons, information, etc. can really make a difference.

    Limit Combat Put in more puzzles, roleplaying encounters, etc. Also, give players options of avoiding combat with stealth, bluffs, deception, intimidation, etc. If they sneak past the goblins, bluff them into fleeing, or con them into wandering into a bear cave... fine. Encourage smart play by giving out the appropriate XP, treasure, and other rewards. Consider giving fixed XP per session, XP based on plot advancement/stages rather than monsters, or just level-ups at specific plot points.

    Work to Strengths If the party is ranged, don't always put them in narrow caves where they are forced into melee. Maybe more city encounters where they can get on roof tops or wilderness areas. If the party is melee, do the opposite. Do watch specific types of creatures such as flying, ranged, etc. as a two person party is less flexible when facing a foe they aren't optimized for.

    Do Watch/Ignore CRs CR are guidelines to start with. However, pretty much ignore them with two or even three players. When starting, it is better to make encounters too easy until players reach about 5th where a single mistake (on your part) might not be instantly deadly.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Orc in the Playground
     
    MonkGuy

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    Jun 2015

    Default Re: Small Party Size

    Quote Originally Posted by ImproperJustice View Post
    I run in a group of three players (that includes the GM).
    We've all been doing this a long time, so each player runs two PCs.
    It works just fine. The only thing that is wierd is when you are heavily role playing your two PCs and they get into an argument.....

    But it can work for some groups.
    Yeah, two characters per player works. It's not a proper substitute for a larger group, you won't get the same dynamic, but it solves the problem of balancing encounters.

    Be aware that some players, especially less experienced ones, might be a little overwhelmed by the number of modifiers, features, slot-tracking and so on. At the very least try and make sure both players have a good efficient way of keeping track of their two characters. It might help to draw up mini character sheets or cheat sheets, with just their attack/spell bonuses, hit points and AC that are small enough that they can have both in front of their eyes at all times, then they can get out the full character sheets for more complex cases.

    As others mentioned, from a RP perspective it also helps if the secondary characters really are secondary. They're sidekicks who don't make decisions, they just help out where they can. The players' original characters are the ones they're actually roleplaying. The Chewbacca analogy is great.

    Again, it does work. Just today I ran a solo session for my girlfriend in which she played four characters (the main one being a ranger with an animal companion, so sort of five).

    I definitely don't recommend a full-on NPC though - nothing kills the game like the DM making attack rolls against him/herself IMX.

    All of that said, if you or the players don't like that idea for any reason, it's perfectly possible to play D&D with two or even one PC. You will be limited with what kind of combat encounters you can design, but you could build things in such a way that combat encounters can be bypassed by clever roleplaying, or just downplay combat and focus on other aspects. There's more than one way to play.

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