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‘The way you play’ Articles

They’re moving so fast

You are playing D&D with only two or three players, but don’t like always having to reduce the number or level of monsters they have to fight? What about giving them a way to act on two initiative counts?

What about giving them access, for example, to magical boots, which grant them the following power:

Power (Daily): Minor Action. Roll for initiative a second time. Until the end of the encounter, you act twice every round, on your original initiative and on the newly rolled one.

So you get two standard actions, two move actions and two minor actions in total. You still only have one standard action per turn, but now you have two turns per round. On each of this turns, you get regeneration, saving throws and so on, but you also receive ongoing damage and nasty effects that happen on the start of your turn. Effects that last “until the end of your next turn”, or similar, should still last one full initiative round, though. So they will last until the end of the turn after your next turn.

Although this doubles your actions and some benefits, it also increases the power of ongoing damage and other longer-lasting effects on you. So this magical item is some kind of a double-edged sword. Nevertheless, a party, which is equipped with this item or has access to this power by some other way, can easily fight a larger number of foes.

This is a first sketch of a part of the guide to playing D&D with only two or three players, that I’m currently working on. Please tell me what you think about it in the comments.

Image by Provinciaal Historisch Centrum Zuid-Holland Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag.


If you play D&D 4E with only three players, you have to make fights easier of course. But with only three characters, the players have less tactical options. So you should consider giving them the possibility of surrounding an enemy.

If the players surround an enemy, that enemy grants combat advantage to all players. Additionally, every player gets a +2 bonus on attack rolls against the enemy. If the enemy cannot be flanked, it also cannot be surrounded.

How to surround an enemy? The players have to position themselves evenly distributed around the enemy. Let’s look at an example. Assume the enemy is medium sized.


There are eight squares surrounding the enemy. Three of them will be occupied by the characters, so there are five left. These five squares need to be evenly distributed between the three players. So between the players, there must be two times two squares and one time one square. This allows exactly the following two situations (plus symmetries, of course):


For a large creature, there is only one possible constellation. Around a large creature, there are twelve squares, or nine squares not occupied by players. So there must be three squares between the players. This allows only this possibility (plus symmetries):


I guess, you can figure out now, how you have to arrange your party to surround larger creatures.

Of course, each player must be able to regularly flank the enemy. For example, the players must be able to attack it, must not be dazed and so on.

This is a first sketch of a part of the guide to playing D&D with only two or three players, that I’m currently working on. Please tell me what you think about it in the comments.

DM rotation

Playing D&D 4E with only two or three players not only has disadvantages. It also gives you the chance to try a special DM rotation system. Have you thought about switching the Dungeon Master several times on one evening? Give it a try!

If you have only two or three players, you are three or four people. Let’s say you are playing for about three hours on an evening during the week. This would give every one about 50 minutes of DM time. This isn’t much, I know. But if you are well prepared, this can turn out to be really fun.

One way to do this is simply having each of you prepare one encounter you play through. Even though this can already be fun, something is missing. The story. How would you build up a coherent story this way? And how do you explain that, in every encounter, a different character is missing?

Here is one idea to solve this problem:

You first need to find a reason for the characters to enter a dungeon. This shouldn’t be too hard, but simply putting the players into a dungeon without reason isn’t really satisfactory either.

Everyone has to prepare one section of the dungeon with one encounter in advance. The encounters should be really, really hard. I will explain that to you in a moment. Remember that you don’t have much time, so everyone has to be prepared as good as possible.

Now pick the one who’s going to start DMing. Let your first dungeon master introduce you to his section of the dungeon and run the encounter. As I said, the encounters should be really hard. So hard that one player dies in the end. The DM should try to make sure that really one and only one character dies. After you finished the encounter, it’s the turn of the player whose character just died. That player will be the next DM.

Now play through the second DM’s encounter. The player, who was the first Dungeon Master, will not play a character but a henchman of the next villain. This way you don’t have to explain why that character missed the first encounter. Ensure that again one character dies. That player will be the next DM, while the current and the previous DM will play henchmen.

Repeat this until one character fights alone against a whole bunch of bad guys. You need not kill that character. Let it be a fair fight—whatever fair means, fighting one against many.

If you want to use your characters again next time, don’t kill them but leave them severely injured, unable to join the other fights. And now that you hopefully finally finished the big boss, you can go back and heal them.

If time permits, you can of course prepare more than one encounter per player. It also is not necessary to stage this in a dungeon. You might also be on a track through the wilderness or in some city. In any case, you should agree on the general theme of the dungeon (or city etc.) and the villains.

This is a first sketch of a part of the guide to playing D&D with only two or three players, that I’m currently working on. Please tell me what you think about it in the comments.

Photo by Pirate Alice under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Upcoming: How to play D&D with only two players

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.netDid you ever want to start a new D&D campaign but failed to find enough players? No? Then you’re lucky!
The last years, I would quite often find either too few people or too many. While having too many people is not much of a problem—you can easily make encounters more difficult, split the group and start two campaigns, or tell some of the players that the group is already full—having too few people is not as easy to handle.

But even if you have enough players at hand there are several reasons why you might want to play with only two or three of them: maybe they are your best friends; you want to play in your apartment which is too small for more people; or you want to play every week but only these two players have time for weekly sessions. What ever the reason is, you’ll find that D&D 4E doesn’t really scale well to parties of two or three adventurers.

I am currently working on a collection on some ideas how to play D&D with only two or three players. I am going to publish parts of the work every week, so check out this site regularly.

Image: jscreationzs /

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