Table Top Roleplaying Games (TTRPG) have long been celebrated as a captivating tabletop role-playing game, known for its engaging storytelling and imaginative adventures. While it traditionally involves a group of players and a Dungeon or Game Master (DM), duet play has emerged as an exciting alternative, allowing for more intimate and personalized experiences.
As we’ve discussed in a previous blog post, The Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure included in the Essential’s kit is a great starting place as it includes official provisions for “Sidekicks” to help you play through a DnD Duet in 5th Edition.
This kit introduced sidekicks as a set of characters along with portraits, personalities, bonds and flows along with a variety of watered down class stat blocks which level along with the player that you can apply to any of the sidekicks.
(Dragon of Icespire Peak)
In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of integrating sidekicks into dungeons and dragons duet play, as well as the different types of sidekicks that can elevate the solo adventurer's journey.
Strengthening Character Development
Sidekicks don’t just serve as loyal companions and allies to the solo adventurer in battle though… They can also offer unique perspectives and motivations that can bolster character development. The interactions between the main character and their sidekick can add depth and complexity to both personalities, enhancing the narrative and making the player's journey more fulfilling.
Players can also explore the emotional growth and bond that develops between the protagonist and their sidekick, forging a stronger connection to the game world and the unfolding story.
Fostering Immersive Roleplay
In duet style TTRPGs, the spotlight is exclusively on the main character, which can sometimes limit roleplaying opportunities with other characters. By introducing sidekicks, the solo adventurer gains one or more confidantes and a sounding board for their decisions, enabling more organic roleplay.
Sidekicks can also interact with NPCs in their own right, introducing new dynamics and fresh perspectives to the storyline. This immersive experience immerses the player even further into the fantasy world, heightening the overall enjoyment of the game.
Having sidekicks also gives weight to the player’s choices. For example, the player may be considering their options and instead of simply stepping out of character and asking the DM, they can instead speak with their sidekick(s), voice their thoughts or concerns in character which in turn aids the narrative immersion for the DM by giving them the opportunity to be a character in the world and seeing it through their eyes, beliefs, wants and fears rather than from the overarching perspective that comes with being the DM.
If you are the DM though, make sure that you don’t overshadow your player PC or present them with the right course of action. Any information you provide should be from the perspective of the sidekick. Try using more than one sidekick so that you can provide alternative perspectives to problems or choices before your player. We do this in our current play through of the Dragon of Icespire Peak with Favian and Fenna, who through their different personalities, beliefs and backgrounds provide Shrew, Alan’s character with different views on what they should do.
Facilitating Tactical Versatility
TTRPGs are often known for its diverse range of classes and abilities, but in duet play, certain limitations can arise due to the absence of a full party. By incorporating sidekicks with complementary skills and capabilities, the solo adventurer gains a tactical advantage. These sidekicks can fill essential roles, such as providing healing, ranged attacks, or stealthy manoeuvres, which might otherwise be difficult for the main character to manage alone. This broader range of tactical options adds complexity and excitement to encounters.
In our current campaign, Alan plays a Halfling druid who is accompanied by Favian a human warrior, and Fenna a gnome healer using a slightly modified version of the Dragon of Icespire Peak sidekicks. In using these sidekicks Nich (the DM) runs them in role-play in order to foster a more immersive roleplaying experience as discussed above, whilst Al runs them in combat to keep the player more engaged in combat
Enriching World-Building and Lore
Sidekicks can come from various backgrounds and cultures, offering opportunities for world-building and lore expansion. Players can explore different regions and story arcs of the game world through their sidekick's experiences and knowledge, gaining insights into unique traditions, customs, and histories. This additional layer of depth can make the game world feel more vibrant and alive, creating a captivating atmosphere for the solo adventurer's exploits.
Types of Sidekicks
You might be wondering then, what type of sidekicks can I use in my duet game?
Animal sidekicks are beloved for their loyalty and diverse abilities. From cunning familiars like owls and ravens to powerful beasts like wolves and panthers, these companions can provide assistance in combat, scouting, and even serving as communication conduits.
Whilst your player might not be able to hold a two way conversation with an animal companion, unless they have a speak with animals spell, it does provide an opportunity for the player to voice what they are thinking in a first person role playing perspective. We see this often in movies or TV series with Hedwig and Harry Potter, Sabrina and Salem in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Atreyu and Artax from Neverending Story or more recently with in Netflix’s The Witcher with Geralt and Roach. As viewers we don’t get a response from them, but it does provide a vital insight into what the main protagonist is thinking, and this can be a great addition to your duet game.
In our ongoing campaign, Shrew has spoken with a number of animal companions who have joined him for a short while. Have a listen to Episode 36 - “Down where it’s Wetter,” where Shrew embarks on a short adventure with Sebastian the crab, or Episode 7 - “Neigh the horse be with you,” where Shrew speaks with some horses for some inspiration on how to work in an animal companion.
Hired Mercenaries or Short-term companions:
You could also consider allowing your player to employ skilled mercenaries or bodyguards as sidekicks which may have specific combat proficiencies or unique talents, adding variety to the solo adventurer's capabilities.
Alternatively, you can have some NPCs join them for specific quests. In our current campaign, we have made use of Dazlyn and Norbus, two dwarven archaeologists who have occasionally joined Shrew on his adventures, providing him with historical knowledge about some of the locations he visits. Have a listen to episodes 11-12 to see how we used Big Al from the Dragon of Icespire Peak, or episodes 15-16 where Falcon joins Shrew’s Shrubberies in their quest at the Woodland Manse, to see how a short term companion can aid your sole adventurer from both a combat and roleplaying perspective for specific missions which may have otherwise been a deadly encounter.
Sometimes, a former adversary can become a valuable ally. By giving a reformed enemy a chance to join forces with the main character, you can provide your player with the opportunity to explore redemption arcs and the complexities of character relationships.
Our most recent episodes 44-45 introduced a new sidekick to Shrew’s Shrubberies; Murkub the Orc had been a former foe who was convinced by Shrew to assist him in his quest to rid Icespire Hold of the Dragon of Icespire Peak, a common enemy to both the hero, and the orcs.
Apprentices or Students:
This is a sidekick we haven’t yet introduced to our campaign, but something that may be in the pipeline for a future duet adventure. Taking on an apprentice or mentoring a student offers an opportunity to pass on knowledge and legacy. The apprentice can grow and develop under the mentor's guidance, creating a satisfying and rewarding narrative element. Together with your player, you can discuss and decide what role the player will take to suit your game.
You can also consider introducing a short term sidekick in the form of a quest giver who approaches your party to be escorted. This provides further roleplaying opportunities which can further immerse the player in the campaign by enriching the world building lore discussed above on the player’s travels, and if relevant, can also provide some assistance in combat.
Have a listen to our episodes 27-28 where Don John Raskin asks Shrew to escort him to the Mountain Toes Mine just outside of Phandelin to see an example of an escort sidekick in play.
We hope that the above has shown you that incorporating sidekicks into duet TTRPG play opens up a realm of possibilities for character development, roleplaying, tactical diversity, and world-building. These loyal companions bring depth and richness to the solo adventurer's journey, offering unique perspectives and abilities that elevate the overall gaming experience. By exploring the different types of sidekicks above, players and DM’s can create unforgettable stories filled with camaraderie, growth, and triumph over adversity, making duet TTRPG an exciting and rewarding way to delve into the captivating world of tabletop role-playing.
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Thanks for stopping by and hope to see you again soon as we delve in two the dungeon! – Nich and Al