Duet Campaigns: Gaming with your Significant Other

Written by Kirk Johnson-Weider, Michelle Johnson-Weider, and Doug Lohse

“I think I’m done with role-playing,” said Vicky as she cleaned up the table from the earlier gaming session.
“What?!” said Thad, who was collecting his adventure notes.
“I can do other stuff while the guys are over, I just don’t enjoy it.”
“Why?”
“Don’t worry about it; you don’t need me to play and I have lots of other stuff I can do when everyone comes over.”
“But you’re a great role-player and I thought you had fun tonight?”
“I just can’t take it anymore…it took us an hour to decide upon the plan for attacking the governor’s mansion, Ron tortured that prisoner just for fun, and then Bill went and betrayed us to the Royal Navy.  It was not fun for me.”
“Yeah, they can be idiots, but I thought you were having fun…I’m sorry, I should have said or done something differently.”
“No, don’t be silly, some of it I did enjoy, but I’ll just sit out from now on.  We should just chalk it up as a lesson learned and move on.”
“No, come on, you like role-playing, but get annoyed with the group; well then, let’s drop the group.  Dave runs Bill and Stephen in duet adventures all the time; we could give that a try. Just you and me.”
“I don’t know; let me think about it.  Right now, help me clean up.”
“Absolutely!  I’ll need to go online later tonight, I want to check out a few things and send an email to Dave about duet adventures.”
“You are obsessive, but in a cute way, I guess.”

Most gamers like the idea of sharing their favorite hobby with their significant other, but sometimes this can be a little difficult.  Most gaming groups have complex dynamics, not only between players, but also between their characters.  Add in knee-jerk reactions towards significant others and you can have a recipe for disaster.  Often a more effective route is a duet campaign; this eliminates the difficulties inherent from the group dynamic and allows the DM to tailor a campaign specifically to the preferences of his player.  These types of duet campaigns have two big advantages over most other duet campaigns: a higher level of trust and greater accessibility.

Making the Right Fit

     “So what would you like to play?” asked Thad.
“I don’t know. What do you want to GM?” asked Vicky.
“I have this idea for a future society where aliens have conquered the Earth and have infected humanity with a virus that turns them into loyal zombies, except for a small band of freedom fighters who fight against the zombies and aliens in a desperate war with little hope for victory.”
“Well, that is an interesting idea, but maybe something a little less doom and gloom would be better.  How about I play the captain of an independent starship, sort of like Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds – but female?”
“You know, that could work, we will have to flesh out the crew and your background.  If you want, you can start writing up some ideas for that, and I will check the boards for some adventure ideas.”

You probably think you know your significant other pretty well and you might be right, but don’t hobble yourself with preconceived notions of what she does or does not like.  Experiment!  Start with a serious conversation about her opinions on gaming.  If she is not a current gamer, talk about books, movies, TV, or whatever it is that will give you some insight into her preferences.  The important thing to remember is that this is just a starting point, not the end of the journey.  Ensure that you include elements that you have already seen that she likes or have uncovered during your discussions, but it is equally important to add new elements.  Just because she never said that she enjoyed political intrigue novels, doesn’t mean she won’t enjoy playing a role in the downfall of a corrupt monarch through complex machinations within his court.

On the other hand, when you start getting resistance, it is time to reevaluate and adjust.  This is especially true when taking a campaign down a darker path; unlike in group campaigns, the player in a duet campaign is often deeply connected to the setting and the NPCs and when really bad things start happening, it can quickly become depressing and overwhelming.  If the DM arranges for a beloved NPC to die to further the story he may end up losing the player who emotionally withdraws from the campaign, which incidentally is exactly as her character should be role-played.  Similarly, making a character or campaign too comical or exotic can turn off either the DM or player.  It takes time and practice to find the right balance of play styles, but eventually a couple can develop tremendous trust in one another, which allows both of them to take bolder risks in role-playing and developing story arcs.  Couples who run duet campaigns together can develop an incredible rapport and create fantastic characters and stories the envy of any role-player or fiction writer.

Share the Work

    “You know…I might like to try GMing at some point, would you be interested?” asked Vicky.
“Absolutely, that would be great!  So what were you thinking about, what setting, and what could I play?” asked Thad.
“Whoa there cowboy, I am just thinking about it, and was wondering if you would be interested.”
“Definitely…I can help too, draw up NPCs and anything else you needed.”
“Well I have some ideas for a fantasy campaign, maybe in a week or two I can have something for you to look at.”
“Great!  That would be awesome.  You can use the WotC boards for help if you want, there is a nice thread on duet campaigns there, and let me get you my DMG and DMG II…you might also want to reread the PHB, though you can skip the PHB II and the Complete series for now as they aren’t really necessary starting out.”
“I don’t know maybe this is a little too much for me. I’ll think about it.”

You can build the campaign world and even the adventures together.  This does not mean that you are both sitting down to design the encounters within the Dungeon of Forgotten Peril.  Instead it means you both employ active listening skills during all phases of gameplay and, when possible, share the workload.

Ways the Player Can Help the DM:

1)      Provide a useful background.
2)      Verbalize your thoughts.
3)      Inform the DM of your long-term plans.
4)      Keep good notes.
5)      Draw up NPC allies.
6)      Draw up ideas for the campaign.

Also, try reversing roles occasionally.  If your significant other is new to role-playing try this on an experimental basis after a full campaign or two.  Have her run a small adventure at first within parameters you both determine beforehand.  Nothing will turn off a new DM faster than a player who ignores every hook placed in front of him and decides to cause trouble for everyone he meets, including the NPCs the DM has spent hours developing to help the PC throughout the adventure.  It can also be problematic when an experienced DM becomes a player and can come up with ideas that the new DM never imagined; it is better for the experienced DM to focus on role-playing as opposed to demonstrating his ‘brilliance’ as a player.  The truth is that DMing is a lot of work and often in duet campaigns there is an amazing pace and an incredible depth that can be fatiguing and overwhelming to maintain.  When both sides of the couple can rotate the DMing duties and share the burden of the design work then you can practically keep running duet campaigns to the end of time, though it is a good idea to stop and eat every now and then.

A different approach is to cooperatively build a setting and have each person generate a character to adventure in the setting.  The couple then takes turns DMing the other’s character, switching often enough that both people feel that they have a well-developed story.  The two characters may never meet, but if they do, the DM should have the most developed NPC that he or she has ever run.  This can be great fun, but be careful not to force things like character interaction that goes contrary to either the characters or the established plot lines or setting.  Additionally, it is a good idea to divide up some elements of the setting.  For example, one person gets the faith of one god to exclusively develop and the other gets a notorious thieves’ guild.  This allows both to have surprises for the other when DMing.

Don’t Take it Personally

        “Captain Ocharen’s message ends with his request that you be careful and also fills your room with a hundred holographic roses.  So what are you doing?” said Thad.
“How come you aren’t as romantic as Captain Ocharen?” asked Vicky.
“What do you mean? I am role-playing Ocharen so obviously I am as romantic as he is,” said Thad.
“One would think that, if one did not know better.  Anyway…I need to find the assassin before the inauguration, so I need to use all my connections, including the Interstellar Assembly and even the Brotherhood of Space Goblins.”
“What do you mean I’m not romantic?”
“Just drop it, dear, alright?  Let’s start with the Assembly.  I will take Houhen with me.  Do I know any of their contacts here at Neon Station?  If I need it I will bring some credits for a bribe, but they do owe me a favor for that thing with the Cyber-Vultures.”
“Fine, but once you enter Neon Station you hear a rumor that Captain Ocharen is having an affair with Annie Matrix, you know the android captain of the Compass Rose.”
“Hmmm…Thad, dear, did we have a bad day at work today?”

This is sage advice for any DM, but is exponentially more poignant in a campaign with just you and your significant other.  No game should be more important than the relationship with your significant other.  It’s a game ― have fun.  Don’t take yourself as a player or DM so seriously that an NPC’s casual comment ruins everything ― both in the game and out of it.  If your significant other unloads upon an NPC and seems really hurtful, take a moment to compose yourself before responding…AS THE NPC!  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it was you that the player was unloading on.  When things do become personal it is best to take a break from gaming until both of you can sit down and rationally talk out what happened and what went wrong.  Communication is very important and allows for problems like this to not be repeated.

There can also be problems when campaigns end, especially if the ending is because someone is bored with the campaign while the other is still enjoying it.  Sometimes the couple can find a way to revitalize the campaign, but usually it is best to shelve the campaign.  Every campaign, even the disasters, will improve your skills as both DM and player and you can recapture and surpass the magic of old campaigns when you are willing to try something new.  Plus it is common to return to old campaigns, even years later for a new adventure with favorite characters of the past.

It Really Can be Addictive

Yes it can…but so what ― it’s more interactive than TV, it’s cheaper than the movies or video games, and it promotes conversation within the relationship, even allowing the exploration of things in the game that you might be uncomfortable to explore otherwise.  (How many people have had a candid discussion with their significant other about state-sanctioned murder?)  Additionally, duet campaigns can be great stress-relievers for those times when things are going hard, whether you are trying to escape the kids or survive law school.  Sometimes you just need to escape to another world for a few hours and who better to do it with than your significant other.

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