TTRPGkids tips and tricks for running a 1-1 TTRPG session

Tips and tricks for running 1-1 tabletop RPG and D&D games with kids

Running a 1-1 game does come with its own challenges, but it also comes with some cool new elements and perspectives for your game.  I’ve run tabletop RPGs for a group of seven players and I’ve run them for just one player – here are some of the differences I’ve seen and tips for how to handle them!

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Why run a 1-1 game with a player?

There are several reasons for wanting to run a 1-on-1 tabletop RPG session with a player, including: 

  • Having a hard time finding other group members at school
  • A parent wanting to run a game for their only child
  • Two friends just wanting to do an adventure together
  • Having an individual side mission for a player in a group campaign
  • Wanting to practice running games with a trusted mentor
  • Letting the story guide focus on teaching a new player
  • Facilitating a player has needs that are difficult to meet in a large group

Will I still see the social advantages for my kid if game sessions are 1-1?

Yes!  You will still see the advantages of playing tabletop RPGs with kids, even through 1-1 games.  In fact, 1-1 sessions highlight certain fundamental elements of tabletop RPGs more and can help hone those skills better than in a large group. 

Most of the games my kid plays are 1-1 sessions that I run with him, and I’ve seen tremendous growth in him from a social standpoint even though it’s just us playing – he’s still practicing varied social interactions through roleplaying in the game.  Even though there aren’t other kids, he’s still talking and learning and growing through the scenarios we play out. 

You will still see: 

  • Social emotional growth (and can focus on core SE skills your kid needs to practice)
  • Reasoning/problem solving development (your kid will be making all the decisions)
  • Increased understanding of math (and the story guide has time to help with it)

You also get special 1-1 bonding time, can teach them a new game in a lower stress environment, and get to focus on your kid’s story.  So, don’t let a lack of a group stop you from running a tabletop RPG with your kid.  There are definitely some challenges (and the tips below should help!) but there’s also tremendous benefits as well.

Focus your story on your player

One of the really cool parts of running a 1-1 tabletop RPG is being able to focus on one player and make them the clear protagonist of the story.  You get to dive into their backstory and create a world that will highlight and be fun specifically for them instead of trying to balance between multiple members of a large group.

Instead of making a general setting, ask your player questions about what they want to see and do in this game (i.e. exploration, puzzles, RP, fighting, saving the kingdom, finding a lost relic, etc).  With 1 player, it is a lot easier to incorporate their gaming wants than if you have 4+ players with potentially conflicting requests (i.e. one wants to talk with every NPC and another wants to fight every NPC).

1-1 games are a fantastic opportunity to create something that’s tailormade to engage with your single player and the type of adventure that they’re aiming for.

Make sure you’re ready for a lot of story

When I plan a game session for a large group, I might budget my time for a ~2hr session something like this: 

  • 5 minute recap
  • 5 minute set the scene
  • 15 minutes players discussion of what to do next followed by setting out
  • 40 minutes for 3 round encounter or challenge
  • 15 minute player regroup, rest, and discussion
  • 40 minutes for exploration, story reveal, and player discussion
  • TOTAL: 120 minutes

For a 1-1 session, where 3 rounds will go by very quickly and my player doesn’t have other individuals to discuss next steps with, it might look like: 

  • 5 minute recap
  • 5 minute set the scene
  • 5 minutes player decides what to do next followed by setting out
  • 15 minutes for 3 round encounter or challenge
  • 5 minute player regroup, rest, and next decision
  • 15 minutes for exploration and story reveal
  • TOTAL: 50 minutes

When I do 1-1 games with my kid, he blows through the stories that I have planned because he’s making all the decisions on his own, and there’s just him and the challenge focus when an event happens, so way fewer turns to manage.  

This is great for keeping my kid’s attention in the game since it’s very actiony and he sets the pace, but it also means a lot more prep and potential improv for me, as the story guide, if I want the same amount of time for a session.  I usually have to plan double the content.

So, going into your 1-1 sessions, make sure that you’ve got extra material available in case your encounters and discussions start to go by very quickly.  Know that you may need to do a bit more improv than normal to help fill your story or be OK with running a shorter session (which can actually be a great thing for kids who are getting fidgety).

Adjust and be flexible with your game encounters

I’ve already brought up how your tabletop RPG encounters will probably go by a lot faster – they can be a bit more difficult to set up too.  A lot of tabletop RPGs are set up for encounters to run for a group of players so that they can cover each other’s weaknesses.

D&D is primarily for groups of 3-6, and a lot of premade adventures (for any system) are recommended for 3 or more players.  Challenge ratings and encounters are often set with multiple characters in mind, assuming that the strengths of one character will cover the weakness of another.  However, in a 1-1 game, you don’t get that even if you use a challenge calculator that goes down to 1 player.

To help adjust for this, you can tweak your encounters further through homebrew, introduce NPCs to help, and create a backup plan for how to handle overwhelming challenges.  If you’re playing a game with combat, it might also be a good idea to have a plan for handling what happens when your player’s character goes down (since there’s no other players to revive them). 

Adjust encounters via homebrewing

In addition to just using generally easier encounters (so, in D&D terms, lower challenge rating), it might also help to adjust stats as well.

If you’re running a D&D combat encounter with a giant rat and your player’s character is a wizard with VERY low health and AC, you may want to tweak the rat’s attack damage from 1d4+2 down to just 2 so they don’t take your kid’s wizard out in one hit.  Normally, there would be a paladin or a fighter in front of the wizard taking the hits with the wizard standing back and casting, but with a 1-1 game, they don’t get that defense.

If you’re running a roleplaying encounter that requires a high social stat but your kid is playing a massively strong, maybe gentle giant type character who doesn’t really socialize, you may want to adjust the roll that they need to meet so that it’s still a challenge but also doable.  They don’t have backup from another player to take on that shift in rolls like in a multiplayer game, so it’s definitely OK to adjust.

Introduce NPCs to help your player

One thing I like to do in games with my kid is introduce an NPC helper.  Sometimes I will control the NPC and sometimes my kid will say what they do, but, regardless, this helper NPC strengthens the other character’s weaknesses, so we don’t have to worry about the gaps as much.

If your player’s character doesn’t have healing abilities, introduce a young field doctor who can help them out.  If your player’s character has no magic abilities, maybe they meet a wizard who just started school and is looking to practice their skills.

I also will sometimes use NPCs to give my kid hints if he gets stuck.  In a large group, you have multiple players suggesting ideas and figuring things out, but in a 1-1 game, it’s just your one player working it out for themself.  If there’s a big decision to make and my kid is having trouble picking, I will sometimes ask if he’d like our NPC friend to make a suggestion and have them help break the options down for my kid to pick from.  This makes it so my kid still picks and gets to RP that problem solving step, but I’m not forcing him to handle a situation that was intended for 3 people to figure out on his own. 

Create a plan for handling unbalanced challenges

Despite my best efforts, I sometimes still do not balance encounters perfectly every time because there’s no set rules to say “reduce the stat by x amount if playing with only 1 player” – it’s all my best guess.  In those cases, it is on me as the story guide when the encounter goes south, not my kid making a mistake during the encounter, and I try to find a way to patch things up so the game is still fun and fair to my kid.

Some suggestions are:

Have an event (like an earthquake, cave in, or a distant roar) cause the encounter to end early.  This still presents another challenge for your player to handle, but it’s an easy way to end the unbalanced encounter and provide something else to focus on.

Have an NPC appear to help the hero.  I wouldn’t have the new NPC end the encounter (players can feel cheated out of figuring it out), but the NPC can give help like healing, providing encouragement, backing them up in a discussion, or shielding a blow.

Give your player an item that can help them in a pinch.  I sometimes give my kid’s character a random magic amulet “to only use in an emergency” that can help in a tough situation.  The amulet may teleport his character away or slow time or tell him a hint – it creates a bit of Deus Ex help that he’s able to control when he feels he needs it.

Understand how to handle character KO’s 

If you’re playing a game with combat and the potential for a character KO, it is really important to have a plan for what to do in that situation.  There’s no other characters to revive your kid’s PC.  

I don’t really run games with my kid that involve KOs and character death, but I’ve read up on a lot of options for how to handle this.  You can have characters wake up on another plane in the afterlife and have them go on an adventure there or try to make their way back to the land of the living.  You could have a mysterious friendly NPC find the downed character and help them recover.  You can give your player’s character multiple lives (like in a video game) granted to them by magic so there’s still a limit to reviving but it’s not as harsh as eliminating the character outright. 

Creating and sharing your 1-1 world together

While there are a lot of challenges, there are also a lot of opportunities with a 1-1 game.  Like I said before, kids will still get all the advantages of playing tabletop RPGs even though it is a 1-1 game, you get special bonding time, and you can hone in on their particular needs. 

You ALSO can really share the world together.  Because this is something for just the two of you, it can be a lot of fun to collaborate on the story.  This also helps you, as the story guide, to fill in some of those content gaps that we mentioned earlier from players blowing the story quickly without having to do a ton of extra prep.  

I like to let my kid help make the map, name locations, and give suggestions for what’s going on in the game.  I also ask him questions about the different locations or NPCs that come up and let him add his own ideas to the story.  It’s his world to play in, so I let him have some control over that.  From there, I act out the NPCs, add my own flavor to things as well, and make sure that all the pieces come together.

With a larger group, I think there would be so many suggestions that it would be very difficult to do this with young kids.  This also is training for my kid to take on the story guide role himself.  We’ve already started to swap roles on occasion, with my kid leading the story and me controlling a single player for short times, because we have that control over the game with just the two of us.  

The 1-1 games that we play are special for just us, and ditching the idea that you need a large group to play has made it easy to fill my kid’s needs for tabletop RPG time.  It’s also prompted me to learn quite a bit about flexibility, homebrewing, and what my players really want by being able to see differences in gameplay and RP from solo to group play.  I highly recommend that if you’re debating on trying a 1-1 session out or not to do so – it is a lot of fun, and, while there are challenges, it is well worth the effort.

green and blue tabletop RPG dice

If you enjoyed this article, you can check out more tips and tricks throughout the site, and make sure to subscribe to the TTRPGkids monthly newsletter to stay up to date on the latest reviewsgame and podcast list updates, and more! Thank you for playing tabletop RPGs with your kids and sharing this awesome hobby with the next generation!

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