Tips and Tricks for Playing Solo D&D

For generations, Dungeons and Dragons has been the foremost name in tabletop roleplaying games. But most people — players and non-players alike — tend to picture D&D as a group activity, with a Dungeon Master entertaining a friendly gathering of players. This is the definition of a great time with a group of hopefully amazing people and friends.

But what about solo D&D? Can this iconic RPG be played alone?

While this might seem strange the answer is that yes, it can!

The specifics of how to play solo D&D are rather more complicated than that simple answer, but there are multiple options for playing DnD solo and enjoying the heck out of it, but it does depend on which style of solo DnD campaign you are choosing to engage in.

You need to bring the right tools to the table, starting with a clear understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain D&D Solo Campaign

A great solo D&D campaign coming to you from Loading Ready Run.

Why Play Solo D&D: The Motivations

There are nearly as many reasons to play D&D alone as there are players willing to try it. Still, most solo players fall into distinct groups. Knowing which one you’re in can help guide you to the most satisfying solo D&D experience.

Which of these situations best matches yours?

There Isn’t A Player Group Available

A simple shortage of players might be the number one reason to consider playing D&D alone. Sometimes you find yourself in a community situation where you just can’t assemble a group of people interested in the game. Or maybe you have a few interested people, but nobody wants to take on the responsibility of DMing. Or you might already have an established group, but it’s getting harder and harder to line up everyone’s schedules. Solo D&D allows you to focus on playing the game instead of comparing calendars with other players.

You Want To Be In The Driver’s Seat

Sometimes, the best part of playing Dungeons and Dragons is the thrilling improvisation that happens when the DM and the players all contribute to how the story unfolds. But at other times, you might have a very well-defined idea of how you want your D&D game to play out.

If you want a session to reflect the choices you make on your own, or to be the clear star of the show without stepping on any other players’ toes, solo D&D is an excellent option.

blood soaked barbarian
A solo adventurer knows the importance of being well-armed.

You Want To Learn The Game

Playing D&D on your own gives you a great opportunity to understand the game mechanics from the perspective of both Dungeon Master and player. Reading modules, describing scenes, improvising a narrative – solo D&D can strengthen all of these skills.

This makes solo D&D a particularly attractive option for people who are cultivating their DM talents or even their player abilities for a certain class or common game situation.

You Want To Enjoy (Or Do) Worldbuilding

When you play D&D in a group, the minutiae of exploring and fighting can bog the game down. The focus turns to game mechanics and dice rolls, and you often breeze past the wealth of narrative information provided about the game world. Playing on your own allows you to set your own pace and savor the details of the world.

Alternately, solo play can also be a powerful tool for fleshing out your own custom world to prepare for DMing a standard game. You’ll probably want to set the broad strokes according to your desires, but solo D&D can be a great way to add detail.

You might, for instance, already know you want to put a powerful wizard in charge of a certain country. What if you want to give that wizard an adventurous backstory?

Why not play a solo campaign from his point of view?

You Need To Test Your Material

Dungeon Masters that build their own adventures can get a lot of use out of solo play. You want to ensure that your homebrew content will be entertaining and challenging for your players, but not murderously difficult or boring.

Going through your own adventures solo is a great way to play-test and figure out where you need to make adjustments.

Being the DM is a lot like being a writer. In this analogy, consider playing D&D alone as your editing process. You don’t need to expose your first draft to your players, especially if you are bringing in custom monsters or enemies.

In this case use solo TTRPG play to refine and polish your adventures! Having solo experience can give you more confidence in your DM skills when you play in a group.

The Forest of Doom Solo D&D Campaign Video

Another great one player solo D&D campaign coming from Loading Ready Run.

Key Tools For Solo D&D

Here’s a bit of great news: You can get yourself equipped for playing D&D on your own for very little money. You can even do it without spending a dime if you get a little creative.

If you’ve done any roleplaying at all, you probably already have the bare necessities handy: character sheets, the basic reference manuals, dice, and note-taking materials.

But here are some handy tools that can improve the solo experience:

DM Yourself

DM Yourself is a book written by Tom Scutt that’s all about the solo D&D experience. It’s an ideal assistant for playing through any published D&D module, from Dragon of Icespire Peak to the Lost Mines of Phandelver.

Give heed to Scutt’s warning, though: The book’s custom ruleset gives better results with linear modules. More “sandbox”-oriented games (like, say, Curse of Strahd) can get challenging.

The book is essentially a set of rules modifications that throws Dungeons and Dragons into “solo mode” for you. There are also important suggestions for solo gaming techniques, like how to use published modules without spoiling the adventure for yourself. DM Yourself also gives great tips on handling both roleplaying and combat on your own.

DM Yourself is 60 pages long, but the key rules that you’ll be referring to frequently only make up about 25 pages. The book even comes with a quick reference section, minimizing the amount of time you’ll spend looking things up during play.

Finally, Scutt provides a lot of specific tips for running some of the game’s most popular modules solo. DM Yourself is an invaluable assistant if you want to experience some of D&D’s iconic adventures on your own.

Solo Adventurer’s Guide

If your interest in playing D&D on your own leans more toward freeform adventures than pre-published modules, the Solo Adventurer’s Guide might be the book for you. The Guide is particularly good about replicating the elements of chance you encounter in a group game with a Dungeon Master.

There are several great tables in the back of the book that can help with decision-making, injecting a great level of uncertainty into your solo adventures.

The DM Emulator

The DM Emulator is an even more focused version of the tables found in the Solo Adventurer’s Guide. The Emulator includes what it calls the “Oracle System,” a set of dice-rolling tables that can deliver randomized responses to your gameplay questions.

With the DM Emulator, you can challenge yourself with genuine surprises. The Emulator also includes tables to help select random encounters and to mix up your interactions with NPCs.

Purpose-Built Solo Adventures

If you’d rather not load your solo D&D experience down with extra rules, there are plenty of gamebooks out there specifically designed for one-person D&D. The 5E Solo Gamebooks line is perfect for your needs. These gamebooks are fundamentally similar to Choose Your Own Adventure books, but they have 2 key features that set them apart as Dungeons and Dragons adventures.

First, the choices you make are more complicated and influenced by the outcome of dice rolls. Second, you’ll be playing a character throughout the adventure, and the strengths and weaknesses of that character will dictate what choices you can make and how successful you are.

If you want to play D&D on your own but don’t feel like fully taking on the Dungeon Master’s role, gamebooks may be right up your alley.

The Citadel of Chaos Solo D&D Video

Ever see a solo D&D campaign where just everything goes wrong? It’s pretty entertaining.

Which Add-Ons Are Right For You?

This is where you match the tools just described to the earlier discussion about why you want to play solo D&D. Some of the add-ons are better suited than others to certain styles of solo play.

If, for instance, your main concern is practicing your DM skills, then DM Yourself is the best choice for you. If you’d rather just get into monster-fighting and dice-rolling, then a dungeon builder or a gamebook will give you more help.

In many cases, just picking the right tool is all you need to have a highly rewarding solo D&D experience. And if you’re having a little trouble choosing between alternatives, you can find a wealth of reviews online to familiarize yourself before picking one.

In many cases, there are in-depth videos available describing or even demonstrating how solo play works with a given tool.

D&D with Two People

Many of the options discussed so far are also well-suited for use by two players. But there are also some very effective products designed specifically with two-player D&D in mind. (A prime example would be D&D Duet.)

Most of these tools assume that one player will be the DM and the other will run the characters. If you have a partner lined up for D&D and neither of you wants to be the Dungeon Master, many of the solo tools can be easily adjusted to meet your needs. Many gamebooks come with rule adjustments for multiple players.

If you’re using DM Yourself, you can easily set up a two-player game by substituting the second player for the Sidekick ruleset.

Solving The DM Problem

With ordinary group D&D, somebody is going to take on the specialized role of the Dungeon Master. When you play the game solo, though, you’re tempted to take up that duty yourself. I would humbly suggest that your one-person D&D experience will be more satisfying the more you work to free yourself from DM responsibilities. Instead of burning creative energy managing the game while you’re playing, invest that effort up-front to build convenient tools for yourself.

Beyond the tools already discussed, you can create your own solo D&D resources. Write your own random encounter tables to determine what you might run into. To add great variety, you can use a deck of cards, rather than dice, to pick table entries.

You can also mix and match resources from multiple modules and sources to create a unique adventure. Setting-neutral OSR adventures (e.g. Black City, Ultraviolet Grasslands, or Fever Swamp) make perfect resources for solo D&D.

They’re already designed to be used “plug and play” style – you can create a highly satisfying and totally unpredictable adventure with them.

When you’re willing to do your own creative work or accepting of randomness, then some of the more open-ended D&D modules (like the above-mentioned Curse of Strahd) become great choices. Curse of Strahd even comes with a unique tarot card mechanic to create random adventures.

Finally, if you find it tough to stay away from the Dungeon Master’s duties, you could always hand them off to artificial intelligence. DM software (like AI Dungeon) can create and run randomly-generated adventures that will always keep you guessing.

Gameplay Adjustment

You can’t escape the fact that Dungeons and Dragons is, at its core, designed for group interaction, collaboration, and socialization. Playing the game on your own requires some modifications if your experience is going to be satisfying.

One great way to boost the roleplaying side of solo D&D is journaling your way through your adventures. Reflect on what your character has experienced — from their point of view. This can often produce a satisfying, highly organic game where you let your character, not a random table, dictate the course of the adventure.

But what about the crunchy dice-and-numbers part of D&D? The combat? The conflict? When you’re playing D&D on your own, you can treat combat encounters like a one-person chess match. That brings you to the last great issue of solo D&D: balance.

Balancing Solo D&D Adventures

This is an excellent time to repeat the advice I always give when DMs are fretting over balance: “Don’t sweat it.” Life is famously unfair; in D&D terms that translates to inherent imbalance. Some problems just aren’t solvable; creating a D&D adventure where success is guaranteed isn’t very satisfying.

Solo adventurer taking a look at some interesting ruins.

But when it comes to solo D&D, the most common balance issue is that combat encounters are set up to challenge groups, not individuals. You can tackle this in three ways:

1) Change Tactics

Instead of steamrolling your way over every monster with your unstoppable five-man band, in solo D&D you’re on a stealth mission. Your combat style becomes all about sneaking, dividing the enemy, and using clever tricks.

2) Don’t Go Alone

So what if you’re only running one PC in your solo campaign? Give them assistance in the form of retainers and NPC allies. (I particularly recommend Matt Colville’s extended retainer rules from the book Strongholds and Followers.)

3) Tweak the Balance Yourself

This means altering the game mechanics so the odds aren’t stacked quite so high against you. Although you could mess with the enemies you face, that’s time-consuming and it often spoils your adventure. It’s faster and more fun to level the playing field by buffing up your character.

Remember, you’re the DM as well as the player; you can make your own house rules to improve your character’s combat performance. Extra actions? Double hit points? Two-for-one leveling? It’s all on the table in solo play!

Solo Dungeons & Dragons – In Conclusion

Before we wrap up, let me again point out that solo D&D can easily turn into two-person D&D, and adventuring with a partner extends your resources. You don’t even necessarily need to get a human to commit to playing with you!

The How to RPG With Your Cat rule set, for example, isn’t the joke it sounds like. Your faithful pet can be a handy ally in your solo adventures.

Playing Dungeons and Dragons on your own can be enjoyable and rewarding in a lot of different ways. It’s more convenient than gaming in a group. It lets you explore wild fantasy worlds at your own pace. And it can beef up your roleplaying skills if you do move on to playing in a group.

Solo D&D is a great way for Dungeon Masters to practice and to play-test their material – or for them to relax and enjoy the game from the player’s seat for a change! Whatever your reasons for playing solo D&D, the right tips and tools can make it a very fun experience.

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