A few weeks ago I started DMing for my wife, who also plays an Essentials Hunter. We started at level 1 and are now nearly level 8. Here are a few things I've picked up along the way.
Recognize the shortcomings of a Hunter
The essentials Hunter, unlike the typical Ranger, doesn't have the possibility of having a beast companion. As such, you will find that a lot of your encounters will come down a long sequence of "I shift back and use Clever Shot" as melee opponents crowd around. This gets repetitive and none of your combats will ever take place in the room they were set up in, as the logical strategy is to slowly back down the hallway shooting for your life. There are a couple of solutions to this.
- House rule a beast companion. You can browse the monster manual or compendium to pick a level-appropriate critter that takes commands as a minor or free action. Scale upwards every time the Hunter levels.
- Play a tagalong melee NPC. This is the option I went with. I play an essentials Knight who stacks defensive abilities and feats, and is basically my Hunter's bodyguard. The Knight is relatively easy to play, yet still effective, so I can absorb a lot of damage while helping position enemies to make maximum use of the Hunter's ranged attacks. This option also helped my wife get into the roleplaying aspect (she was new to D&D) because she was able to have conversations--both tactical and story-based--with my character.
Make up for her lack of healing
The biggest challenge of a solo Hunter campaign is once you've used your second wind, you're out of luck. The nature of D&D is that you're going to be taking damage, and that's tough to deal with without a healer. Again, you have a few options here.
- Make healing potions common in your world. If you've ever played Diablo, you know what I'm talking about. Lower the price of healing potions. Have her find 1 or 2 every couple encounters. The value of a 10-hp heal as a minor action is HUGE in solo play.
- House rule second wind. Make it a minor action, or allow two per encounter. As your wife levels up and gets above 40 hp (when the surge value gets better than the 10 hp you get from a healing pot), second wind is going to be very valuable.
- Play a tagalong healer NPC. Similar to the point above, you can play a healer henchman that keeps the Hunter alive. I don't have experience with any essentials healers so unfortunately I have no comments on the effectiveness of this.
- Run a stealth adventure. A hit and run solo hunter that takes good advantage of stealth and natural cover can dish out a lot of punishment and get away without taking too much in return.
Reward creative thinking
You're in this to have fun. Don't be a rules lawyer. Encourage and reward your wife for thinking outside the box. This gets really particular to your adventure so I can't offer specifics, but here are a few things that happened during our game:
Exploding Zombies! My wife was protecting a merchant caravan against a nighttime zombie attack. She decided to try to slide the zombies into the campfire using Clever Shot. I ruled that the zombie got a save to fall prone adjacent to the campfire, but if it failed, it would catch fire and take 2d6 fire damage and ongoing 5 fire damage (save ends). When the first zombie erupted she lured a bunch of them in a group and then slid one in the fire, and there was a chain reaction as the zombies ignited one another. By far one of the best encounters we've had so far.
Infiltrating the cult. We had killed a few cultists outside a ritual chamber. Inside the cult was attempting to raise an ancient demon from the grave. My wife decided to throw on the cultist robes and enter the chamber like they belonged there. Her bluff was garbage but I still allowed them to position themselves ideally in the chamber and initiate the combat with a surprise round.
Clever fighting. We were downhill from a guard tower with archers firing down on us. My fighter took the total defense action, the Hunter hid behind me, and picked them off one by one. Normally my wife would only have cover, but I gave her superior cover for being downhill and hiding behind a half-orc with a heavy shield. It took a while but the archers needed a natural 19 to hit either of us, so we eventually won out.
Make your encounters coherent, challenging, and resolvable
Nothing's worse than an encounter for no reason, a fight with no chance of losing, or a story with no end.
- If you are going with the Burn Notice idea, I would have 4-5 encounters per "episode". Have each mission require some travel and investigation (skill challenges) so you get that sense of both figuring out the problem and then defeating it, rather than just shoot first, ask questions later. Sneak details into each story that become important in the finale, and gradually reveal that each mission was related to some bigger story. That way, when all is said and done, your wife will have accomplished something awesome.
- For our level 4 adventure, I ran Pillars of Light. It's a free adventure over at 4eyes. It's pretty well written, but you will obviously need to adjust encounters on the fly to account for the fact that the adventure was created for a party of 4-5 characters.
Plan for failure
Inevitably an encounter is going to go poorly. And contrary to popular belief, dying in a solo mission is slightly difficult to recover from.
- Work into your story a reason why the enemies wouldn't necessarily want to kill the Hunter, but knock her out and tie her up. This leads to some roleplaying, and you can eventually give her a way to escape or fight her way out.
- If all else fails, don't be afraid to fudge some rolls. The dice are not God, you are God. Dice don't tell good stories, you tell good stories. Turn a monster crit into a hit if it would otherwise ruin the encounter. Reduce damage here and there if a combat is going south. I would avoid a TPK at all costs.
Give out items that your wife will actually use. Be reasonable (the robed necromancer doesn't drop a +2 longbow), but don't weigh her down with a bunch of junk to sell. Earning items is much more fun than saving gold and purchasing items. A few low-level suggestions for a Hunter are:
- Eagle Eye Goggles. Can't go wrong with a bit more accuracy.
- Bracers of Archery. Hitting harder is a good thing!
- Belt of Vigor. +1 to healing surge value. Especially good if you are house ruling second wind.
- Repulsion Armor. Great for a hunter trying not to take damage.
- Endless Quiver. A little high level for now, but this eliminates counting arrows (which, IMO, is tedious and annoying).
- Elven Cloak. NAD bonus. Check. Stealth bonus. Check.
Hope this helps, and let us know how the adventure goes!