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I really would love to play Dungeon World but I have very small group, me and 2 others. That's 3 people in total. So, one game master, me, which I'm perfectly happy with, and 2 players.

Is this possible with Dungeon World?

I really want play a TTRPG, and I ruled out Dungeons and Dragons due the difficulty of 1 GM and 2 players. I like the look of PbtA games and the ruleset, and I've been eyeing Dungeon World.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi @kelly, welcome to RPG Stack Exchange! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for additional help. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23 at 5:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, I have been running some Dungeons and Dragons games with 2 players without much trouble. It may be difficult sometimes to properly balance encounters... but not any more than with larger groups in my experience. Just make sure to avoid large groups of enemies. \$\endgroup\$
    – DunBaloo
    Jun 23 at 13:14

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I've been able to play one-shots (read: first sessions) fairly well with only two players.

There's one part of character creation that's a little out of balance when there's only one other PC - writing bonds. Here's what I usually say about that:

So I realize there are all these bonds to write and exactly one other PC to do it with. Don't just put their name in everything. Pick as many as you want to apply -- at least one, and no more than half your total bonds (round down).

This keeps the total bonus to the Aid or Interfere move generally in line with the bonus a PC in a larger group gets when they're looking to roll +bond with their best friend, and when there's only one other PC they're your best friend by default.

That'll get you through a solid single session, but the game's more than single sessions. At least it sounds like you want your game to be more than that.

However, I haven't seen campaigns sustain themselves very well with only two protagonist characters.

Arranging the entire world against two protagonists for a longer period of time can result in some of your GM moves coming a little off-kilter. Separate them is always the strongest possible version, separate everyone. There's a smaller aggregate health pool to deal damage to, and similarly a smaller load of resources when you want to use up their resources. Give an opportunity that fits a class's abilities has never exactly meant "a class that's currently in the party", but "we pursue the opportunity in a ramshackle fashion" is a story beat that's kind of hard to keep fresh, and it's similarly hard to keep a story fresh if you try to limit yourself to opportunities for just two slices of the fantasy pie.

What's to be done?

Players can run multiple characters. However, this isn't something I would recommend springing on novice players. It's an option generally presented to characters who have already reached 10th level, to take an apprentice and play them instead, with their mentor still around to take part in the story -- but somebody who's taken a character to 10th level has a lot of experience using the system already, so keeping two characters' worth of opportunities in their heads is easier for them than it would be for a novice.

You can provide hirelings. While you the GM play the hirelings, the same as the rest of the world, you have a much freer hand to align the hirelings with the characters' interests - well, as long as they're being paid and treated well. Hirelings often offer lesser but less risky versions of following up on opportunities that outside classes could capitalize on. With the aid of hirelings, the party can kind of track like The Ranger, kind of deal with traps like The Thief, kind of recover like The Cleric, kind of give and take hits like The Paladin or The Fighter.

Here's a little rules hack you might want to make use of in this case.

You can write hirelings into your otherwise empty bond slots. When you Order Hirelings you can mark an unmarked bond of yours with them to take +1 to the roll, at most once.

At the end of session, if all your bond slots with someone other than the other PC are marked, you can mark XP, clear all your marks, and work with the GM to rewrite and update any bonds that have changed.

You can provide Crew. This might not be the best option for a first-time GM. Crew are part of an alternate setting for Dungeon World that unfortunately never saw commercial release; however, I've detailed the important parts of them in this answer (which, ironically enough, is about running the game for a large and volatile group). Crew generally provide more solid story-facing benefits than a hireling would, but they're riskier to make use of and require more judgement on the GM's part to run.

And again, here's a little hack you might want to drop in as well.

You can write Crew into your otherwise empty bond slots. When you get your Crew's Benefits you can mark an unmarked bond of yours with them instead of paying 1-loyalty.

At the end of session, if all your bond slots with someone other than the other PC are marked, you can mark XP, clear all your marks, and work with the GM to rewrite and update any bonds that have changed.

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Yes, small groups work

While I've only run Dungeon World with 3 players, I'm certain that it would work with 2 (and not just because it says it would in the rules).

It would probably be easier to run too, since you have fewer things to keep track of. (I kept on forgetting to ask the quiet player what they were doing.) You should be able to keep track of everyone's health so you know if things are getting too hard.

Since you are a new group I would advise not complicating things with giving everyone multiple characters or bringing in hirelings. (At least not until it's called for by the rules, and even then — I'm not a fan of hirelings.)

The difficulty in DW is decided by the GM

There isn't anything like "challenge rating" for enemies in DW. You can (and in fact I did!) pit level one characters against a strong monster. You just need to manage the difficulty right.

I would start small (low HP, no armor, low damage) and then work your way up.

More soft moves make the game easier. More hard moves make it harder, as described by the rule book:

[A soft move can] mean that it’s something bad, but they have time to avoid it, like having the goblin archers loose their arrows (show signs of an approaching threat) with a chance for them to dodge out of danger.

A soft move ignored becomes a golden opportunity for a hard move. If the players do nothing about the hail of arrows flying towards them it’s a golden opportunity to use the deal damage move.

Hard moves, on the other hand, have immediate consequences. Dealing damage is almost always a hard move, since it means a loss of HP that won’t be recovered without some action from the players.

When you have a chance to make a hard move you can opt for a soft one instead if it better fits the situation. Sometimes things just work out for the best.

The game can always be exactly as difficult as it needs to be. If the players are not doing well, then instead of the monster dealing damage it pounces (allowing them an opportunity to dodge), then it tries to pin down their shield hand (another opportunity to dodge) and then it attacks (so they can still dodge, just not with their shield). All while that's happening, both players should be hacking away at the beast.

Also, remember that there can be more than one way to end an encounter. The player may not kill their enemies, but weakened or tired enemies flee for their lives or are called away by the impending Front. I try to have multiple ideas for how any encounter can end, just in case.

Keep the way forward open

Don't require specific actions to move forward. Maybe your party will kill the guard and take his key to the locked door. Maybe they'll sneak past and lock pick it. Maybe they'll crash through a wall and then the door. Maybe there's a ritual that would get them exactly where they need to go, no problem (except that they need a lock of vampire hair to cast it). Or maybe they just skip the joint entirely and whatever was behind the door shows up later in the hands of another enemy.

In a small group, there may not be a person good at every skill. They may be less likely to think of the specific idea you had.

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Yes, this can work

The Dungeon World SRD says so explicitly

To play Dungeon World, you’ll need to gather yourself and 2–5 friends.

While they recommend that 4-6 people works best, the game works with 2 players. Just as a side note: so does D&D, I'm playing a campaign in 5e with two players, which works great. Here is a useful Q&A for how to play with a smaller party.

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