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I've been the DM in a campaign based in the Eberron world and the party is made primarily out of squishy level 4 characters (wizard, druid, and a bard.)

During one of the combat encounters we had an issue where one of the enemies had resistance to magic which ended up making it so that I had to rethink the encounter because the players would be at too much of a disadvantage.

I asked the group if one of them would be able to play two characters (one frontline and the original squishy character) and we ended up having a discussion about whether that was even able to happen. I don't really want to have it be unfair for the rest of the party members if one person controls two but I don't want to add a NPC to help them.

Can a player control two characters?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @Negdo Please don't answer the question in comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Feb 3, 2023 at 23:57

9 Answers 9

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Certainly. The D&D 5e Dungeon Master's Guide even mentions this option explicitly on page 236:

Small groups

Most of the time, each player runs one character. The game plays best that way, without overwhelming anyone. But if your group is small, players can control more than one character.

It also includes a little more information on what you could do if your group isn't big enough.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The section from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything about Sidekicks may also be worthwhile reading, as it offers rules for creating sidekick characters that are less complex than a full PC, but still able to contribute to the party. It also suggests that the sidekick could be controlled by committee in that the players collectively agree what actions they will take, rather than it just being one player having an extra character. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Feb 1, 2023 at 15:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Anecdata: I'm in a couple of campaigns where there's a DM and two players, and the players control two characters each, making a party of four. If your players are up for it and have a good enough handle on the game mechanics for it not to overwhelm them, it works really well. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2023 at 9:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @anaximander Same here, it can work very well provided everyone is on board. In a similar vein, it’s not been unusual in the groups I’ve been part of for someone who knows ahead of time they won’t be available for a session to designate another person to run their character for them so that the party can still operate at full capacity despite being down a player. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2023 at 12:58
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You betcha, but do you really need to?

As Erik says in their answer, this is absolutely correct. I've played a NPC in one of the games I was a player at and was the 'only' one to manage two characters. We didn't have an issue, but I think the need was different than yours.

In your case, you designed a very difficult encounter and then backpedaled to make it work with your players' characters. That's okay, we make mistakes!

The fix isn't giving them a frontliner, the fix is in creating encounters that are fun and challenging(if wanted) with the players. In my case, and I'm guessing here, I think the DM's desire was bigger battles, and he needed another character in order to do that.

In your case, the solution isn't to add frontliners, but to create encounters that work with your group. You don't really need the solution of another character to resolve this particular issue.

Using Dndbeyond's encounter builder is a solid start, but there are also other free ones out there to help gauge the difficulty of your encounter. But you should also be thinking more about your PCs, how they can shine and how they can be challenged, and create encounters that do so without a massive risk of death.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While this could work, it can be inconvenient and restrictive for a DM to have to create encounters around a different set of assumptions from typical gameplay. Adding a sidekick might be the simpler fix, especially if the DM wanted the option to run prewritten adventures without making major changes. \$\endgroup\$
    – user56480
    Feb 2, 2023 at 10:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user56480 OP isn’t playing a prewritten module and my answer is directed towards their need. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Feb 2, 2023 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your answer is also a little hostile. Instead of telling the OP that they did it wrong and they need to fix it, maybe it would be more welcome rephrased as an alternate suggestion or frame shift? \$\endgroup\$
    – Trevortni
    Feb 2, 2023 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Trevortni admitting a mistake is okay, it’s not hostile to suggest a mistake was made. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Feb 2, 2023 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user56480 Em, no? Having DM rebalance encounters is way less inconvenient than forcing a player to play 2 characters. Many (especially newer) players have issues with roleplaying even one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Negdo
    Feb 3, 2023 at 8:27
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I asked the group if one of them would be able to play two characters (one frontline and the original squishy character) and we ended up having a discussion about whether that was even able to happen. I don't really want to have it be unfair for the rest of the party members if one person controls two but I don't want to add a NPC to help them.
Can a player to control two characters? {Italics mine}

Short answer, yes, one player can use two characters.

I've done it so many times that I have lost count. The D&D 5e DMG makes a point on p. 236 regarding one player running two PCs (particularly for a small party). It's an option.

Is this fair? It's usually not a matter of fairness, but has more to do with (1) a player's desire to handle two PCs, and (2) their capacity for managing two instead of one PC.

Experience-based observation

Not every player can handle this, and some players don't want to. Our Wednesday weekly group is a great example. Our Bard's player struggles when being asked to play another PC when the normal player can't make it, while I (Warlock) and the Rogue's player have no trouble handling two, both in and out of combat.

  • You need to first find out if one of the players has the desire to run two PCs. If none does, don't force it on them.
  • Ask the other players if they are OK with an additional PC, or Sidekick(see below).
  • If they are, press on. If they are not, I'll provide a few pointers for you after we address your other, embedded problem. (See DM as Coach section at the end)

Longer answer: you have two distinct problems in your question

  1. One problem that you have identified is party internal balance

    • Is the party equipped to handle a wide variety of challenges?
    • You have discovered that the answer is no (for the moment) as the caster-heavy party had difficulty with a magic resistant/immune enemy.
  2. The other problem is encounter design and playstyle assumptions. This is a bit trickier to address but here we go:

    • The party fleeing an encounter that is too hard is OK. It has a long tradition in D&D across numerous editions: whomever fights and runs away lives to fight another day! 😊
    • If you and your players operate under the assumption that you have to finish an encounter with victory or defeat only, it's worth having an out of game discussion about tactical withdrawal.
      • Leaving the scene (which is sometimes necessary) when the dice are cruel or when the enemy is too strong is a valid approach.
      • The party then regroups, thinks about some new ways to deal with this very hard encounter, and tries again.
      • Or, they try to go around it / avoid it / trick it / trap it / fool it / lure it away with food (yeah, that mule might be tasty to that owlbear!) in order to get past it.

During one of the combat encounters we had an issue where one of the enemies had resistance to magic which ended up making it so I had to rethink the encounter because the players would be at to much of a disadvantage.

In my experience, you are better off leaving it to the players to figure out how to proceed when they are in over their heads. They get to decide "do we keep at it or do we withdraw and try again?"

  • Do we try and get help?
  • Do we trade for a flask of alchemists fire?
  • Do we set up a hunter's trap/snare to try and catch the foe?
  • Do we ... {fill in the blank here}

There are a lot of things that can be done to change how an encounter goes. Encourage your players to come up with novel solutions. They might surprise you. There are a variety of things on the standard equipment list that adventurers can use to change the shape of an encounter. Ball Bearings, Caltrops, and more.

Sidekicks

If you have and use Tasha's Cauldron of Everything you can apply an optional rule (p. 142) and offer up a Sidekick (a stripped down PC) of the appropriate class (Warrior) - but that still leaves you with "which player wants to try this?"
Tasha's suggests multiple options to include all of the players jointly play the sidekick. This removes the burden from just one player, and makes it easier for the party. That might be a good approach for your table.

DM as coach ~ help them discover their class

The druid (depending on level) can perform as a little bit of a tank by using wildshape or summoning spells.

  1. By second level, they can wild shape into a wolf, for example.
  2. By third level they can summon a beast (if you are using Tasha's) using the spell Summon Beast.
  3. At fourth level, the druid in this party can turn into a black bear, or a crocodile, or a Giant Goat, or a Worg (CR 1/2 beasts) twice per short rest. Each of these can engage in melee or grappling, and represents an additional hit point pool. What can the black bear (for example)do for them?

Black Bear / Medium beast/ / AC 11 / HP 19 (3d8 + 6) / Speed 40 ft., climb 30 ft.
STR.....DEX......CON.....INT.....WIS......CHA
15 (+2) 10 (+0) 14 (+2) 2 (−4) 12 (+1) 7 (−2)
Skills Perception +3 / Senses passive Perception 13
Keen Smell. The bear has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.
Actions
Multiattack.
The bear makes two attacks: one with its bite and one with its claws.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage.
Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, each 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (2d4 + 2) slashing damage.
(SRD V_5.1, p. 368)

  1. By fifth level, the Druid can Conjure Animals, which includes summoning a couple of Dire Wolves, or a pack of eight wolves, or two Brown Bears, or four black bears, or two giant eagles, for an hour. If the Druid can maintain concentration the front liners have arrived and can stick around! (I love this spell).

There are a variety of ways for you to tune encounter design. If you now and again make one that is over their heads, it is OK for them to withdraw and try again. Let their ingenuity surface as they tackle such challenges. I have found that to be fun for the players and the DM.

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You can certainly have a player run two characters; the DMG directly mentions it (as others have noted, it's in the section on small groups on DMG p.236). If you want to do that, you'll have to judge which of your players are more likely to deal well with it, though. In my group, some players struggle to remember the mechanics of a single character, let alone two, while others have most of the rules memorized and have DMed for the group in the past, and seem to have no problem juggling more than one character.

That said, Tasha's Cauldron of Everything includes a section on "Sidekicks" which might be useful to you. Sidekicks are effectively PCs with a stripped-down and simplified set of mechanics. A sidekick uses one of three classes: the fighter-like Warrior, the rogue-like Expert, or the Spellcaster that covers everything from a mage to an acolyte healer. The main mechanics work the way you'd expect, but they just generally have fewer choices to make. For example, there are no subclasses, fighting styles are boiled down to a basic choice between offense and defense, and the Spellcaster uses a relatively fixed list of spells-known (like a sorcerer) instead of daily preparation (which potentially takes planning time after each long rest). A lot of their special abilities are of the "write it on the sheet and forget about it" or "always on" sort instead of adding options you have to keep track of and remember to activate when it's tactically beneficial.

It's useful to have a secondary or companion character be a little more straightforward (and a little weaker, perhaps) so that the player's main character stays the main focus of their attention.

But I don't think this is necessarily an either-or in terms of "give player another character or don't". There's a third path. As a DM, when I have NPC companions running around with the party, I often split the responsibilities with the group -- outside of combat, I manage the NPCs as I would for any other character. The players don't get to control them. But when I get into combat, I've assigned each companion NPC to a player to handle for the tactical combat end of things.

This is a useful strategy because it keeps the players' main characters in the spotlight and lets me give the NPCs some life of their own, but reduces the cognitive load when I need it most, when I'm trying to manage half a dozen monsters in combat. The players know that I have reserved the right to temporarily take away one of the NPCs in combat if there's a roleplaying reason they're going to act in a less than optimal way (such as a character who's deathly afraid of snakes and will flee from a monstrous python, for example).

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As others have mentioned, this is explicitly allowed by the DMG in fifth edition.

It's also not terribly unusual. My group did this forty years ago back when we were playing 1e in my friend's basement; we rationalized it as the players each having a primary character and one (or more) hirelings we were responsible for in combat.

Much more recently, in a situation that seems similar to yours, nobody wanted to play the cleric which our group desperately needed to survive. We settled on a sort of hybrid PC/NPC approach. The cleric was formally an NPC and the GM had veto power over him (so we couldn't sacrifice him for the greater good, or make him suicidally brave) and would weigh in for role playing moments when needed (which was rarely) but we players would rotate through having responsibility for him in combat.

Worked fine.

I'm not entirely sure what would be unfair about these arrangements, unless your group is more internally hostile to each other. One (and only one) player controlling two characters in a player-vs-player setting could get ugly, and I as a GM wouldn't allow it. I suppose a milder version of that would be the two controlled characters only looking out for themselves in combat. But with a good, focused, unified group, this is not really an issue in my experience.

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Although it doesn't address the original situation you posed that prompted the question, the actual question about someone playing two characters has an additional variation that I haven't seen in the other answers:

How to deal with absent players?

I have played in a lot of groups where one or more of the players have been not able to play 100% of the time. Sometimes they would miss an entire session, sometimes just part of one session. The way we handled it was just having someone else be designated to play their character for them. We had another player do it because the DM had enough stuff on their plate, and each person usually had a specific other person who knew how they played their character/how the mechanics of it worked/etc. so the transmission was smooth. In 5E that's less of an issue, but if you play games where characters can have lots and lots of different complex options (Like a medium to high level Pathfinder 1st edition game with players who do weird optimization things...ahem), it really helped to have someone who knew all that stuff ready to take over.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Does this only cover mechanical or also roleplaying aspects? \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 2, 2023 at 11:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ More often than not mechanical, though if their character would really care about something, the guest pilot would also roleplay them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alan
    Feb 2, 2023 at 11:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish Though obviously other groups could do more or less :). \$\endgroup\$
    – Alan
    Feb 2, 2023 at 18:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ "So we all agreed that your character would totally give his life to save ours. Did you roll up a new character yet?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Trevortni
    Feb 2, 2023 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trevortni snort This table was a group of friends who knew each other for 10+ years, so didn't have trust/abuse issues \$\endgroup\$
    – Alan
    Feb 3, 2023 at 2:21
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Do you look at the right problem?

You see PCs not set up for your encounters. That might be for different reasons:

  • The encounters rely on character classes or feats that are not present? Then the GM messed up not accounting for that. A group of characters with no flying or range capability shouldn't need to fly to get an encounter done. If a lower combat-capability group needs to fight, it might require treating them to be at a lower level than they are or treating the thresholds higher. Sadly the DMG does not address this in encounter design, so you will have to learn what works with your party or make the party composition fudgeable.
  • The PCs are very suboptimally built for fluff reasons? Then the GM messed up not accounting for that in encounter design, just as much as the players did by not communicating their dead choices. If the characters are built way below optimal, one can assume them to be of a (slightly to much) lower level than they actually are in planning the encounter.1
  • If the characters are just suboptimal due to a bad understanding of the game, sitting together and fixing such problems can bolster a group's capacities a lot by switching a couple of choices The GM's or a senior player's advice can help here a lot.1
  • The Players acted badly or had bad luck? ok, NOW the GM is free of fault. If they do stupid things, bad things happen.

Giving them more choices or bolstering the group capabilities can solve the problem, as can fixing problems in encounter design. Just adding a PC might be one of those fixes, but it is far from the only possible solution.

For example, players don't get a full-fledged PC as their aide but a side character. Or the players could get a pool of characters to pick from, but only play one at a time and have to choose before the Adventure starts. That's pretty much a West-Marshes style. And last but not least, in older editions, Gestalt was used to directly bolster the capabilities of characters.

Multiple PCs at the same time is a small tradition

This is a question of style. Nothing actively bans multiple PCs at the same time, but it is the expected norms in many games, that each player only uses one PC at the same time. However, even this is not universal, and not even D&D had that in all editions, especially with side-characters:

  • Rangers get an Animal Companion, Druids and some others get access to Summoned Creatures and yet other classes get Familiars or similar feats that represent a creature or being that will join the fray. It's generally considered that as they are part of the character sheet, it's the player that has them on the sheet has to play them. However, some GMs treat that as dictating the intended actions, and at times choose that something different happens than told/expected, or pick up the mantle of such Companion for a little before passing it back.
  • Since at least D&D 3, PCs could take a Companion/Follwer trait or similar that would generate a lower-level type of humanoid side character that would follow them, take orders and execute them. These NPCs would often, but not always, be handled by the player they belonged to.
  • In D&D 5E, such an additional character is called a Sidekick. Tasha's Cauldron of Everything and has specific rules that explain how such a character is made and suggest some handling.2 While generally, such a character is an NPC, some GMs allow a player to play them in addition to their normal PC, while Tasha even suggests treating that sidekick NPC as a group asset that is ordered around by group consensus.
  • The whole idea of "side characters" being nigh mandatory is one of Ars Magica Edition's concepts. It's generally expected each player to bring about 3 or more PC sheets (a Mage, a Companion, 1+ Grog) and switch between which they actively use in the same session as needed or possible. Often the choice would present only a few times an evening, but sometimes the Mage or Campanion brought at least one of their Grogs with them and then would be expected to play both. Grogs are somewhat akin to a sidekick or follower in D&D.

Nothing really prevents it rules-wise, but it is not usually expected to play two fully-fledged Player Characters. Doing so can be quite taxing on both GM and all players, as having multiple present PCs has big implications on spotlight (who a scene is focussed about) and reward distribution debates as well as the logistic nightmare who has which PC where. It just gets complicated super fast. Having a really small group alleviates that, as even the game admits:

Most of the time, each player runs one character. The game plays best that way, without overwhelming anyone. But if your group is small, players can control more than one character.3

Less capable characters, such as Sidekicks or Feat Characters like Animal Companions or Familiars have much less of an impact on the problem of sharing spotlight or new item distribution. They also tend not to be played in a way where they separate from the group on side objectives, which keeps the problem of confusion lower.

Multiple PC at separate times in the same campaign.

There's no rule that forbids a player to have multiple PCs in the same campaign and then only using one each day.

In a West-Marches-style game I ran, with the twist that they didn't even need to leave the town 99% of the time, one player had two PCs I remember best: an elven magic archer focussed on healing & magical DPS and a human officer that was some kind of strong leadership combattant. Which character they used on a particular day was always dependent on the rest of the constellation and the goals of the day. When necessary, they noted what the unused PC was doing those days, and that's it. Simple as that: People showed up, told who they wanted to play with character class, and level, and when they managed to put together a group they thought viable for the task at hand, the adventure started.

If adventures are short and happen from some kind of home base, this needs none to little change in campaign-style but opens the breadth of possible group constellations that can be made, allowing to fill gaps in the setup by swapping PCs as needed to fill the lacking shoes. When not searching to fill a perceived gap in capabilities, striving for specific class synergies can also be a reason for swapping characters. Equally valid for character choice can be to match a given adventure's surroundings, and I quite enjoy it if Players choose their characters in such soft factors.4

Does the adventurer clearly need a person capable of finding traps when its seed is encountered? One of the players has to take out their 3rd level(+) Rogue(Thief), Cleric, Druid, or Ranger with Find Traps for the adventure and have their wizard take a round of research. Is the next adventure starting socially in higher society? Time to break out the Paladin, Bard, Cleric, or Rogue alternate characters instead of the Barbarians that fit such surroundings better.

This puts only almost no strain on each player but for having to maintain one or more alternate character sheets, but allows the group to adapt to various turns and expected encounters.

A tricky question that is opened by choosing from a roster is handling XP. I have seen three styles in use, to various effects.

  • XP for only the present PCs. In the best cases I saw, it lead to most players trying to swap their characters more rapidly to keep them equally viable when choosing the characters for the day. This does work in my experience, but if one isn't doing PC swaps, this can open a huge divide between the over-leveled PC and the rest. This can lead to problems if that opens a serious divide between different players' characters: Several PCs can become under-leveled, compared to the rest of the group, and then become a felt "roadblock" to the over-leveled PC's player. This is less an issue with a larger pool of PCs, where a viable party composition can be achieved by figuring out a party that fits level- and capability-wise. This ability to choose becomes a problem with a small pool.5
  • XP for the Players to all their PCs. This promotes showing up, as your PCs all come up equally, but it opens a gap to players that have little time and put them at a disadvantage. The only time I saw this, it was abandoned after a few weeks, as log keeping for the GM became a headache. If the group attendance is permanent, this is not separate from the next style.
  • XP as a Group statistic. No PC had its separate XP count, every PC had the same XP count, which was on the group log. I have the best experience with this. It resulted in players missing on sessions becoming a non-issue and still offering them (or new players) a way to join in with a character that was on the same level as the others, though they would still miss out on equipment.

Honorable mention: a Gestalt style thing could bolster capabilities... but there's no guidance for 5E

Back in 3.5, there was a playstyle that is known as . A slightly adapted set of it I encountered in a small Pathfinder group. The gist is, that each PC would get two classes and take all class feats as well as the better statistical modifiers or hit dice. The idea was to bolster a character's capabilities but not increase the number of PC in the party or under one player's control. The D&D 3.5 Rules were never officially adapted to D&D 5E and would need to be adapted by your group.

What is a Character anyway?

Character is sadly a little broader than the querent might have meant it. In this context, I believe it is better to talk about PC, if meaning full-fledged, independent characters, to separate it from NPCs that are not meant to exist independent of a character or place they are made for. While the latter is by default run by the GM, some GMs allow players to roleplay what the assisting NPCs tied to their PC do, because it distributes the load of roleplaying them.

I handle assisting NPCs of PCs in such a way that such an NPC is usually acted out by the player controlling the PC unless I need to convey information through it that the player doesn't have. In combat, such assisting cast characters usually don't have an impact, as most of them retreat. Typical examples of such characters are retainers, servants, handmaidens, acolytes, or clerks that are tied to a PC's estate or business. They don't even manage to qualify as sidekick most of the time and are for flavor and roleplaying a position only.


1 - D&D assumes some kind of mid-to-high character optimization for combat capabilities in the DMG. Achieving this is... tricky. it also is balanced around a mixed party with varying classes and capabilities.
2 - Tahsa's Cauldron of Everything, p.142.
3 - D&D Dungeon Master's Guide, 5th Edition, p.236
4 - A side result is, that the cast of the campaign becomes larger and the whole story of the campaign can tell stories that run concurrent but separate from one another, in case two adventure casts have no PC matching. I encountered this once: one week the attack on the BBEG's dungeon happened to get the McGuffin of the Campaign with cast A and the next week, cast B of the same players ran the assault on the BBEG in his mansion. The conclusion of the two adventures happened with a mix of cast A and B, using the McGuffin on the BBEG.
5 - In games other than D&D, where levels are absent or have little impact, an Experience divide usually is a non-issue, and tracking of XP for alternate PCs separately is what I experienced as the absolute normal thing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ May I know what is wrong with the answer?! \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 1, 2023 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 Solid answer. I have no idea why the downvotes, but it took me a couple of reads to understand your first proposition, but totally makes sense. Gestalt is exactly what I did in a smaller group. Well, not exactly but very similar. I allowed multi classing using similar rules to AD&D. I have two groups going through the same campaign, one with 5 and one with 3. Even with modifying encounters and increasing the levels in the smaller group, they still face challenges where they just don't have the synergy of a larger group, but no TPKs so far :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Feb 1, 2023 at 16:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I downvoted because of the nitpicking on the definition of 'character' and the GM/Player divide. There was no ambiguity here, and the question was in accord with common usage of the terms. The question was very obviously not talking about the GM controlling multiple NPCs, but about players (again, no ambiguity based on the usage in the actual rulebooks) controlling multiple PCs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Feb 2, 2023 at 5:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are so many reasons for my DV. The initial blame to the DM for start, treating Familiar and/or Animal Companion as Characters, multiple characters at different time that is not the core of the question, the nitpicking on the definition of 'character' as observed by @Novak. As a side note, that is not related to the DV, using letters for the citation style as superscripts makes the reading not easy, at least to me, of both the text and the footnotes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Feb 2, 2023 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Enh, it's better, but it still strikes me as a bit of a soapbox speech, advocating for clearer language when there was nothing unclear about the original question since the original question used the common terms of 5e rule books. @Eddymage 's arguments also have some force, here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Feb 3, 2023 at 4:06
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A recurring theme I see in a lot of the existing answers is the idea of using hirelings or minions of some type or another - somewhat weaker characters than PCss who are under the PCs' command. I wanted to offer a couple alternatives to that, which I have seen used very well in practice.

The first is actually somewhat of a variation of that theme: a protege / backup character. This would be a full PC-classed character, of maybe a level or two below the main PC, who is training under your main PC (but due to the fact that this is a game, doesn't have to be the same class as the main PC). The stated purpose for this character is to be the player's replacement for the main PC should the main PC ever fail one too many do-not-die checks; but you get to roleplay both characters, and when the boss bites it, the party already knows the new character, so you don't need to go through some elaborate "Hello random newcomer, you look trustworthy, please join us!" roleplaying when it's time.

The second suggestion is more meant for those circumstances where your group isn't large enough and you need more full-level muscle: each player has two characters that share a background in some way - siblings, maybe, or childhood friends, or refugees from the same village. The shared history makes it easier for the player to handle the two as a team, maybe collaborate / play off of each other just a little bit better, and maybe even help keep focus on those long, dreary waits between your next turn in combat - because now you have two characters to make cunning plans for. And you even get to play both a mage and a rogue at the same time! What's not to love?

The final suggestion probably doesn't apply to this situation here, but I include it because we're already talking about playing multiple characters: you actually have two loosely distinct parties, they go off on parallel adventures to accomplish more in the same amount of in-game time, and sometimes they meet up for a special free-for-all episode - maybe they all take on the big bad together in the season finale. Other than that, maybe they might meet up from time to time to compare notes and swap characters - but you'll probably want to enforce that each player keeps one character in each party (unless maybe Bob will be gone next Thursday, but will be back the following Thursday, so he gets to bring both characters to Party B). This will definitely require a DM (or maybe two DMs?) who can manage two parallel stories though, so it's probably not for the faint hearted.

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A player can control any number of characters.

Traditionally in D&D you only have one character. However people have and do ignore that if the character is absent from an extended scene or adventure, or play different characters in different locations, or even multiple characters in the same location. A number of ttrpg systems are (or were - it was more popular back in the 90s) based on the idea of 'troupe style' roleplaying, where players play multiple characters, sometimes who are opposed to each other or only for brief periods (Jim, you're the old innkeeper. These adventurers have busted in at 1am covered in blood and they're gabbling about some kind of dragon. You're way too tired and cranky for this shit. Go.).

This can lead to complications compared to a simpler format, but offer more interest in return.

In this case though, you're bending the players to accomodate the rules instead of bending the rules to accomodate the players.

The answer to encounters being too hard can be to ask or force players to change the kind of character(s) they are playing to better fit the encounters. But why not just change the encounters to fit the characters you already have? The encounters are just words written on a page. The characters are the choice of a bunch of humans. In general, when you can alter non sapient words on a page to better fit the needs of a group of theoretically sentient human beings, you should. In some cases this is a short term gain of utility for a long term loss - like giving everyone personal dragon mounts and artifact weapons at level 1 - but in this case altering the encounters at most creates a bit of extra work for the DM and should provide far more satisfying combats for players without requiring them to play additional characters that are not the kind of character they initially chose.

If the players are keen for the idea of playing multiple characters and can keep the roleplaying going during and etc then it might be a great idea to play multiple characters. But not due to them dealing with encounters better, rather because they are excited for it and having more fun while doing so.

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