Being in the Asian hemisphere, I find that RPGs are not that popular here. Still I managed to get a few folks together that wanted to play D&D. The incredibly fun part of the group is that they are all relative newbies, not having a lot of baggage from previous editions (also, I could regularly flub the rules and not get caught on it too much).
Having new players is loads of fun. Yet the immediate pressing problem I had was a two-player group. D&D is completely playable with less than a group of 5, but 2 players can really hinder the type of encounters I could throw at them. They decided to play a rogue and a paladin so at least they were covering some different roles in the ‘Leader/Striker/Defender/Controller’ party makeup scheme. But I think with just 2 people, the game could get stale fast. Typically they would be pairing off against a soldier, or brute-type and a swath of minions. The exp budget I would have for encounters would just be too low to have a lot of different creature types out at once.
I added an NPC character to the party, Torr, a shifter druid. I figured a controller that was a ritual caster (and could provide a little healing to back up the paladin) a good choice. So far it has worked out exceedingly well, and it has added some interesting dynamics to RPing for the game.
I’m not constantly at odds with the players. Face it, typically the DM is playing the opposition, and usually we are at just as conniving, manipulative, and self-serving with our verbal actions as the players are. Granted, it’s all part of making the game interesting for the players, still at times I feel I’m working against them. Maybe my players are metagaming when they throw out, ‘So, what do you think, Torr?’ Yet, it gives me an opportunity to subtlety nudge the party in a certain direction. I have a chance to drop hints or suggestions to the players without being too obtuse. Having an NPC in the party is allowing me to smooth over those sticky RP situations and keep the story moving.
The only problem I have is when combat rolls around. Effectively, I’m helming another monster, trying to work out what attacks and maneuvers I should make to work with the party. I’ve been toying with the idea of letting the players take over the NPC party member in combat. Rotating who controls the NPC, switching off every round, will likely prevent one guy from completely monopolizing its actions. I’ll have to take that for a spin, but my players may not like having to think out the actions for another character. They seem content with being the master of their own persona.
I might try another alternative and truly have an NPC type with less powers, but I think something like that works well in a striker/defender roll. I think leader and controller types really need a lot of options to keep viable. Something else I think I’ll have to try out.
Another huge problem is blown encounter and daily powers. Having such a small group, I’m finding a missed attack or power can lead to some serious consequences. I’ve worked around that allowing player to have additional uses for action points.
For parties of 3 or less players, I’m allowing players to burn action points to recharge missed encounter powers as a standard action. Additionally, I’m allowing players to use an action point during an extended rest to get back a daily power if it missed during the encounter. Now my players are really striving to use those dailies. If they miss, they know they can get it again (provided they live though the encounter). Plus that failure to use a cool attack is lessened for the encounter powers. All of it adds to the survivability of the party, and allows them to have more fun.