In the official digital package for Dungeon World, there is a compendium class that already deals with issues that arise from one-on-one play. It is the Bearer class, and I cannot stress enough how severely, astoundingly underrated it is for enhancing that form of play.
There’s a recent discussion on Reddit about one-on-one DW play (one GM, one player). Typically in these discussions, there’re a lot of speculation and theory-crafting, with two common threads:
• DW cannot be played one-on-one
• Try The Legacy Weapon Playbook
I ran several one-on-one sessions myself and did a lot of research into one-on-one play. It works, and without any tweaks to the official materials. It is true that DW is not designed for one-on-one play, but its rules are robust enough to support it. I’ve learned a lot about DW from doing one-on-one sessions, and one of my best experiences was actually from a one-on-one session.
I bought and tried The Legacy Weapon Playbook, and in actual play, I found that its rules interfere too much with the pacing of the game. There’s too much setup and its mechanics are clunky and cumbersome. However, the true value of this playbook is that it attempts to solve problems that arise from extended one-on-one DW play. The reasonings behind its designs are very insightful.
What’s amazing is that, whether by design or accidentally, the official Bearer compendium class already combats these one-on-one issues.
• The most obvious problem is Bonds. As there are no other players to make bonds with, you have to instead do it with Hirelings or NPCs. A favorite alternative is to add bonds with a talking weapon, and that is exactly what the Bearer class is about. In fact, it’s actually written (Whosoever Holdeth) that you have to make bonds with your talking weapon.
• The second problem is death. Because there are no other characters, death is especially troublesome for one-on-one play. One of the moves (Bound For Life) for the Bearer class has a solution: when you take Last Breath, you can instead take a permanent debility of the weapon’s choice. This allows the player’s character to avoid dying, but still suffer a potentially serious consequence, all using official material.
• The third problem is the lack of move variety. Now, this is where the Bearer class is still lacking, but it does provide a lot of healing and alternative ways of gaining information about a situation. This is really where Hirelings come in because their purpose is already to fill gaps in party roles.
Having said all that, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t buy The Legacy Weapon Playbook. It worked pretty well for some people. However, people shouldn’t be ignoring the Bearer compendium class either, as it deals with many of the same problems. I’ve had some awesome one-on-one DW sessions, and it is definitely a viable way to play DW if you know what you’re doing.