Running a campaign with only one other player

Running A Single-Player Campaign

So I’m running a new campaign on Roll20, going through the Baldur’s Gate module WotC released a few months back. It’s my first time running a campaign in several years, so I’m a little rusty. It’s also my first time seriously using Roll20 for anything—all my previous campaigns have been in-person tabletop experiences. Any other time that I’ve used the website, it’s been limited to a player role.

My major issue is that it’s just me and one other person (at the moment). He’s playing two characters since he wanted to experiment, and I started them off at 3rd level for gameplay reasons, but I’m running into problems with combat. I’ve looked into different solutions, but I’m hoping creating a post will get more specific results.

These are the problems:

  • Combat is becoming a slog and slowing down the campaign.
  • His characters become easily overwhelmed, even if I:
    • Reduce NPC hitpoints,
    • Reduce number of mobs,
    • Reduce special attacks,
  • We’re forced to take short/long rests every couple of rooms.
  • Just getting through simple encounters becomes tactical nightmares and resource management minigames as he tries to min/max the battle and still maintain momentum.

I’m probably making it sound worse than it is, since we’re just starting out, but I can see how this will progress the further into the campaign we go. At the moment, his characters out-level the enemies, but that advantage will be gone within the next few sessions, and then it becomes a steep uphill grind. This is made worse when we get to locations like Avernus and the environment itself starts actively working against player-recovery.

I’m hoping people have some suggestions for me, maybe even ones that are tied to the module itself. I’ve tinkered with things like ‘scaring the enemies away’ when their BBEG is killed, or the boss is defeated. Allowed skill checks for intimidation to reduce NPC numbers, etc. I don’t really know other easy, scalable ways to balance CR and not remove the difficulty and fun of combat entirely, but prevent combat from grinding the story to a standstill.

I’m considering creating my own DMPC to help flesh out the roster, but since this is my first time controlling the game in a while, I don’t want to overstep or lose focus—things that are all too easy to do when you both run the world, and have a stake in it.