Monday, September 13, 2021

Solo on My Mind

The Adventuring Party from my Pacts & Blades Solo
Created using Hero Forge & Photoshop 
Hero Forge miniatures used in accordance 
With the Hero Forge EULA
I was hoping that I would have time this Summer to run and review some solo games. Back on January I ran Four Against Darkness and enjoyed it. And before that I ran several solo adventures here on the blog to playtest Lucas Rolim's excellent Pacts & Blades: Moorcockian Fantasy. My solo play of Pacts & Blades was very satisfying, I played one session on my own, one session here on my blog, and then a three-part adventure (1, 2, 3) to test out some of the material in Pacts & Blades' sourcebook, Salamandur Household.

Up to this point, I have had a strange relationship with solo games. I developed my method for running solo purely to test out game systems that were so radically different from Dungeons & Dragons that I couldn't playtest them at my regular table. I use a fusion of the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, random Dungeons from DonJon, read with a skimming method, and whatever game I am reviewing . Or I build a dungeon using random encounter tables and a clock to test specific mechanics. 

After reviewing One Shot in the Dark, I decided to give a listen to the  Tale of the Manticore podcast. I have been binging it for a few days, and have listened to about a third of the series over the weekend. 

Creative Journaling exercises are also a topic that has come up in conversations recently, which led me to recommend Alone Among the Stars to my wife. And one of books that just hit the top of my backlog is Dungeon Crawl Solo, a book of solo play methods recommended to me by Bob V. G., a frequent reviewer of my games on DrivethruRPG. 

I also recently received copies of two of my favorite Fighting Fantasy books from my childhood as a gift, and have been playing them in fits and starts. 

And I also recently stumbled across a copy of Barbarian Prince, a solo adventure game from the early 80s I found compelling. 

Needless to say, solo adventure has been on my mind, accordingly. I've decided to try playing creatively for pleasure once in awhile. So I am going to use the blog to document what tools and methods work for me. But this, unto itself requires me to ask some preliminary questions. One of the biggest of which is "What do I hope to get out of this?"

What Do I Hope to Get Out of This?

I've noticed a few different reasons people have for running solo games, which will impact the which games would be right for your project.

To Playtest

This has been my use for Solo up to this point. I have used sto game play to test systems I review and look for bugs my own upcoming game systems, Deathtrap Lite and Midnight Zone.  In a playtest setup, you are going to want to build the solo experience to test different aspects of the game you are playing. This will be the least Free-form experience, you will have playing a solo game, as you will need to force a few situations either through adventure design or forced PC Choices. You will get fewer enjoyable surprises this way. After all Chaos is what makes a TTRPG fun

To Create a Project

Solo RPGs have been used to create novels, podcasts, we comics, and more. I am a fan of a few of these like Tale of the Manticore. These kinds of projects benefit from system that are highly Chaotic and fairly simple with regards to the rules. Whether you need to be transparent and consistent on the rules, or use them simply as fuel for imagination will make a big difference on how you play and which system is right for you. 

For these projects, systems that include tools like clocks or a structured system of time management. B/X Dungeons & Dragons, Blades in the Dark, or solo-oriented Ironsworn might all fit that frame. 

As a Creative Outlet

For some people, solo role-playing is all about enjoying the creative process involved. They might use it just for Journaling or relaxation. For these players, much lighter systems like One Shot in the Dark or Alone Among the Stars might be a better choice than a complex system. 

For a Challenge

I like to play TTRPGs in part because there is an intellectual challenge. I like finding creative ways of using spells, negotiations, and equipment to overcome challenges that my characters cannot overcome by going at them headlong. Finding ways to tip the odds in my favor is what makes the game fun for me. Games like B/X Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, or Knave are built with problem solving and stacking advantages to overcome dangers in mind. Character simply cannot smash their way through problems. A mix of creative and resource management is required. 

Being challenged during solo play means finding ways to ensure that you are running up against tough encounters, that you have detailed environments, and that you are doing more than just can I come your way through a simple dungeon. Running modules, or having detailed tools for generating Adventure premises is going to be required; a simple ceawl like the ones DonJon creates may not be enough to keep interest without tweaking.

This is the kind of plY that would be best suited by playing modules. 

To Scratch an Itch

Sometimes you want to play a game, but can't quite get a group together, and like me, you do not want to play with Internet Randos. Solo play will not offer you quite the same experience as playing D&D with friends, but it can give you a taste. This is what a lot of primarily solo games like Four Against Darkness or most creations by HodagRPG do best. 

To Daydream

Sometimes, you just want something meditative for awhike to get lost in a fantasy. Solo RPGs give you a chance to add some surprise and unpredictability to your daydreaming.  This one is going to vary widely with the tastes of the player.

To World-Build

Roaming through a semi-randomized world with a group of characters that you treat as if they were your own PC is a great way to create a new game world. After awhile, NPCs, settlements, religions, etc. will come into focus as they are needed. In time you will have a rich world that other players could happily explore.  This system will need to be flexible and not burdened by an excess of metaplot already to get in the way. 

If you want to build an OSR or D20 campaign world, this is where Rules-light Dungeons & Dragons clones like The Black Hack or Microlite d20 might be a helpful shortcut.

So, What Do I Hope to Get Out of This?

Personally, I a most interested in a challenging game that lets me world-build and also gives me some articles to share here as I develop an understanding of what works for me. And this, going forward will inform my play choices.

I think my best option for the sake of having some fun would be to run a single PC character in DCC RPG and have them ally with NPCs that come and go through a weird fantasy adventure. DCC RPG does a great job of rewarding creativity, and is fairly challenging. Plus I have over 40 adventures for it... Mosy of which I have not read.

I will generate characters using the Purple Sorcerer apps, and use the Dungeon Crawl Solo tools to start. I might add a little more complexity later. I might choose to start with a test run on The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence for fun.

I will keep you posted. 

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