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Games Spotlight 2017 #2 - Solo Games

Shawn McCarthy
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Microbadge: Root fan
I kicked off this series in Feb with Two Player gaming and mentioned that some games could even be played solo. "But how? Aren't roleplaying games without other people weird?" I hear you asking. Yes, they are, but not really that much weirder than most of what our hobby has us doing.

Stealing a little bit from a post musing on what it means to be a solo RPG as an extension of common RPGs:
solorpggamer wrote:

I think I've arrived at a provisional definition of Solo RPGs, along the lines of the Lumpley Principle (see definition of LP at

System (including but not limited to 'the rules') is defined as the means by which a person commits to (settles on) imagined events during play.

Does it matter? Who knows. I'm hoping it tells me or someone something about solo RPGs that takes their design somewhere interesting. Definitely puts the emphasis on how a player settles on what action "really happened" in play. You know, the stuff you report in your actual plays or that makes it into your write ups (if you write).
How to decide what happens is a key question in solos, since the normal fallback to GM fiat doesn't exist the same way as in a GM+players (or to the group in many a GMless games). There are a few approaches to this decision-making and they fall into a few rough categories so as I did with with 2P games, I'll try to break things out:

Toolkits and helpers
Mythic Game Master Emulator
CRGE: Conjectural Roleplaying GM Emulator
The GameMaster's Apprentice
The Covetous Poet's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook

First on the docket, and very common with solo games are the "GM emulator" style products. For the most part, these all try to provide a sense of bounded and plausible randomness - coming up with ideas that surprise and challenge a player the way a gamemaster would. Combined with the "Random dungeon generation" chapters in D&D style books and any number of random tables items and you can put together a dungeon crawl that (at worst) feels like one put together by an easily distracted dungeonmaster.
If you're testing out a ruleset and just need an "honest" AI to play with/against, these are a great option.

One of the most popular ways to play RPGs alone is via gamebooks. The concept here is that a branching story is scrambled up into a book, and your choices tell you what page to turn to next. Some are very simple - Choose A or B - while others have mechanics to resolve challenges. Those with a system usually only require a notepad, pencil, and a standard d6 to play.

Choose Your Own Adventure, Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, and Lone Wolf Gamebooks are probably the three best-known series, but there are a few dozen other lines including some tied into licensed properties like Give Yourself Goosebumps. Fabled Lands lets you move around within locations in a book as well as between books - which, frankly, blows my mind.

There are also options in other languages, such as 1000 Gefahren and Die Welt der 1000 Abenteuer, with some non-english books eventually being translated.

I confess I checked out every copy of Fighting Fantasy my childhood library ever shelved, some more than once; in retrospect this was my actual introduction to RPGs, not D&D in my teens. Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf (and likely others) also spun off "proper" RPG books along the way, adapting the basic rules to the GM + Players paradigm.

Solo RPGs
And now, as with the 2 Player article, I'll try to cover some games specifically designed for Number of Players = 1.

Four Against Darkness aka 4AD - proclaims it's not an RPG but it sure gets praise for doing a randomized dungeon crawl very well. Follow a procedural generation mechanic and get delving. If not an RPG, it's still comparable to the Series: Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System Board Games board games.

Quill - You write actual letters using a randomized selection of words and find out how well the message performed. Niche as heck, but it lets you hone your epistolary skills and creates an artifact in the process.

Beloved - Your Beloved has been captured by powerful monsters and you must rescue them! Create an unbeatable monster then find a way to defeat it, then figure out if it was even worth the trouble. There's a sneaky thing about idealizing our partners tucked under the surface but it's 90% about drawing Bowser then finding a way to flip a lever and dump him into his own lava moat.

The Beast - A journal writing game about romance and corruption with a card-based oracle for prompts. Like a Disney movie but way more fucky.

Chronicles of Arax and Dungeons: A Solo Adventure Game- Humans, elfs, dwarves, fantasy tropes, and using the full array of d4/6/8/10/12/20 dice. Looks like familiar territory!

The Mutant Epoch - An old school mutants/beasts/robots in the postapocalypse game with built in choose-your-own-adventure mechanics.

Solo adventures and games that scale down to 1 player
Many games include solo adventures as a way to show new players picking up the book for the first time how the game is supposed to run and feel. One neat example of this is in the D&D 4E starter 'Red Box': the player starts without a class and through their decisions, generates their character before fighting some goblins. While (if I recall correctly) the writing was a bit janky, it was an excellent teaching moment.

In a more general sense, lots of games have available content designed for solo play - with some forking paths and GM emulation built in.

Solo Roleplaying Adventures Hidden in a Magazine!
Tunnels & Trolls Solo Dungeons
SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine
Das Schwarze Auge also has a series of solo adventures, including Der Vampir von Havena

There are also games suitable for as little as a GM+ single player that are especially easy to scale down to just one person total:

Scarlet Heroes - in particular works for tiny groups.

Microscope - is less of a roleplaying "game" and more of a story creation engine. The game zooms in between historical ages and moments of change, all the way down to conventional "scenes" where players pick up whichever characters are needed. With the exception of the "scene" level of zoom, you don't really need additional players to interact with the rules as written. And for scenes, it's easy enough to just write what happens in prose or bullet points.

The Quiet Year can do the same thing. Keep track of a few factions as if they're players (adding and removing them from rotation as they wax and wane in relevance), assign Contempt tokens in front of factions, and take turns speaking from their perspectives.

And plenty more - I'd love to hear more about what games you've played alone and what you're hoping to find!

If you've got questions, looking for more games, or just want to share your experienced, check out the Solo Roleplaying guild and the Solo RPGs on Your Table Monthly Geeklist SUBSCRIPTION THREAD.
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Mon May 15, 2017 7:21 pm
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Games Spotlight 2017 #1 - Two Player Games

Shawn McCarthy
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Introduction - Why two-player games?
There are a few main reasons to explore two player games... first, and probably most common is the practicalities of only having one other person to game with. Maybe you're trying to introduce your spouse to RPGs or keep playing between the times when you can gather a larger group. The second main reason is intentionally playing games designed for two players - often two specific roles or just two people on a similar path, and of course the traditional GM + Players paradigm, but scaled back to a single player.

Creativity through limitations
How can you make a traditional game 'work' when there's only one player, and presumably one character?
Most games that look like D&D are based on having a few complimentary class roles - a fighter, magic user, healer, thief - so how can we get around that?
The same goes for different non-fantasy genres, too - space sci-fi gets tricky without a pilot, and a pilot probably doesn't have the same kind of training in trade or weaponry as a diplomat or a soldier. Solving these assumptions is one way to approach two-player gaming.

And if we step away from that style of ensemble-cast game, what new doors do we open? What kind of stories really do work best with two protagonists, or a dance between one pro- and one antagonist?

Two player gaming gives us quite a few ways to explore those questions!

Specifically Two Players
There is going to be some inevitable overlap here, where games that are written for two players could actually scale up with minor tweaks; likewise, especially in these first two groups the role of GM is often softened. So don't worry too much about the distinction - the first batch of games will feel more like traditional RPGs, that's all.
Beast Hunters
Mars Colony
Murderous Ghosts
Scarlet Heroes
S/lay w/ Me
World vs. Hero
A Scoundrel in the Deep

Two players as GM and PC
These games look a lot like more prototypical RPGs - one player is in charge of the world and incidental characters, the other player controls a specific character. Of these, Scarlet Heroes is designed to feel like an Old School RPG, and allow a due to make use of existing D&D style modules/adventures.

Beast Hunters is a standalone game, sort of formalizing a duel or opposition between a hunter and prey; one player is the Hunter and the other, the Challenger, is responsible for putting obstacles in their way.
World vs Hero is also a standalone game, this time from the designers of Mythic Game Master Emulator, that uses a tableau of playing cards to pace out a heroic story.
S/lay w/Me focuses on a player character's relationship with a Lover while trying to slay a Monster; both the Lover and Monster are piloted by the second player. It's a constrained narrative game that can play in whatever time slot you have available, from half an hour to an evening. The game has some things to say about the story it wants you to play; the title, art, and text all suggest a very sensual (if not sexual) narrative.
Scoundrel has a very interesting mechanic where a booklet / box of matches literally counts down their survival in a dire situation. Some actions are even limited by the life of a single match. V V cool use of an unusual randomizer.
Mars Colony diverges from the fantasy genre to sci-fi survival, pitting an apparent 'savior' character against the problems of the failing colony. The other player speaks for the other citizens and presents the mounting obstacles.
Murderous Ghosts creates a horror story, using some aspects of PbtA ported to playing cards and interconnected 'choose your own adventure' booklets which is a neat innovation, as both the ghost and player character can be surprised by questions.
And one more in the pipeline worth mentioning, GUMSHOE is launching a one-on-one adaptation of their core system with Cthulhu Confidential as a flagship game.

Equal Roles
Breaking the Ice &
Shooting the Moon
Three Days
Hot Guys Making Out
Our Radios Are Dying
The Beekeeper

183 days
aka Six Months Three days
The Sky is Grey
and You are Distressed

Adventurer & Troll
Sweet Agatha
14 days

Kazekami Kyoko
Kills Kublai Khan

One Shot
A Single Moment
Two equal players
Moving on to a crop of games where players have mostly equal footing, we notice a blossoming of cooperatative and relationship games in among the standard competitive fare.
Breaking the Ice & Shooting the Moon tell the story of a quirky romance through the first few dates and a love triangle where players are trying to woo the same beloved, respectively. (The third part of this trilogy is LARP for several players, also exploring dating and love and stuff.)
Three Days is a similar lighthearted meet-cute rom-com story, too.
And of course, there's Hot Guys Making Out, which does exactly what it says on the tin. " a yaoi role-playing game, set in the Spanish Civil War, in which a tormented nobleman and his young ward attempt to resist their forbidden love for each other, and fail." It always seems to be a hit.

Our Radios Are Dying is a freeform game for a duo adrift in space after some calamity separates them. Players can roll about on chairs to simulate drifting while they ask questions and reveal their shared backstory.
The Beekeeper was a winning entry in Gamechef 2014, about the twilight of a relationship. Letters frame the acts of the story, and honeycomb tiles are drawn and placed as a hive to shape the short conversations along the way.
183 days and The Sky is Grey... both focus on tension in relationships. 183 Days uses a custom deck of cards to follow a probably-tragic relationship between clairvoyant lovers; The Sky is Grey uses randomized information to prompt a discussion about honesty and identity.

Doll is a game about truth and the intense bond between children and imaginary friends. There's room for a lot of dark in this game. Trapped is about being stuck in a coma. Adventurer & Troll is a fantasy storytelling game that's actually about asymetrical relationships. Bathysphere is a survival pressure cooker. 14 Days is about just getting through everyday life with chronic pain; sort of an workshop teaching tool more than a 'fun' game.

Following the Relationship Games, there's another major current in this collection, that of A Fated Duel.
KKKKK (wind spirit ninja vs ruler), A Single Moment (two samurai), One Shot (vengeance seeker and mark), Showdown (a duel)... all have a very similar premise. Generally, you'll alternate between backstory and focusing on the mano-a-mano in the present. Given the similarities, it's easy to see opportunity to reskin any one of these to different stories: Jedi are basically Samurai, right?

Two (or more) Players
A Penny for My Thoughts
Don't Rest Your Head
The Quiet Year
Microscope & Kingdom
Remember Tomorrow
Macabre Tales
Lovecraftian suspense &
general horror
Games that scale from two players up:
Included mostly for completeness, many games can adapt to a very small group. Some even scale to 1 player, even to the point of becoming something akin to a novel writing aide. Pretty much any game that doesn't hinge on team cooperation or interaction specifically between player-characters can run solo with some tweaks, but what you're looking for are stories that will work with a solo protagonist or a duo, or are written for several players and no GM.

What sort of games are you interested in to play with a partner?
What games have you played 1-on-1?
Which ones worked for you, and which didn't?
What challenges or boons have you found in playing games as a two-player table?

Some suggestions from but most items were chosen from the following excellent RPGGeek user created geeklists:
RPGs for two players
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Wed Feb 1, 2017 12:05 pm
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