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Games Spotlight 2017 #2 - Solo Games

Shawn McCarthy
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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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