A Toolkit for Solo Role-Playing
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Role-playing games offer a gaming environment unconstrained by the fetters of limited choice that are typical in board games, computer games, or gamebooks. However that same freedom to choose your characters' actions typically requires a corresponding intelligent facilitator who will narrate the results of your actions (computer AIs jut don't have the necessary sophistication for this). Without that foil independent of your own mind, surely there can be no surprises for you?

Well, not so. This is a list of items that form my indispensable toolkit when I'm running a role-playing game solo (for myself as the player, with no additional gamesmaster). The toolkit below gives a framework that can be placed around any RPG that allows you to play rich games with interesting plot and characters that will surprise and excite you. The tools provide sources of randomness and ways to interpret that randomness in a rational manner.

Of course you will also require the rules for whichever RPG you want to play; that's a given.
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1. RPG Item: Dice [Average Rating:9.02 Unranked]
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When solo role-playing, you need a randomiser of some form to add surprise to your game. Otherwise you're just writing a story (nothing wrong with that, but it's not playing a game).

From gallery of Stelio

Dice: the classic randomiser. Pleasing in both shape and colour, and a joy to roll.

Other useful options include:
Runes
Tarot cards (including Everway's fortune deck)
Playing cards
Bags of coloured tokens

But of course whatever randomiser you choose will depend on the rules system that you are using for your game.

Note that even if you are using a diceless system, you will need a randomiser for decision making using the Mythic Game Master Emulator (see below) and/or for random generation of story elements.

For local on-line play, see: the Geek Randomizer Guide
For nigh-mythical true randomness, see: http://www.random.org/
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2. RPG Item: Dicecards [Average Rating:9.33 Unranked]
Board Game: Dicecards
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Board Game: Dicecards
My secondary randomiser of choice is my shiny deck of Dicecards (permanently stored in my beautiful All Rolled Up dicebag). This set of standard playing cards also includes a wide range of other features on the cards. Aside from their use as dice, they also include some additional bits that are very useful for solo role-playing.

You can generate random information that can be used to create non-player characters quickly and easily. For example the fortune cookie slips include:
Gender (intersex is a rarer possibility, allowing for a hidden gender or perhaps a non-heterosexual person)
Western zodiac (48/52 cards: use to determine personality)
Eastern zodiac (48/52 cards: use to determine personality)
I Ching trigrams (48/52 cards: use to determine personality)
AD&D alignment (LNC/GNE)
Simply draw a card for each of these to create a random character (or for speed, such as for a cameo role, take all the elements from a single drawn card).

See also: http://dicecards.com/cards/fortune.html

Many other products exist that perform a similar function: decks of cards that allow you to generate personalities for instant NPCs.
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3. RPG Item: Mythic Game Master Emulator [Average Rating:8.22 Overall Rank:159]
RPG Item: Mythic Game Master Emulator
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The GM Emulator is the core item here, but I actually own the full Mythic rulebook as well as its Variations supplement:
These allow you to play any fully featured traditional RPG without needing a GM.

The game's system essentially answers important yes/no questions posed by the players. It does this based on the questioner's assessment of the likelihood of the answer, and a measure of the amount of "chaos" in the game (more chaos = more unexpected events). The results returned are not just yes/no, but may also be "exceptional" yes/no.

Chaos lets the pace of the game evolve naturally, basically compounding successes or cascading failures. The system also includes a process for introducing detailed random events as well as running scenes.
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4. RPG Item: The Big List of RPG Plots [Average Rating:8.40 Overall Rank:863]
RPG Item: The Big List of RPG Plots
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RPG Item: The Big List of RPG Plots
My review: The Big List of RPG Plots: invaluable free resource for creating instant adventures in any game.

This document gives you instant plot, complete with a handy list of twists that can be applied.

The list can be used to generate random plot too, if you want a story that surprises you with an idea you may not have thought of yourself.

I've written up tables for randomly generating plots and twists in this blog post: Turning "The Big List of RPG Plots" into a random generator. Here's a quick overview of use...

There are 34 plot items. Number them from 1/1 to 6/4 (dropping 6/5 and 6/6) and use 2d6 to pick one. (Uniform distribution, re-roll required 5.(5)% of the time.)

Roll 1d6 for plot twists: 1 = no twist; 2/3 = specific twist; 4/5 = universal twist ; 6 = specific and universal twist. (Twist lists vary in length; use appropriate dice to generate them.)

Once the main plot is comfortably established (but still unresolved), roll a second random counter-plot. You may choose to apply any twist generated to the main plot instead, if appropriate.

Free and on-line in HTML and PDF formats.
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5. RPG Item: Diaspora [Average Rating:7.93 Overall Rank:64]
RPG Item: Diaspora
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Diaspora is of course a complete game in itself, using the Fate 3.0 system for its underlying mechanics. Diaspora is listed here because it includes a variety of mini-games for various processes within the RPG. The particular feature I want to talk about here is cluster creation.

Creating a cluster (an interconnected structure of star systems in a sci-fi universe) is one such mini-game. This process involves collaboratively building a setting in which to play the game, using random scores in certain key attributes to inspire descriptions of each star system, and linking them together according to a randomly generated structure.

How is this useful for solo games, particularly in a non-sci-fi setting? Well, the collaborative aspect is not actually required; there's nothing to stop an individual person generating a cluster on their own (the collaboration is there in the published game in order to increase buy-in from all players in the group, and to harness the creativity of all participants). And further, the nature and attributes of the key locations in the game can be easily re-skinned for different genres.

The cluster creation rules can be used to generate interesting interconnected high-level locations for any setting.

 

In Diaspora, the locations are star systems, their attributes are Technology, Environment, Resources, and the links between them show the slipstream routes for faster-than-light travel.

In a feudal medieval or ancient setting, locations might be city states or nations with key attributes still being Technology, Environment, Resources (just with a different interpretation of what the scales mean), and links between them could be trade routes or political alliances/enmities. "Technology" could easily be interpreted as "Magic" in a fantasy setting.

In a political game, locations could represent organisations with key attributes still including Technology and Resources, but Environment may be replaced by Morality, say. Links may be lines of conflict (more interesting than alliances).

In creating your setting with Diaspora's cluster creation rules, use whatever attributes and links make sense for the genre of game that you're interested in. There's nothing stopping you using more or fewer attributes.

More ideas for re-skinning: Hacking cluster creation to group-generate a town/city in Pathfinder
More ideas for re-skinning: Any thoughts on a different genre?
Hacking the connecting links: How slipknots and system connections work
Ideas on expanding cluster creation: Narrating cluster creation

Basic rules are also available in the Diaspora SRD: http://www.vsca.ca/Diaspora/diaspora-srd.html
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6. RPG Item: How to Host a Dungeon [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:1993]
RPG Item: How to Host a Dungeon
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RPG Item: How to Host a Dungeon
How to Host a Dungeon is a tool to generate random fantasy-medieval underground complexes at a high-level scale.

The end result is a vertical map of a dungeon network with a load of information describing its features. This will be complete with detailed histories and populations of civilisations, monsters, and arch-villains.

The game gives a general structure to the dungeon creation that has a specific set of steps:
The Primordial Age established the initial geography.
The Age of Civilisation creates the underground realm of an ancient race. This period ends in a Great Disaster.
The Age of Monsters has various beasties move in to the abandoned network. Surface kingdoms also spring up and are raided by monsters, but also send out expeditions.
The Age of Villainy begins when the monsters grow strong or the surface kingdoms collapse. An arch-villain takes over the underground complex and stamps their mark on the area, struggling against invading adventuring parties.

This framework can be used to create an interesting underground realm for solo gaming. Generating a dungeon up to an early stage in the Age of Villainy gives you a varied environment with individual groups still in conflict, and a target Big Bad Evil Guy to defeat as an ultimate goal.

Basic rules are free to download from: http://planet-thirteen.com/Dungeon.aspx
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7. RPG Item: Everway Visionary Roleplaying [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:685]
RPG Item: Everway Visionary Roleplaying
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RPG Item: Everway Visionary Roleplaying
The deck of vision cards can be used to create new plot ideas by inspiring your creativity.

This is indeed their intended design purpose. If you need inspiration in your solo game or you'd like to draw in an unexpected new element, draw a random card. You'll be presented with an inspiring piece of artwork which you can use to flavour a personality, event, object or place.

There is also a collectible set of 90 more Everway vision cards in 10-card boosters: Everway Companion Collector Cards.

Several decks of cards have been specifically designed for role-playing games. Many of these are tailored to particular individual games (various editions of D&D boast several). Examples of generic decks include:
Destiny Deck
Pathfinder Cards (although several are Pathfinder-specific)
Imago Deck
StoryCards Deck
Storypaths decks provide plot points
Whimsy Cards provide plot twists
Storypath Cards
RGP Item Cards are for a medieval setting

The set of cards you use should be related to the style of game you want to play. Various non-RPG card games can act as alternative sources of cards to give you inspiration; here is a small selection:
Dixit and its many expansions
Once Upon a Time and its expansion Dark Tales
Into the Dragon's Cave (available in six different genres)
Dark Cults for a horror-themed game
Nanofictionary (ignoring Action cards)
Wise and Otherwise has cards with 2500 random proverbs from around the world
The Big Idea and its More Cards! expansion for object descriptions
Nonsense Classic for events and random nouns
Fabula for objects
The Storybook Game for benign creatures and objects
X-Machina includes 240 component cards for inventions

There are many others beyond these brief lists.
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8. RPG Item: Instant Game [Average Rating:6.40 Overall Rank:7951]
RPG Item: Instant Game
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Random tables are a great source for adding unexpected features to your solo games. This ensures that the burden of creativity does not lie solely on your shoulders, and you can enjoy coping with surprises.

Instant Game covers a very wide range of story elements. There are dozens of other products available, mostly with more specialised uses. Examples include the 100 Series (generic) and the d66 Lists (for Traveller).

There is a useful GeekList on the subject: Need More Tables (Or Other World Building Aids) for Solo/GM-less Gaming!

And you can of course generate your own word lists on whatever topic you need, placing numbers against entries and using dice (or other randomisers) to pick out entries.

Weighting results by giving entries a wider range of values each is a useful technique to control the relative frequencies, and mitigate the risk of results being too chaotic.

Another technique is to create a large table and roll a smaller range with modifiers. For example a list of wandering monsters may be ordered from weakest to strongest, and you roll say 1d8 + character level. Or you may order creatures by terrain and apply modifiers to a 1d8 roll: +0 for ice, +5 for mountains, +10 for hills, +15 for plains, +20 for forests, +25 for jungles, +30 for swamps (with areas of overlap in the ranges).

Since you control the tables for your game, you can adjust as you go along. For example you may wish to replace any element that you have rolled with a new value, if you want to ensure that your game remains novel at each turn.

Examples of external websites that provide random tables specifically for RPGs include:
Abulafia (wiki-based so expanding continuously)
donjon (includes tables for specific games and genres)
Age of Fable (hundreds of tables for fantasy RPGs)


Instant Game was downloadable for free from Animalball Games' website, but that has since gone down. The file has been saved by the Internet Archive though and so can be found here.
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From gallery of Stelio
He wished you all fun in 2021 and his name was
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There's a nice symmetry in the eight entries above:

Two randomisers (one for system mechanics, one for character personalities).

Two core supplements (one for making decisions, one for making plot).

Two world-building tools (one for large regions, one for underground networks).

Two sources of inspiration (one using cards, one using tables).

Two more things remain now: an example of use (to demonstrate my opinions), and the opinions of others.

So here is a local blog that I will visit now and then to play a solo role-playing game on-line, using some of these tools: An Example of Solo Role-Playing.

And as for the opinions of others, this GeekList is open for business. Please add your own thoughts on what makes a solo game run smoothly, and feel free to comment on what's already here.

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