Solo role-playing, why?
It’s a strange thing as the roleplaying hobby is a collective effort between various people. In the traditional game you have a strict divide between the Game Master who controls the world, the NPCs, creates the adventures and the campaign while the other participants are the players. They have one character they embody. Newer games sometimes bridge this gap by explicitly stating rules which allow players to have some more control over the game world. And finally there are even the GM-less games where all the group members are equal and the game mechanics handle who has narrative rights.
How does solo roleplaying fit into this? You don’t have a GM, you don’t have other players, what’s the deal?
The way I play it is a storytelling experience where I have one or more player characters (PCs) who do the same thing as in a “normal” RPG: they experience adventures and drama. It is just that I can do it alone at home. I don’t depend on the time schedule or preferences of others and I can play whenever and whatever I like. This fits me well as I have a small child who needs lots of attention. With solo RPGs, I can start a game with minimal time investment and can come back to it later if I get interrupted.
Personally, for me it’s also a great way to test new rulesets. I love reading and collecting new games, but my “real-life” gaming time with my buddies is limited. Sometimes they are not interested in a particular game system. That’s why I can’t playtest all these new shiny RPGs with them.
However, solo role-playing can fix that for me.
Granted, it is clearly not the same as playing with friends as it is missing the social component and the creative energies of the other players. Still, you can have exploration, combat and NPC interaction in your games.
I take a normal RPG ruleset and a Gamemaster Emulator (GME). This is a system which helps to outsource the Game Master’s role so I don’t have to do it alone. This wouldn’t be fun anyway. The GME helps me to create some adversity and randomness in my solo roleplaying endeavors.
How does it look like?
If you want to know how solo role-playing looks, I can recommend Actual Play Reports.
Here’s also an interesting video where you can see a setup for a Marvel Heroic Game using the Mythic GME:
I have written some actual play reports myself here on my blog. I also enjoyed session reports from fellow bloggers as they show you how the mechanics work and how people come up with conflict (see links below).
What do you need & how does it work?
Surely you already own some role-playing games, so the other thing you need is the Game Master Emulator/solo engine.
The grandfather of it all and the most extensive system is the Mythic Game Master Emulator (aff). It costs USD $6.95 as a PDF.
Alternatively, I use the following systems (all FREE or PWYW):
- The 9 Questions: allows for a good structured approach for a complete episode of role-playing
- CRGE (aff): complete system suitable for vignette-style play
- Perilous Intersections: though badly organized (it’s v.1) it’s a nice modular, story-focused solo engine
- Tiny Solitary Soldiers: easy to use solo engine
It also helps to have some random generators and idea generators handy. I like the images generated by Rory’s Story Cubes if I want a physical component (although there’s also an Android and iPhone app) or Zero Dice. My favorite random generator for everything else is Abulafia, it has entries for names, plot generators, weather, dungeon dressings and more.
Basically, you make one or more characters using your normal game system. That works the same as usual. It helps if your characters have a strong motivation and also relationship to other PCs or NPCs.
If you don’t have a setting yet you will need to create one, too. Some tools in the Big List of solo rpg resources might help you with that.
Depending on your solo engine, you come up with a quest yourself or the solo engine will handle it. Afterwards, you will play your characters as you normally do. The solo engine works as some kind of oracle. You ask the solo engine questions as if you’d ask a GM. The engine is pretty vague so it fits many genres and situations and sometimes you will need to interpret the answer as it might not be straightforward. If you have a vibrant setting and fleshed-out characters, it’s much easier to do.
Many solo engines also add an element of randomness and surprise so that a story isn’t that linear and boring. It can be a challenge to come up with good explanations but it’s a creative and rewarding endeavour, too!
The procedure can be obscure if you’ve never played solo. Here’s what I do. Basically you use your generator to frame the scene and act as a GME. For example, after you’ve decided on a setting, a RPG game and statted out your hero(es), you come up with a starting scenario.
You make note of that. I tend to write it down in full sentences because I like to post my APs at my blog. If you just play yourself, you can just jot down notes.
Setup: The protagonist is looking for his sister. He is in a bar because someone told him that she has been seen here.
Now perhaps you need to know more about the bar. Is it packed? If you’re using the Mythic GME, you just ask that:
Is the bar packed with people? – Answer: Yes
And then you elaborate from there. Ok, so I’m deciding that my hero sits down at the bar. Do I need to write that down? Probably not. Obviously, I’m going to ask the barkeep about my sister.
I’m showing the bartender a picture of my sister after I’ve ordered a beer. Does he know about her?
I could use my gaming system to make a skill check if I’d like (Charm/Persuasion test or whatever) or the oracle to determine if he doesn’t know.
I could write that down in another format:
packed bar, asking barkeep about sister, clue about a dude she was with, name: Clyde Summers, biker gang
or something like that. You can write full prose if you want or just jot down notes or images or flowcharts.
Here’s a tip about using the Mythic GME and not defaulting to story writing: Surrender to the oracle (not my post).
A Guide to Solo Roleplaying
There’s an introductory PDF written by Cabbage Games. It’s available for USD $1.47 (aff). While not perfect it’s still a good product if you’re totally new to solo role-playing. I wrote a review here. Nonetheless, buying it is not necessary to learn how solo play works. I learned it from the Mythic GME and from reading other people’s blogs.
List of solo RPG blogs
There is a yahoo group dedicated to the Mythic GME & other products by this publisher here.
I personally like the G+ community Lone Wolf Roleplaying better because I’m active on G+ anyway.
The Ultimate Big List of Solo RPG tools
That’s a list I made with the help of the G+ Lone Wolf community and can be found HERE. There are many free tools if you want to get started with a small investment.