I love role-playing games, but sometimes I just can’t find anyone who wants to play with. Recently I bought the Dungeons and Dragons Red Box and played through the solo introductory game, and Ghost Tower of the Witchlight Fens, which was a blast. The game is not the same without other players, but I still enjoyed it and found it a great way to test out a new character build, or the workings of some power or tactic. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my own ideas about solo play, specifically in terms of playing without a pre written adventure.
When I was small I’d play with my little green army soldiers, those heroes of a thousand battles. There were no rules, you just moved them around and made appropriate sound effects. You used your imagination and the game went the way you wanted it to (at least if you were playing by yourself). Similarly, in a solo game, you play the GM, so you need to direct the game in the way you see fit, but give your PC (or PC’s) enough challenge to keep things interesting. In my current solo game my PC, known as The Gray Priest, a cleric, has come to a town in search of a long lost book. Picking up from the adventure in the Red Box, he has hired town guardsmen and set out on a number of forays to try and beat off the enemies forces. I play out the encounters as I would if I was the GM, making perception checks for the goblins before they would be ambushed and fighting with the best of my ability when playing either side. Game balance can be tricky, but many RPG’s include a good system for balancing the fight, which makes it possible to keep things interesting without loosing your character during every bout of combat.
In a normal campaign we might keep a campaign journal and in a solo game you can and should do the same thing. My only difference is that I write it like a story, which helps me imagine what is going on, and I use that to focus the role-playing aspects of the game, writing as I play. Again, you need to be the GM too, so if your character says the wrong thing, make the “NPC’s” react accordingly. That’s part of the fun. The campaign journal otherwise offers you the same benefits of a regular campaign journal, and I recommend recording things that you would keep in your GM notes, so that you can keep track of the greater story.
Tables versus Imagination
Many solo games use tables for a number of random events in the game, and there is a wide range of tables you can use already available in most RPG’s. Furthermore, you can write your own to suit your campaign, including elements you choose and having them occur to your own predefined frequency. Unless you want more of a simulation game than a story game I recommend not using too many tables, since you may find it takes your story in a direction you do not want. The key is really to play around until you’re happy with the game you are playing. If you find you are doing more accounting than game playing, then you just need to simplify. But if you need some random direction, by all means, use a table.
No, not the band. KISS stands for “Keep it simple stupid” and it’s a key factor in good solo gaming. Keep your story simple and limit the elements that are interacting in the world. For example, my character and four town guard took on nine enemy units. It was a relatively long fight for one person to play out, but if there had been more units and more HP to keep track of, I doubt things would have been as much fun. The nice thing is that KISS does not mean that things are boring, you simply add complexity as you can manage it.
Dealing With Death
While you may have more than one character in a solo game, you will most likely still have a smaller party than the usual 4 or 5. Death then can mean the end of your solo game, and if you’ve invested time in your game, then that’s a very sad thing. However, you do have a couple of options to keep the game going.
Most quests are important enough that someone will take up the cause when others fail, and heroes often have friends, even if only a few they can really trust. Death of one hero means you can bring in a new character to take the place of the fallen character. You may find you only play with this new character until you can resurrect the old one, and that’s fine, because it makes for a more interesting story when you include the adventures of others.
Secondly, death is only the start of another journey. Think about the adventure your character can have in the Halls of Valhalla before their god sends them back to complete their quest.
The best tip I can give for anyone thinking about playing a solo game is just to give it a try, you will learn more from actually playing than thinking about it. Consider what you enjoy about each game or session and what you dislike, and where appropriate make a house rule if it will help keep things fun. I’d suggest keeping sessions relatively short, since you’ll need all your concentration to play it properly, but play as often as you can and please share your findings with us here.
Do you play role-playing games like D&D or Pathfinder as solo games? Let me know what you think and share any mechanics you have. I’d love to hear your thoughts.