Did you ever play Metal Gear Solid or a similar game where it was you against a ton of bad guys? You, and you alone, had to sneak in and bring the mayhem. There are plenty of examples out there, but two of my favorite PC games of all time are Ghost Recon and Operation Flashpoint. Both have strong stealth elements to the game that I loved. I didn’t mind taking hours to carefully play through a mission, avoiding detection and taking out the enemy, silently and one by one.
I also love special forces stories, such as Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab and Pathfinder, a book I just finished reading, by David Blakeley. Both books involve elite teams of British soldiers on missions behind enemy lines, with the odds stacked heavily against them. I’ve read loads of similar books, which you’ll find listed at the end of this post.
I think these kinds of games and stories would make great solo RPG games. They’re tense and feeling totally alone and out gunned is part of the fun. Sadly, I’ve yet to see any fantasy stuff that gives you a good taste of this. Sure, there are rogues in most fantasy RPG’s, but how often do they get to be truly sneaky? How often is everything geared towards covert operations?
When I was in high school I collected Blood Angle Space Marines and Orks for Warhammer 40,000. I didn’t get to play much, so sometimes I’d set up a small scenario and play both sides of the fight. These solo games weren’t always challenging, but as I progressed they became more interesting: “How many gretchin does it take to bring down a Terminator Space Marine?” Or “how many turns can an Ork army survive against a cloud of vortex grenades?” And so on.
Then I came up with a great covert mission. One Space Marine Scout versus an encampment of Orks. He’d have to go in unseen and take the green bloods out silently, one at a time. I sure as hell didn’t want to control the Orks; that scout was me and I was going to do everything in my power to win through. So I built my own AI.
The “AI” was a simple set of rules. Each round I would roll a D6 for each Ork:
- Move North.
- Move East.
- Move South.
- Move West.
- Continue in the direction the figure is facing.
- Stop (Do nothing).
The simple options worked well with the grid-like Ork camp I’d set up (they must have been Freebooters). And it was easy to imagine any Ork facing a wall as having a pee or rummaging through some unseen stores. No long tables to consult, just six options that were easy to memorize.
I also added stealth rules, since 40K only had rules for hiding. My rules covered things like sneaking, hiding in shadows or long grass, silent kills (which were auto kills if you managed to sneak up behind your target) and rules for hiding bodies. Nothing complex, the only thing you needed to roll for was if you were hiding in open ground and an Ork was staring in your direction (a 5 or 6 on a D6 would mean he’d spotted you.) Most of the rules I made up as I needed them, so I pretty much dived right in.
I’ve spoken about solo games a few times on this blog, and it’s become a bit of an obsession for me. That probably all started with that game, which was a really exciting, memorable session and the most fun I had with 40K. It had everything I wanted: tension, unpredictable enemies, a need for tactics, atmosphere and fuel for my imagination. I was that scout, and I was in that camp to break those Orks once and for all. I could feel the shadows, they were my comfort. I knew the heft of my silenced pistol, it was my strength.
Pathfinder: A Special Forces Mission Behind Enemy Lines by David Blakeley
Secrets of the Samurai: The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan by Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook
Especially see the section related to the ninja. Although the facts surrounding the ninja are debatable, this book is an interesting read, especially if you’re playing an Asian campaign or a ninja character.
SoloNexus by JF
An excellent blog devoted to solo play.
Werewolf: The Story of the Nazi Resistance Movement 1944-1945 by Charles Whiting
The follow up to this post is here: