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Behind the Dungeon Door

This is Part 3 of the Daggers at Dusk Series. Check out part 1 and part 2 for more on playing solo infiltration games.

Last week I ventured into the Goblin Caves, had fun and got captured. Now I’m going to show you a simple system I use to make my games even more interesting. You never know what’s around the next corner, and this system is all about adding that kind of uncertainty back into the game.

What's behind the door?
What’s behind the door?

First, decide on the monsters for your map and add a couple extra. With the Goblin Caves from last week, there might be an orc or two hanging around, so I set aside two orcs with the rest of the miniatures.

We added two orcs, so we’ll set them aside with two goblins, but place everything else on the map: a goblin boss on the throne and two goblin guards to watch the prisoners.

Goblin Caves
The Goblin Caves from last week. Look carefully and you might find my blood stain on the rocky floor, urgh.

Now place counters for the unknown enemies. These counters might turn out to be the orcs or just plain goblins. They might even turn out to be nothing at all. Place one counter for each goblin/orc pair (the minis still in our pool).

Now play the game as usual. The counters move 20 feet per turn using the system I described in part 1. Since the counters are most likely to be goblins, they have the same perception scores.

If your character lays eyes on the token roll a D4 and consult the table below, replacing the token with the appropriate miniature.

(D4) Random Monster Table (MK1)
1-2: Goblin
3: Orc
4: Nothing

Once the creature has been identified, play with its regular stats. You can also use random monster tables from published sources, but building your own from the ground up keeps the game more manageable. Play around with the table to get more variety for your games, for example:

(D8) Random Monster Table (MK2)
1-2: Goblin
3: Prisoner
4: Orc
5: Dire rat
6: Goblin Boss
7: Goblin Dog or Warg
8: Goblin riding a Goblin Dog or Warg.

If you’ve played Lunatic Labyrinth then you’ve seen this system in action before. The unknown really raises the game, demanding more of you as a solo player. Scouting missions make more sense too, while intelligence gathering becomes paramount to carrying out a successful mission.

A Shadow in the Goblin Caves

Last week I told you about a simple infiltration game I played many years back. Today I’m breaking out the minis to do it again. Let’s go kill some gobbos.

For this game I used the Pathfinder Beginners Box, but you could just as easily use the full Pathfinder Role-Playing Game, Dungeons and Dragons of any vintage, or some other system.

I’ll be playing Grunni, a human sell-sword (fighter) of level 1. I’m out to rescue a friend who fell foul of goblins in the early hours of the morning. I’ve been tracking the goblins and found their cave, which I’m watching from an outcrop of rocks as the evening sets in.

Goblin Caves


In the caves are four goblins, each by a fire, and one goblin boss, who sits on a stone throne. In the prison is a wounded and bound halfling by the name of Ranna Lightleap. She’s fast asleep on the hard stone floor.
Swimming around in the lake is a gray ooze, which feeds off fishes and the waste the goblins throw into the stream. It’s important to have the odds stacked against you; two goblins may be a challenge, but with the boss and an ooze to fall foul of, I’ll have to watch my step.

My mission is to free Ranna. My secondary missions are to kill the goblin boss, kill or drive off the goblins or to reconnoitre the caves so I can come back with a stronger force armed with some knowledge. Four different objectives will give me options when goblin poop starts flying.

Because the forces I’m dealing with are goblins, I don’t want much order to their defences. I want the grunts to move at random. They’re not patrolling or on watch for danger, so they’ll use the system I defined last week.
The boss will stay put in his chair. I’ll roll for him in the same way, but he’ll only change the direction he’s facing. If a roll would mean he’s left staring at the wall, I’ll keeping him facing as he is instead. This way he’s a kind of sentry, and harder to sneak up on.
The ooze will move at random, but will stick to the river (and the lakes that he’s used to). If anyone comes within striking distance (10 foot), he’ll attack. This way he’s a manageable threat, but could cause problems if there’s fighting near the river.

Now, a little more back story, to set the mood. Ranna is a skilled ranger who has been helping me track bandits in the area. Lone travellers have gone missing recently, which is strange this close to the safety of South Fort. We’d been tracking the bandits for days, eager to claim the sizeable bounty on their heads. Then a tribe of goblins attacked us while we slept one night. I (Grunni the sell-sword) feel like I got Ranna into this mess, so I better get her out again.

I start inching my way towards the cave mouth, using boulders for cover. I can see movement within and a goblin appears at the cave exit, looking out. He turns away, so I inch out of hiding, my bow ready if he should spot me. Suddenly he turns. I don’t see his face, silhouetted by the firelight within, but I see him raise an arm to point at me. I loose my arrow, but my shot goes wide, clattering off the stone wall. He shouts something in his guttural tongue and all hell breaks loose. Another gobbo runs out, bow in hand, I fire again and drop my bow. My blade comes free of my scabbard and glints in the moon light. “So much for stealth”, I mutter as two more goblins appear. In the storm of arrows I take one in the shoulder. It’s a solid hit, but I’m not going down yet.

The fourth goblin levels his bow; a hideous creature with a baboon like face. The arrow flies straight and true, punching through my armor and flesh, sending out a black cloud of my life blood. He rolled a 20 to hit and confirms to take me to -3 health. I slump to the floor and my world goes black.

When I awake, I’m roped and lying next to Ranna.
“Good morning. I trust the rescue attempt is going well?” She smirks.

Next time I’ll be more patient.

Short, I know, but the whole game played out with the rules I’ve laid down and no GM. It was fun, challenging and I’ve since replayed the mission again, trying out a more stealthy rogue. Why not give it a try and let me know how it goes.

The next post in the series is here.

Daggers at Dusk

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:

  1. Move North.
  2. Move East.
  3. Move South.
  4. Move West.
  5. Continue in the direction the figure is facing.
  6. 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.

Ork Disguises
I have no idea who deserves credit for this, so I’m linking to where I found it. Well played to the artist.

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.


Recommended Reading


Pathfinder: A Special Forces Mission Behind Enemy Lines by David Blakeley

Bravo Two Zero: The Harrowing True Story of a Special Forces Patrol Behind the Lines in Iraq by Andy McNab

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: