Find out about the upcoming 3 Stone Stories playtest and secure your copy today. Find out more here.
I’ve been yearning for a game that was simple to play and didn’t need much ‘stuff’. Something that focused on the story, but didn’t require sourcebooks and rules referencing. The game I wanted would unlock the imagination, not impede it. As a bonus, I wanted the game to help me write more meaningful stories too.
I’ve been hugely inspired by solo game systems written by hobbyists like JF (The 9Q’s) and Spacejacker from Tiny Solitary Soldiers. They’ve designed rules that let solo players use their imagination to play the game, much like role-playing games gamified collaborative storytelling.
I decided to build the game I wanted, based loosely on what these other hobbyists have done. The dice would determine the direction of the story, but I decided to limit their impact to what I call challenges. The rest would be up to the player’s imagination.
Challenges are what makes a hero. The protagonist becomes the hero when he takes on the dragon, when he stands up to the tyrant, when he rescues the princess from danger. He might not succeed at first, but failure drives the hero on to greater feats of heroism.
To play, you describe the story, creating the world and the characters that inhabit it. Then you set a challenge for them, and let the dice decide how well they do.
Roll 3 dice. Each roll of 4+ is a success:
3 Failures: The hero fails the challenge completely. Describe how the failure advances the story.
1 Success: The hero succeeds, but a Bane is added to the story. Describe how the success advances the story and how the success or some new element also complicates things for the hero.
2 Successes: Describe how the success of the hero advances the story.
3 Successes: The hero is incredibly successful. Add a Boon to the story. Describe how the success advances the story and also sets the hero up for future success.
Why 3 Dice?
I like rolling more dice, but you could just as easily play with one die, flip coins or use some other method to decide the outcome of a challenge.
Our hero, Hypercondraclese, walks into the ancient lair of Biggus Dragonus, the dragon overlord of Peasantvillus. The challenge is simple, tell Biggus to “sod off” and leave the peasants alone.
I roll a 2, 3, and 6. Not bad. Hypercondraclese squares his shoulders and shouts up to the dragon: “Sir, would you please mind relocating your enormous rump, so as the peasants can get back to sheep farming.” Our hero has guts and the roll means he’ll succeed. But has he really? The Bane (from one success) means I add something to complicate the story. Biggus grabs Hypercondraclese around the waist in a taloned claw and beats his large, leathery wings. Before Hypercondraclese can shout “no, I get terribly air sick”, the dragon launches itself into the air.
Hypercondraclese may have succeeded in ridding Peasantvillus of the dragon, but his adventure is only starting.
Because challenges are the only time you roll dice, you don’t have to worry about a string of bad rolls derailing your story. While the climax might be a good time for a challenge like “dodge the bullet”, you can easily avoid these life or death situations in favor of challenges that add something to the story. If the hero doesn’t “rescue the girl” during this challenge, then there will be more adventure ahead, and even if he succeeds, there’s a chance that things will get more complicated.
Recording the story is a good idea, even if it’s a few bullet points typed out on your phone. This makes it easy to pick up the game again.
The game is a simple as that. Create, explore, challenge the hero, then repeat.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be looking at a neat model you can follow to add a little more structure to things. Give these rules a try and let me know what you thought.
The Rising Phoenix Games dude.
Rodney is a writer and editor of tabletop RPGs and a painter of Orks. He is worryingly fond of mill decks in Magic: the Gathering and a self-confessed Japanophile.