Why Solo Roleplaying?
Before I delve into the topic of Solo Roleplaying, I first need to define what I mean. For me the term “solo roleplaying” refers to gaming all by myself. I’m the GM, I’m the player(s)…I’m responsible for the whole kit and caboodle. Some people call one GM and one Player a solo game, but for me that’s a “Duet.” Ok, now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s proceed.
The concept of playing a roleplaying game solo really throws some people for a loop. After all RPGs are social games, right? Sure, but that’s only one part of it. RPGs also let you flex your storytelling muscles, dive deeply into character motivations, and explore new rulesets and dice mechanics.
Solo roleplaying lets me test out new rulesets to get comfortable with a new game’s mechanics before I take it out in the wild and unleash it on my gaming group. And it allows me to play games that might never otherwise make it onto my table. I confess, I’m a bit of an RPG junkie…I already have way more games than I’ll ever be able to play with a group. Solo roleplaying lets me get my fix with these games.
Solo roleplaying isn’t the bulk of my gaming, but it does have a place. There are times when I don’t have time to get a game together, but still want to mess around in the hobby I greatly enjoy. I can play for an hour and two to scratch that RPG itch.
Solo roleplaying will never replace the energy, group creativity and social aspects of playing with a group. However, Solo play will still let you explore, create, battle, test and learn!
How to Solo Roleplay
You need 3 basic things to run a solo game.
- An RPG Ruleset – this is your normal gaming ruleset. It could be Dungeon’s & Dragons, Edge of the Empire, a version of FATE, or whatever else floats your boat. There are several schools of thought when it comes to picking your solo system. Some soloists prefer more crunchy, rules heavy systems as they provide more detail for how to adjudicate any given situation. For others, rules-lite systems work better as they are are really just wanting to have a fiction writing experience that is guided a bit by the dice. You can’t go wrong either way, at the end of the day you should just pick what you want to play, and play it. That’s the whole point of soloing in the first place.
- A Solo Engine – this is a set of “rules” for using the your gaming ruleset. Solo Engines help take on some of the heavy lifting typically carried by the GM. They help guide you in deciding what is going on in the world around you. Sole roleplaying isn’t GM-Less per se. As I mentioned before, you are player and GM. The Solo Engine helps you with the GM part of the job so you aren’t just making up a story, you are reacting to the story. Solo Engines like the Mythic GM Emulator allow you to “ask the GM” questions, while others like The 9 Questions Engine provide a framework for your adventure, but don’t answer questions.
- A Record Keeping System – since you aren’t working from a set of prep notes or a published adventure, you’ll need some way of keeping track of what is happening. Several of the Solo Engines provide you with forms you can fill out as you go to keep a record of the action. Some soloist RPGs prefer to get a special journal to keep their notes in, others find index cards do the trick just fine. Your notes can be brief bullet points, or long form stories complete with detailed dialog. Pick whatever suits your style of play and run with it!
Solo RPG Engines
1. Mythic GM Emulator
The Mythic GM Emulator is the go-to engine for most solo gamers. The best way to explain the Mythic GM Emulator is using the book’s own words:
Most RPGs operate under the principle that there are players and there is a Game Master, who is responsible for running the show. The GM prepares all the details of an adventure, and then “runs” the players through that adventure. This usually requires a great deal of preparation on the part of the GM and the handling of many details. Mythic: GME is different in that it requires no preparation from the GM. Mythic adventures are meant to be played off the cuff, with perhaps a few minutes of brainstorming to come up with the opening scene. Mythic can also be played entirely without a GM.
The same mechanics in Mythic that allow a GM to run an adventure without preparation also allow a group of
players to do without the GM. You can think of Mythic as an artificial intelligence. It is designed to use simple rules of logic to answer any yes/no question. So, whether you are playing alone, or acting as an unprepared GM, or are a group of players without a GM, just ask your questions … only, instead of asking a live GM, you ask Mythic.
2. Conjectural Roleplaying Emulator
Conjectural Roleplaying Emulator is used to answer binary questions that a player would normally ask a GM. CRGE answers these questions, sometimes with a twist. CRGE ultimately leads toward the unexpected. What good GM would not add some surprise in to the story to shake the players off the foreseen path?
CRGE makes sure to emulate that GM tool of surprise. In addition, CRGE has a framework where players take turns controlling the flow and scenes of the story. Nobody controls the game like a GM would, but players are given the chance to chase their own vision and make sure their player characters (“PC’s”) have some of the limelight.
3. The 9Qs Solo RPG Engine
Derived from screenwriting techniques, the 9Qs Solo RPG Engine features nine questions that guide a solo player through spontaneous role-playing game adventures by directing and inspiring the creation of exciting encounters. Those encounters will become the building blocks of a complete story, from the intriguing opening sequences to the climactic final confrontation between the heroes and their greatest threats!
To make this happen, the 9Qs exploits the unique rhythm that is the interplay between the Game Master and the Player Characters. During a game, you are both the GM and the PCs. So, as you play, you’ll be presented with the challenge of creating a cohesive narrative out of disparate inspirations and the heroic actions of PCs.
4. Covetous Poets Adventure Creator
The Covetous Poet’s Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook is a supplement for roleplayers who would like to write their own adventures, or play their favorite roleplaying games solo.
The first section of the book, the Adventure Creator, will guide you through the process of creating your own RPG storyline using a pre-prepared act structure. The Story Charts found in the middle of the book contain hundreds of ideas for things, actions, locations, plot devices and more for fantasy, horror, and sci-fi genres, which will help inspire you as you create.
The second section, the Solo GM Guidebook, uses the Adventure Creator as the basis to begin playing roleplaying games solo. This supplement doesn’t provide an RPG system or rules set, instead it lets you take your favorite RPG system that you already own and build stories for it as you play. Using the Adventure Creator and improvisational techniques you will make up your story scene by scene, discovering what happens as you go, but still creating a coherent narrative thanks to the act structure which continues to guide the story.
The book also has additional chapters that covers different types of act structures so you can design your stories however you want, as well as extra charts and information for creating characters and locations.
5. Perilous Intersections
Perilous Intersections is a lightweight engine to power your solitaire roleplaying game adventures. It works by directing you to answer the Big Questions that brings a hero into conflict with a setting’s threat. It keeps some measure of surprise while the emergent plot provides resistance to the protagonist’s motivations.
It works best with characters that have strong motivations and are action-driven. It can work in tandem with any existing RPG system, and is interactive, responding to the PC’s efforts to counter the main antagonist, making his/her choices matter.
At the heart of this solo engine are intersections. An intersection is a particular method of interpretation whereby one runs a random idea prompt through a filter. This filter always provides a “push” on the PC’s goals and motivations, and sometimes against him/her directly.
Perilous Intersections also has a timing mechanism that brings urgency to the scenario and demands resolution. Like any similar solo engine (Mythic GM Emulator, the 9Q’s, and many other great indie games), it relies heavily upon proper interpretation of random prompts and cues. Largely intended as a solo engine, it can be used in a group setting, giving a collaborative approach to a GM-full multi-player structure, similar to the Mythic GM Emulator.
Solo RPG Tools
In addition to your RPG Ruleset and Solo RPG Engine, there are a bunch of tools that can help make the solo gamer’s life much easier. First of all, don’t forget to look through the setting information and source books that come with your game system. You’ll find NPCs, fantastic locations and story hooks that you can use to kick off your game. Usually that’s the toughest part of playing solo…figuring out where to start.
Resources like Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters can provide you with great jumping off points to matter what genre you are playing.
Idea Generators are also key to getting “unstuck”…several solo engines require that you have an idea generator handy to help seed the plot. A couple you’ll want to consider are:
- Rory’s Story Cubes – either physical dice or iOS App
- Event Meaning Generator from the Mythic GM Emulator engine
- The Idea Generator – random words and/or images
- Abulafia Random Generator – Abulafia is a collection of user-contributed random generators housed within a special kind of wiki.
One issue that does arise with Solo RPG Engines is the number of tables and lookups that have to be made. And that’s not to mention keeping track of what questions have been asked, and the resulting answers. These two sites help do a lot of the heavy lifting if you’ll be playing a game with a computer or tablet nearby.
Here are several other resources that I recommend for enhancing your solo play endeavors.
- UNE – Universal NPC Emulator – With just a handful of dice rolls, UNE can help create a surprising non-player character (NPC) with its own motivations. A few more dice rolls, and UNE can provide more direction to place the newly-created NPC smack dab in the center of the story. It can even help determine the NPC’s general mood towards the player characters.
- The Location Crafter – The Location Crafter is an RPG supplement designed to help Game Masters create exciting locations for characters to explore, complete with encounters, fast and easy. Create locations before you play or as you adventure, off the cuff. The Location Crafter uses a simple system of expected elements and randomness, with mechanics to throw in twists to make your locations exciting and new each time! You decide how much detail to include with your location and it can be scaled to any size, from a simple hotel room to a planet or universe.
- BOLD – The Book of Legend and Deeds – With just a handful of dice rolls, BOLD can generate interesting character histories, downtime events, and even adventures. Any character instantly obtains deeds and legends that are overcome in unexpected ways. These deeds can even arc out in to entire stories.
And finally, here are a couple of online groups you’ll want to check out to learn more about Sole Roleplaying:
Solo RPG Actual Play Examples
How about some actual play examples? Here are a few actual play sessions that will help you get a better feel for how Solo Roleplaying works:
Actual Play Posts:
- Flashing Blades + Mythic GM Emulator
- Hero quest Glorantha + Various Tools
- Supers! + 9Qs Solo RPG Engine
Actual Play Videos: