The Master of Puppets

The past few months I had trouble getting constructive solo plays. Sometimes, the system of choice was at fault, which is reasonable considering I was play testing their solo capabilities, and some weren’t suitable. Then it was the overall situation with the lockdown and everything (won’t go into details, others had it much worse). Then, the lack of a proper setting, or world building. I had some interesting one-shots using Ironsworn, Solipsism, quick dungeons, but nothing could make me return to continue the adventure. As everything went back settling to a new reality, and I was back to running traditional choices which I knew work, I still couldn’t get a flow going. I often had to push myself through the session. I was afraid I had hit an overall solo burnout, an enemy I would not wish to see.

But then something happened. As I was trying another new solo play, everything fit together nicely. I could ask the right questions and was eager to find out what would happen next. So before going further with the session, I paused and asked myself, what did I do different this time? (and I also noticed it’s what I had done in my first adventures).

So, I did not try to generate an adventure. No random events to get everything going. No seeds from an online generator. No cards with descriptors to point me somewhere. No, instead, I discarded completely my GM side and focused on my Player side. My player had an objective, and I actively tried to make it happen. There it is. 

In my failed solo attempts, I tried so many times to view everything from a GM perspective and used a multitude of tools to get creative juices flowing, and it was okay until that point, but when I tried to have my player act through it, it just wouldn’t work. I hit mental blocks. It’s as if my Player was waiting for the GM to drive the action. 

Almost all of the social TTRPG GM material is focused on how to make adventures and worlds and how to have the players run through them. Some GMs railroad the players into the story, others don’t need to as the players get the necessary signs and play through the story. In the solo community, traditionally we use those same materials to generate solo adventures, and here’s the catch. When you’re the same person running those sides, you end up testing how will your protagonist react to what you throw at them as a GM. It’s like puppeteering! The protagonist ends up being an empty shell, even if they have motivations, objectives and emotions. Because you ask, what will they do if the story goes X way?

Protagonists in RPGs aren’t meant to be puppets. They are meant to act, not react. We play these games to be knights vying for glory! wizards trying to find immortality! rebels trying to overthrow galactic empires! These are not everyday people waiting to see what fate has in store for them, they make their own fates! Sure sometimes fate will strike back, but when they defeat the adversities, they get back on their task and find a way to do it. 
The knight heads off on her own to find the orc chieftain and challenge them to combat, the wizard goes to the library to find forbidden texts on necromancy, the rebels spread pamphlets to call the workers on strike! 

So instead of waiting for the Gamemaster to be a Puppetmaster and be the driver, be a Player and go do what they have to. Have the oracle react to your protagonist, not the other way around. 
Closing I would like to note that this is a personal experience. What works for me might not work for someone else, even more so in solo play. But, who knows? Maybe there’s a lesson here for social TTRPGs as well.