A year more or less 

So around a year has passed since I discovered solo roleplaying and started my baby steps into this newfound (for me) way of experiencing again my favorite hobby.

I had streaks of successful sessions, fun one-shots, and blatant failures.
During this whole process, I had some epiphanies (on a personal level) regarding my solo style and my roleplaying style.

In this post I’ll try to do a brief summary of this period, what solo roleplaying is, and share what I have learned so far.

So, what is Solo Roleplay Gaming? I’ll start by answering the second part first. What is Roleplaying? There are so many people who know nowadays, so the relevant introductory text in RPG books is oftentimes omitted. So roleplaying means to undertake a fictional role. Usually it means in a fictional world as well, but not always. Let’s put the third aspect now, gaming. Since this is a game, roleplaying is covered by certain rules that need to be followed, and there is a line between fiction and reality, which is blurred through immersion, but still remains there. Traditionally, roleplaying games, have Players who play one character each (PC) and Game Masters, also known as Narrators or Storytellers who are tasked with delivering the experience and having fun in the process. The GM narrates everything but the PC intentions and actions, describes the world, builds up the story, runs the NPCs and also has referee duties. Some RPGs may split some of the GM duties across the players or even be completely GM-less. Now, let’s kick in the first aspect, let’s make it Solo. This means it’s definitely GM-less. The (one) player is tasked with everything. Running the entire game on their own with the objective of having fun in the process.

Why? Why would anyone want to run an entire RPG game which is meant for 2-7 players by themselves?
The short answer is ‘for the same reason someone plays chess by themselves’. The long answer is somewhat more complicated and different for each. First of all one must want to play RPGs. Become a knight hunting dragons, an investigator searching clues, an explorer scouting uncharted lands. There is something fictional that we want to do and do it within the confines of a game. Secondly, one must be unable or unwilling (or a bit of both) of roleplaying with others. (There is a third category of people who do both social and solo roleplaying, but this usually comes after solo roleplaying for one of the above reasons and after seeing how enjoyable it is, they keep it up).

I’ll explain my personal reasons for solo RPGing, but not in an attempt to start any argumentation. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for someone else, and vice versa.
So, for me the main reason is time and management. I recall how hard it was when I was a teenage high school student, to just get the party together for a session. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be to do it with my responsibilities today. Soloing, I can control what I play, when I play, for how much, and even abandon it mid term for any reason, without any hard feelings. I don’t need to socialize with people who aren’t my friends just for the sake of gaming, or try to recruit my friend into RPGs. Don’t get me wrong – I do miss that part. I loved being able to play RPGs with my friends back then. I’m just a realist, and I understand that the effort I would have to put, in order to do that today, would make it so hard, it would not last.

Solo roleplaying is a very personal endeavor. Nevertheless the fact that something works or doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean that it’s not the same case for others as well. We find common ground in the solo rpg communities, subreddits, discords. Reading the blogs of fellow players, listening to their actual play podcasts, or even watching their YouTube shows.

So, if I could categorize the different solo styles that appeal to this community, I’d put them in the spectrum of two axes. Journaling vs Traditional and Player vs Story Driven.

Journaling style: when the game mechanics are used as an inspirational prompt for narrative. The player has the narrative freedom to write pretty much anything they want, so long as it fits the concept of the prompt. The interpretation of this concept can be very fluid as well. At the end of the spectrum it treads very closely towards ‘Writing with dice’.

Traditional style: Playing an RPG of choice with the use of a set of tools commonly known as a solo engine. The solo engine can be as light as a single oracle, or it could be coupled with random tables, generators and whatever else needed to provide prompts. The RPG system could be united with the engine (solo rpg system) or could be a standalone regular TTRPG. At the end of the spectrum it treads very closely towards being ‘a solitaire board game’.

Player driven style: When the game revolves around the player’s actions. What are their objectives? What do they do to accomplish them? Similar to how a first person video game would be run. What do I see? What do I hear? What does my opponent do when I confront them? At the end of the spectrum it leans towards minimal metagaming. The player’s knowledge and the protagonist’s knowledge should be as close as possible.

Story driven style: The game is set up in scenes and threads and the game revolves around building a story using the protagonist. There is a lot of metagaming knowledge involved which is used to create an interesting story arch. At the end of the spectrum, it leans towards world building and emulating the characters instead of the world. Asking the Oracle what does the protagonist do when faced with the odds designed by the player.

It’s not black and white, and many solo styles fall somewhere in between. Mythic, for example, one of the most popular solo gaming engines is right between being Player and Story Driven. Ironsworn, is Player driven, but since it’s PbtA, it isn’t completely Traditional, and it has several Journaling aspects.

I haven’t touched all the styles, but I consider that my favorite styles are at the end of Player Driven, Traditional style. What I aim to do is play solo an RPG, as a PC would in a world generated by a GM. That’s the dream at least.

What did I like most about Solo Roleplaying Gaming?
I’m a huge fan of reading different RPG system mechanics, so I liked being able to run whatever RPG system I wanted into whatever theme I wanted and see for myself how everything played out.

An overview of my actual plays

A scout mission gone awry: My first successful campaign, run in the Star Wars universe. I’ve hacked and playtested solo oracles, tools and the D6 system in this one. It’s about a deep space scout tasked with a specific exploration target, where things happened to set off wrong, from the very beginning…

Night of the blood: my first attempt at a pre-written module, using RPGTips excellent video as my base to an Oracle hack. Even though my MiniSix rpg hack wasn’t the best, I had lots of fun, as the adventure was short and interesting. This takes place in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, where a party of adventurers needs to stop at an inn to escape the terrible weather…

The ruins of Syriholm: Here I played again with MiniSix, running a dungeon crawl, using a custom HexFlower Gaming Engine according to the setup template by goblin’s henchman. A stereotypical party of adventurers delves into the orc infested ruins of Syriholm to pay off an honor debt.

Assault on Vespin Tower: Back to running another prewritten module, the sample adventure in Hackmaster basic, but not using the Hackmaster system, but crunchy d100 MERP instead, and placing everything in Middle Earth. A party of three is paid to investigate why there are no news from the guard shift at the tower…

A crime at the river: My most favorite series to date. I used a D6 hacked variant to run a 1920s weird noir adventure. A detective investigates a homicide at a river house…

Return from Syriholm: I continued with the party from the Ruins of Syriholm, now converting them into Savage Worlds system to run a wilderness Hex Flower Gaming Engine, by goblin’s henchman. What happens to the survivors…?

One beginning, multiple endings: A solo gaming challenge. Run with Savage Worlds game system. Savage Worlds truly shines in this setting. This one-shot adventure has to do with weird events in a modern military base.

The Siege of Ostenhofen: A multi part installment taking the party from Night of the blood to run a siege using my To the battlements Hex Flower Siege Gaming Engine. Converted in Savage Worlds and mixed it up with Warhammer Fantasy Battles 4ed wargaming. I got tired in the end due to the extreme amount of mental work needed, but I loved it. Also it was an excellent example of how solo roleplay gaming can surprise you.

Theseus Deeds: Another one of my favorites. I took the opportunity to run d100 Mythras solo. I’ve taken the myth of Theseus and run it as a prewritten module with the respective rules to keep things interesting. Loved Mythras and it’s a game system I will return to when I get the chance.

Bianka the ratter: Continuing from a split party from the Siege of Ostenhofen, I tested out a third d100 game system, Hârnmaster. Crunchy, but very interesting, and the campaign tables it has, make other games pale in comparison. Will Bianka survive alone…?

Evie’s company: Here I took the rest of the split party from Ostenhofen and run them with Zweihander, a fourth d100 system in my collection. Total failure. The success ratio was so low, that I was confused and tired in the end…

Unbeohrt’s story: A playtest example of Secret Clocks in Solo Play, using Savage Worlds. Unbeohrt is tasked by the chief with rescuing his daughter from the Apemen. Will he succeed in time…?

A monster’s bounty: I was so hyped about this. An idea I loved came to mind: running a post-apoc weird Witcher style adventure in Savage Worlds. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get it to stick. I was pushing myself through it, hoping to find immersion and motivation to flow fluidly. I tried several different game engines, portents, generators. Ultimately I had to put it in hiatus. Later on I realized that it was mostly because I wasn’t aware of the game style I wanted to play. Lesson learned. The story is about a monster hunter in a near future magically war torn earth. Think spellcross meets the Witcher…

Savages of the forest ridge: trying to escape my solo gaming difficulties, I switch to a complete solo RPG system, Scarlet Heroes, and run it in my favorite setting of Dark Sun. Again I failed to get motivated because I wasn’t aware of my game style. This is the story of a halfling leaving the Forest Ridge and heading towards the tablelands…

The tale of Bas: Another attempt, at a different complete solo RPG, Ironsworn. Once more, I can’t escape my lack of flow, again due to lack of awareness of my game style. Retrospectively, Ironsworn is a great RPG, but maybe, I need to approach it in a different way. This is the tale of a hunter having to prove his innocence to his clan in the Ironlands…

The Wardens of Gahyrst: Now, having faced all this stop to a halt, I switch to solo wargaming. I’ve built a nice amount of terrain, painted a respectable amount of 15mm miniatures, and started playing Five Leagues from the Borderlands, an excellent Nordic Weasel Games product. It’s a solo fantasy skirmish wargame with heavy rpg influence, where you run your warband of heroes in an unruly area of the world, through one or more campaigns. To keep some story elements, I decided to connect this to Evie’s company. The noble lady returns home only to find everything in a bad shape, and tasks her retinue to get order back in the region…

Greder Payne: A short one-shot dungeon delve to try out The Witcher TTRPG game system, using watabou’s dungeon generator. Nice and fun. A man-at-arms needs to put his blade where his mouth, and goes to clean up a crypt from monster’s…

The tale of Dash Kile: After reaching awareness on my game style, I regained my footing, and run an adventure in Star Wars. It regards a Rebel agitator in an Imperial occupied world…

In the Trollshaws: My last adventure right before my vacation started. Headed back to MERP and picked up my party from where I left them off. Still running crunchy MERP, through the pre-written sample adventure in the MERP core book. Will the party survive the enemy infested Trollshaws and save the poor kidnapped villager…?

What is my favorite solo gaming engine?
After testing all these systems and engines, my favorite style currently is more or less set. I like to run a homemade hack of MUNE, Combined with Recluse. I love the simplicity of MUNE and the false presupposition mechanics of Recluse. I couple these with the excellent UNE and BOLD products. I intend to print out my sets of GMA Cards and use them as additional feedback. Until then, my main source of portents will be donjon. I’ve found many other online generators, but this hits my sweet spot.

Where do I see this taking me in the future?
I cannot predict with certainty, but for me the hobby now also includes solo wargaming with everything that entails (scenery, minis, painting, gaming). I loved going into solo wargaming and may try connecting the both of those worlds.

I loved solo roleplaying gaming. It is perfectly doable, and the results can surprise you. It is not the same as social roleplaying gaming. If there’s one piece of advice I could give is to have clear expectations on what it is that you want from it, and aim for that. I’ll borrow a quote I read: “when solo roleplaying you only have one person to keep happy, yourself”.