Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Favorite Resources for Solo RPG Play

November has arrived, which means Solo Gaming Appreciation Month (SGAM) returns with a vengeance. The event, organized by the Google Plus Lone Wolf Roleplaying community, encourages gamers to celebrate solitaire play and post their experiences (something the community generally supports throughout the year). Some of us, myself included, dabble in all kinds of solitaire play year-round, from roleplaying games and solo gamebooks to board games and wargames, sometimes to playtest design concepts, other times for sheer entertainment. SGAM offers an occasion to reflect on some solitaire roleplaying resources, some tried and true, some newly discovered, that not only reflect my particular solo gaming preferences but might also enhance others’ solo play experiences:

Moldvay’s Basic D&D DM Information: I’ve been consolidating my B/X D&D house rules recently, fitting useful charts onto a single reference sheet, reviewing my adjustments to the character creation process and in-game rulings, and putting everything into a binder. I was originally going to label it “House Rules” but decided to add “Solo Play Resources.” Since my son’s forays into roleplaying games with mom and dad have mostly focused on Hero Kids and the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, I intend most of my B/X D&D activities for solitaire play; but I re-discovered some of Moldvay’s wonderful tips in “Part 8: Dungeon Master Information” – tucked away behind the nuts and bolts of the Basic D&D rulebook – that port quite nicely to solitaire play. Here on pages B51-B52 he offers some basic dungeon design tips, from choosing a scenario to randomly stocking the dungeon...tools solo players can use to create a basic dungeon-delving experience. I gave it a try using a small-dungeon map from Dyson Logos (so I didn’t have to worry about randomly generating and rendering maps) and it provided a brief but satisfying delve for my favorite characters.

Rory’s Story Cubes: Rory’s Story Cubes have long been hailed as inspirational resources for solitaire roleplaying, particularly for introducing random, unexpected elements and plot twists. I have the base set and the Voyages set, along with the three-dice Enchanted and Intergalactic sets. The Creativity Hub continues releasing more sets, from small, three-dice thematic boosters to full nine-cube sets, often with licensed themes like Scooby Doo, Looney Tunes, and even Doctor Who (I have my eye on the Explore, Mythic, Medieval, and Rampage boosters...). I’ve used them to provide guidance during solo roleplaying scenarios. Sometimes when I’m at am impasse I roll a few and select one (or interpret them all) to immediately move the action along. Other times I roll a few at the logical beginning of each scene or when arriving at a new location to serve as “fateful signs” that play some role in the upcoming encounter. They’re the perfect “go-to” tool when you’re stuck and need some new element to move the action along (both for solo and group roleplaying).

Untold: Adventures Await: The Creativity Hub recently released a new product based on Rory’s Story Cubes, Untold: Adventures Await, that can stand alone by itself as a “collaborative storytelling game” quite suitable for introducing younger players or gaming newcomers to the story-driven roleplaying experience (and can be played solitaire as it stands). But its components and rules framework can add narrative structure and inspiration to solitaire roleplaying adventures. Designed by educational consultant and solitaire gaming advocate John Fiore and Rory O’Connor (the creator of the story cubes), Untold’s components offer some great tools for solo roleplaying (as well as an engaging game on its own). Foremost among these are scene cards that work together to provide some narrative structure and story prompts. The game provides six cards each of five types: “A Dangerous Dilemma,” “The Plot Thickens,” “An Heroic Undertaking,” “The Truth Revealed,” and “The Final Showdown.” Each card has spots for story cubes players roll and collaboratively choose how they affect the story set-up and subsequent developments. The other components solo roleplayers can use are the Outcome and Reaction cards. Outcome cards answer yes/no questions with qualified answers like “no, but...” to “yes, and....” Reaction cards offer various emoji-like faces players assign to someone in the scene (including their own character). These components – as well as the included set of story cubes – make Untold a valuable addition to a solitaire roleplaying gamer’s arsenal of resources. (Full Disclosure: My family helped playtest the Untold rules and I’m getting a comp copy at some point.)

Die-Drop Tables: I haven’t used die-drop tables in my past gaming endeavors (solo or otherwise), but I like the concept as a means to provide themed, randomized content, especially for generating solo scenario elements. Alas, I can’t seem to find a central community or clearinghouse for these resources beyond the Die-Drop Table Heaven Google Plus community (the Die-Drop Table Hell community is invite-only). And my own efforts at downloading, archiving, and printing them have not come to fruition (aside from my picayune standards in terms of content and quality). They certainly have a place in solitaire roleplaying, just not one I’ve explored...yet.

Schweig’s Themed Dungeon Generator: Okay, I’m self-promoting here, but I wouldn’t have designed this product if I didn’t see a need for folks to “program” their own random dungeon generators with a skeletal plot theme...or better yet, fill out their own tables to share with an unsuspecting solo gamer friend. This short document offers guidance in stocking some random tables to generate a dungeon-delve, along with escalating encounter tables that increase challenges the deeper one explores. Beyond providing the system and blank table sheets, it also includes two example dungeons that demonstrate how to “program” the generator and give solo roleplayers something to try immediately. Besides, SGAM reminds me to put it on sale at 50% off for the month of November.

Ruins of the Undercity: I’ve featured Kabuki Kaiser’s solitaire Ruins of the Undercity before (“What Makes A Good Adventurer Base?”). I’m planning on revisiting it this month because it previously provided a satisfying (if at times frustrating) solo dungeon-delving experience, with the added benefit of some engaging city mechanics for re-supplying my party and offering them some other interactions. The various random systems require a good deal of focus to get right, but the behind-the-scenes “programming” works nicely to provide a varied experience and evoke a strong sense of setting. I’ve also heard good things about Kaiser’s Mad Monks of Kwantoon, a similar solo campaign generator with an oriental theme and plenty of additional game resources.

D30 Sandbox Companion: Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr., has an appreciation for the oft-overlooked 30-sided die...so he naturally created several supplements capitalizing on the “rhombic triacontahdron’s” versatility. While the D30 DM Companion offers a host of tables to enhance all aspects of a dungeon crawl, I’m looking forward to putting my favorite characters through the paces of his D30 Sandbox Companion. This supplement begins with a host of adventure generator tables and movies on from there into the mechanics of hexcrawling. While the hex terrain itself isn’t random – one must still map the hex in question and roll for the adventure premise – the specific locations and encounter within rely on random tables to generate wilderness locations, settlements, and the non-player characters that inhabit them and inevitably interact with your own characters. Although some might balk at using masses of random tables, I find them useful both in providing specific elements during an adventure and general inspiration by simply perusing their contents. Most of my solo roleplaying resources focus on dungeon delves, so I’m looking forward to some wilderness adventures exploring the hexcrawl format.

I’ve no doubt overlooked some solo roleplaying resources in my own library and certainly have overlooked other useful materials out in the infinite, wilder realms of the interwebzes. For those seeking solitaire recommendations for fare other than roleplaying games or additional reading on the subject of solo gaming, I offer a few suggested blog posts from Hobby Games Recce’s sordid past: