Friday, 6 April 2012

Solo RPG?!

I decided I wanted to run a campaign setting for my 15mm collection, specifically to play lots of Throwdown games. However I didn't really want the hassle of a complex structured campaign system. What I did want was a cool narrative that gave meaning to my skirmishes. The more I thought about this, the answer was staring me in the face. Solo RPG sessions for in between battles.

When I first read on Solo Nexus that the author was working on solo rpg gaming, I was skeptical to say the least. How would that even be possible? Surely if you are "roleplaying" alone, all you are doing is making stuff up in a vacuum? It seemed crazy.
The more I read about it though, the more I liked how JF, Carsten and others were achieving this. The answer is more like writing a living story than traditional roleplaying, but it's absolutely fascinating.

What is a roleplaying game really? It's you and your friends making up a story with some vague simulatory constraints and guided by the GM. The various styles of roleplaying are incredibly vast, but for me this is what it boiled down to with my group. We drifted away from complex rules (Champions, Palladium etc) as time went on, and our most successful games were generally of a comedic nature toward the end of high school (Teenagers from outer space, Ghostbusters). By this point most of the work was being done by the GM, and he wasn't huge on preparation so most of it was very off the cuff.. It was fantastic.

Solo, you can play a game by setting up your character and asking questions of the game mechanics. they will tell you what happens and it's up to you to determine exactly what this means and come up with a good narrative.Solo roleplaying can be done in a way that is basically: You write a story about your protagonists, where you don't know what will happen next.

There are several systems out there for doing this. I investigated Mythic GME, FU and JF's own 9 questions system. Being me, I messed around with various ways to tweak them to something that would suit me.. with the special constraint of a way to play on an airplane on my laptop (I've got the longest flight you can do coming up, and a few weeks before my stuff arrives after that).

How all these systems work to an extent, can be summed up like this:

Describe the scene
Ask yes/no questions about what's in the scene and take whatever actions you like
Sometimes there will be a random event

Does it work? Read on after the jump to find out...

One of the most exciting things about this form of roleplaying (which needn't be done solo) is that you don't need to do any prep if you don't want to. The game mechanics and your own imagination can generate the entire world for you as you go. This is perfect for me, as I like making stuff up and I don't have a lot of time.

I was very set on Mythic GME for a while, but after reading Carsten's sessions and thoughts,  I was in total agreement. It's too fiddly.

Next I read FU, the free universal rpg. It's pretty ingenious but is geared toward a group.

What I did was take the general concept of solo play from Mythic, but discarded all the rules. I adopted FU's dice mechanic, which is very simple, and even further simplified it. Then I took Carsten's answer to the Chaos die and replaced it with my own.
This left only one hurdle.. Random event generation.
Mythic handles this via random charts of words that you interpret, and JF likes to use Rory's Story cubes. I experimented with both methods. They are great, but I wanted something faster.

My answer was to look more toward movie and tv scriptwriting, as I wanted to play a game more like the 5th element and Lethal Weapon than I did a game about broody vampires or Victorian librarians.

My rules are as follows:

Stat up your Hero, Declare your setting.
These can be done as simply or as complex as you like. The more complex it is, the more detail you will have to work with and some answers may come easier to you.. The more simple it is the more surprises will be in store.. You can't lose.

Set your first Scene.
This is a short description of where the Hero is and what's happening. 
At this time you should also come up with a Scene Goal for the Hero... This will determine when the scene is over (whether they achieved or failed at the goal).

Begin asking questions! A question can be either an Inquiry or an Action outcome. Questions must be in a yes/no answerable format.

For each question, roll a d6 and read the following result (If your Hero has a significant advantage, roll a second d6 along with it and choose the result. If a significant disadvantage, roll the second D6 but take the worst result for the hero):

1-No and
3-No But
4-Yes But
5- Yes
6-Yes And

"And" means even more than you expected, "But" means there is a limited effect or a drawback.

In addition, roll a different colored D6. This is the Twist Die.. If it comes up a 1, there is a twist to the scene.

What is the twist? Take 2 different colored D6, declare which one if "first" and roll them, then consult the following chart:

1st d6
4-Physical event
5-Emotional event

2nd d6
2-Alters the location
3-Helps the hero
4-Hinders the hero
5-Changes the goal
6-Ends the scene

Exactly what this two-word sentence means is up to your interpretation based on what you know about the goings on. This is even more open ended than the other systems I looked at, but I found it sufficient for my imagination.

Once the scene ends in some way (the protagonist's goal is met or failed) take a breath, and roll the next scene:


1-3: Dramatic scene
4-5: Quiet Scene
6: Meanwhile…

A dramatic scene means the action doesn't let up! A quiet scene means there is no immediate danger, probably a good chance to gather intel or discover more about the characters or situation. A Meanwhile scene is a remote location, and does not involve the protaginists! This should be immediately randomized as a twist and kept quite short. I haven't done one of these yet but I'm looking forward to it.

Some more randomizers may be helpful, such as the ones in Mythic or other games. I didn't really need them in my test game. What I did lean on a bit was name generators, of which there are many available as web pages online.

Want proof of concept? You got it.. I played a quick session just to see if it worked.. Here it is, exactly as I played it out.

Calamity Outpost, the Solo RPG

I set a limit for myself first off. All Characters had to be based on a mini in my collection.

Dash Allison is a spacejacker.. Galactic slang for a Jack of all trades making a living among the space-lanes. Dash captains a small cargo hauler in dubious repair and little else but his cherished free-trader license. Dash grew up on Earth, the worst scum-hole in the quadrant. He learned to fight equally well with his fists or a pistol early in life, although he has had no formal training.
He learned to pilot a starship from his friend, Captain Chinto.. A Prang Spacejacker that inadvertently rescued him from a lethal situation on Earth.
Dash has ended up at Calamity outpost, on planet 15 in the Khurasan system. Almost broke and far from home, he hopes to make enough credits to upgrade his ship and get clear of this volatile Grey-zone.

Set the Scene:

Dash wakes up. He can't see anything and his hands are tied.

Scene Goal: Dash needs to figure out where his is and how much trouble he's in.

Are Dash's Eyes covered? 

Yes and - Not only that but there is a bag over his head that makes it difficult to hear. Or breathe.

Dash tests his bonds, carefully feeling around to see how he is restrained. Can he get free?

No but 

Dash sighs. His wrists and feel are solidly locked into durasteel shackles. He is able to sit up on his knees and move around though.

He gets into a sitting position and scoots carefully along the floor. Does he find a wall?

Yes , +Twist. Physical event/helps the hero.

Dash quickly ascertains that he is in a small cell. As he works his way around, he fumbles across a door.. Which creaks open!

Dash sticks his head out the door and listens carefully. Does he hear anything that could give him a clue to his whereabouts?


Getting more panicky every minute, Dash carefully taps at the walls and floor with his boot. Does it feel like concrete?

No And

Clang. Dash's years of Spacejacking tell him he's not in a building.. He's on a ship, or at least a station.

He yells out: "Hey! Somebody want to take this bag off my head?"

Is there any response?


Dash sits down and tries to get his hands in front of him with a little contorting. Does he manage it?

No and

"Aaaggh!" Dash is stuck in a curled-up position. He rolls forward onto his face with a painful clang. "COME ON!.. Anybody?! Hostage in jeopardy here! YO! ANYBODY ELSE ON THIS RUSTBUCKET?!"

Is there any response?

Yes and

Dash hears boots stomping along the gantry and he is hauled to his feet. He is shoved up against the wall in a standing position.

"Who's there? What the hell is going on?" He barks. Is it his captors?


There is no reply to his question. His mysterious assailants bundle him down the hallway. Are they taking him back to the cell?

No but

The hood is whipped off as he is frog-marched down the corridor.

Is there more than one guard?

Yes and

There are four guards standing around him.

Des he know any of them?


Are they the law?

Yes. Twist. Physical event/changes the location.

"Officers! I…" is all Dash manages to say before the wall explodes in a shower of debris and sparks.

Is Dash being rescued?

Yes and

Stepping through the rubble comes Miri Nooram, his engineer. Her magna wrench makes short work of the shackles. Coughing in the smoke are Captain Chinto and Thraken Gallen. The huge blue alien tosses Dash his blaster.

Did they bring a ship?


"Step lively now lad, we breached the hull not far from here.. If we're quick we can be void-side before they cut through the bulkheads to reach us!"

Dash slaps his old friend on the back and they make haste down the corridor.

After a few minutes of running, Dash pauses. "Just exactly where are we, Chinto?" He pants.

Are they on a ship?

Yes and

"Only a Federated battlecruiser. Now move it!"

Do they make it to the breach in time?


The four dive through the hatch and seal it, running to their stations in the glare of flashing proximity alarms.

Are they on Dash's ship?

No but

Chinto drops into the pilot harness and says:
"I'm going to try to get us clear of this thing, then we can slip atmo and get you back to your ship… It's still docked on Calamity. The robot and the psycho are babysitting it for you."
(He slams the engines into gear and they break loose)

"After that I'm gong to have to get out of this system for a while.. The Feds aren't going to forget Goosey Lucy for a while.."

The "Goosey Lucy" blasts away as the much larger Federated battle cruiser begins to come about.

Are they able to get away?

Yes And

Miri grins as she straps into a G-couch.

"Don't worry pops… I wormed their system good. It's going to be at least ten cycles before they get any signals in or out of that flying brick!"

The battle cruiser sputters to a halt as the Goosey Lucy arcs toward planet 15 and Dash's Ship, the Prospect.

End Scene. Next Scene: Quiet Scene.

This was an absolute blast and took next to no effort once I had my rules in place. All the fun of imagining a cheesy story, with the extra fun of not knowing what will happen next!

The intention is that whenever things take a violent turn, set up the minis and play a game of Throwdown to determine the outcome.. But to be honest you could play out action scenes just as easily as this one.

I'm going to stop now as this is probably the longest post I've ever done, but I hope you enjoyed it and it at least game you food for thought about ways to run a narrative campaign.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Where did you pick up your blank dice?


    2. That almost seems like a sarcastic answer till you follow it to an actual blank dice emporium. Lol.

    3. Hehe.. I just noticed that myself! BTW, these are a steal at 20p each. I got a whole bunch of different colors in sets of 9 with the intention of making my own custom story cubes.

  2. Interesting, I've never really done solo gaming or RPG, but it looks like you've come up with a great scene there.

    1. Thanks Ace, if you enjoy making up stories it's a great mental exercise. If you leave a cliffhanger for yourself, you may find yourself looking forward to the next session more than your favorite TV show!

  3. Wow, that works really well, given a bit of imaginative input, I might consider something like this at some point in the future, love the narrative nature - you're basically writing a story!

    1. btw if you're thinking about posting these in the future to continue the story, please do!

    2. Thanks Samulus! 'm right now figuring out the easiest way for me to organize my play sessions and world building notes to share online. Fot simplicity's sake I might make a blog for it, or perhaps a wiki.

  4. This is such a cool idea, can't wait to read more both on the rules and the story. :D

  5. When solo gaming, which has been years, I've gotta have that story in between battles to link it all together or I lose interest, fast. I like what you've done here, you're always thinking, always tinkering, and always getting positive results.

    It's funny, I was at the grocery store just yesterday and held Rory's Story Cubes in my hand, $7.99, but I put them back. I may grab them next time.

    As for blank dice, another good (and cheap) outlet is school/teacher supply stores, they're loaded with all kinds of dice coolness in the math section.

    1. Cheers Mik! I think story cubes are pretty cool if you like the physicality of rolling dice (Which I do, but it depends on where I am) but there's an IOS app versino for £1.49 I almost got.. Then realized I could make tailored ones very easily (or just use charts). Plus dice don't run out of batteries.

      My solution for a pro wrestling story twist generator was to make a 10x10 grid and put a wrestling cliche in each box. roll 2d10, cross reference and you get a result. Put wo results together and you get very varied results. The phrase is just a jumping off point for your imagination and logic, so you don't have to take it literally. I like the idea of something you can just play with normal dice, so a d66 chart would probably be good too.

  6. Just played a game of this with Aaron Lefferson the gun for hire!! Best role play I've had in a while!! I'll post it on ma blog soon!!

    1. That's awesome! For others wanting to try, I just remembered a great tip from a game I can't remember, that suggests you make the first scene something immediately dramatic, mysterious or action packed. This will kick start your adventure in high gear, plus it's a common cinematic device (Star wars anyone?) that will get you a more exciting story than "Your party is sitting in the tavern. What do you do?" which I would avoid like the plague.

    2. Yeah I had him being chased by two mysterious hunters through a deserted street!! i can e-mail it to you If you want!!

    3. I'd love to see it, shoot it over to thespacejacker(at)gmaildotcom!

    4. I'll type it up now!! Check out my stuff -

  7. Brilliant! I'm a big, big fan of Mythic but this looks so fast that I've got to give this a try.

    1. This is basically mythic stripped to the bone. No tracking chaos level, or anything else.. Just rapid fire questions and twists of fate. If you have mythic, you will get some good use out of the generator tables alongside this system.

  8. Well done, Jacker! I play my rules (not as elaborate as yours) in fictional settings with the "actors" interacting with each other, and their environment, as they set about to accomplish a specific goal or two. It's relatively fast action, fun, and rewarding...with only one's imagination as a barrier to more fun. BTW: I use a yes-no, probability, and compass die to assist in the games. Have fun, Sir.,..and lots of it!

    1. Thank you Jay, I'm glad to hear you've been up to some of this also.. I can't believe how easy it is to get entertaining results from just some dice! A compass die is a good idea, I just thought of a way to use a scatter die to determine an outcome too!

  9. Hi!

    Love the idea of the story dice and may have to nick the idea!

    All the best!

    1. Have fun, just don't get carried away with this.. i wanna buy your minis!

  10. This is a great post. With my regular group having little interest in alternAtive minis gaming solo ay seema to be the route I'll have to take. There is a lot to consider in this post.


  11. Oh and it's cool to see a Prang in the main cast

    1. A lot of your stuff will show up in this arc.. If there's no painted mini it's not in the game!

  12. Interesting idea... The Boolean story operators dice are BRILLIANT. A GM for group RPGing could also use this concept to develop an unpredictable scenario ahead of time for their players.


    1. I think the original incarnation of Mythic was a GM tool to build a story on the fly. My take is less rules, more flow!

      And hey, don't think the Narg won't get involved sooner or later!

  13. Great stuff! I'm currently solo playing a miniatures game (toy battle system) and was looking for a way to provide a narrative between battles. This looks perfect.

    In the story above did you decide the scene was over when the scene goal was reached?

    Keep it up!


    1. Sounds cool, great to hear!
      I ended the scene when Dash was fully aware of what was going on. The dramatic rescue could easily have turned into a gunfight but it didn't. I could have made the escape more dramatic simply by asking more questions about various details, but thats part of the system' beauty, it's up to you how much you risk by how precise your questions are.

  14. I'm sold! There was something about Mythic that I didn't like, mechanics-wise. Somehow, I think you removed that issue for me.

    1. Thats very good to hear! I hope you get a chance to run through and try it soon. :)

  15. I like this a lot. Please take a look at Primetime Adventures by Dog-Eared Designs:

    It contains a framework for running Ensemble type TV Shows. I think using that in conjunction with the Mythic resolution system would be an excellent way to play an RPG solo.

    You essentially define cast members, define a story arc, and play out a season of a TV show - complete with fan mail. It's a great framework for the type of roleplaying that you are talking about.

  16. This really looks like a great system you've come up with. I may have to try it myself. I tried Mythic for a while, but it is a bit fiddly. I think your process looks much more playable. Thanks for showing it!

  17. Any chance this will be incorperated in your upcoming Throwdow rules, as I will definately be picking up a copy of that.
    Btw just so you know, I was on the fence about those aliens from Eli, your pictures just pushed me into ordering some of them.

    1. I'm strongly considering it! Throwdown is ready as far as mechanics goes, I just need to tidy it up and add some stuff.

      Thanks for the support!

  18. Is there any response? NO
    -do something and ask again the same question
    Is there any response? NO
    -do something and ask again the same question
    Is there any response? It could be NO again but I just had to do something and ask again and again until I got the positive answer I'm looking for.

    To avoid this self cheating perhaps you could say that NOT AND or NOT BUT means NO AND YOU CANNOT MAKE THAT QUESTION AGAIN at least until you change situation?

    I like a lot what you've done so far. I look forward for more :)

  19. Agreed, however getting 3 plain "nos" in a row is pretty unlikely, and remember the twist die. Every extra roll has the risk of a twist changing or ending the scene.

    When I began, I had a system where you put a black chip in a pile every question. you rolled a seperate die each following question and if you rolled below the number of black chips in the pile, a random event occurred. It sounded good on paper but added a layer of fiddlyness that a simple 1/6 chance per question suitably replaced IMO.

  20. Excellent post. I'll have to try it out but I love that the mechanics are simple and aid imagination rather than being a crutch (at least it looks that way). Enjoyed the story too.

  21. I have difficulty locating compatible players but love RPGs. I thank you for your ideas...perhaps I can play solo to get my RPG fix.

  22. VERY nice system you have come up with here. I have been doing the same kind of 'looking into' solo gaming that you had been, and (of course) Mythic takes the cake as far as options go. But, much like you and others that have posted, I have felt that Mythic can get a bit too fiddly for fast narrative gaming. Don't get me wrong; there is a LOT about Mythic that is excellent, and many great ways to use the system in the Variations book. But...

    I have already taken your rules, edited them down in word, and printed them right along side Instant Game. Had time to solo, went in with an open mind, and had an absolute blast! So, thank you. I am going to link back to this post in the FU yahoo group forums, as solo gaming with those rules came up (they just didn't get as far as the random events and next scene iterations).

  23. ...and I totally missed the 'spacejacker' reference six months ago.

  24. Thank you very much! I've done a bit of a web page version:

  25. Hey SJ I love your work! I made an html5 tool of this for my solo game sessions. I'll send you a copy if you want.

  26. I love this system to death don't get me wrong. But as I tried it out I noticed something that is kind of a hole in this whole system. The random event system is quite frankly horrid. The 1/6 chance of getting one is great but thinking of what a random event means slows the game to a halt. Does anyone have any suggestions to speed this up? The game ends up to being just a slow game of "what can I possibly do? I thought of a great idea! but theres still a 50% chance I'll fail. Does my awesome idea work? No and... and a random event. Emotional event ends the scene? WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!
    Someone please tell me what I should do about this huge hole in the whole system.

  27. Quick brainstorming is the key enabler in this system. "Does my awesome idea work? No and...and a random event. Emotional event ends the scene. What just happened?" Answer: Among the wreckage of your failed awesome idea there suddenly appears a character from your past, who you thought was dead, or perhaps you just never expected to find them here. You get emotional (e.g., shocked, shattered, dumbstruck) as the character appears. Queue dramatic music, then fade to black. Go to the next scene...

  28. Found this just little while back, read through it and loved the idea! Loved it so much I put together a little web based tool to be able to run a solo RPG with physical dice. Three themes so far —

  29. I am a bit confused by the second dice for an advantage or a disadvantage could you give me a better example of that?

  30. Hey! Just read this last night, and it sounds awesome! I'm definitely going to try this out. I'm a writer, and I'm sure it would give me some great plots and story ideas besides an hour or two of fun.

    In fact, I made a little web app to help me use this system (I'm a web dev also):

    You can add the narration in the app itself, and even copy it out into a document later on... or turn that off and use it as a a simple randomiser instead. Let me know if there are any bugs, though, or ideas for improvement.

  31. Thanks so much for this fast and easy to use solo RPG engine!! I will use it for some funny J-RPG and for more serious big badass like WHFRPG3e, CoC7e and D&D5e/Pathfinder!!

  32. Thanks for this! I made a campaign some what based on this system.

  33. Fantastic little GM emulator!

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