Some Solo RPG Thoughts

~750 words, ~3 min reading tim

I’ve been doing a bit more solo RPGing recently. (For those who have no clue what I’m talking about, think playing Dungeons and Dragons, but by yourself.) My first recent attempt was the adventure of Bilbo (not THAT Bilbo, but I randomly rolled a Halfling Thief, so the name was obvious…) that was generated using Scarlet Heroes.

After that, I decided to try my hand at some Ironsworn. I’m not finished with this character yet (he is SOMEHOW still alive, and hasn’t fulfilled all his vows yet), so I’m not going to share his story right now, but I do have some general thoughts.

Scarlet Heroes and Ironsworn provide drastically different solo RPG experiences. Generally speaking, solo RPGs end up on a spectrum. On one end, you have solo RPGs that are basically creative writing exercises. The goal is to write a story (though it might be just a series of scenes), and the systems provide random events/outcomes/etc. that incorporate into the story. One game on the extreme end here is Across the Stars, which is a journaling “game” where you draw cards from a standard deck, interpret those cards as sci-fi locations based on tables, and write it up.

On the other end are what I’ll call crawls (wilderness crawls, dungeon crawls, etc). Here, the system generates encounters for you to navigate (often combat, but not always).

Most games exist somewhere in-between, with elements of each.
The way I played – doing Wilderness and Dungeon adventures – Scarlet Heroes was primarily a crawler. Now, I could easily have put in more story elements if that was what I wanted. But, I decided not to.

My experience so far in Ironsworn is that Ironsworn is MUCH more story-driven. For one, the basic Ironsworn rules don’t have dungeon rules (though they do have traveling rules that you can pretty easily turn into wilderness adventures, and the system is flexible enough that you can do a dungeon crawl – but the systems designed with this in mind are in the Delve supplement that I don’t have). This means that soloing Ironsworn is closer to a creative writing exercise, though definitely more gamish than Across the Stars.

A few things I’ve learned with this experience:

(1) I strongly prefer the tactile experience of rolling dice and working with character sheets and rule books and tokens and writing results in a composition book and all that to doing everything on my computer.

(2) When I’m tired, I prefer crawling over creative writing. “Here are some trolls, hit with sword or run away” is way easier, mentally, than “Here’s a couple random words that you have to interpret into a meaningful situation that flows logically from what came before.” Since I generally can’t play until after 9, I’m often tired when I’m playing. So, if I hit an issue in interpreting an Ironsworn prompt, it breaks the flow *real fast*.

(3) In virtually every solo game, strategic retreat and taking time to heal is an important strategy. Not doing that killed Bilbo in Scarlet Heroes, and not doing that almost killed my Ironsworn character. (He had to Face Death, but the Keeper of Death decided to spare him, if he took on a mission, which he did.)

(4) I really like soloing as a way of trying out new systems. I generally enjoy trying new systems, and this is a nice way to do that more or less on a whim. Really debating soloing Star Trek Adventures after Ironsworn, since I bought the PDFs of the books from Humble Bundle a while ago. This would be an interesting experience since STA is not *at all* designed for solo play. So, I’d probably want to supplement with some GM Emulator tools (Mythic, Adventure Crafter, Location Crafter, etc.), or make my own that are system-specific (which could be a fun exercise in itself).

(5) I don’t want to have to divide my brain while I’m playing – so having knowledge that is outside what my character knows is something I want to avoid. I want information to be discovered by me as a player and my character at the same time.

Anyway, it’s been fun, so I’ll probably keep (occasionally) doing solo RPGs in some form for a while.

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