Missions of the USS Comstock (NCC-7204) (Star Trek Adventures Solo TTRPG Play) – Part I

~ 2100 words, ~11 min reading time

Background Information

Technical Matters

For this soloing experience, I decided to use Star Trek Adventures as my core ruleset and setting. I’m new to the ruleset, so I’m sure I made some mistakes. Also, while I enjoy Star Trek, I don’t know that I’d call myself a “Star Trek fan”/”Trekkie”, mostly because I know people who are way more in to Star Trek than I am. Example: I’ve not watched any of the latest Trek because I don’t want to pay for Paramount+ yet. This means I probably have (or will have) some inconsistencies between my game and the ST canon. I’m at peace with this, because I play for my own amusement, not to develop the ST canon. I am not, in fact, a screenwriter for Star Trek (even if Brannon Braga did take classes from the campus I teach at now), nor do I write Star Trek tie-in fiction (even if I did chat with Christopher Bennett pretty late into the night – 2am? – once). I’m the kind of fan who owns DVDs of the TOS, TNG, DS9, and VOY, as well as the TOS and TNG movies, but only the first of the JJ Abrams era movies, and has only ever been to one ST convention.

For GM Emulation, I’m using a combination of Tana Pigeon’s Mythic GM Emulator for oracle rolls and triggering interrupt scenes/random events. However, I’m using Pigeon’s Adventure Crafter for generating the opening scene and any interrupt scenes, as I like the structure it provides. If necessary, I’ll also use Pigeon’s Location Crafter for any locations that need that kind of development, though I don’t really anticipate that.

I’ve also decided that my write-ups are going to take the form of scripts. Probably more than in any other game I’ve played so far, this one is very much playing out as a video in my head, so a script feels like the appropriate way of communicating the story. Any metadata (rolls on oracle tables, scene setups, etc) will be put in italics if I bothered to make a note of them, as will some of my thinking. Plain font will be used for the scripts, with brackets for stage direction, background, etc.

Character Background

In Star Trek Adventures, character creation takes a “life path” approach. Those who have read my Cepheus posts will realize that Cepheus/Traveller/similar systems use the same broad concept. Character creation is a process of starting with a basic character and then developing their backstory simultaneously with their stats. So, let me introduce Capt. Michael Watson of the USS Comstock, a Nova class Scientific/Survey ship.

Capt. Watson – human – grew up on Andoria, the son of artists who had come from Earth to learn about Andorian artistic culture. He is proud of this heritage, and considers himself, in some ways, to be a “son”of Andoria.

Two major life events played a big role in his time in Star Fleet so far.

(1) On an away mission that he was leading, his friend Uq’aath – an Andorian – was killed by an animal after he stayed behind the away team to complete some readings on his own.

(2) When Watson was on assignment on a previous survey vessel, the Captain of that ship fell ill when exposed to some kind of xenovirus. This forced Watson to take command. His handling of that situation played a key role in his assignment to the Comstock.

Scene 1 – Capt. Watson’s Quarters

Mythic: set Chaos Factor to 5 to start. Using Adventure Crafter, I rolled up these plot elements for my first “turning point”: Frenetic Activity (surrounding Capt. Watson), Character Returns (New Character – “Ugly Leader” connected to current plotline), Run Away! (Capt. Watson), and Character is Diminished (Capt. Watson). My first thought was that this might be an “in media res” scene resulting in Capt. Watson being demoted, given the high level of action. But this didn’t feel right. Here’s what did.

[Watson’s Quarters, lights off. Watson sleeping, but restlessly.]

[Cut to jungle scene. Dense underbrush, clearly daytime, but upper canopy provides significant shade, so only dappled sunlight gets through. The sound of someone running. Young Watson runs into the scene.]

Young Watson: Uq’aath! Uq’aath! Where are you? [Comes to clearing. Looks slightly down, stunned.]

[Sound of communication “ringing” coming through to console in quarters. Watson wakes up, groggily walks to desk. Sits, presses button. Unnamed Admiral appears on screen.]

Admiral: Captain, I hope I didn’t disturb you.

Watson [still obviously tired]: Not at all, sir. Do you have a new mission for us?

Admiral: Yes, I do. We have some anomalous readings coming from a sector not too far from Bajor. You mission is to investigate these readings and report back to us.

Watson: Excellent. We’ll be on our way shortly.

Admiral: And one more thing. This is to be a joint mission. Holem Latha of Bajor’s science community will be leading the scientific side of the mission. His knowledge of spatial phenomena and xenobiology should be quite useful whether this is a living thing or not.

Watson [clearly a bit taken aback, but holding it together]: Are you sure that’s a good idea? Sir?

Admiral: We are well aware of your history with Latha. We are also confident that you can set that all aside for the sake of ensuring that we maintain friendly relations between the Federation and Bajor.

Watson [nods, not happy, but putting on the right “face”]: Of course, sir.

Admiral: We look forward to your report. [Screen goes black.]

This turning point introduced the first plotline “Investigate Anomaly”.

Scene 2 – Bridge

Chaos factor 6, since Watson clearly was not in control in the previous scene. Plan was to arrive at the anomaly to start studying it. Latha got on board off-screen. But, I rolled under the chaos factor – so this is an altered or interrupt scene. Turning to the Adventure Crafter, I rolled for plotline. Got “Investigate Anomaly” – okay, so not a new plotline, so probably just an altered scene. Plot points: Catastrophe, Wanted by Law (New Character – Not in this plotline, “Rough Rogue”), Fall from power (New Character – connected to existing Character – Holem Latha – “Heroic Guardian”), Conclusion(?!), Catastrophe. Okay, so I know the investigate anomaly plotline is going to end in this scene, and there’s *definitely* some kind of catastrophe, since that came up twice.

[Bridge, everyone at stations, everything seems fine]

Helm: Captain, we’re coming out of warp.

Security/Tactical: Captain, there’s phaser fire here. Two Bajoran vessels – a scout seems to be firing on a shuttle craft.

Latha [a Bajoran man, scars across his face, and with graying hair, sitting next to the Captain]: The scout is probably planetary security. That’s what we’ve been using those ships for recently.

Science: Sir, we’ve detected the anomaly. It seems to be some kind of dark energy – the phaser fire seems to be destabilizing whatever it is.

Watson: Hail the Scout.

[View screen shows a Bajoran man – middle aged – dressed in Bajoran military garb.]

Watson: I am Captain Michael Watson of the Federation ship Comstock. We have been sent to study a dark energy phenomenon.

Latha [cutting him off]: Which your phasers are in the midst of destabilizing, Ko.

Watson [annoyed]: Yes. So, if you wouldn’t mind calling of your attack, we would be much obliged.

Ko [on screen, very stoic demeanor]: Of course, Captain. However, the occupant of this shuttle is a terrorist that we will be taking back to Bajor to answer for his crimes. If I am correct, your ship should be equipped with a tractor beam. Perhaps you could assist us in apprehending this criminal.

Watson [looks at Latha next to him]: Would the tractor beam cause any problems with this phenomenon?

Latha: It’s impossible to say for sure, but I suspect we’ll be fine.

Watson: Very well. Tractor beam on the shuttle. Bring it into shuttle bay 1.

Ko: Thank you, Captain. I will see you shortly. [view screen switches to image of shuttle being tractored in]

Science: Sir, the anomaly seems to be destabilizing further.

[Quick shot to outside – explosion of black/purple energy hits the Comstock, and seems to deflect off of the Bajoran scout’s shields.]

[Back to the Bridge – people clearly shaken, lights mildly flickering]

Watson: Damage report!

Tactical: Hull breaches on Decks 2 and 7. Emergency forcefields are holding, and damage control crews are on their way. Significant structural damage, but we should be able to repair it.

Engineering station: A brief interruption to power supply, but it has mostly stabilized, sir. No ongoing concerns.

Science: Sir, the anomaly is gone. Space appears normal here.

Watson: And the shuttle?

Tactical: Safely in shuttle bay 1, sir.

Captain: Then I’m going to see what this is all about. [Walks to turbolift, doors open, he enters, and doors close behind him]

Scene 3 – Conference Room

Chaos factor up to 7. Previous scene was also clearly out of control. Getting ready for scene set up, roll against Chaos Factor – another interrupt or altered scene. No current plotlines, since “Investigate Anomaly” closed. So, we’ll use Adventure Crafter to roll up scene elements and figure out the plot from there. Plot points: Framed (Jelah Rin – shuttle pilot – framed by Ko Ret), Character attacked in lethal way (Ko Ret), Resource runs out (Capt. Watson), Character Upgrade (Ko Ret) – note: this plot points is a “meta” point. It means that Ko Ret gets added to the character list a couple more times, so his name is likely to show up involved with plot points. So, he’s moved over to become a more major character – Rural setting. I didn’t do much with “rural setting” except saying “We’re in the middle of nowhere in space. That counts.”

[Watson is sitting at the head of a small conference table. On one side is a Bajoran man we’ve not seen before. Clearly a bit worn down, clothes in bad shape, ex. Two security guards stand behind him.]

Watson: Care to tell me your story?

Rin: Ah, yes. I am Jelah Rin, and I have been framed for a crime I did not commit. I don’t know how much you pay attention to Bajor, Captain, but there has been a number of bombings recently. I was accused of being involved in these bombings, but I am innocent, Captain. I think Ko Ret just wants to hunt me down so people will think better of him again.

Watson: Better of him?

Rin: Oh, yes. Ret was a significant player in the Resistance during the Cardassian occupation. However, he has fallen out of favor with the current government for reasons I really don’t know. What I do know is that I am innocent, but that Rin is willing to take me in anyway. He’s in a position to really benefit from these bombings if he can slow them down or stop them.

[A couple more security walk in with Ko Ret, who is offered a seat opposite Rin. As Ret is sitting down, Jelah Rin pulls out a dagger and lunges across the table at Ret, managing to cut his arm.]

Watson: Not on my ship! [Rin is clearly intimidated by this, drops the dagger.] Take him to the brig. [Security escorts a defeated looking Rin out.] I apologize for that Mr. Ret. I’ll accompany you to sick bay.

Ret: Thank you, Captain. It’s no more than a flesh wound. I’ve had worse, but I certainly won’t refuse. I just hope that you now see the kind of man you have in your brig.

New plotline: Bombings on Bajor

Mini-scene – Captain’s Ready Room

I didn’t actually play out this scene. This was just resolved in a couple Fate Chart rolls about how Starfleet Command wanted the Comstock to respond to this plotline.

[Watson talking to Admiral on his console]

Watson: So, Admiral, the phenomenon is gone. My science officer says that there’s not even a sign that it was ever here. Scans all look normal. Would you like us to look into these bombings on Bajor?

Admiral: No. This is pretty clearly an internal matter for the Bajoran authorities to handle. However, given the claims that Mr. Rin made, you are not to hand him over to Ret. Rather, take him to Bajor yourself, and ensure that his claims are at least heard by the authorities. We’ll let Bajor take it from there.

I’m actually in an odd position now. With Ret’s character being upgraded, he’s very likely to show up again. Also, “Bombings on Bajor” is my only active plotline that I might randomly roll. So, despite these orders, Watson’s involvement in this plotline is clearly not over yet.

GM Emulation

~ 1600 words, ~ 8 min reading time

A question came up on Facebook about GM Emulation in the context of solo RPGs, so I thought it would be worth writing up an entry about this.

Traditional RPGs vs Solo RPGs vs Fiction Writing

To really understand solo RPGs, I think it best to think of what solo RPGs fall “between”.

On the one hand are traditional RPGs. Think: Dungeons and Dragons. The basic format of a traditional RPG is that you have three major roles collaborating. The “players” each control a single major character, while the Gamemaster (GM, or, in D&D, Dungeon Master or “DM”) controls the rest of the world – from the weather to villains, etc. However, there is a third role: the “system” – that is the set of rules & randomness that neither player nor GM controls. When putting this all together, you end up with a balance of logic and surprise, with players, GM, and rules & randomness all playing a part in providing both.

Contrast this with fiction writing. In fiction writing, you have a single author that controls everything about the world – the heroes, villains, weather, and so on. While anyone who has written fiction will tell you that sometimes there is some surprise in the process (characters seem to develop “minds of their own” at times!), it’s certainly not the same as having a different person controlling part of what’s happening, nor is it the same as total randomness introducing surprise elements.

Solo RPGs fall in between these two. There’s a combination of a human author/player with random elements provided by the game system. Because solo RPGs fall between traditional RPGs and fiction writing, there’s a wide spectrum that any soloist could choose. Closer to the fiction writing end, you have the soloist that simply divides their mind between player and GM, and uses the game system to resolve challenges. Experientially, this approach leans toward the “creative writing” side, but with some random elements tossed in, since the dice determine success or failure.

Many soloists, though, want to spend less time in “GM mode”, and more time in “player mode”. Basically, we want to increase the proportion of “surprise” vs. logic. This is where GM emulators come in. That is, we want to be surprised not just by the outcomes of challenges, but also by the kinds of challenges that present themselves. So, we need to have a system outside of our own heads that plays a big role in developing the world.

Enter GM Emulators

GM emulators are designed for those players who want to be surprised by the RPG world itself.

The “heart” of a GM Emulation system is the “Oracle”. Generally, the oracle is a randomized system for answering yes/no questions which players can use to build the world in which their characters are acting. A very simple oracle might be a simple coin flip. Heads means yes, tails means no.

Example: Suppose my character, Jim Stephenson, town marshal, walks into the saloon in downtown Pike Springs. I want to know if the saloon is busy this evening. So, I ask the oracle “Is the saloon busy?” *flips coin* *tails, no*. So, now I know that the saloon isn’t busy – the crowd is pretty sparse, though the place probably isn’t completely empty. I walk up to the barkeeper. I wonder if they’re in a bad mood. Are they in a bad mood? *flips coin* *heads, so yes* Makes sense – they’re probably annoyed at how little business they’re getting… and so on.

In effect, the coin flip is acting as a GM Emulator. As a player, the questions that I ask the oracle are questions that I’d normally ask a GM. Thinking of it this way narrows the kinds of questions I might ask. It would be silly to ask something like “Does this saloon serve alcohol?” (unless I suspect teetotalers are in charge of the town!) since the answer is obviously yes. And, given a Western setting, I probably wouldn’t ask “Is there a wizard riding a dragon flying around inside the saloon?” The answer is obviously no. I also wouldn’t ask either of these questions of a GM because it would be stupid to. Context is enough.

Now, while a coin flip can get us pretty far, it’s probably not quite enough. What if the odds aren’t 50/50? What if the event is “possible but not likely” or “likely but not certain”?

Or what if we need some other kind of inspiration for a more complex random event? Building a true “random event” from “yes” and “no” questions feels a bit clumsy. GM Emulators are often designed to include these other forms of inspiration as well. So, let’s get to a few specific ones.

Examples of GM Emulators

In recent years, there has been a rise in solo RPGs – Scarlet Heroes and Ironsworn leading the way. These games include GM Emulators for their specific contexts, so I’m not going to talk about them except to say that they take very different approaches to game design, though the emulators bear a striking similarity in many ways. Here, though, I’m going to focus on a few “generic” GM Emulators.

Mythic GM Emulator – this is probably one of the oldest and best known. The system can be summed up in 4 tables: the “Fate chart” – which provides Extreme Yes/Yes/No/Extreme No answers based on likelihood + a random roll + the “chaos factor” (a measure of how out of control things are), the “Event Focus Table” which tells you broadly what a random event is about (example: NPC action or PC positive), and two “Event Meaning Tables” – a verb table and a noun table. Add to these tables two lists that you create for your specific game: an NPC list and a “thread” (that is, plotline) list. When using Mythic, you start with your “scene setup” – figure out what your character is *trying* to do and where. Then, you roll to see if the scene sets up like expected or if there’s some kind of interruption (a random event!) or alteration (ex. turns out the villain wasn’t at home like you expected). Then, play it out, asking yes/no questions when needed. Tana Pigeon, author of Mythic, has also put together a few Variations on Mythic as well as a “Crafter” series – Adventure Crafter, Location Crafter, and Creature Crafter. All of these are designed to combine logic with randomness. You can get these for under $10 each from DriveThruRPG.com. There are also decks of cards that can replace the die rolls, and several issues of Mythic Magazine for those who are interested.

CRGE – A system very similar to Mythic in many ways, except that the Yes/No answers can contain surprises within them, as there is a “Yes, but unexpectedly….” option with “unexpectedly” tables. The odds of unexpected events depend on where you are in the story – as you move from heading “To Knowledge” (where lots of unexpected stuff happens) to “To Endings” (where unexpectedlys are rare) – and also how long it’s been since something unexpected has happened. Zach Best, author of CRGE, has also created several other supplements: UNE (for emulating NPCs), BOLD (for creating storylines and backstories). These are pay-what-you-want on DriveThruRPG.com

MUNE – Another Mythic-like system, but significantly simpler. Roll a d6. Answers are “No, and”/”No”/”No, but”/”Yes, but”/”Yes”/”Yes, and”. If the event is “likely” roll 2d6 and use the higher roll. Unlikely, use the lower roll. There’s also a system designed for providing surprise complications as well. Available for free online.

One page solo engine – This system is pretty cool, and fits on one page (front and back). It uses a combination of standard playing cards and 6-sided dice to answer questions. However, the maker suggests you should only use it if you’re already familiar with the basic concepts of GM Emulation. Free on DriveThruRPG.com.

Now, there are certainly others out there. These are just a few that I have on hand. There are significant similarities and differences between them.

Using a GM Emulator

One thing that takes some getting used to is figuring out *when* to appeal to a GM emulator and when to just let logic dictate what happens. This is very much a matter of taste, and I don’t think there’s any clear guideline I can give. The best guideline is probably this: ask yourself if the game is dragging. If the answer is “yes”, then change what you’re doing. If you’ve asked a bunch of oracular questions and feel like things are dragging, then you should probably just let logic take over for a bit. On the other hand, if you feel like the game has become overly predictable, then ask more questions.

Similarly the *style* of question is something that you can only really figure out by experience and experimentation. In any particular moment, do you want a sweeping “cutting” question that can have big impacts on the entire storyline? Or would a much smaller “chipping” question make more sense? Trial and error is the best way to learn how to balance these elements.

In any case, if you’d like to know more about solo RPGing, I highly recommend two Youtube channels. Geek gamers is one of my favorites, and has lots of material about solo GMing. The other – which is a more recent discovery – is Me, Myself, and Die where Trevor Devall plays through a few solo games.

Reactive v Proactive PCs

~850 words, ~4 min read time

My latest foray into solo gaming made me realize how much my player character (PC) was reacting to situations that we thrown at her rather than driving the action forward herself – until about the halfway point when I decided on a specific goal for her to pursue. This led me to reflect on the difference between reactive and proactive PCs and how they change the gaming experience in general – and the solo RPG experience in particular.

A “reactive” PC is one whose decisions are reacting to the world around them. For this type of game to work, the world must be dynamic and imposing itself on the PC. In contrast a “proactive” PC is the dynamic force imposing themselves on the world.

I realized that, much of the time, a story-driven game ends up with reactive PCs. At first I thought this might be some kind of personal pathology – something I was doing “wrong” – perhaps reflecting my own contentment with life as it is. But, then I realized, a lot of great main characters are largely reactive. In Star Wars: A New Hope, for example, Luke’s behavior in nearly every scene is a reaction to the world around him. The heroes in Lord of the Rings are reacting to Sauron’s return and aggression. And so on. It’s actually pretty rare, it seems, for main characters to go LOOKING for trouble – instead, trouble comes looking for them.

“Sandbox” style games, however, require proactive PCs – PCs with well-defined motivations, even if these motivations are a bit broad. Now, the world might put obstacles in their way, but, fundamentally, the game is about the PCs having goals and pursuing them. Because I just looked across the room at my son playing on his computer – Minecraft is a great case of a sandbox. No clear goal apart from what the player brings with them.

Putting this together and thinking about some of my solo gaming:

I think I need to decide ahead of time what kind of game I’m going to be playing – is it story-driven (where PCs are more reactive) or sandbox (where PCs must be proactive)? (Now, stories emerge out of sandboxes sometimes!)

In the case that I want to go story-driven, then it make sense to spend more time in GM-style prep. Not in as much detail as if I’m GMing for a group, but creating a situation that will impose itself on the character forcing a reaction is important. In this framework, my solo tools should also be aimed at moving the story forward. Ironsworn is designed for this, as is Mythic and the scene setup and play for One Page Solo Engine. I may even be ahead to design fronts and grim portents. Basically, if this is the route I want to go, I should spend more time on prepping the threats that are forcing the PC to act. Truly “random” encounters should be rare. Rather, if I have multiple fronts out there, randomness can be introduced in *which* of the fronts is progressing when.

But, if I want to go sandbox, then I should use a different set of tools. Travelling Alone, the random tables in Scarlet Heroes are good tools here (or any other random mapmaker). Game play should be composed largely of random encounters and reacting to them. Story, in a broad sense, emerges simply because random encounters create barriers between the character and their goals. But, it doesn’t exist by design.

Thinking in this more analytical way has made me realize something: as I’ve been playing Cepheus, I’ve been trying to merge the two styles of play – specifically, I’m trying to play story-based, but driven by random encounters. I think my most recent Cepheus game was a case in point here. The first part was largely story-driven, but kind of lame because there wasn’t much for the character I had to do, nor did I have a good sense of her motivation (making a stricter sandbox approach impossible). The second part was actually much better as a player experience, because I spent more time thinking about what the character wanted. Her motivation wasn’t particularly interesting. (Make a bunch of money and buy a ship so I can make even more money.) But, I used an appropriate tool (Travelling Alone from Cepheus Journal #8 paired with appropriate random encounter tables), and didn’t care much about story. Yet, narratively, the character died precisely because of previous decisions she had made. Mechanically, it was a random encounter where I rolled that there was a crew that was hostile to the PC because of history. So, totally random elements can be woven together into a light story.

So, part of my struggle at the moment is trying to decide if I want to play another sandboxy game (using appropriate tools), or if I want to prep a more story-based game to give that approach a shot. The first is something I can do right away, while the second would take some time developing a setting, villains, etc. So, that may wait until I’m not quite as sleep-deprived…

Allyson Carey of Nocho (Cepheus Solo Playthrough)

~ 1400 words, ~ 7 min read time

Prologue

Allyson Carey had been thrown into Noble life as soon as she became an adult. She had spent twenty years in the Assembly of Nocho, just to see her world continue to be basically lawless. She finally, after squandering most of her life in this pointless politics, decided it was time to opt out. She left the Assembly for the last time

Scene 1:

Ian Fischer pulled up on his hovercraft, and ordered Allyson to get in. The two of them had been friends for a while, and this was definitely unlike him. He was clearly worried about something. As they drove through the city, Ian described how he was working on a significant idea that could change jump drive technology – but one of the tech giants on Nocho wanted the tech, and he was unhappy with the price he was being offered. But, Durham Tech wasn’t known for taking no for an answer. So, Ian was fleeing the planet, and wanted Allyson to accompany him and help him find a fair buyer. He’s willing to pay her for her trouble.

Scene 2:

The two of them arrived in the starport dome, and found a ship that promised to take them to nearby Bestian. The starport is crowded, as always, and Ian and Allyson got bumped into by someone – a rather scruffy looking man. He apologized, seeming to recognize Allyson – which isn’t that unusual, given her long time serving in the Assembly. She shrugged it off, but checked her pockets as he walked away. He hadn’t stolen anything – in fact, he had left a note. It warned Allyson that the ship they were headed toward was a trap laid by Dunlap Tech. So Allyson and Ian changed their reservations, and boarded a ship for Bestian.

Scene 3-4:

Not much happened here, just flying to Bestian without incident.

Scene 5:

After arriving at Bestian, Allyson and Ian arranged to meet with an interested buyer at one of the city’s restaurants. They go, but are met by Chanel Pham, an employee of Dunlap Tech who followed them. Suddenly, the sound of rioting breaks out outside as protestors march by, condemning the ruling Church of Bestian, and the police state that it had set up. The police arrive and begin firing at the mob. Ian and Allison use this opportunity to dash out into the confusion, in hopes of losing Pham. While they manage to get away from Pham, Ian is also shot in the crossfire and seriously wounded.

Rumor has it that the protests have been sparked because the High Priest’s health is failing, so dissidents are taking advantage.

Ian and Allyson go to the hospital, and he has surgery to ensure that he doesn’t decline further. While the doctors recommend staying in the hospital longer, Ian and Allyson decide they need to leave the planet, so they seek passage to Hastrumi. Hastrumi is 3 parsecs away, which would be an expensive jump. So, they travel low passage – being placed into cold sleep for the trip. This is much less expensive than remaining conscious for the trip – though there is always the danger that you might not wake up. Despite Ian’s weakened state, they decide to risk it, just so they can get off the planet.

Scene 6:

They awake on Hastrumi, and spend a couple of weeks resting so that Ian can heal. They hear about a tech company that is expected to be interested in Ian’s tech. They make an offer, and Ian happily accepts. He and Allyson part ways.

Scene 7:

Recent events have convinced Allyson that politics is no match for wealth – both her home of Nocho and her current planet of Hastrumi have ineffective governments. Instead, businesses run the world. Also, her experiences on Bestian – where the government is generally much more successful at influencing people’s lives – showed that even a strong government can be resisted simply by a mob. Given these experiences, Allyson has decided that she wants to be a merchant. But, to do that, she’s going to need credits – a down payment is about 7 million credits – far more than she has on hand. She also could benefit from Broker training so that she can start making deals. She considers trying to Gamble her way to her wealth, but this path isn’t viable – she needs a job.

She hears of a debate brewing – Valentina Irwin, renowned scholar on Hastrumi, is planning an expedition to look for historical artifacts. When human settlers arrived on this planet, there was no civilization to speak of, but there were definitely signs of previous civilizations. However, others oppose her efforts – believing that these artifacts may disrupt the air supply in the domes – which protects the people from the unbreathable atmosphere outside. Allyson seeks out Irwin, and convinces them to take her on. They’ll cover her expenses, and she’ll get a cut if they find anything valuable.

They travel out of the domes toward some islands to the northeast. While exploring one of the islands, they find an animal – an enormous amphibious omnivore gathering food on the island. The expedition watches from a distance, when the group of 8 creatures sees them and chases after them, stingers glistening with venom, so the crew returns to their ships and continue their path.

Continuing northeast, they find more islands which they explore, and they found something. They find the ruins of what seems to be a temple. Allyson touches the entrance door, and everyone on the expedition passes out as they are hit by some kind of shock wave. They awake with a significant headache. Exploring the site a bit further, Irwin discovers that this area was a Psion training ground, and was likely brimming with latent psionic energy. While this wasn’t quite what Irwin had in mind, it’s certainly a valuable find! So, the expedition heads back home to sell the map to this location to whoever is interested in such a site – for example, a Psion School… they find a buyer, and Allyson gets quite a bit of money toward her ship.

Scene 8 – 16:

Allyson decided that now was a good time to get Broker training, and then to use her newfound abilities along with her high social standing to act as a broker for any merchants looking to sell here. Over the time of about 6 months, Allyson managed to learn some significant brokerage skills and put them to good use, earning over 4 million credits. These times were totally without incident, but very little happened. Some protests, news about the asteroid miners braching into providing protection for the system to protect their mining operations. Allyson was mostly excited about the fact that she had over half the credits she needed to acquire a merchant’s vessel.

Scene 17:

Allyson is approached in a bar by a pair of angry looking men. These men were upset about Irwin’s expedition and the fact that the land was recently sold to a group that plans to tear down the old temple and build a much more modern building there. These men have decided to hold Irwin’s team responsible for the destruction of this site.

One of the men grabs Allyson, and her energy rifle drops to the floor. The second man picks up the rifle. Despite her struggles, Allyson couldn’t break free of the grapple – two shots and less than 20 seconds later, Allyson dies – killed by a weapon that she had for her own protection.

Closing Thoughts:

My wife said she’s not sure if this is the game for me – after all, my characters all reach terrible ends. I suspect it’s far more to do with two things: (1) Cepheus combat is designed to be deadly, anyway. and (2) I’m playing solo, which means the character has no backup. Interestingly, the final scene would have ended very differently if Allyson was unarmed. While the attackers were armed, Allyson had very good armor – which would have been very difficult for their weapons to pierce. Even though Allyson was at a significant disadvantage in the grapple that got her disarmed, she eventually would have broken free and could have fled. But, her weapon was powerful enough to get through her armor, and that was the end of her.

I’m debating if I want to do more Cepheus, switch back to Scarlet Heroes, or try something else for the next game. We’ll see!

Two simple ways to make Cepheus NPCs

~200 words, ~1 min read time

One of the downsides of Cepheus Engine is that character creation is LONG – and that’s by design. Character creation *is* creating the character’s backstory, effectively. However, when you’re running solo and just want a quick NPC, this creates problems. Do you just hope that the character’s stats don’t come up? or do you stop the action and run through character creation? Here are two possible solutions:

#1 Do a quick Cepheus Light gen:

Assign the characteristics values of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 as appropriate for the character. Then, give them 1-12 points of skills depending on their experience.

#2 Even faster:

Assign all characteristics a “7”. Then, a 6 sided die and subtract 2. This is their dice modifier for doing anything relevant to that character’s role. If you prefer, pick a DM between -2 and 4. -2 indicates someone who is very inexperienced, -1 a trainee, 0 has basic competency in their field, then up to 4 being a serious professional – one of the best at what they do.

Last night I played some solo Cepheus using method #2 for generating an NPC, and using “Travelling Alone 2021” from Cepheus Journal #008. I really enjoyed the experience. I’ll provide a bigger write up when I’m further along with this character.

More Cepheus Character Creation Thoughts

~1000 words, ~ 5 min reading time

After my last Cepheus character ended up in prison for life, I decided to make a new one. And this character has me stumped.

This one had a career as a Noble for 20 years before becoming an adventurer. This reflected her very high Social Standing stat. Anyway, as part of character creation she ended up with 3 skill levels of Carousing. She has a few other skills with 1 point each, but carousing is definitely the high one.

And I have no clue what to do with her.

Now, part of this might be because I am awful at small talk myself, and, as such, I don’t understand how to make the “great at parties” skill actually useful in completing a mission.

This brings me to a broader point about Cepheus. Character creation in Cepheus is quite random, if you play by the book. Each characteristic has a random score. The player selects a career they think the character might be good at – but they can die or get fired pretty easily. Also, the specific skills you develop in that career are largely random. (You choose between a few lists, but you roll dice to determine which skill on that list you end up with.)

This is a big difference between Cepheus and most other systems, in my experience. With Dungeons and Dragons, for example, you decide on your concept, and then build the character to fit the concept. Thus, for example, you can find websites telling you how to build specific character (“Here’s how to build Lara Croft/Wolverine/Conan the Barbarian/etc. in D&D!”). The character comes first, and then you build the statistics to fit the character. With Cepheus, though, the statistics are basically random. Then, you have to figure out what kind of character you – or, more properly, the dice – created.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I’ll often introduce some randomization when I create a character in another system. Randomization can provide inspiration. However, relying too much on randomization can result in a character like this one, where I just don’t know how to play her.

Of course, this isn’t just a me thing. It’s the nature of this particular system. Reading adventures in Cepheus Journal (a free online Cepheus fanzine) have given me some ideas about how one can “fix” this. One adventure I read started with the characters being trained. In the Cepheus system, “leveling up” is really just training specific skills. It takes a few in-game weeks to do it, so you can’t train if you’re working on an urgent mission – but if you have a couple months of down time you can add a level in a skill of your choice. So, in this one adventure I read, the party was hired by a salvage company who really need them to have a Pilot, Navigator, and Engineer at least. There’s no systemic guarantee that any party would have these skills. So, the salvage company hires the group and trains them for 2 months (which should be enough for the characters to each get a level in a skill) before they take on their first job. This seems like a reasonable way around this. The trick is figuring out how to do it solo.

Which may sound weird. I mean, I’m playing SOLO – why don’t I just decide to add levels as needed? It’s not like there are other players that will be upset by this. It’s purely myself that is standing in the way. I think the issue is that, to me, with my play style, this feels like “cheating” – mostly because I have a hard time thinking of an in-character reason to do this.

Another complicating factor comes from my own style of play. RPG soloists all approach the process of soloing somewhat differently. For example, while some soloists like to play a party of 2-3 characters (maybe even 4), I tend to be a “true” soloist – in that I only want to have one player character be the focus that everything revolves around. Naturally, for a sci fi game like Cepheus this is a bit challenging. The system is designed with a “crew” in mind. (Example: there’s actually a Cepheus supplement called SOLO specifically designed for solo play – and, from what I gather, it involves the player controlling a *crew* rather than a *character*.) So, what can a crew of one do? (Note: by the book, a crew of one can’t actually fly an interstellar ship.) Or, alternatively, how can I introduce other crew members but keep them as side characters? I mean, I suppose I can keep them a bit faceless…

What I think it comes down to, ultimately, is that I need to do more character development for this character *before* I set her off on adventures. I think the previous characters I’ve played all had some set of skills that included enough “common” skills that I could basically draw up any adventure, and they’d at least be able to give it a shot. That just feels less like the case here.

Which I suppose may be a good thing. I often end up with player characters that are a bit directionless. So, their path tends to be more determined by their skills and what opportunities happen to show up than by any intentional *purpose* on their part. I think I’m going to have to reverse that, since the skills aren’t providing good inspiration. I need to get more into this character’s head and really try to come up with something she wants and will be working toward. This could justify things like acquiring new skills, for example. Naturally, I’ll let y’all know how things work out.

The Tale of Braydon Caldwell (Cepheus solo playthrough)

~1200 words, ~6 min reading time

Oh, you want to know how I, Baron Commander Braydon Caldwell, ended up here? Well, it’s not too long a story.

I was born on Schildes, and dreamed of being a physician. But, sometimes life has other plans. Schildes Medical Academy rejected my application, so I joined the Space Navy. Served 4 terms, and attained the rank of Commander. Learned some technical skills and some leadership skills along the way. Anyway, I had just retired – didn’t quite serve long enough for a pension, but my service was distinguished enough to be granted the title of Baron. Doesn’t mean much, really, though people do treat you a bit different.

Anyway, the day I got out I was eating outside my favorite restaurant on Schildes when I was approached by a man – Marcos Huff, he said his name was. Anyway, Marcos made a living as a mercenary of sorts – though pretty small-time – really, much closer to being private security. He had stumbled upon a plan by some thieves who were planning heists at one of the bigger cathedrals on Schildes. But, the Priests had no interest in hiring Marcos. After all, Schildes is a pretty orderly place – might take a while for the bureaucracy to do its thing, but you generally didn’t have to worry about crime much here. Anyway, Marcos thought I could help – you know, throw my newly acquired title around some – and convince the Priests to hire him to keep an eye on their relics. I told him I was a soldier – not an ambassador. He wouldn’t hear anything of that, so I decided to help him. That was a mistake.

Next day, I go to the cathedral – planning to talk to High Priest Ferrell. As I approach the cathedral, I hear there’s an argument happening inside. Marcos was already there. Man, why’d you hire me when you were just going to make my job harder like that?

Anyway, I went in and managed to calm Ferrell down. He still wasn’t interested in our help – he knew Schildes about as well as I do. It’s a law-abiding place. If anyone tried anything, they’d be thoroughly punished. Didn’t see a reason to hire security, but admitted he couldn’t really stop us if we decided to keep an eye on the cathedral on our own. So, we do.

Later that night, I’m on stakeout outside the cathedral. Turns out that, somehow, those thieves knew I would be there. To be fair, we weren’t really that quiet that morning when we were chatting with Ferrell, and it wouldn’t be that hard to figure out where we’d want to locate to watch the place. Anyway, one of them grabs me from behind. We fought a bit, and I knocked him out. I called Marcos to come get us, because that kind of violence isn’t really… acceptable… on Schildes, so we definitely need to relocate so we can interrogate the guy – and hope that no one saw us too well.

Apparently, the guy wasn’t alone, though. We’re on the way back to our HQ – well, Marcos’s motel room – when a car comes out of nowhere – filled with thieves, and they’re tailing us. I figure Marcos and I should probably get the police involved. I mean, the thieves are *right there*. The police do show up – but decide that we’re the bad guys – I guess makes sense since we were the ones with an unconscious guy in the back seat. Anyway, they didn’t believe me. Next morning, we were pretty quickly processed – found guilty of assault. 4 years in prison or exile from Schildes – our choice. We chose exile.

So, there we were, Marcos and me, booking high passage to Tigrissani nearby. Definitely a nice room, and pretty uneventful journey. Nice to be a Baron I guess, even if my severance pay couldn’t provide too many more trips like that.

Tigrissani’s a nasty place – covered in water, toxic atmosphere. But, people are amazing creatures, and we do what we have to – building domes over the waves, and sealing them to provide a nice cozy home. Well, we got of the ship and immediately sought out some weapons – got a sword and a snub piston. See, Schildes doesn’t allow weapon sales like that. Here on Tigrissani things are a bit looser. I guess the terrorists that control the government don’t mind a little competition.

Anyway, didn’t take long for us to find a job – an Agent of the government – no, I’m not telling you the name – hired us to get these terrorists of the government’s backs. We didn’t know much about the situation, but figured the pay would probably be good if we could pull it off.

This started off badly. Just asking around about who this group was turned up a guy – Cedric Shelton, I think. Apparently, some kind of religious guru that the locals love. He says if we don’t lay off, he’s going to have to denounce us. Apparently, he’s worried about what would happen if people started rocking the boat. A real concern when you’re floating over that much water, I guess. Anyway, Marcos and I thanked him and took our leave. Some more chats, and we found out that these terrorists apparently wanted to cut off Tigrissani from other systems. No clue why, but definitely not a good thing. Did some datanet searching about what these terrorists wanted, and I think we much have attracted some attention. I ran out to get some more supplies and came back to find that Marcos was kidnapped – well, that’s what I thought, anyway. Well, the news was calling it “arrested” instead. His face and mine plastered all over the net. On the other hand, at least I knew where he was.

Went to the jail that night. Even though the capital is reasonably sized – about a million people – the police station is pretty small. Makes me wonder if the station is small and the laws are light because they don’t have to be any more than that. Propaganda can work wonders. Anyway, the station is so small that I just waltz in gun blazing. That was a mistake – I get burned bad by the return fire. Only one guard in the building I’d guess, but well-armed. Still, a couple good shots and he’s down and out. That was probably a mistake, too.

I get Marcos out and we try to lay low. Turns out it’s hard to hide in a dome on a water world with a toxic atmo. 24 hours later, they’re on us. No way we were getting away from that one.

And that’s how I end up here. Life imprisonment for murder, serving it out under glass, with the waves and toxic air above.

(Thoughts: this was a fun playthrough, even if the end wasn’t great. This furthers my belief that Cepheus is just a HARD system. Now, to be fair, this playthrough had some pretty significant mistakes. But, the One-Page GM Emulator wasn’t exactly kind to me either. It just kept giving me “eliminate a threat” plotlines, and pointed toward people as adversaries. Not great for if you want to be a law-abiding citizen and avoid prison sentences. I need to read a bit more to get some inspiration for how to play Cepheus while not breaking the law and not owning a ship…)

The Death of Zeke Dionne (Cepheus Solo Playthrough)

~665 words, ~3 min reading time

Prologue

Zeke wasn’t much of a success. His application to the Science academy had been rejected, and he was drafted by the Marines. He was honorably discharged from the Marines after attaining he rank of Captain – though his honorable discharge was the result of a long legal battle that left him with significant debts. He spend several years as a drifter… ended up in prison a couple times. Finally, he was a failed Belter – mining in the asteroid belt, but he didn’t last long at that either. Yes, Zeke was not a success, but he knew an opportunity when he saw one. The Mulantis Joint Space Agency was seeking a sole explorer to travel the cosmos, so Zeke jumped at the chance.

Shortly after he applied, he was accepted. The Agency provided him with a ship – the first interstellar ship that Mulantis had built, and even financed it for him. He set off to find a supplier that could fill the cargo hold with goods for him to offer whomever he might meet on his travels. It took about a month (fortunately, the Agency was willing to lend him enough to cover his first mortgage payment and to buy goods to sell) – Zeke wasn’t exactly a business man – but he loaded up his ship with ores, petrochemicals, and precious metals and took off – only 700,000 credits in debts (well, plus the mortgage…)

Exploring and Trading

Thanks to the ship’s onboard jump computer, Zeke managed to explore 6 inhabited star systems not far from Mulantis. He engaged in some trade, but, sadly – he was no businessman. On Day 121 – a mere 90 days after he had left Mulantis, his ship was repossessed – along with all the cargo on it, and he was left stranded on Xipham – a world with no atmosphere in which the human colonists lived in biodomes to protect them from the vacuum of space. The only bright side was that he was left with about 60,000 credits in cash and his debts were forgiven. But, what would Zeke do next?

Exploring Venebe

Zeke used 10,000 credits for high passage to Venebe – a lush garden planet filled with life. He decided it was time to explore nature and rethink his life – maybe he should see if he could find an Interstellar Navy ship that needed a gunner or something like that.

He went into the forests around the space port and hiked camped for a couple of days before he ran across a pack of 11 animals – looking a bit like cat-sized praying mantises – eating leaves on the trees. The animals noticed him and turned to attack. He managed to kill a couple of them before he was overwhelmed by their attack, and dying from his injuries.

Closing Thoughts

This playthrough was mostly to get me familiar with some of the systems in Cepheus – lots of roll-playing, little role-playing. And it did that. I’ve now experienced character creation, the trading system, personal combat, and ship, world, and animal design. Didn’t get to do space combat, yet.

After this playthrough I am convinced that death during character creation is a better rule than treating that as just getting fired. It’s a good way of weeding out weak characters, and Zeke was definitely that. The best thing he had going for him was 2 levels of “Jack of All Trades” which let him decrease the penalty on using untrained skills to -1 instead of -3.

Things I’m doing for my next playthrough:

(1) I’ll put in more roleplaying, and incorporate using the One-Page Solo Engine to handle some of the GM emulation, along with a plot line/NPC list styled after something from Adventure Crafter.

(2) I’ll definitely let the character die during character creation if that’s what happens.

(3) I’ll pay closer attention to the character’s abilities when I choose their career – want to maximize their chance of qualification + survival.

(4) I think I’ll use a random subsector generator to generate the star map. I like the map generation process, but it’s pretty time-consuming.

Cepheus Character Creation, Ship Design, World Creation, and Trading

~1500 words, ~8 min reading time

So, I’ve started playing around with playing Cepheus solo.

A few notes before I get into the main topics for this post.

(1) There are several different versions of Cepheus out there. I’m playing using the Cepheus Engine System Reference document. The different versions have various differences. (Example: Cepheus Light adds cybernetics, and changes some of the available careers and the simplifies the character creation process.)

(2) Cepheus SRD has some ideas for how to “play” Cepheus doing GM prep. (Create a character, try personal and space combat, design various encounters, make a star system, design a ship, etc.) These seem like a pretty good way to learn the system. So, I’m trying to integrate these step-wise into my solo game. It will make for kind of a strange “story”, but seems like a good way to learn the system.

Character Creation

Cepheus character creation in Cepheus is almost a game in itself. First you roll for stats (roll 2d6 for each of 6 stats). You then pick a homeworld, and the traits of the homeworld give you a couple more stats. (From a water world? Then you have a basic level of watercraft knowledge.)

The next step is to pick a career. Your character starts at age 18 and can serve up to 7 “terms” in careers (each term is 4 years long). When you pick a career you have to roll a relevant stat to qualify for it. If you succeed, good job! You found a job! If you fail… that’s less good. You either get drafted (once in your life) or you end up as a drifter for a few years.

Next, you roll for “survival” on a stat – usually a different stat than the qualification stat. This has two interpretations if you fail: either your character dies (yes, you can die during character creation), or you get kicked out of that career. Your choice. (Note: getting kicked out of the career typically entails some negative consequence – an injury that lowers a physical stat, loss of retirement benefits, a medical or legal debt you have to pay.)

Next, you roll for advancement and skills. Each term in a career gives you a couple of skill points in a couple of randomly chosen skills that are related to the career. (You choose which of 3 lists to roll on, but the dice choose which item on that list you get.)

Finally, you roll for reenlistment. If you don’t reenlist, then you retire, get some retirement benefits, and have to pick a new career in the next term.

Age up you character 4 years, check to see if you suffer negative effects from aging if you’re over the age of 34 (seems about right…), and either reenlist in your old career or roll to join a new one.

The character creation process is interesting because it establishes your character’s backstory. My character (Zeke) tried to become a scientist, but failed to qualify because he’s not that smart. So, he was drafted by the marines. He served 2 terms before he was honorably discharged after a long legal battle which left him with retirement benefits, but a 10,000 credit debt to pay. The next 4 terms of his life, he was a drifter – trying to get into other careers, but failing. He was in prison a bit. Finally, he managed to get a job as a Belter – mining in the asteroid belt – but didn’t survive even one term in that job before he was imprisoned again.

So, from Zeke’s stats and character creation, I could tell that Zeke wasn’t particularly powerful or heroic. He was actually kind of pathetic, I decided.

I had already decided that the game was going to be an Earth-like planet having just developed jump drive technology so that interstellar travel was possible. Zeke is being sent as a solo pilot on this trip. So, why would his home send him on this trip? I decided the ship was highly experimental – built on the cheap in many ways – and the planet didn’t want to risk a particularly valuable person on what they suspected might be a one-way trip. (After all, they had only identified one star system within jump range, and had no idea if there was civilization there, or if there was a way to get fuel and come home.)

Starship Creation

In Cepheus, there are a handful of common starships with reasonable designs, but I wanted to make my own. This involved picking a hull size and design (100 ton, streamlined – just big enough to travel interstellar, but handles well in atmo), maneuver, jump drive, and power plant (all the weakest available), computer system and programs (simple, but could handle jumps for Zeke), crew and passenger quarters (1 stateroom for Zeke to live in), weapons (none), and any other features (none), plus calculating remaining cargo space (about 60 tons).

The process here was pretty straightforward, though I wonder if I may have missed something…

World Creation

Zeke jumped to a nearby system, which I created using the world creation rules.

World creation as written involves rolling on tables and adding modifiers to determine how big the planet is, what the atmosphere is like (if there is any), what the water coverage is, the human/intelligent alien population, type of government, intrusiveness of law enforcement, technology level, quality of starport and other bases, commonly found and commonly demanded goods, and other traits of the star system (presence of asteroid belts, and, very importantly, gas giants – which can be “scooped” for fuel).

This is kind of a fun process, and the results of the creation process provide lots of inspiration for stories, if I were to do that. (“Oh, this planet has an autocratic religious regime that is super strict. They have a reasonable space port, but the local tech level is pretty low – so any tech they have must come from somewhere else. Interesting!”)

But, if you don’t want to do this Cepheus Journal has a good random subsector generator that will generate an 8 x 10 star map with about 40 star systems. If you don’t want to handle this process manually, this is a good way to kick-start your campaign.

Trading

One of the big things I wanted to try was the business part of the game. You can buy and sell various commodities between systems, carry freight, or carry passengers. I decided to do speculative trading, as it seemed reasonable that the planet would load up the ship with materials that were common at home in hopes they could sell them to get whatever money is being used on other planets.

I was attracted to this because I think I like the idea that you see with, for example, Han Solo in Star Wars, the crew of the Bebop or the Serenity that spacefarers, ultimately, have to make ends meet. I made things simple by having Zeke do everything himself – but he still has a ship mortgage that costs him over 100,000 credits a month, regular maintenance that costs about 2,000 credits a month, and life support supplies (rations, for example) that cost another 2,000 credits a month. The trading system allows me to see if it’s plausible in this universe for Zeke to actually get by.

The answer so far seems to be yes. You have to roll to find someone to buy from, and then roll to find out what goods they’re selling and what their prices are. (Rolls are modified based on local traits – so, for example, high tech goods are cheap on planets with high tech levels, but expensive on planets with low tech levels.) Then, you can buy whichever goods make sense for you in whatever quantities you want, up to as much as is available.

When you sell the process is similar, except you don’t check for goods. You’re the one with the goods. You just check the local prices and decide what and how much to sell.

The pricing system is interesting. All goods have a base price, but the roll modifies it. There’s also a broker system, but I can’t get it to make sense. It says that you pay a certain percentage to the broker whether you buy/sell or not. The problem is it’s not clear what you’re paying a percentage OF if you’re not buying or selling anything. Do I need to pay the broker 5% of the value of the entire inventory that the seller has, even if I buy none of it? That feels like a bit much. Or is it a fixed fee based on the value of a single ton? That’s a possible read of the rule (since it literally says “% of the price”), but runs against it being called “commission”, which normally is a percentage of the total value of sale, not a percentage of the price of a single unit.

Anyway, so far, Zeke has had no trouble paying the bills. I’m going to keep running this as an exploration/trading game for a bit before I add in combat/patron encounters/etc.

As I get more familiar with the system, I think I’ll try to turn it into a more RPG-like experience by using the One-Page Solo Engine as a GM Emulator (similar to Mythic GM Emulator) to generate some stories. But I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done so far even if (or is it “because”?) it is mostly a trading game the way I’m playing it.

The Tale of Torrens (Ironsworn Solo RPG Playthrough)

~ 4600 words, ~ 20 min reading time

Prologue

The village of Newriver sits on the coast in the harsh Shattered Wastes. Few Ironlanders have ventured this far North, but Torrens’s clan was determined to establish a village here. Torrens was the only son of his parents – the village’s healers, and he trained with his parents in this discipline.

Everyone knew that the Shattered Wastes were uninhabitable. And it turns out the cold was not the worst thing that the community faced. Horrors would wander out of the frozen wastes surrounding the village – mostly attacking the village’s herds, but sometimes attacking people. To protect themselves, the villagers had brought a warrior with them who fought off these creatures whenever they would appear.

However, that warrior was now dead. A chimera has come out of the wastes and attacked him, and he was mortally wounded. Torrens ran to give care, but the wounds were too severe, as the warrior died in his arms, Torrens swore an iron vow – he would travel across the Ironlands and find a new warrior to protect his home.

Before he could leave, however, a dark secret was exposed. One of the village priests had a vision – the creature that killed the warrior did not happen upon the village at random. Instead, one of the member of the village was summoning these creatures for some nefarious purpose. Before he can leave, Torrens swears to the village of Newriver – his village – that he will root out the traitor.

Chapter 1 – Newriver

Alban was an old adventurer who came as one of the founders of Newriver for one last, great adventure. Torrens had always liked the old man, and thought he might have some insight on who would betray their town, or how to track them down. Torrens brought Alban’s favorite mead, and the two shared a drink. Alban pointed out that this particular creature seemed to be composed of dead animals which had been invested with unnatural life. So, it seemed likely that the person who raised this creature has some strong connection to animals perhaps one of the village’s ranchers, or the village’s veterinarian.

Torrens decided to check one of the ranchers first. Under the cover of night, Torrens overhears a discussion – a couple of the village ranchers are talking about how the weather here is so harsh that it is unlikely their flocks and herds will be able to survive – a tougher breed of animal is needed. This suggests to Torrens that there is a broader conspiracy than he thought.

The next evening, Torrens investigated Cadigan, another one of the ranchers in town – only to see a chimera like the creature that had killed the village warrior attacking the sheep at this farm. Torrens manages to scare the creature off, and offers to help the rancher by treating the sheep that had been attacked. Unfortunately, it is too late, and, as Torrens is realizing the sheep is too far gone, the chimera returns. Torrens manages to scare it off again. Cadigan thanks Torrens for his help, and the two of them follow the chimera to Haleema’s hut – Haleema is the village vet.

Torrens and Cadigan then hatched a plan – Cadigan would invite Haleema to check out some of the dead sheep on his farm, and Torrens would question her there.

The next day, they carry the plan out. When Haleema arrivees, Torrens – who is an imposing figure – intimidates her into answering some of their questions. She reveals that there is a broader faction in the town which wants to relocate to more hospitable lands. Unfortunately for them, there aren’t enough of them to make for a viable settlement themselves. So, they hope to convince the town as a whole to come with them. They didn’t expect the town warrior to die – his bravery and the chimera’s viciousness simply made for a bad combination. Haleema agrees to try to dispel the chimera, but suggests that she may be able to make a more docile version which would be able to survive the harsh climate of Newriver.

Haleema organizes a meeting between her faction and Torrens, where Torrens makes the case that everyone should stay. The faction is won over by Torrens’s impassioned speech, but they want him to use his charisma to convince the town of something else. A priest – a relative newcomer to the town – came under the pretense of hunting the Wastes for artifacts that may prove useful. However, this priest seems to be far more interested in winning favor with the town leaders – the mayor in particular – than with searching the Wastes for anything.

Seeing his town divided into two hidden factions (those who wish to leave, and the priest and mayor who seek only to maintain the status quo), Torrens decides that his best bet is to reveal both of these to the rest of the town – but realized that an important step would be getting the mayor to step down from his position.

Torrens tried to win support among the people of Newriver to convince the mayor to resign, but people were not interested. Finally, Torrens took it upon himself to try to compel the mayor to step down. The mayr agreed, on the condition that Torrens undermines the relationship between Haleema and the ranchers – the mayor thinks since he sacrificed something, she has to sacrifice something too.

To this end, Torrens begins spreading rumors among some of the town ranchers that Haleema’s true motives for summoning the chimera was simply to make money off of the injured livestock, knowing that convincing the town to relocate was unlikely to happen. However, this doesn’t work out as hoped. Haleema simply decides to leave town entirely – leaving the town with one less person to help care for sick and injured livestock, which are all too common in this harsh weather.

Torrens decided that now is the time for a town meeting so that he can fulfill his vow to the town. He reveals the conspiracies – both Haleema’s and the mayor’s. Now, however, there is a power vacuum in town.

Rather than being thankful to Torrens for what he had done, they are upset at the instability that he has created in their little village. He vows to help them find a new mayor, but the town meeting erupts into shouting. Torrens immediately forsakes this vow, and decides to take his owl Errol and his horse Dash and leave town so that he can find a capable warrior that can protect the village from any other creatures that may come out of the icy wilderness.

Chapter 2 – The Fleet of Highriver

Torrens traveled along the coast until he happened upon a fleet that was preparing to depart to the South. The Fleet of Highriver – which is located on the coast in the Tempest Hills – was on a scientific expedition to the Scattered Wastes, but the crew mutinied against the head scholar that was leading the expedition since supplies were running low. Torrens agrees to serve on the Fleet in exchange for passage to Highriver.

After a few days of travel, they came to a cover where they could do some fishing and some resource gathering. It took a great deal of work, but they built up their supplies. After a few days journey, they were getting close to Highriver when a storm blew them off course. The next day, they made progress and came upon a strange light – and a creature bathed in light appeared on the deck of the ship, and promised them help for the remainder of the journey. The creature vanished as quickly as it had appeared. The next day, they came to Highriver.

Chapter 3 – Arriving at Highriver

On arriving at Highriver, the crew expressed their concern about being punished for mutiny, and asked Torrens to help them avoid any negative consequences from that decision. He swore to help, only to learn that the scholar they had mutinied against was a personal friend of several members of the Council.

After asking around town, Torrens learns that the strong tradition of dueling is alive and well in Highriver, and that duels are well-respected among these people. While naturally strong, Torrens isn’t a trained fighter and has no weapon. But, he is willing to enter a duel unarmed.

Torrens meets the head of the ruling Council – a warrior named Mila, and challenges her to a duel. Torrens secures an early advantage in the fight, and manages to knock Mila to the ground where she yields, and agrees to Torrens’s demand to forgive the crew, given the circumstances they faced.

Torrens then appeared before the Council – reminding them how soundly he beat Mila, and they agree to let it go, but ask Torrens to help the city overcome their cursed past. He makes an iron vow to help them.

Chapter 3 – The Curse of Highriver

The mouth of the river running through Highriver has been heavily eroded, and is in need of strengthening. Apparently, the early founders had done a poor job shoring up the river banks. Torrens learns that a woman named Muna outside the town may be able to help.

He arrives at her home, and finds that she is very distrusting. Torrens manages to charm his way into her home. She reveals that her late husband was involved in shoring up the riverbank around the mouth, but that he died in the process – leaving less skilled engineers to complete the work.

Torrens then revisits Mila to see if she has more information. She tells him that this area was originally held by the giants, but they were driven away by the arrival of the Ironlanders. The giants had removed the supports they had placed at the mouth of the river which greatly weakened the banks.

It turns out the giants have resettled not too far away, and Torrens travels to meet them. He meets their tribal leader – a man named Otaan – and tries to convince him to shore up the bank of the river, noting that the giants and Highriver, despite their history, have established peaceful trading relations since then. Otaan refuses – the Ironlanders may be trade partners, but he feels no obligation to help those who have displaced his people.

Torrens realizes that Mila, as a warrior and head of the ruling Council, is much more likely to win Otaan’s trust. She agrees to come with him.

The two of them visit the giants again, and the giants reluctantly agree to help, but want to have a place within Highriver in exchange for their hep. Torrens speaks to the Council when they return to Highriver, and the Council agrees, thanking Torrens for his help in this matter.

Torrens resupplies in Highriver and asks around to see if anyone knows of a warrior that could protect Newriver. He learns that there is a town called Lost Bridge far to the South, in the Flooded Lands which is the home of Lio the Warrior.

Chapter 4 – Traveling

Torrens takes Dash and Errol, and they travel three days in the direction of Lost Bridge before they arrive at Fort Frostmark

Chapter 5 – Fort Frostmark

From its perch at the top of the hill, Fort Frostmark watches the forests around it. Torrens enters the fort seeking solace on his journey. He learns that the signs of the Varou have been marked near the Fort, and the inhabitants of the Fort expect that the Varou will strike any time. Torrens swears an iron vow to gather information about the Varou for the Fort, but the people of the Fort were not interested in an outsider’s help. Torrens foresakes the vow, and leaves the Fort behind him.

Chapter 6 – Traveling

Torrens and his animal companions journey three days until they come across the Mine of Lowmount

Chapter 7 – The Mine at Lowmount

Torrens entered the small mining village of Lowmount, and secured some provisions. He learned that there was a mysterious phenomenon occurring the town. Homes were being vandalized with the word “Revenge,” but no one knew why. Torrens swore an iron vow to discover the culprit. As he was questioning people around the town – learning nothing – some supplies were stolen

That night Torrens stayed up to watch who was responsible. He watched as a shadowy figure emerged from the woods around the town and scrawled the word “Revenge” on one of the villagers’ doors. Following the figure back into the woods, Torrens found a small tribe of Ironlanders camping in the woods near the mine. He returned to the town, and revealed what he found the next morning. The villagers simply refused to accept what he said as true, and kicked him out of town

Chapter 8 – More Traveling

Torrens traveled southward for 5 more days, when he was attacked by Varou!

Chapter 9 – Battling the Varou

After several blows, Torrens managed to kill the Varou, and took its knife.

Chapter 10 – Traveling to Camp Axewood

Another 12 days of traveling. In this time, Torrens got attacked by a Harrow Spider, and killed it. Torrens also lost his knife in the wilderness. After 12 days, Torrens arrived at Camp Axewood.

Chapter 11 – Camp Axewood

Torrens didn’t get very involved with the happenings here – he simply got more provisions and left.

Chapter 12 – Traveling to Lost Bridge

Two more days of traveling, and Torrens arrives at Lost Bridge, home of Lio the Warrior.

Chapter 13 – Lost Bridge

Torrens arrived at Lost Bridge to find that Lio – the great warrior – had been captured by a neighboring settlement, and was being held for ransom. Torrens swore and iron vow to free Lio from his captors. Torrens sought to learn more from the townspeople, but they were too distraught by their loss to be much help Torrens them simply headed in the direction of the settlement in question in hope that he can help when he gets there. He scopes out the settlement to identify where Lio is, and then sneaks in at night.

Except Torrens isn’t very sneaky, so he gets captured as well. He challenges his captors to a formal duel to secure his and Lio’s freedom. Torrens wins the duel, but is left badly hurt and scarred.

The tribe agrees to let ONE of them go, and Torrens chooses Lio, who leaves Torrens then tries to convince his captors that there is little point in keeping him. They’re unconvinced, and injure Dash in response. That night, Torrens managed to sneak out, taking Dash and going back to Lost Bridge.

At Lost Bridge, the town thanks Torrens for his work, and considers his vow fulfilled.

Now Torrens has to convince Lio to come with him to Newriver. Much to his surprise, it doesn’t take much convincing. Now, Torrens has to see if Lio really is a good enough warrior to protect Newriver – someone who is capable and trustworthy. He learns that the village of Wolfwick is in need of help, so Lio, Torrens, and Torrens’s animal companions head in that direction.

Chapter 14 – A Near Ending

The party travels five days through the marshes of the Flooded Lands, and are attacked by a sodden (a drowned person who returns as undead). They manage to fight it off. The next day, they are attacked by two more sodden. They fight them off, too. Two days later, they are attacked by another one – and fight it off.

On the 10th day of the journey, Lio wanders off, and Torrens spends the next day finding him. Two days later, Lio tells Torrens that he is no longer interested in helping Newriver, and leaves.

The next day, Torrens is attacked by another sodden. Still in bad shape from the previous fights, Torrens succumbs to the blows of the sodden, and loses consciousness, sure that he will die.

But he is wrong. In a vision, he sees the Keeper of Death, who says that he has a task left for Torrens to complete, if he will swear an iron vow to do so. Torrens swears the vow to help a fisherman in the village of Mournwatch – a man named Morell – to fulfill his destiny.

Chapter 15 – A New Life

Having sworn a vow to the Keeper of Death, Torrens awakens to find Dash and Errol with him. The sodden that attacked him is dead on the ground next to him. Torrens is still in bad shape, but death is not an immediate threat.

Torrens arrives at Wolfwick, though the people there do not seem willing to trust him. They give him basic hospitality – a time and place to heal and advice about a safe path forward – but are not interested in him helping them with any troubles.

Chapter 16 – Travel to Fort Thornford

The journey to Mournwatch is long. Torrens and his animal companions travel for 46 days, facing off against many wild animals – and running from others – on the way. Torrens is wounded and emotionally broken. Outside of Fort Thornford, Torrens adopts a new companion – a mammoth which he names Harry.

Chapter 17 – Fort Thornford

Torrens found the gates of Fort Thornford closed to him. They’re simply not interested in taking in such a scarred broken man. He turns away from the gates, saddened at their lack of hospitality.

Chapter 18 – Travel to Mournwatch

12 more days of traveling which were pretty uneventful. Torrens then arrives at Mournwatch.

Chapter 19 – Mournwatch

Torrens arrives at Mournwatch to help Morell achieve whatever his destiny is. However, here in this humble fishing village, he finds that Morell is not particularly respected. Rather, other people regularly take advantage of him, leaving him and his wife in poverty.

Torrens asked around town to find out if there was a ringleader of this bullying, but, while he was doing that, his horse, Dash, was stolen. Torrens swears an iron vow to recover his horse.

At this point, Torrens doesn’t have much patience, so he threatens a townsperson to get information out of him about who stole the horse, and the townsperson agrees, as long as Torrens agrees not to say who shared the information. Torrens agrees, and follows the person who was identified as the thief back to his home. He finds that this person doesn’t have the horse at all. The person who gave him the information was lying.

Torrens has had it. He hunts down the information and challenges him to a duel… and it turns out the duelist was trained as a warrior.

Despite this, Torrens does well in the fight – and kills the liar.

However, one of the man’s friends then challenged Torrens to a duel (the dishonor!) After a long duel, Torrens kills this man as well, and takes is sword.

Torrens intimidates another townsperson into revealing that the two people Torrens just killed were the thieves, and reveals where the horse can be found.

Torrens rests for a few days, recovering his health and his mind after the harrowing journey and awful duels. He can then turn his attention to helping Morell. He visits Morell and his wife. He has to convince them he’s not there to kill them, but, instead, to help them. He’s on a mission from Death. While they may be a bit weirded out by this, and have no idea what destiny would await Morell, they are happy for some help. In exchange for a place to stay, Torrens agrees to help Morrell with fishing until the path forward becomes clearer.

Torrens decides that a priest may be able to divine the destiny that Morell has. He visits the local priestess, and tries to persuade her. The priestess Brynn, it turns out, is an ambitious person and wants a position on the Council. After this is achieved, she will help Torrens divine Morell’s destiny. Torrens swears an iron vow to do this.

Torrens learns that the Council names their own members – not a great design, but one that is firmly entrenched in Mournwatch’s culture. So, Torrens must first persuade the Council to adopt Brynn as a member. Torrens first meets with the Council Chief, who agrees to let Torrens speak to the Council.

At the Council, Torrens spoke persuasively to convince them to allow Brynn to join. They agreed, but first Torrens must help the village reestablish the trade route between Mournwatch and Fort Frostmark, which has been blocked by Varou attacks. He swears an iron vow to do so.

Torrens learned that that the trade route lies on the border between two Varou tribes. If Torrens can encourage the tribes to attack each other, they may be so weakened by the battle that the trade route would be safe again – at least temporarily.

To accomplish this, Torrens began leaving each tribe’s mark in the other’s territory – but he was caught in the act by one of the Varou tribes. Torrens runs off, but was hurt in the process.

Back in Mournwatch, Torrens drummed up support among the villagers to attack the Varou. They agree, as long as Torrens leads the charge.

He does and a battle ensues. The Varou tribes are weakened enough by the battle that the trade route is reestablished. Torrens has now fulfilled two vows at once: the trade route is reestablished, and the Council has accepted Brynn.

Having achieved her seat on the Council, Brynn seeks to divine Morell’s purpose. She learns that Morell is destined to create a magical talisman that will create a mystical barrier that will protect Mournwatch from many horrific creatures. Brynn suggests that Torrens should talk to an Artificer who lives not too far from Mournwatch who may know how to make this talisman, or at least tell us what ingredients are needed.

Chapter 20 – Travel to Artificer

After a 6 day journey – which involved fighting a madman (one of what Ironlanders call The Broken), Torrens arrived at the Artificer’s home. Masias, the artificer, says that such a talisman is possible – but must be made from a whale bone, and blessed by a priest at one of the iron pillars that one can find spread throughout the Ironlands. Even then, it is not guaranteed to work.

Chapter 21 – Getting the Whale Bone

Morell and Torrens convinced a ship captain to take them whaling, on the condition that the captain gets to keep most of the whale while Morell and Torrens get only the bone. All agreed to this arrangement.

The expedition was quite short, as they found a whale on the first day. Morell harpoons the whale. Unfortunately, Torrens loses his sword off the edge of the ship.

Torrens and Morell took the bone to Masias, who carved into the necessary shape.

Torrens and Morell return to Mournwatch and ask Brynn to accompany them to one of the pillars to bless the talisman. She agreed to come, but wants Torrens to speak to the Council on her behalf to advance her position with the Council. He agreed to do so when they return.

Chapter 22 – The Road to the Pillar

The three of them traveled toward the pillar, but Brynn started to act nervous. Then, she ran off, just as two men come out of the woods. These men are brothers of one of the men that Torrens killed in a duel when he arrived in Mournwatch, and they want revenge. They attack, and break the whale bone. The battle is not going well, so Torrens and Morell run. They managed to escape, but now they need a new whale bone and a new priest. Torrens swore an iron vow to kill Brynn for her betrayal.

Chapter 23 – Dueling Brynn

They got back to town – badly wounded, but standing. Torrens took a couple of days to heal before he found Brynn and challenged her to a duel to the death.

The two of them fought, and Torrens was overcome by his wounds. While Brynn should not have been a difficult foe, Torrens’s old injuries kept him from being able to fight very well. Brynn managed to get the upper hand early in the fight, and though Torrens got several good hits in, he eventually passed out from his wounds, and Brynn put him to an end.

And, this time, the Keeper of Death did not come to his rescue.

Closing Thoughts

I enjoyed this playthrough of Ironsworn. The system is very story-driven. The progress track system is interesting, but takes a bit to get used to. Let me explain:

Extended actions (quests, journeys, combat) are tracked on a progress track, which is ten boxes which you fill in as you progress. The goal is to get the progress track pretty full, and then you roll against the progress track to see if you successfully complete the quest/journey/combat.

Each extended action is given a rating – Troublesome, Dangerous, Formidable, Extreme, or Epic. These determine how quickly the track fills. Troublesome tasks fill 3 boxes at a time (so, to fully fill the track takes 4), Dangerous 2 at a time (5 to fill), Formidable 1 (10 to fill), Extreme 1/2 (20 to fill), and Epic 1/4 (40 to fill). Now, technically, you don’t have to fill the track completely to finish – you roll a d10 against the number of completely filled boxes, and each die that comes up less than the number of filled boxes is a success. 2 successes are a “strong hit” (really good outcome with no downside), 1 success a “weak hit” (success, but at a cost), and 0 successes a “miss” (failure, usually an expensive one).

There’s one thing you have to get used to with this system. It *feels* like the rating should be “difficulty”, but that’s not quite correct.

For battles, the foe’s rating determines both how many hits you have to get in AND how much harm the enemy does. So, “difficulty” is a good interpretation.

For journeys, the rating is much more a LENGTH thing than a difficulty.

Similarly, for quests/vows, the rating is about COMPLEXITY – that is, how many steps (in game terms, “milestones”) it will take to fulfill the vow – than necessarily “difficulty”. As I was playing, I found that I preferred to give vows a low rating – usually Troublesome – because most of the things I promised could be accomplished in 3-4 steps. Even the big “find a warrior for Newriver” quest, which I labeled as Extreme, should have had a lesser rating. To have a great chance of success, this would have to take 20 milestones. But, I didn’t get anywhere close to that. (I crossed off 1 1/2 boxes – 3 steps.) This makes me think that the big vows are supposed to be *much* bigger. Like, world-altering stuff. My problem is that I’m a very “small” RPGer – I tend to think in low power levels and local terms. So, I think of small goals for my characters (“I want a horse!”) rather than big ones (“I want to integrate the elves with human society!”).

Another thing I’ve learned about myself from this experience is that, when I’m soloing, I prefer to spend very little time making *decisions* in the gamemaster role, and want to stay in player mode as much as possible. So, I want to automate as much as possible, and not have to do too much interpretation.

Anyway, I enjoyed this experience, and there’s definitely a lot of potential here for an RPG soloist. And, hey, you can get PDFs of everything you need to play for free from DriveThruRPG and the Ironsworn website. That’s pretty awesome.

Originally, I planned to try Star Trek Adventures next, but that game seems to be impossible to play as a single character – in fact, the rules suggest that players will play multiple characters even if you have a bigger group. So, not a good match for soloing I suspect. But, I really want to do something scifi, so I found Cepheus, which seems much better suited to this purpose. (In fact, a recent issue of Cepheus Journal included rules for how to solo the game. I don’t know that I’ll use those right away, but it’s good to know they’re there!)