Saturday, 2 August 2014

Some thoughts on playing an RPG solo

My recent foray into solitaire RPGing has highlighted for me a couple of issues that I have had with it in the past. Previously I have sought to play the character in a range of situations. I have identified with the character and then got frustrated because it is not a simple matter to role-play, when you are also determining the situations they find themselves in. This has inevitably led to the death of each campaign. The only ones that have had some success were those that were task-oriented.

I followed a character through a variety of exploration missions in a diary-based Traveller campaign back in the eighties or early nineties. The game was based on an article on real-time Traveller in Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society 13. It was an interesting experience with the character's timeline following my own exactly. I kept a (long-since lost) diary that varied between minimal entries and quite expanded entries, and my character explored uncharted areas of the galaxy for a while before I got bored and wandered away from the campaign.

The other successful solo campaign was a GURPS one. I had a fire wizard who was based in my core fantasy world of the time. I still have the massively extensive notes from that game world. I guess I really did not have much else to do back then! Anyway, this one used the GURPS job system to determine what was happening. The character did not go on adventures as such but rolled for the jobs he was doing and I adjudicated things based on that. It was ok, but lacked something.

In both cases I was interested in being the player character, because I was the GM in almost every game I played. Both games were moderately successful in their own way but they still lacked something and it is only really now that I have worked out what. They lacked a GM. I know. It sounds odd that a solo game should lack a GM but it is true.

This is where the Scarlet Heroes game comes in. I have chosen to take the role of mostly GM in this campaign. I say mostly GM because my character has been created to suit me, and is one I would be happy to play, but I have written him up with character traits which I can measure his actions against. Instead of deciding what he will do in every situation, I can test against his character traits to see if he does the expected or does something wildly out of character. If he does something out of character, I can develop his character some more by working out why this action does not fit his normal pattern of behaviour. In this way, the character is a lab rat in my GM's maze. I am also mostly GM because I let the solo system in the rules guide the narrative, but I still draw the strings together and make decisions about what directions it should take in areas of doubt, or where I think the narrative will be more interesting by ignoring the dice rolls.

It's an interesting position to be in, and I am finding it very satisfying at the moment. This mix of investing myself mainly in the role of GM and partially in the role of character feels right, where my role as mainly character in the other solo games felt out of kilter. With any luck I can maintain my impetus and keep posting adventures once or twice a week alongside my regular miniatures and board gaming, because the solo game does not take long to run through and write up. I look forward to seeing where it all leads.


  1. Interesting approach! Please keep us updated with your experiences.

    1. Shall do. I hope that this campaign maintains its momentum, by investing an hour or two a week in it. That should not be too onerous for me. It would be even better if I could link it to my regular gaming sessions through various miniatures rules. I'll have to look at that idea next.