Solo RP as a New Adventure

We here in the Bay Area have been under shelter in place orders for quite a while at this point and, even with my family around, it's pretty isolating.

In my various late evening digging around the Internet sessions, I stumbled across the notion of solo PnP gaming. I was initially intrigued by the premise of Journey Back (unreleased at the time but available now). Digging, I discovered the similar game The Adenturer, which was interesting but seems structured more as journal prompt and less as solo gaming experience.

In my searching, I discovered Shut Up & Sit Down had put out a few videos on solo gaming:

  1. The Wild, Affordable World of 1 Player Print'n'Play Games, which introduced me to Bargain Basement Bathysphere (BBB). BBB is quick, fun, totally free, and has quite a bit of content. After a handful of fun dives, I kind of lost interest in continuing. There's a little too much of a push your luck mechanic for my taste and it's too light on story for what I want right now.
  2. The Quiet Year - A Perfect Game for Isolation, which just speaks to me on a geometry and cartography level. I haven't played it but it sure adds wood to the play solo games fire.

From there, I scoured /r/soloboardgaming, and BoardGameGeek in search of something that would be exactly what I wanted. An honorable mention is due to Pocket Dungeon, which is a kind of fun PnP roguelike game.

Somewhere, somehow, I learned that solo roleplaying games are a thing, which is why /r/Solo_Roleplaying exists. This has turned into quite the rabbit hole and I have subsequently consumed (and re-consumed) a number of role playing game books figuring out how I want to approach Solo RP as a concept. Ultimately, I've decided to develop my own system; it'll be built as a series of game layers based on the scale of the setting. The goal of the final layer is something interstellar that scales up and down depending on where the player is at any time. For now, I'm focused on the basics of character creation, gameplay, and story building. World building, and galaxy building can come later.

Some of my major influences so far are:

  • Shadowrun - honestly not a huge influence on this specific project but it's the RPG that I played extensively in my teens and early 20s, so it will always be a seminal influence on me as a RPG player. I can't not mention it and I still think that 3e is the best edition.

  • Traveller - I am pretty sure that I want to build up to an interstellar scale and Traveller is kind of the gold standard for space operatic RPGs that span large swathes of a galaxy. Traveller also introduced me to the idea of a lifepath-based character creation system.

    A quick aside is needed for MegaTraveller 1: The Zhodani Conspiracy, a computer game that I played as a kid and never got much of anywhere in. I wanted to figure out how to make this game get anywhere but I was a small child and the idea fell out of my head until after MS-DOS stopped being an easy thing to use.

  • Mythic - here is where we start to get into the meat of the solo side of things. I, honestly, had never seen something like Mythic before. It's less a system for managing characters actions within a planned narrative and more a way of randomly generating a universe through an endless series of yes/no questions.

  • The Burning Wheel - I want to play The Burning Wheel for real. It looks so awesome. There is a skills and progression system that encourages using the rules to progress the game but also narrows everything down to success tests (that feel very Shadowrun 4e). But everything boils down to those success tests and there's a very rich in-game/in-character karma system. The character generation is lifepath-based and then, the most novel bit of all, there's the "Let it Ride" rule.

    "Let it Ride" basically says that the result of a die roll determines the nature of reality and must stand. If I fail to pick a lock, that's it; the lock cannot be picked, by anyone. If I roll to convince someone of something and I succeed; they're convinced. No re-rolling; no trying again later; reality is set.

  • Fiasco - Fiasco is a delightfully simple (from a rules standpoint) game for constructing fun shared narratives with a Coen Brothers feel. I've played it in person once and had an absolute blast of a time. Fiasco very much takes scene-based narrative in games to an extreme. Relationships are established; settings are established; MacGuffins are planted; and the narrative flows from there. The more I think and focus on my game plans, the more my core structures are narrowing to PC+NPC+motives+location as the central game Oracle components. I wasn't even thinking about Fiasco until a thought caught me and I dug my copy out of the depths of my garage.

  • MechWarrior - a game that sits in a universe that I love, by a company that is dear to my heart, but that I've never had the opportunity to play. I cannot speak to the modern editions (i.e. BattleTech: A Time of War) but the old ones had a few great things going for them; namely being made by FASA, being BattleTech, thereby interstellar, and by having a lifepath-based character generation system.

  • UNE - the Universal NPC Emulator (UNE) is a tool for generating NPCs out of nothing, including motivations, and so on. This will be pretty important as a guide for figuring out how to create people for my game and seems like a pretty quick and straightforward system.

I'm pulling ideas and influences from elsewhere but those account for a solid thousand or so pages of role playing game manuals that I've read in the past month or few. I've finally started putting things to paper and had a false start of a play session. I'm retooling a little but I'll drop some notes from the false start soon and then, hopefully, use this space as a dev-journal of sorts.