Peter_R's blog

I have been working on a project for a while and it is finally coming together and I have something to show for it. If you are a member of the OSR or Solo groups on Gamer Plus you will have seen the first screenshot.

If you have read my previous blog on solo play, or you are a solo player, then you should have an idea of how solo role play works.

"Solo is a thing"

There are lots of purely generic "Solo Engines"* out there. Mythic is the big one but UNE and CRGE are popular as well. The advantage of a generic solo engine is that once you know how it works you can take to any game. The disadvantage of the a generic solo engine is that it can break the suspension of disbelief and pull you out of the game. If you are using d6 dice pools for all your skill rolls and combat and then suddenly it is all d100 and full page tables. The jolt is even bigger with rules light narrative/story teller games and detail/crunch solo engines like Mythic.

What I like to do is take the flavour of the game I want to play and the dice mechanics and create a customised set of solo tools for each game I play. If you have a table of probabilities for any particular event to happen or not it is not difficult to change it up or down from d100 to d20 to 2d6. Sometimes you lose options and sometimes you gain.

As a solo player I get to play every game on my shelves as I don't have to convince my group to give them a go. I also get to see innovations that make you think that these should be in every game, things so simple that you cannot believe you didn't think of them yourself.

With each new iteration of my solo rules they become slightly more sophisticated. Sophistication does not need to mean complicated. What they always do is stay 'in character' with the game they are designed to match up with. Once I am in the game I don't want to break out of it.

In SWN most challenges at the table are resolved with 2d6. 2d6 is also all you are going to need for the solo rules as well. SWN is perfect for sandbox play an and my solo engine is designed to collect together and build plots and missions that are progressing at their own rate regardless of whether you want to be a part of them or not. The rules do not railroad you and it is not uncommon for there to be more plots the central character is not involved in that the ones they are!

So as a teaser here is one of the spreads from the first draft of the SWN Solo rules. The protagonist is Jesse but don't worry, things turned out well. That day.

*A solo engine is the sum of the game mechanics that emulate the GM in a rolo playing game. 

Below is a published definition of what a Role Playing Game is:

It’s a game you play with friends in a social setting. …It’s an exploration of intriguing or fanciful scenarios. …It’s a chance to be someone you’re not. …It’s a celebration of sticky situations. …It’s collaborative daydreaming. …It’s exercise for your personal sense of drama. …It’s a way to trick ourselves into creating interesting things. …It’s something you’ve been doing all along.I am pretty sure that there are a lot of regular role players that would accept that definition at first glance and then stop, think and then disagree.

Not everyone has a regular group that they can get a game with. A lot of people are time starved or work unsocial hours which makes a regular game hard.

So if you cannot get a regular, around the dining table, game what are your options?


Many discord servers offer voice chat + dice roller bot online games. The plus is that you can pick a server for just about any game system in existence and you will get a game. The problem of being out of timezone or just time poor isn't solved but it is easier, a night shift working in the US could join an EU game. You get the social element to some extent. You can join in the banter and you get to role play but ultimately you are sat at home on your own most likely. It is a brave person who voice chats in character in Starbucks.


There are many forums that allow play by post. I like PBP games. The style I use is that every player gets two forum threads of their own that are invisible to all other players. The first is for out of character questions and comments. The second is purely in character. When two characters converse, I as GM will copy'n'paste from one to the other and then paraphrase the post to the other characters point of view. Imagine if you are trying to persuade someone and you have failed the relevant social skill test. The words remain yours but I get to describe you delivering that dialogue. I encourage people to add in mannerisms, facial expressions, gestures and if you are going to pace back and forth before the fireplace before unmasking the murderer then describe it.

What all this builds up is a really rich picture of how your character thinks and behaves. PBP games are perfect for political and intrigue games as characters have perfect recall, being able to scroll up to check facts and statements.

I set the game up so no player knows who is a PC and who is an NPC. I also do not insist that partys form or hold together. If you character's chip on her shoulder drives away people that get to know her then you may well end up as a loner.

PBP games give a wonderfully rich experience but at the cost of one or two posts a day being considered 'fast' and sometimes two posts a week is more normal.

Virtual Desktops

Virtual desktops exist to provide as rich an experience as possible and as such they are much the same as a Discord game but with graphics. They do turn role playing into a pay to play experience as at least the GM needs to pay for membership. There are some free options but only because they are new and want to steal away users from the other more established platforms. You are looking at the same issues of time zones and having to commit to regular time slots.

Solo Play

For some reason solo play is often looked down upon. It can be ridiculed as talking to yourself, day dreaming or just creative writing. It is mostly ridiculed by people who don't know what they are talking about, but that is true of most things.

Solo play has existed since the first Dungeon Master's Guide. Solo wargaming has always been an accepted part of war gaming and Chainmail and later D&D grew out of a wargaming background.

A regular game has a basic loop of the GM describes the scene, the players describe their actions, the GM resolves the actions and then loop back to describing the new scene. Solo play has two loops. think of them as a left and a right loop. You imagine a scene. If you would normally ask the GM a question to clarify your understanding then you use the solo rules to answer that question. Now you loop back you have your answers and you can imagine the scene. You imagine your characters actions, the conversations, NPCs and challenges. When you character acts you use the regular game rules to resolve the actions. You then loop back and imagine the new scene. So the left loop uses the solo rules and answers questions you would ask the GM. The right loop resolves in game challenges and uses the traditional game mechanics. So left loop would deal with "Are there any guards?", "Is there anywhere I can hide?" or "Trying the car door, is it unlocked?". Right look deals with picking locks, combat and spell casting etc.

Emulating a GM is not that difficult. It is often described as a RPG version of a magic 8-ball. You need to use your improv skills because of course any rules in a book cannot see your character or the scene or the goblins. 

At the core of every set of solo rule are three mechanics. The first is for yes/no type questions. you pitch your question as a closed yes/no question, use a modifier for how likely you think the answer is going to be a yes or a no and then roll the dice. You then have to use your improv skills to work that answer into your scene.

The second tool is for open ended questions like "What are they talking about?" and "What is this book about?" Often you roll the dice and get a two word answer and you have to think given the adventure so far and the current scene what does that two word combo mean to me? The answers are often kind of obvious like "Betraying + Leader" or "Plotting + Loved one" and that sort of thing. They are designed to fit in with adventures so you not going to get "Cut price + banana".

The final tool is the plot twist mechanic. If your adventure just plodded along with yes and no answers and the odd bit of description then things would get stale rather quickly. Plot twists are designed to throw up the unexpected. There are three common plot twist ideas. The first is 'complication'. These happen when you are asking a yes/no style question and it idea is that something happens that makes that particular yes/no questions irrelevant.  For example you ask if there is a horse you can steal and roll a complication. Using your improv skills you decide that there is a fantastic black stallion but at that second someone throws a saddle on to it and you recognise them as your arch nemesis. That would of course completely change the whole set of priorities that had you wanting to steal a horse. 

The next version is the interrupted scene. Solo play often works in scenes and a scene ends whenever you handwave a block of time (generally). If you had just discovered an important and incriminating piece of evidence against a mobster and you are racing to town hall and the mayors office. Normally you would probably not role play the journey to the town hall, you would just arrive. Not with an interrupted scene. You have to think of a reason why you don't get there. Does a car ram you off the street? Does a corrupt police officer flag you down? I had this situation in a modern genre game and at that moment terrorists had placed a bomb in the atrium of city hall and as I raced up the steps the entire glass fronted building exploded. That cancelled my meeting with the mayor!

The final plot twist you are likely to see are stage directions. They may say something like Introduce an NPC, or Your quest becomes harder. It is down to you to work out how to fit that into your game. If you five levels down in a megadungeon a new NPC is unlikely to be a merchant selling healing potions but it could easily be a chained up captive with half a dozen drow guards. If it told you your quest gets harder then maybe the route ahead has collapsed and you cannot get through the way you had planned? If you have your GM's hat on I am sure you can come up with some pretty miserable things to do to your character.

That is a pretty intense whirlwind tour of just the basics of solo play. I keep a rather terse bullet point list of key events and questions so I can recap and pick up where I was but you can record your adventures however you like, or not at all.

I talked about some of the advantages and disadvantages of the other forms of role playing. In solo play there is no loss of fidelity between what the GM imagines and what you see. You are both so your understanding is perfect. The same goes for NPCs and descriptions of magic and monsters. There are no time constraints or commitments to always be available at a particular time.

You can solo play to test a new game, or one of the three hundred games on your shelves that you bought but never got to play. You don't have to prep for solo play. You need to think of solo play as an infinite sandbox. I had an adventure once because my character had little or no starting money left. I asked if the tavern keeper was in a good mood and the solo rules said No. I asked why? and it said something like "Grieving + Crime". I decided someone had been murdered and my first reaction was that it was his wife and for some reason I tagged on that his daughter had been kidnapped. Well, there was something that I could do something about. I role played the scene as the taverner refused to let me into the tavern as he shut it up and barred the door. He had is club from under the bar and he was out for blood. I calmed him down enough to get some of the story out of him and I pointed out that while he was an excellent barkeep, I was the one with the spear and armour. I improvised a story about his debt to a street gang and how he fell behind the payments. He was supposed to take a beating as a warning but his wife walked in and tried to grab a sword off one of the thugs and in the ensuing struggle she was killed and his daugher was grabbed and taken away. There was my adventure and I had also learned a lot of flavour of the kind of town I was in.

Even with that tiny snapshot of my meeting with a taverner I hope you can see a bit of how solo play works.

I will blog more on solo play later as I think this has given anyone new to solo play plenty to take in for a first introduction.



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