Monday, December 15, 2014

Roll and Read: a method for solo RPG play

Solo RPGs can be an interesting diversion, entertaining when the regular game group isn't around. And like playing chess with oneself, they can also be a way to test skills and scenarios. But managing complex rules and a full cast of characters can be too demanding when you're running it all by yourself, which is why many solo rpgs tend to abbreviated or minimal rules.

This isn't a post about seeding scenarios or figuring out a way to generate and resolve decision points. This is just a simple method for running a scenario and managing characters with minimal book-keeping and maximum speed.


Since the solo player generates and runs all characters, some are run as protagonists (as traditional player-characters), and the rest are encounters (as helpers, hinderers, enemies, and otherwise).
Protagonists should get a description. This can be detailed, a character sheet from another game, or just a brief tag (wily wizard, hardened ranger, calculating vac-trooper). Most other characters get a tag only, unless details are required.
If the description is brief, there's more room to explore who and what the character is. If the description is detailed, there may be more options, but the character is more defined before play.
All character have one rating, an abstract measure of their Resources [Res x]. Resources are an abstract representation of their Stamina or Hit Points or Hit Dice or Wounds or Luck, or whatever in-game credit is expended until the character is exhausted.
Protagonists might start with at least 2 or 3 Res, more if they have higher 'levels'.
Encounters can have individual Res, or group Res to represent a mass challenge. The Res in any scenario should roughly balance.

For example, the solo gamer might plan a scenario with:
A tough ranger [Res 3]
A clever hedge wizard [Res 3]
A nimble halfling [Res 3]
against a
Wolf Pack [Res 6]
Dire Wolf [Res 2]

Running the scene

This method is based on running notes.
Head up a note with the scene title: "Menacing Wolves," "Crossing the Swamp," and so on.
There is no initiative as such; just begin with the move that makes sense and move on to the next in order.
Each active character gets a 'line' each round, until everyone has taken a turn. The line is a brief tag or note of an action. Against any line, you can also note the counter-action, outcome or response.

For example:
The scene is "Menace of Wolves"
The first line is "Light the fire – wood's too wet!" (our halfling's first attempt to light a fire is a roll of 2, incomplete)
Then, "Spear throw – glancing hit" (the ranger's attack is a roll of 3, marginal)
And so on...

These lines are used to track turns and order actions, and estimate position if the player chooses not to use a battle board and miniatures.

Roll and read

In place of the usual rules and balancing of modifiers and multiple dice rolls, the player rolls once for each action and interprets the result.

Gauge what the character will most likely achieve, given their abilities and tactics.
For example, an armed ranger will most likely drive-off or even kill a ragged wolf, whereas a scrawny hedge wizard is likely to only keep the creature at bay, and at best wound it (but with magic, on the other hand…).

Then roll and read. The traditional pips on the dice hint at the result.
⚀ 1  Blocked, a failure or mishap
⚁ 2 Incomplete, a problem, breakage, or partially accomplished
⚂ 3 On the line, marginal, doubtful, or achieved at some cost
⚃ 4 Square, as expected, unremarkable
⚄ 5 Solid, a strong achievement, with some advantage which may be exploited
⚅ 6 Exceptional, full resolution, with a significant advantage
Resolve each action according to the roll and the likeliest result.

There are two other options:

  • If the character seems massively advantaged by skill or circumstances, then roll two dice and read the highest.
  • If the roll seems like sheer bad luck or the result would run against all reasonable expectations for the character, then spend a point of Res to reroll (representing the character's effort and resolve). If this roll is a 6, then the Res point is not lost.


In combat and other conflict, where the roll is low enough that the acting character is read as being hurt or wounded, deduct a point of Res. When the last point of Res is lost, the character is out of play for the rest of the scene. The player can then decide whether the character continues on play or is discarded.