Saturday, January 11, 2020

Solo tinkering — Play all the Books

The Tinkerage has been experimenting with solo roleplaying as a way to test some of the freeform, light and Play the World concepts with house rules and designs.

One unexpected benefit of this approach, which could be brought to multiplayer games, is that you get to play not just your own system but ALL the RPG systems, and so one's collection of gaming books acquires new life when you're not tied to a single rules set. So far I've used Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay to generate careers and encounters, BareBones Fantasy to generate missions and locations, Blacksand for Advanced Fighting Fantasy for urban design, adapted Traveller to set up combat ranges, and so on. Now, all the careers, classes, spell-lists, and random mission, encounter, and reward generators scattered across a shelf of game books and systems become relevant and useful again, and help to generate a world and adventures I would never have picked from my own head.

The "system" is free-flowing and based on roll and read principles with other ideas I’ve used here, but structured enough to generate variety and surprises.

For characters, I pick or adapt a handful of basic characteristics from any system that inspires or feels right. In this case, Strength, Dexterity, Intellect, and Will. I roll 2d6 for each characteristic, and a 9+ is "+1" and an 11-12 is "+2"; a 5- would be "-1", but for the sake of playability I would discard a character with a net negative set of characteristics.

Then, from the career or class description (I used a Soldier from Warhammer, rolled at random) I choose a suitable 4-5 skills or talents, and allocate 6-7 points, with +2 the highest single rating.

The player character has 3 Hits, but experimentally I converted each "Hit" to 1d6 hit points, so rolling for a total from 3-18.

For example:
Corporal Angfire, Peasant, Soldier
Strength 6, Agility 9 (+1), Intellect 9 (+1), Will 8
3 Hits (12 hp)
+1 Fight, Cool, Dodge
+2 Marksman

In play, whenever the character is in a spot, a point where I, as player or GM, can't easily judge the outcome, I roll 2d6, and add any modifiers for the character:

  • On 7+ the outcome is a bare success, enough to keep the scene moving. The character may still be in trouble.
  • A roll of 9+ is decisive.
  • 5- is a setback or failure. A hit in combat. 
  • A 2-3 indicates severe negative consequences, such as a heavier hit.
  • The target roll occasionally shifts to indicate situational risks or advantage, but it is is never less than 5+ or more than 9+.

Most combats are skirmishes, and so only the character rolls to attack and/or defend. If the combat were to be more dangerous or against a single, determined opponent, both sides would roll and compare totals.

As I said, the character's Hits are tallied by hit points, and so damage is also converted to a d6 roll, with armour reducing the hit points lost by a small amount (1–2 points for light to medium protection). Ordinary creatures and opponents just have a fixed number of Hits to take them down.

There are two other rolls I use to represent the uncertainty of a scene in a solo game:
Probability - what are the chances? (1d6):
Very likely 2+
Likely 3+
Possible 4+
Unlikely 5+
Very unlikely 6+

Situation - how good or bad is the current situation? (1d6):
1- Very Bad
2 - Bad
3 - Doubtful
4 - OK
5 - Good
6 - Excellent

So with a light framework and some inspiration it’s possible to play all the books.


  1. Good stuff! You really need to post more as your articles are always so thought provoking from a gamer's view. I hope to one day get a few people together and do some Primordial Role Playing which is my term for this kind of simple free play.

  2. How did the 1d6 hit points experiment work out?

  3. 1d6 "hit points" for each character "Hit" actually worked well. It allows more granularity, so taking damage from combat or other accidents could be either a light hit for a few points or a heavy hit for a d6 or more, with suitable modifiers (like -1 for light armor).
    I've since moved back towards a PC having around 3 Hits which are only affected by a significant attack, but I still recommend the 1d6 hit points/Hit approach if you like the additional control of incremental damage and fatigue.

  4. Can you clarify "The target roll occasionally shifts to indicate situational risks or advantage, but it is is never less than 5+ or more than 9+."?

    1. Occasionally, I'd find that a situation is somewhat easier or riskier than usual. Maybe the situation roll suggests that the wall has ample handholds, or maybe it's crumbling and unstable. Generally, the target for the 2d6 roll here is 7+. I was using a system in which characters apply small modifiers, but for mental ease it seemed better to nudge the target in one step, so an easier roll is as low as 5+ and a more difficult one could be up to 9+.
      But, as noted, you're rolling for cases where the character is in trouble or there's a significant degree of uncertainty either way. So I consider meaningful chances in this case to be in that 5 to 9 range. If, in your own case, you want to sometimes throw in a very small chance of success or failure by fluke, then that's fine!

  5. Thanks for describing. Just one more thing. So you were adjusting target number based on a riskier or easier situation ... I get that, but you were also factoring in the characters modifier along with the easier/riskier adjustment? That way everything was figured before the roll. That's what I think you meant in the description.

    1. In this set, I wasn't factoring character modifiers in the setting of the target number, which was meant to be mostly 7. The idea was that there would be the difficulty and it was fun to throw and let the character "add in" their personal modifiers against the difficulty. But this is freeform, and later I've also used a "everything in the final roll" line of thinking that also works. For example, the range for this shot is far, but the character is agile and a marksman, so I'll hit on 7+, works perfectly well also.

    2. Okay. Thanks for all the explaining.

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  7. Are you adding in the bonuses for both characteristics & skills/talents?
    If Corporal Angfire was sniping at an enemy would he get a +3 (Agl +1, Marksman +2)?

    1. As I recall, yes, but only if the situation warrants it, so the bonus is not "pre-calculated" for every situation. So if Angfire the regiment marksman is sniping and has time to draw a bead, then +3 is probably the maximum bonus, but appropriate. If Angfire is forced to draw and shoot in a hurry, then perhaps only +1 for Agility in that position.