Friday, June 25, 2021

Solo: Play ALL the Books II

 In the first Play all the Books post, I tinkered with solo play and roll-and-read rules in the "play the world" style, mixing inspiration and rules from various rulebooks. In this post, I revisit these approaches with more detail about managing play when the GM, world-maker, and player are all the same soul.

The key to solo play in general is the the randomized oracle, which the solo player leans on to generate hints, plot points, and twists in general terms, since humans are generally brilliant at sketching these suggestions into scenarios. In this, I rely on Trevor Devall's dictum that you don't what to know what's doing to happen; what you need are suggestions that lead the game in directions you couldn't anticipate.

While there are plenty of great oracle systems out there (like Ironsworn, or the the classic Mythic GM Emulator), play all the books means exactly that: at the moment you're unsure or need inspiration you needn't refer to a custom solo rpg system; you look at your whole library, all the games, and select the random table or resolution system that answers to the needs of the moment.

For example, need a career or background? Grab the class and career tables from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Not sure where to start and need a patron? Grab the patron encounter tables from Classic Traveller. By weaving between books, you not only keep inspiration fresh, you find a virtually a custom approach or tool for everything.

A campaign begins

To follow this in practice, several examples follow. And, of course, this style of play can work with multiple players as well.

Broadly speaking, we're interested in an open campaign, starting from the general idea of exploring and mapping a wild-region at the edge of the empire — perhaps a corner of the Harrowmarch?

So assuming a single fortified city as a base, I generated four random pieces of terrain from the Advanced Fighting Fantasy Allansia book, each with a theme from the various oracle tables in Ironsworn. Of the four potential destinations, I randomly selected the hamlet of Osfo (Hills, Hamlet, Innocent, Omens).

After investigating, the omen proved to be "Betrayal" — and the "betrayers" of the innocent village, while human, were revealed as acolytes and cultists of an ogre god of a long-vanished empire.

Looking for the next location, AFF provided a substantial castle, and so I speculated that the cultists were somehow connected to a yet more distant castle (ruled once by ogres?) and generated a handful of half-ruined towers and a keep using the dice-drop method from the Advanced Fighting Fantasy Second Edition rules. 

Running the scenario

Now, we come to point-to-point exploration. For each space, if occupied (likely, roll 3+ on a d6), I grabbed the dungeon encounter table from Out of the Pit, one of my favorite bestiaries:

  • In the gatehouse, a WIGHT (interesting, I used the FF interpretation of a wight, an undead servant—perhaps a cursed minion of the ogres?). With a lucky roll, our scout dodged this one.
  • In the first watchtower, a MANTICORE (I determined this beast has made its lair in the ruined tower, rather than being native to the castle). It took some climbing and sneaking to avoid.
  • In the attic over the inner gatehouse, four ZOMBIES (very curious!). There was a brief and dangerous fight. By chance, the zombies were guarding a substantial hoard or jewels.

At this point, I like to inject a twist or complication into the adventure, so having the Whitehack 3rd Ed. on hand, I rolled on the handy Modus table: "Shortage".  This lead to an interesting bit of GM-side decision making. Of course, shortage could be the simple twist that the adventurers run out of something (like arrows or rations), but that hardly alters the trajectory of the scenario. On the other hand, finding all those suspicious undead in the wrecked castle of the ogres suggested a darker possibility. Perhaps the ogres, once the terror of the region, were besieged and starved in their castle by the ancestors of the people of Osfo. First, the servants of the castle perished, or were sacrificed, to rise as undead servants. But later, the starving ogres themselves turned on each other in a horrible struggle, the strongest devouring the weakest...

So the final encounter was with a hideous ogre-GHOUL in the ruined keep. Curiously, the ghoul had no treasure (lost, perhaps, under the rubble) but I decided to roll for an item (Whitehack), a note, which from Ironsworn was about a "hidden weapon" — more than intriguing enough to launch a new adventure after a suitable rest.


  1. Excellent, new content! I haven't done as much solo gaming as I expected I might at the start of the pandemic, though I did pick up Mythic after you linked to a youtube channel using it. I'm still tinkering with Play the Word - now that my state has basically thrown out all restrictions, we are back to normal (in theory) and I hope to experiment with it in person again soon.

    Devall's "dictum" strikes me as the main takeaway I got from XD20 and the rest of the OSR/FKR games I've read - the entire point of the gamemaster is to handle things the writer of the game couldn't anticipate. You can't do that in a videogame - if the programmer didn't program it, you simply can't do it - but a GM can.

    As usual, this post is highly thought-provoking for me. Thanks!

  2. Very interesting. I hope you keep tinkering with solo play.