Tuesday Oct 03, 2023


Table of Contents

What is Solo RPG?

Pick any Tabletop RPG you like and play, on your own. It basically means playing D&D, Pathfinder, Cyberpunk, FATE, Savage Worlds by yourself. Even if it is an activity that is mostly done with other people, it is certainly not the only way to enjoy it. Like other activities, doing it on your own presents other avenues of enjoyment and different dimensions to explore about it. And not so much different from playing Skyrim or the Witcher singleplayer videogames.

On a stretch, playing SOLO can also mean playing without a GM, which extends to playing with friends without anyone being the GM. This is because SOLO rules generally replace or assist with an emulated GM. Interested? Continue reading!

Can you give me a glance of how it works?

We, as players, take the role of both the GM and the Character(s). We then proceed to:

  1. Come up with a cool idea of a game, RPG system and a plot hook (or use random tables for it)
  2. Create characters that you’d like to play in them
  3. With the help of a Solo System (explained below), and context, you define situations or scenes
  4. We ask oracles (that act as GM) for the unknown, “is there any secret door here?”
  5. Use the RPG you have chosen to solve things on behalf of the PCs
  6. Record and track the game as you prefer (notes, audio, video, etc.)
  7. The solo system will help you with further situations, responses, twists and surprises

We help ourselves with oracles (as cards, tables or dice) that take over GM’s final word. This is called GM Emulation. “Is this town abandoned?”, “Are there any survivors?”, “My PC succeeded a Survival roll, are there any tracks to follow?”: we can get either a Yes, or a No, or a Yes, and/but, or even a random event just because of asking. We make an interpretation from there.

Depending on the Solo System, you might have access to more complex questions you can ask, for example “How does the town look like?” or “What is going on in Neverwinter today?” or “What does the King need?”. Of course, ideally you only ask as much as your PCs know, but sometimes you make steps a bit ahead of them just to know what they are going through, but you can minimize this.

On top of that, things will go good or bad depending on the RPG system you are using, such as a combat resolution, lock picks, or persuading NPCs. This will also drive your story elsewhere. Random Tables in general can be a great source of content, to surprise yourself (town generation, weather tables, monsters, NPCs, plot hooks, and so on).

Solo RPG is not easy or straight forward, it takes practice, trial and error, so be patient!

You convinced me. But don’t want to read much.

Got only 5 minutes? This is one of my favorite videos:

For a slow but thorough solo game setup example, check this video.
For a D&D specific solution, with very nicely explained solo concepts, this video.

Can you just show me an example, of how it looks to play solo?

Solo Systems

A solo system is a set of rules to play RPGs solo, it usually includes oracles and random tables. A solo system can be either:

  • Generic: Play any RPG you want with it (my favorite kind)
  • Specific: Made for a specific System or Genre in mind
  • Solo RPG: Integrated TTRPG with Solo together in single product

Generic Solo systems? Check these out:

(a) Feeling brave with a specific RPG in mind? → Mythic Game Master Emulator
(b) Want SOLO and full-blown RPG? → Ironsworn or Ironsworn Starforged
(c) GM emulation using deck of cards? → GameMaster’s Apprentice
(d) Indie RPG with a mix of dice and cards? → Tricube Tales + Tricube Solo
(e) Something made specifically for D&D? → The Solo Adventurer’s Toolbox
(f) GM Emulation of my own creation? 🙂 → Plot Unfolding Machine
(g) Simple emulator with Android app? → One Page Solo Engine
(h) Another simple GM emulator? → MUNE V6

Terminology to understand Solo things

The core of a Solo RPG is the usage of questions as drivers of the story and game. For this reason, oracles, random tables and other mechanics are essential in this type of game.

  • Oracle: A mechanic with either dice or cards to answer questions, and drive inspiration from.
  • Random Tables: Pre-designed list of possible results from where we randomly pick. Two types:
    • Concrete Tables: Specific results, like a rumor, a location or an NPC. Usually setting specific.
    • Abstract Tables: They are vague descriptions for us to interpret, like “Vengeance” or “Love”.
  • Solo Game/RPG: A game specifically designed to be played as single player.
  • Solo System/Engine/Game Master Emulator: A framework of rules to play any RPG without a GM.

How is it different from story telling or writing?

The main difference is that you’re still playing a game. There are still rules that decide what you’re allowed to do and how. It also calls for dice rolls and, like in social roleplaying, you’re supposed to play character(s), embody them and live adventures as they would. Watch them fail and succeed and be surprised with them. Finally, writing usually goes back to change previous chapters for a better end result. Solo roleplaying is more about the journey through, and not so much about the end product.

Why play SOLO?

Same reason you would play a single player videogame. To immerse yourself in a world, to drive your characters to amazing stories, to play that amazing RPG you can’t find a group for. To challenge yourself, to learn something new, to explore settings and worlds. To improve your GMing!

  • Play whenever you want, whatever you want, however you want
  • No schedules or commitment agenda
  • Try that RPG you always wanted to test!
  • What would it feel like to live in the world of…
  • Can I write a novel with dice?
  • Such a challenging hobby! It takes 200% of my brain capacity
  • I always wanted to try that RPG system…
  • Improves your group GM skills!
  • Enhance creativity and improvisation skills
  • Create adventures and stories for playing them with a group later
  • Experiment different ways of playing or running a game
  • Homebrew and try out RPG mechanics

Of course, you’re not going to play for the social interaction or common memories, but playing solo is also going to allow you to achieve other things, like deeper and more complex stories, emotional characters, parallel stories, jump back and forth in time in your setting, or experiment the outcomes of your crazy ideas.

How can I play? (In 4 Steps!)

  1. Pick a Solo game or a SOLO System and an RPG
  2. Decide how you play and how you record the game
  3. Prepare the world and adventure hooks
  4. Jump right into the world

Alternatively, check this extensive 20min video on Solo Setup

1. Pick a Solo Game or System

Here, I will try to keep things compact, with a crude limit of three games per category.

a. SOLO RPGs by Design

Full RPG games that have all the concepts of an RPG, such as character creation, combat and gaining XP, but with Solo on their core design. These are great points to start for newcomers. They give the players all the tools necessary to create characters and embark on an adventure. Be rewarded and punished, be surprised and suffer plot twists. Check these out (not an exhaustive list!)

Finally, it is not uncommon for standard RPGs to include a chapter or an optional module with solo rules as a supplement. Games like Twilight 2000 or Forbidden Lands by Free League do this, sold separately.

b. SOLO Systems to play any RPG

These systems enable us to play any RPG of our choice, in any world of our choice, however we want. Some popular SOLO Systems: (not an exhaustive list!)

Out of scope – SOLO Games by Design

Solitaire games, journaling games or quasi-rpgs. They are not really about playing RPGs or Solo systems (biased opinion), in a sense that they are a rather singleplayer writing games, sometimes with dice or not, but they are not an RPG per the common understanding of the word. For the curious:

  • Thousand Year old Vampire
  • Alone Among the Stars
  • Gentleman Bandit
  • You Died

The case for playing with yourself | Reddit
5 best solo RPGs you can play by yourself | Dicebreaker

2. Decide how you play and how you record the game

We will explore this in more detail in other sections, but based on a poll on Reddit, these are the most common ways of how solo is played:

  • Writing the game and progress in “Novel” format, as if telling a story
    • Some separate the mechanics from the novel with different color
    • Others just write the story itself and convert the game into a novel
    • This method is significantly slow
    • Example: Mortzes and Ricksters or Unsolved Identities
  • Playing in your head but writing a Scene Summary or novel-like afterwards
    • Most of it happens in your head
    • Write down the scene proposals
    • Summarize the outcome of the scene or chapter
    • Highlight only important events, learnings and decisions
    • Example: The Secret of Tockley Manor or Dragon Mysteries
  • Playing entirely in your head, theater of the mind
    • Some write draft notes to not forget what happened
    • Others will make drawings
    • Others will write the events in different voice
    • This method is better for fast play preferences
    • Example: Sorry, theater of the mind cannot be recorded or shared 🙂
  • Recording yourself
  • World Building and Adventure Creation
    • Some use solo rules for creating world features for their group games
    • For inspiration and novel writing
    • For actual world building, anecdotes, character background stories
    • Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEBLqMmgToE

3. Prepare the world and adventure hooks

This is of course very subjective, and it will kind of depend what game you chose. If you chose for example Ironsworn, you should have everything you need, since the game already comes up with a guide for setting up an adventure and problems.

You can also play a pre-made adventure Solo, check more about that here: How to play premade adventures in solo

However, if you chose something open or of your own imagination, with an RPG of your choice, in a setting of your choice, then you will likely be more blank. This is what we call the Solo Setup. Collect the following resources to help yourself:

  • Grab inspiration: A movie you liked, a show, a comic, an idea, a book
  • Random Tables: Collect those that are relevant and compatible with your world
    • Make sure they are not so many
    • Think of important ones like Random Events, Plot Hooks, NPCs and Locations
    • Have them ready
    • Don’t take too many!
  • Think of the setting: What world problems are currently there? What problem needs solving?
  • Create Characters: Most solo players play with exactly one PC and in first person. I personally play with two or three and in third person mode, your choice!
    • Good characters with motivations will help you come up with the next step!
  • Strong plot hook or a very good starting scene
    • Political game? Prepare a political event in a throne room. Combat game? Prepare the last wave of attacking orcs.
    • Don’t be so hard on yourself, start simple!
  • Forgive yourself, at first you might feel you are doing everything wrong 🙂 You are not!

4. Jump right into the world

Narrate the first explosive scene that you prepared, stand on the shoes of your character(s), how are they being challenged? What are their goals? Where are they? What would they do next? Who is stopping them?

Most solo games will come up with mechanics to help you answer those questions! Check the section that follows for the components of a solo game that will get you going from here.

All I need is an Oracle

Mythic GME or Plot unfolding machine or One Page Solo Engine or MUNE V6 or GMA Deck or Tricube Solo

Can I really play ANY RPG?

This we can debate forever. Many will say yes. It is just up to your own skill and playstyle. But it is also true that some RPGs work better than others for playing solo.

  • RPGs that you know very well and don’t have to stop for reading the rules
  • Systems that are not really complex to play on the fly, because you have already a lot going on with driving the story, you may not want to spend 2 hours building a character sheet or NPC. Unless you want to. Playing with VTTs can help a lot with complex RPGs
  • RPGs with player side mechanics (with target numbers or difficulty class), instead of rolling opposed rolls systems
  • A good reference is whether the system provides random tables, like events and enemies
  • RPGs that don’t heavily rely on player collaboration, collaborative narrative, social mechanics

Can you recommend me a RPG for Solo?

Either RPGs you know very well, or minimal RPG systems, which are good is because the whole Solo thing is going to keep you busy enough, check these out:

“Big” RPG Systems that are mentioned to work well for Solo:

  • Savage Worlds: Because difficulty reference is 4 and character creation is fast
  • Genesys: Because the difficulty is embedded on player’s roll and dice are narrative
  • FATE: Because character creation is fast and easy, and very narrative oriented
  • Stars/Worlds without Number: Because it comes with many random tables
  • PbtA Games: Dungeon Worlds, Apocalypse World, etc
  • Pathfinder and D&D: Challenge accepted!
  • OSR Systems

Reddit Post about this topic

Read this section for more information and opinions: SOLO RPG Advice

So, I am a Player and a GM? This is a fraud!

Well. Even if you draw from random tables or roll on an abstract table or a tarot card, yes, you still have to make that interpretation and make use of imagination and context to come up with their meaning.

The mindset between GM and Player has a range, and it is up to certain preference how much you jump from one hat to the other. Some players will want to be exclusively players, so they will rely on more concrete random tables and mechanics that tell them exactly what happens next.

Other kind of Solo players, are fine with using abstract oracles that give something like “Avoid Harm” and making out something of it based on their current context. The interpretation is theirs, but they used an inspirational source for it.

Asking for questions lets you roll out ideas as fast as you can, but the answer will be out of your hands, Is the evil boss an elf?”, “Do they want to siege the castle tonight?”, etc. In the end, you choose what situations your PCs go through, but you delegate some decisions to an external force that takes over the final say. And it can actually surprise you.

The only true alternative to this, will be when AI research advances so much that we can have artificial intelligence powered GMs (it is already on it’s way!).

Where can I meet fellow SOLO players?

Join the Mythic Game Master Emulator Discord or Lone Wolf Roleplaying Discord or check Reddit

Golden Rule of SOLO

There is no right or wrong way of playing! There can be opinions, and what works well for some. It is an extremely subjective hobby. The only question to make yourself is whether you are having fun or not! And if not, whether you are looking for ways to figure it out, or giving up.

SOLO authors that can explain it better (Videos)

Reminder: These are also subjectively selected, and the videos themselves are opinionated on ways of playing solo! Let me know if there is any “must-add” video for this introductory section.

DISCLAIMER: The show above is meant to be a show, edited, cut, summarized and voice acted. Regular gameplay will be different. Adjust expectations!

Solo or Group, which one is better?

Does it matter? both! why are we even making this question? 🙂

Is it controversial?

Well, it is an unfair prejudgment. It happens. People call it sad or lame or lonely. They also think by default it is boring. But is it? It is no different from playing Skyrim or the Witcher in Single Player mode 🙂 Are they better than multiplayer games?
Hold on! Do we need any reason at all?

If I never played any Tabletop RPG before, can I play SOLO?

Absolutely! But…

It may be challenging. It will for sure be easier if you have some group experience beforehand. Because you will be capable of understanding the dynamics and the differences between the two methods. But I believe SOLO RPGs will become a game style on its own, with different concepts behind it, as if they were two different sports altogether.

Don’t take it as relevant experience for playing with groups though. It is not going to “prepare” you for group games, except for knowing better the rules or knowing a setting. It might also improve your creativity, for sure. But it is a whole different experience. I would consider them different kind of games.

When playing alone, the pace is different, and there are no other people challenging, interrupting or adding to your own ideas, and playing with a GM guiding the game is a huge difference from driving it yourself, as you think solely from the perspective of your character.

Is playing SOLO for me?

You will have to figure that on your own 🙂 Just two cents:

  • If you are having fun, continue
  • Try different ways (on your head, writing, recording, drawing, on the PC, etc)
  • If you are not, think whether it is a problem with the method – Don’t give up so fast
  • Accept it if it doesn’t work, it’s alright, you don’t have to! (It’s cool though)

Can I play SOLO with friends?

Absolutely! Solo is not the right word for it. But well, it could be COOP, GMLess, GM-Free, or any other fancy name. All the topics mentioned in this guide can be applied to play exactly the same way, but with friends, and without any GM. Of course, some social rules can be different.

Learn more here

How do I know if I am playing it right?

Are you having fun?

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