While gamers have a lot of superpowers compared to the Muggles around us (“you’re bored? just make a new character!”) we still have our mental health to consider and having the outlet of roleplaying games is a big part of that. I’ve read a lot about how to organize games online (the best article I’ve seen is this one by Mike Shea) but today I want to talk a little about gaming by yourself.
Why I Do Solo Gaming
At one point on Board Game Geek, I remember seeing a discussion board about games that could be played solo or modified for solo games. One of the responses was, effectively, “what’s the point of playing alone?” After that was a second comment saying something like, “back off, maybe he can’t find a group.” In other words, solo gaming is seen as an option by some for how to play board games or RPGs when you can’t find enough people for “real” gaming. This is likely the case for some, but solo gaming doesn’t have to be a fallback.
There are a lot of reasons to seek it out and I have made solo gaming a regular part of my gaming experience for years. First there’s the gaming experiences of making characters, generating plots, and reading new games, all definitely gaming time and things that many prefer to do alone. Just focusing on telling stories and roll dice to find out how the plot advances, though, here are some reasons that I personally love solo gaming.
- I can play without scheduling. Even in the “real world” of pandemic-free life, I often do solo gaming in between sessions with my regular group. I don’t have to wrangle other people’s schedules (even coordinating with one other person can be a pain) and finding fifteen minutes to play out a small scene is worth it for a solo gamer when for a group it would seem like too short a time to be worth it. Often at work I will be plugging away at a spreadsheet or slew of emails and feel my brain shutting down. A quick dip into a solo campaign reinvigorates my brain and gets me back on track.
- I can try out niche games and concepts. I love trying new games, new mechanics, and weird characters and that’s not everyone’s jam. My regular gaming group has tried a lot of different genres and game systems with me but my appetite for new games is much bigger than any one group can handle. Online games via Discord and forums have supplemented that but once in a while I just want to try something new without having to sell it to others. A solo game lets me try out a system and setting easily, and I can even roll up a handful of characters to try all the different facets myself.
- My head canon becomes a cinematic universe. Chances are good that some people here love streamed shows like Critical Role or Clear Skies and wanted a wide and engaging world for your RPGs. Maybe you like spin-offs or you dream of campaigns that explore every corner of an amazing world. That’s a lot of campaign time and sometimes players won’t want to do things like visit the Fish Festival of the Southern Isles… or whatever. Even if you aren’t the GM, you might get the green light to create canon additions to your game world through solo play, especially since you likely have transcripts of the whole thing!
Solo Gaming Options
DrivethruRPG right now has a sale on Solo and Duo games and there’s a lot there. Scroll through and I guarantee there’s something that will catch your eye. Since there’s so much there and you might be a little disoriented at first, my recommendation starts with some items that every solo gamer needs: the Universal NPC Emulator (U.N.E.) and the Conjectural Roleplaying GM Emulator (C.R.G.E.). I can’t say for sure that every solo game product out there is ultimately a rehashing of these two products but every one that I’ve tried out seems to have their DNA at the core. The C.R.G.E. is a tool for asking questions that normally you’d pitch to a Gamemaster (“Does anyone seem suspicious?” or “Are there any horses that look faster than others?”) and getting answers that you didn’t expect. The U.N.E. is the same, but for NPCs that aren’t just what you would write into the scene.
Some game-specific options that I’d recommend are Solo Scion Adventures and the Solo Engine for 7th Sea both of which I’ve used a lot and love. There’s also A Dog’s Guide to Solo Roleplaying (for Pugmire) and Alone in the Dark (for Blades in the Dark) which I got earlier this month and enjoyed, so I’m looking forward to putting them into use. Two excellent collaborative-turned-solo options are Microscope and The Quiet Year, both of which take a high-up view of making a setting. The Quiet Year recently got a great review video on Shut Up and Sit Down if you want more detail there. Lastly (because I don’t want this to be too long), Icarus is a game that’s sort of like Microscope crossed with the U.N.E. and even though there’s a lot more prep work up front, I recommend it for those who like tragic tales.
Tools for Solo Gaming On Your Computer
Before we get into the how of solo play digitally, let’s talk about idea generators. To get started quickly, you can create a detailed fantasy setting in an instant with the Realm Generator. A great jumpstart for plots (in solo play or generally) is this online Tarot reader that gives you detailed meanings of cards in a variety of spreads. Lastly, when you need a map and don’t just want to rely on the first thing you think of (although Theater of the Mind is great) you can find various random map generators online like this one.
A tool that I’ve used sometimes is RPG Solo which is really great once you get through the instructions. Honestly, though, you can do a lot with just a Google Doc (or a file on your computer) that you type into. Use comments to note game mechanics and just write it like a (slightly rambling) short story or a forum play-by-post. It’s entirely flexible and is really just an editable notepad that you can open and close as you need.