As requested, a solo primer!

I have so much to write about that I don’t know what to tackle first. There is lots of fun stuff I want to cover including some ideas I have stolen on character creation or should that be personality creation. I also now have the Dark Space book, this harks back to a discussion from last year on Rolemaster/Cthulhu.

In my Long Awaited Game post, Gabe Dybing asked about how I solo play. I did promise to elaborate on this and so here it is.

There will be a lot of asking you to imagine stuff as I go through this. You have to sort of see it as a thought experiment more than anything else. Solo play, I found, is harder than it looks when you first try it but with practice becomes much more fluid and easier to get into.

What solo play is NOT is test driving combats with you playing both sides. It also it does not really require you to randomly roll for rooms and corridors. There were rules for that in the back of the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. That is more Random Play as opposed to Solo Play.

I am not saying there won’t be combats but they will happen when the story leads up to that sort of encounter. You are both GM and Player and if you want to fight your way though hordes of barbarians then that will almost certainly happen.

So we are going to make two kinds of rolls during this. Some will be skill rolls using the skills on your character sheet and the rules in the book. When I Solo Play I tend towards much lighter rule sets than a full on, every companion, every skill and 37 house rules version of RM. I know this is the Rolemaster Blog but I guess most GMs have at least one shelf of games they have played once or never played. Solo Play lets you get those games out and dust them off, even if your players are die hard Tolkien worshippers you can still strap on some Kavlar and lock and load* your M16 and go kill something.

The other kind of roll are Solo Engine rolls. Solo Engine rolls act like the Magic 8 Ball in that it gives answers that you need to interpret. The most common question is the Yes/No question. Other open-ended questions tend to give more ‘cryptic’ answers that you then need to think of a logical interpretation for.

Before we start open this link in a new window or tab. You can completely ignore the Fudge Dice Roller in the top right corner, we don’t need that.

The other thing you will need is somewhere to keep notes. If I am at a computer I tend to use a bullet list. This serves a couple of purposes. Firstly, if you have made a choice and then double back to the same location it helps you keep your facts straight. Secondly, when picking up a game for a second or subsequent session it serves as a quick synopsis to bring you back up to speed.

So pick a favourite character of yours and imagine that they were locked in a cell in the dungeon of a keep. (Who, what, where and when are completely up to you.) Someone has arranged for your escape and you know that on the roof of the north tower a Griffin is waiting to carry you to freedom. You just need to get from dungeon to roof. So that is our opening scene if you will.

You need to imagine the character, the setting, the lighting, sounds and so on. What, if any, questions would you ask your GM if this was a traditional game? Are there any other prisoners? Are there any obvious steps up and out of the dungeon? Are there any guards?

So lets test those questions. How likely are is it that there are prisoners in a dungeon? If you have absolutely no intention of setting them free then you can just hand wave this and decide for yourself. If you actually want to know then you can ask the solo engine. I think it is likely so I click the ‘likely’ link under the Oracle (Yes/No Question) section.

I got a ‘No’ answer, but you probably got a different answer. If you got a ‘No but…’ there is no prisoner but there is something else relating to that. My first gut instinct said that there was a cell that was obviously in use but the door open and the prisoner was not there. Maybe they were being questioned? Your imagination could come up with some other explanation. If you got a ‘no’ like me then there simply were no prisoners. A ‘yes’ says there are prisoners, A ‘Yes and…” means that yes there are prisoners and also something else equally important, like someone you know? If you got that ‘Yes and…’ result your adventure could already have forked in a new and interesting path. Maybe you now have an NPC. An alternative Yes and… result could be that there are other prisoners and one of them stupidly tries to raise the alarm because they see you escaping. Again, that takes the story in a different direction.

You now know if there are prisoners or not. That is the reality but does your character need to make a perception roll to know if they are there? Is it dark in this dungeon? In my version I see it as flag stone floors, regular wall mounted lanterns, solid wooden doors with barred windows in each door into a cell. So I do not need a perception roll, there are no prisoners and going by sight. If your dungeon is different then you may make a perception roll. This can lead to there being prisoners there but you cannot see or hear them.

I would now make a note:

  • Are there prisoners? No.

So I am alone in this dungeon. The next most important questions are are there any guards and can I see or hear them. I think that the chances are likely and I will make a perception roll.

  • Are there guards? Yes.
  • Perception: 50 + 23 skill = fail

OK, so right now I think I am alone down here. I think my character knows the way out as he was awake when he was brought down here. I have no stalk & hide skill so just moving as quietly as I can I head towards the centre of the cell block. I know there was a guard post there.

  • Stalking skill 56 -18 skill = fail
  • Guard perception: 89 + 18 skill = 107 success.
  • A guard calls out “Halt! Who goes there?”

I really don’t want to get into a fight. Looking around I have two immediate questions, is there an empty cell I can duck into and is it unlocked?

  • Is there a cell I can hide in? No.

Damn, this must be a longer corridor.

  • Are the guards coming? “No, but…” I hear the alarm gong being struck (no need for a perception roll for that one).

OK so things are not going so well, the guards seem to know something is wrong and soon this place is going to be crawling with guards. I am guessing there are going to search cell to cell so hiding is not going to be  a long term solution. Scrabbling around I look for any small stones or loose bits of mortar and pick them up. Backing off I try cell doors until I find an unlocked one. If needs be I will retreat all the way back to my own cell.

  • Are there unlocked cells? Yes.

So I am lucky and I find a cell. I am going to try and fashion a makeshift sling as a weapon from the basic bedding in the cell.

  • Crafting Roll 93 + 38 skill = 131 success. This is a pretty rudimentary sling -10OB due to poor quality.

OK, so I am at least armed to some extent. I listen out for the approach of any guards.

  • Perception roll 47 + 23 +10 difficulty = 80.

I actually give myself a +10 here as I know I am completely alone here so any other noise is either a rat or guards and I don’t think the guards are going to be particularly stealthy. Total 80/Partial Success. I can hear the guards moving about but cannot guess the direction or distance.

* * *

So if you had followed that same introduction there are all sorts of places where your story could have diverged from mine. You may have an NPC with you, you could have made your perception rolls, the guards could have failed theirs. There may not have been any guards. That is an interesting point. If there are no guards, why? Maybe the person who engineered your escape also cleared the guards away. So who is this person? That sounds like a start of a plot right there. I took the idea of the Griffin from the Harpers from the Forgotten Realms, a semi secret organisation that are known to use Griffons as mounts. So that is another avenue of adventure.

Quite often Solo play produces a lot of loose ends that could easily lead to new adventures. “Does the tavern owner look pleased to see us? No. Does he look scared? Yes” Those two questions could spawn an entire adventure.

Many solo engines use a great many tables and die rolls. I like the automated ones like the page I linked to above. They make questions really fast to work through.

I only used the Oracle here. The complex question results are somewhat stranger. Imagine you reached the point where you can over hear what the guards are talking about. So we click the “Tell me now” link and it comes up with some thing like “seeking + social” So guard one is asking if his colleagues sister is still stepping out with that apprentice from the bakers? Maybe the result was “opposing + magical”. The guard is moaning about how he hates magicians, as far as he is concerned they should all be burned at the stake. As soon as you have that simple hint you can start to hang the start of a personality on the guards in the dungeon.

My log of my adventure so far looks like this.

  • Are there prisoners? No.
  • Are there guards? Yes.
  • Can I hear the guards? Perception: 50 + 23 skill = fail
  • Stalking skill 56 -18 skill = fail
  • Guard perception: 89 + 18 skill = 107 success.
  • A guard calls out “Halt! Who goes there?”
  • Is there a cell I can hide in? No.
  • Are the guards coming? “No, but…” I hear the alarm gong being struck (no need for a perception roll for that one).
  • Are there unlocked cells? Yes.
  • Can I make a sling? Crafting Roll 93 + 38 skill = 131 success. This is a pretty rudimentary sling -10OB due to poor quality.
  • Can I hear the guards coming? Perception roll 47 + 23 +10 difficulty = 80.

So that is the way I solo play. If you want to ask any more questions then post them below in the comments.

*I actually have no idea what lock and load actually means.

8 Replies to “As requested, a solo primer!”

  1. An early U.S. assault rifle required the bolt to be locked open and bullets to be loaded in that way, hence lock and load. The term has since migrated into common usage, even though it’s totally inappropriate, including for other rifles.

    Boy, do I pick up some random stuff.

    1. The common usage bit I fully get, exactly as I used it above. I quite like to know the origins of these clichés. Some of them are quite interesting.

  2. Thanks for this highly detailed breakdown, Peter. I see now that I had been doing “Random” play rather than Solo. You’ve inspired me to give more of this a go.

    Did you design your own Oracle? Is there a way to see all the possible results for customization? Of course, I have Mythic GM Emulator, too. I can pull that back out and see what it offers.

    1. No I didn’t design the oracle. That is based upon the work by Karl Hendricks

      If you take a look at that you will see that it also have a random dungeon creator or sorts.

      The problem, from my perspective, with Mythic is that resolving anything takes too long and I lose the momentum. The rules drag me out of my imagination and back down into the world of books and tables. There are online mythic generators but then I am tied to having a data connection.

      Even the one page system above actually requires two d6 rolls and for the complex question a pack of cards. I cannot carry all 12 possibles results and the meaning of the suits in my head so then I need the reference sheet as well.

      The simplest solo engine I have ever seen is Tiny Solitary Soldiers. Although it is a lighter set of rules than Hendrick’s one page system, One Page has a greater level of sophistication and handles more scenarios. For me the final piece of the jigsaw was to hide the workings under the hood so I never make more than one click of the mouse. One Page does not include the concept of plot twists but I have found that the stories are just as varied and surprising without built in plot twists as with.

      The first time you solo play you will probably find it is really slow. I have seen that reported many times but as you get into the mindset you get faster and faster.

    2. I have had another thought. If you want to build your own Oracle or solo engine it really helps if you make it look and feel like the core game system that you are using it alongside.

      There is no need to do this but it feels better. By that I mean if you are solo playing Rolemaster then an open ended up for Yes and.. and OE down for No but… makes sense. Having break points at 76+ and 101+ make sense and then using the native +20 for Routine to -70 for Absurd could become +20 for very likely to -70 for Almost definitely not.

      There are two ‘advantages’ firstly you will instinctively know without looking at any table that a result of 77 is on that Partial Success level, a “Yes, but…” type result and that 101+ would be a definite yes result. The other advantage is that it will feel even more like you are playing Rolemaster. The whole look and feel will be very much like RM.

  3. Peter, thank for this post. It was really fun to read and I found myself getting caught up in the drama and suspense and I wasn’t even the one trapped in the dungeon. This certainly makes me want to give a deeper look and definitely to give it a go.

    In one of your responses, you talk of giving the oracle more of an RM feel. What PC type were you using in your example? D&D type, RM type, White Wolf type? You needed 2d6 and a deck of cards too. That seems like an interesting mix.

    1. I prefer using the web page version and dispensing with the dice altogether but you can get away with 1d6 and just roll the die a second time.

      My character in this was a RM character but using my stripped down no profession, levelless rules.

      If you are curious I did escape. I was extinguishing lanterns both by hand and using my sling and stones to break them at a distance. Eventually I came face to face with a guard and the NPC reaction roll gave me a friendly guard who it turned out was in on the plan to get me out.

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