Have you asked, “Can I a play tabletop RPG alone?” The answer is an emphatic YES! Solo roleplaying games and solo play tools were already rising in popularity in recent years. With the advent of COVID, along with other factors, interest in playing RPGs alone has skyrocketed. But it is still new to a lot of gamers and especially unusual for many newcomers.
Do you wonder how to play a tabletop RPG by yourself? You are not alone. People are left with a lot of questions. This article endeavours to explain what a solo toolkit is and how it is used to play existing RPGs alone. At the heart of it, a solo roleplaying toolkit provides a way to enjoy your favorite RPG without GM (or even other players).
Disclosure: Thought Police Interactive publishes the Motif Story Engine, a GM-lite and Solo Roleplaying Toolkit mentioned at the end of the article.
What is solo roleplaying?
“Solo roleplaying” is just what it sounds like. It allows people to play their favorite RPG or storygame alone without the need for someone else to play the moderator. To use the any given story engine or GM-emulator, you will need their rules, any required dice or cards, your imagination, and anything required by your roleplaying game of choice. You will also need a notebook, word processor document, or a similar option to keep track of the world details and the unfolding narrative.
What about a GM?
For a lot of folks who are used to traditional gaming, the idea of a GM-less RPG can be bewildering. The concept of playing pen and paper RPGs alone can sound like madness. The earliest solo RPG engines were GM-emulators and related solo adventure generators. The entire design intent was to replace or minimize the work of a GM with a tool that could provide direction and details like a game moderator.
A lot of modern pen and paper roleplaying games are also inherently designed as GM-lite or GM-less games. Some of these are designed with social and group mechanics that make them complicated choices for solo games. However, a number of them have tools built into their systems that are complementary with playing alone using a GM-emulator, solo oracle, or other solo toolkit.
OK, so what is a solo toolkit?
With solo toolkits like the Motif Story Engine, you ask questions of the system just like you would ask a regular game moderator. MSE provides yes/no/maybe and yes/no answers to questions, with additional dimensions like favorability to the protagonists. Other solo roleplaying engines handle questions in their own unique ways, but all of them serve to eliminate the need for a separate GM.
RPG toolkits for playing alone serve to help generate the world, answer questions, and provide story seeds and details. It is best to think of them as story collaborators or storytellers that you are asking questions about the unfolding tale and ongoing action.
“GM-emulators” are the original solo RPG toolkits. They are largely based on classic random GM charts. They also commonly feature step results based on probabilities. They also often rely on “mad lib” tools like story generators. Mythic and Ironsworn are particularly popular examples.
If you enjoy old fashioned game master manuals, random charts, and granular probabilities, GM-emulators are a great choice to explore for solo play. Try out some of the classics and see what feels right for you.
Story generators derive from writers’ and workshop tools. Using specialty dice and/or cards, they provide random elements to seed scenes and storytelling action. Sometimes these are referred to as “mad lib” style tools. For example, they may provide a location, a character type, and a scene action.
If you like writers’ games and/or prefer to have interesting seed words, story generators are a fantastic choice. They will fit with your natural inclinations and probably reinforce the sense of game experience.
Random generators can be (and are) used apart from GM-emulators. Arguably, that type of “GM assistant” tool is older than all other solo tools. Generators for everything from names to equipment to story twists are widely available on the internet. Some folks, especially those who have a lot of GM experience, also find joy in creating their own randomization charts.
Random generators can be used with other solo RPG tools to add detail and enrich your experience. If you feel yourself getting stuck on certain storytelling aspects or want to add more uncertainty to detail generation, randomizers are ideal.
Oracles use dice, sometimes standard and sometimes specialized. What sets them apart is they are typically used to answer yes/no questions and variations on them. They also tend to be less focused on classical RPG mechanics and more focused on providing a storytelling framework. They are sometimes referred to as story engines or solo engines.
Oracles are the simplest option to use, but often rely on your storytelling skill and/or intuition to function at their best. However, many solo players report that oracles are the most “organic” or natural feeling option once you get into the rhythm of asking questions. Through simplicity or elegance, they “get out of the way” and help guide the story rather than dictating it. Oracles are a solid option for experienced GMs, writers, and storytellers.
What’s different about the Motif Story Engine?
The Motif Story Engine is popularly considered to be a “next gen” solo toolkit design. It is system agnostic, allowing use with most popular roleplaying games. It is a modular toolkit. The modularity even goes to the core oracle, with the third die acting as a “flavor die” that provides a choice of multiple options. Using standard six sided dice, it is simple at the root but the multidimensional answers provide surprising depth and inspiration.
Another notable distinguishing feature of the Motif Story Engine is the use of a solo RPG Mysteries Patch. Investigations and mysteries are often a difficult hurdle for solo roleplayers. The MSE Mysteries Patch provides a story beat structure using consecutive phases and “clue points”. It also features oracle rolls for investigation trails, clue gathering, and mystery solving.