[based on an excerpt from the Motif Story Engine; additional text for this article]
“Solo play” (or “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.
People are increasingly looking for solo, one person RPGs. “Do they exist?” is a common question. (The answer is “Yes!” There are several options.) For people used to roleplaying games as a social activity, solo roleplaying can seem like a wild idea. Many others are simply drawn to the idea of playing RPGs alone with the freedom and convenience it brings.
What’s different from normal play?
Most roleplaying games (“RPGs”) have someone take on the role of story director or “game moderator” (GM). They are commonly responsible for answering player questions, describing the world, and portraying non-player characters. They also usually accept the burden of generating the world and NPCs populating it.
Traditionally, the GM will prepare an entire world, complete NPCs, and several storylines. This approach to game prep can make playing games alone seem daunting, even overwhelming. The full pre-planning can also eliminate uncertainty and take away the element of surprise. MSE and other guides to playing alone are a solution to this (perceived) problem.
The Motif Story Engine divides the moderator role between the player and an “oracle” system. The engine can be viewed as a “GM emulator” or “AI narrator”. The player decides the general story type, basic setting, and the character(s) they will play in the game. The process is supported by a story engine loop, going from obvious consequences to asking questions of the dice oracle.
What is the solo oracle?
The oracle [in the Motif Story Engine] is a set of three regular six-sided dice. It gives randomized answers to questions that players typically ask during play. It can even be used to ask about starting details. It provides guidelines and boundaries for gameplay, emulating a GM or narrator. Whatever you would normally ask a game moderator, you ask the oracle.
The dice are easy to read with simple, straightforward lists and charts. In many cases, the dice results take the place of more complex charts and results, while also providing richer results that are easier to fit into your story.
What else is different using a solo RPG engine?
The other big difference is that non-player characters and other details are not contained in a “black box” or hidden from players. For many gamers, this may take getting used to. However, the Motif Story Engine includes options to maintain mystery and suspense.
Despite the exposure of non-player character sheets and other “open box” elements, a large degree of tension and the excitement of the unknown can be retained. There are also “patches”, modular-addons, for twists & turns and other unexpected and exciting story elements.
Does it really work? Can I play a tabletop RPG alone?
Solo roleplaying has been growing rapidly over the last several years. There are multiple choices for playing RPGs alone, from solo engine systems to “GM emulators”. The use of “old school roleplaying” randomizer charts is also popular. If you have questions about experiencing your favorite RPGs alone or exploring solo RPGs, we highly recommend /r/Solo_Roleplaying over on Reddit. They are a friendly group and full of great suggestions and insights!