Skip to content

Solo TTRPG Philosophy 201

Last updated on 15/03/2024

ChatGPT describes the solo ttrpg thusly:

In a typical tabletop RPG, a group of players collaborates with a game master to create and navigate a story within a fictional world, making decisions and interacting with the narrative. Solo tabletop RPGs adapt this concept for individual play. The player takes on the role of both the player character(s) and the game master, guiding the story, making decisions, and resolving challenges. This type of gaming experience often involves a combination of rules, random generators, and creative storytelling to provide a dynamic and engaging experience.

There are roughly three types of solo ttrpg experiences:

  • Bespoke solo games, built from the ground up for one person
  • Traditional Group-focused TTRPGs played with an additional tool to simulate a game master
  • Group-First source books that include solo friendly rules

There are many reasons people play solo RPGs.

  • It’s a pleasant meditative experience
  • It’s a good way to learn a system you intend to run for a group
  • It provides hooks for a number of creative endeavors
    • People, Places, and Artifacts to Draw
    • Maps to sketch
    • Action and dialogue to write
      I do it for all of these, but predominantly as a writing exercise. I do tons of technical writing for work, but I miss doing fiction and poetry. Solo TTRPGs give me an outlet that scratches that itch. If you haven’t played them yet, I suggest you try. There are a number of great resources for getting started, both on youtube and reddit.

Personally, I’ve been playing them for a few years now, and consider myself an intermediate level player. Here are some things I try to keep in mind when setting up and running a solo TTRPG session.

YAGNI (You Ain’t Gonna Need It)

Much like software, many of the things you want to create for a solo TTRPG, you aren’t gonna need. That beautiful city map? The detailed dungeon layout? The 10,000 year history of the city? Huck it. Unless it brings you great joy to write. If it isn’t part of the fun and it isn’t immediate to the story, don’t do it. Lazy resolution is key.

DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself)

You picked obsidian for a reason here. [[]] is your friend. Link to a separate document, and refer to it from many places. You might put in a sentence or two in situ to remind yourself what’s after the jump, but nothing more than that. If a concept, person, place, etc appears more than once, link to it. Note though, twice. Don’t create it eagerly, lest you violate the first principle, YAGNI

It Isn’t A Traditional Table Top Setting

  1. You don’t have to ask permission, share the spotlight, or agree on direction
  2. You can revise things. If a scene sucks or didn’t go somewhere interesting, get rid of it
  3. We don’t have to follow ‘the party’ all the time
    1. Flash back to a character’s past
    2. Experience what’s going on with an antagonist or important faction in another part of the world
    3. pure slice of life scene to set tone, or inform the audience via “show don’t tell”
  4. You’ve DMed. You know the DM fudges rolls to avoid TPKs and boring nights. If an outcome sucks, force it. No one is watching
    1. Don’t do this constantly. Failure can be interesting, and part of what the game system buys you is a realistic framing of power between entities. You needn’t be a strict adherent, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
  5. You don’t need to play for 4 hours at a stretch. There is no calendar tetris. Here are some reasonable minimums
    1. Write a whole scene (in the mythic sense)
    2. Run a single combat through to completion
    3. Introduce and spec out a faction
    4. Roll up that NPC / PC that got introduced in a previous scene
    5. Capture additional advice you’ve gleaned from playing in this file.

It Isn’t a Novel or a Film Either

  1. You can include actual game elements
    1. Dice Rolls
    2. Stat Blocks
    3. Character Sheets
    4. Maps
  2. Not Every Scene Need Play The Same
    1. You don’t need to use the same level of detail to describe every scene
    2. Scenes will likely come in regimes or flavors
      1. Physical Conflict
      2. Social Conflict
      3. Campfire Scenes (Character Building / Friendship or Bond Making)
      4. Pure Exposition and World Building
  3. The point where a scene is resolved need not be the point where it is presented to the audience

General Writing Advice

Read Widely

Just like reading, you won’t do well here if you aren’t ‘well read’ in the same sense.

  1. Read other people’s actual plays.
  2. Watch solo actual play videos.
  3. Read articles on traditional writing styles
  4. Especially Dialog. Your dialog sucks.

Kill Your Darlings

If a scene, thread, or branch sucks, throw it out. You’re doing this in text with git. Use the tools. Make branches. Roll back commits. Unless it’s published, no one will ever know.

Come In Late, Get Out Early

Start a scene as close as possible to ‘the action’. End it as close to ‘the resolution’ as possible, while still conveying the necessary information and advancing the plot. Brevity is the soul of wit.

Be Mindful of Pacing

  1. Control the speed at which your story unfolds.
  2. Balance action scenes with moments of reflection and contemplation.
  3. Watch the mythic chaos factor. This is sort of a speedometer on how quickly your story is going in a certain sense.
  4. Think about Vonnegut’s plot lines / character lines. Are you making a pleasing curve?

Create well-developed characters

Readers connect with characters that feel real and have depth. Give them unique traits, motivations, and flaws.

Published inTTRPGs