How I play solo RPGs – a guide

Getting started with playing a solo RPG can be tricky. Here, I give you a rundown of how I play, to hopefully inspire others to give it a try....
d100 solo rpg dice drawing

Tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs) are, at their hearts, social games.

They are meant to be played with a group of people sitting around the table, interacting and creating a shared story. 

But – as anyone who has ever tried to schedule a regular in person TTRPG has experienced – getting a group of people together to play can be difficult.

Or – you know – a global pandemic might hit, sending the world in to successive lockdowns and making getting together with your friends impossible. Crazy and improbable, I know! But it might happen!

There are also people who perhaps do not always revel in the company of others; introverts (like myself), the socially anxious, etc.

And for those who still want to be able to indulge in the hobby, not being able to gather a group together can feel like a disheartening setback.

But thanks to a lot of smart people working on lots of useful tools, it is entirely possible to play your favourite TTRPG solo, and to have it be just as surprising and fun as if one was playing with a group and GM.

Here’s how I have made it work for me.

Now, I’m not saying this is the definitive way to play TTRPGs Solo. In fact there are many great guides across the web that will give their own view on how they best like to solo an RPG.

But this is mine, and I hope that it can inspire others to give it a try.

Ask the GM?

The first thing one learns when playing a TTRPG solo is that one has to rely heavily “Oracles” – that is to say, a way of generating answers to questions and other aspects of the story.

In the same way that you would ask your GM for details at a regular game, you would instead ask your oracles.

Oracles can come in many forms; tables you can roll on, playing cards, books, runes etc.

One of the main ones you will need is something that can answer a simple “yes-or-no” question.

There are many variations of yes/no oracles to be found online. My children, when playing basic storytelling games, use “The Madey Upy Name Emulator” – MUNE – as it’s core D6 mechanic is simple for them to remember. 

I however, use the awesome  Mythic Game Master Emulator as my Yes/No Oracle, and as my main system for solo play.

Along with the Mythic GME, I add other tools and tables to help flesh out details within my game.

With Mythic, the most basic roll you make is a ‘Fate check’ – that is to say you ask a yes/no question and decide how likely it is that the answer to that question will be yes.

For example: My character is walking through a busy market in a bustling town. Does she get stopped by someone selling their wares?

The situation and the context of this question makes makes me think that the answer here is ‘Very Likely’ to be yes.

I ask my yes/no question: “Does she get stopped my someone selling their wares?”, I roll a d100 and check the result against the Fate Check table on page 9 of Mythic GME.

I rolled a 62, which the Fate Chart on page 9 of mythic – at a chaos factor of 5 (see below) – revels the answer to be yes, someone does stop her to hawk some goods.

And from there I can use other tools, the game mechanics of the system I am using (DnD 5e), and my imagination to play the scene out.

The answers generated by the fate check system can be a simple yes or no, but a very high or very low roll could result in an ‘Exceptional’ yes or no.

An exceptional, or emphatic answer here can modify the story and send you down new plotlines or threads, or can be used as “Yes/No, and…” inspiration that allows you to flesh out more details of the answer.

Had I rolled an exceptional YES on the previous question  – “Does she get stopped my someone selling their wares?” – then perhaps that someone was not just stopping a random market-goer. No, they knew my character and targeted her specifically. Perhaps the selling of wares is just a cover, because they are being followed and my character is in great danger…

Had I rolled an exceptional NO, then perhaps people are visibly and physically avoiding her, they wont look her in the eye, merchants close their shops when they see her approach. Something strange is going on…

From here you can keep asking questions and rolling for answers and see where the story takes you.

Let chaos reign

As part of asking the GM, or making a fate check, Mythic has a system that increases the chances of an answer to a question being yes.

This is the ‘Chaos Rank’ – the number that determines how chaotic the situation in the narrative is at the time of asking fate question.

The chaos rank can be anywhere between 1 and 9, with most games starting at chaos rank 5.

5 is in the middle of the 1 – 9 chaos scale and so is the baseline of chaos, one might say – the sweet spot where the randomness of the oracle is fairly balanced.

At any time, you can increase or decrease the chaos rank based on what is happening in the scene. 

If things are completely calm, with nothing at all happening, you may be at a 1 on the chaos rank (Not chaotic at all! Almost boring in fact. You’re totally in control – in fact you’re relaxing on a deserted beach sipping a margarita).

But if your in an abandoned jungle temple, having just stolen the golden idol from a pedestal in the main chamber, and have therefore set off a series of booby traps including a massive stone ball that is hurtling towards you to crush you, as you flee for your life – well, perhaps things just hit a 9 on the old chaos rank, baby.

When you roll for your yes/no answer and check the Fate Chart in Mythic GME, you consult the box that is at the intersection of the likelihood you have chosen for your question, and the chaos rank to determine the outcome.

The higher the chaos rank of your scene, the higher the chance that the answer to the question will be yes – or even an exceptional yes!

The chaos rank can also lead to random events in the form of altered or interrupted scenes throughout the narrative.

Random events and meanings

In a regular TTRPG game, your GM can at any stage throw some randomness into the game to spice things up a little bit.

Is your party taking forever to shop in the town your visiting, and your DM is bored and wants to shuffle things along.

“Oh no,” says bored DM, “a thief has stolen your coin purse. There! you can see them slipping away through the crowd, WHAT DO YOU DO?!?”

But it’s not so easy to do the same when playing solo (or it is – hell, it’s your game, do what you want!)

In Mythic generated solo play, this type of random event becomes a possibility when rolling doubles on a fate check.

This means that, if you roll a 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, or 99, and that number is equal to or less than the chaos factor (eg, 55 = CF5), you’ll trigger a random event. 

When this happens, you first resolve the question you asked, and then roll on the “Event Focus Chart” and the to see what this event is about.

Perhaps it is a negative thing that happens to a player character (PC negative) or a Remote Event (something that happens away from the main action, but that has bearing on the adventure). The table will let you know!

Once you have this focus, you might – from the context of the current events in the adventure –  instantly know what it means: “PC Negative! Oh no, a thief in this marketplace has stolen my characters coin purse! They are slipping away through the crowd. WHAT DO I DO?!?”

But if you cant think of what that might pertain to, then you can use the very useful: “The Event Meaning – Action and Subject – tables”.

Letting your own word associations and contexts guide you

The action and subject meaning tables help you flesh out the details within your game, both in figuring out the meanings of random events and within other aspects of the narrative.

If I had rolled a PC negative as my random event focus, but couldn’t immediately associate a meaning to it, then I might roll once on each of the tables to generate 2 words to guide my imagination.

Perhaps I roll an action of 13. “Decrease” and a subject of 74. “Liberty” – from there I would, through simple word association, imagine what this means to me in the context of it being a negative thing for the player character.

And therein lies an important tip! These meanings are not set in stone! You may roll the same combination of action and meaning several times during a campaign, but because of the context of the situation, have entirely different outcomes, because the context of the situation changes how those words spark your creativity at that particular moment of play.

Similarly, if you are using the Mythic as a tool for GM-less play with friends (yes, another great use of the tool), two people at the table might have two different interpretations of the meanings – because the results of the association of those two words together, in that particular situation, are personal to each of them.

That is to say, my “Decrease + Liberty” may be completely different from your “Decrease + Liberty”.

In co-operative GM-less solo play, it would be a matter of discussing which interpretation makes the most sense in the story, or is the most fun.

In solo play, it’s about going with your gut first instinct and running with it!

Personally, I would interpret “Decrease + Liberty” as meaning that someone tries to capture my character. They “decrease MY liberty”!  Perhaps someone throws a net over me!

And instantly, that would become a new reality in the narrative to be resolved and explored using the game mechanics.

Is my character strong enough to break free from the net?

Well, if playing one was playing DnD, it would be time for a classic skill check… 

Skill checks

Making skill checks as a solo player in DnD, and some other d20 systems, was one of the hardest parts I had to get my head around.

The most referenced method of doing this is the oft repeated, “Just use the “Typical Difficulty Classes (DC)” in the DnD Players Handbook (p.174) and choose the one that would be most logical in this situation.”

But my issue with this is that one wants ones character to succeed of course, so there is the temptation – be it conscious or subconscious – to set the DC low on whatever it is your PC is trying to do. This makes for a skewed game, if you ask me.

If one is capable of a complete emotional detachment the character/s, then it’s of course completely valid to perform skill checks this way.

But I get invested in these imaginary people! So, naturally I want them to succeed, but I love a little chaos in my game, and dont want my wants for my character to mute what might happen. I like to be able to feel that the world outside of my characters actions is out of my control.

So, when performing skill checks in DnD (or other systems where the difficulty of such checks is variable),  I use a slightly modified version of  the ‘Skill check result / Likelihood modifier converter table‘ on page 14 of The Solo Adventurers Toolbox Part 2, by Paul Bimler.

The modifications I have made to this table are simply to make it fit a little better with the range of likelihood modifiers in Mythic GME (2nd edition), like so:

D20 skill check roll result (incl. modifiers) Likelihood
1 and under (or Natural 1) Impossible
2-3 Nearly impossible
4-6 Very unlikely
7-12 Unlikely
13-14 50/50
15-16 Likely
17-18 Very likely
19-20 Nearly certain
20 + (or Natural 20) Certain

Here, one rolls a skill check WITHOUT first knowing what the DC of the action is.

It is instead your roll that modifies the likelihood of the characters success.

Once you have made your skill check, you then consult the table to see what likelihood and subsequent modifier that roll assigns to the action, and perform a basic Yes/No fate check using the new likelihood modifier: “Is the action successful?”

So, in DnD, if my character is trying to jump over a wall, I would roll a dexterity check and, including any modifiers I might have, I get 18. Checking the above table, tells me a that the oracle likelihood is ‘Very Likely’. I then roll on the mythic fate chart and get a “yes” – she succeeds.

If the fate check indicated a failure, even on a high result on a skill check, then one could assume there is something special about the wall that makes it hard to jump over.

Is it too high? Is it enchanted? Is it covered in pig fat?

Who knows!

But the uncertainty of it adds to the element of surprise in the narrative which – at least for me – adds a level of unexpectedness to solo play, that one would usually only get when playing with a regular GM. 

This skill check process for solo play may be completely irrelevant in some systems of course, so is not necessarily useful for every solo game.

For example, in the amazingly flexible Savage Worlds system, one only needs to roll over 4 for a success in any skill check – which does away with a lot of extra dice rolling and makes for a faster paced game.

Tools for Solo RPG’s

Here is a quick list of tools I find super handy to have around for my solo RPG sessions.

With a lot of the printed materials, I have selected specific tables I use regularly and have printed them out and placed them in a small, a5 ring-binder that I call my ‘Solo Binder’.

This makes it easy for me to jump into a session without having to pull out every single book or PDF, every time I want to play.

With the online or digital tools, I use most of them on my phone, and have a folder of apps that I access when playing with links to the web tools as well.

Using extra tools in Solo play is completely up to the individual, and when you use them is just as personal. It’s about making your game flow in the way that works best for you, and makes it fun for you.

This isn’t a definitive list and I would wager that other more seasoned solo players have their own, better lists of tools they would share instead, but these are what work for me, an I will update it as my toolbox expands!

The Mythic Game Master Emulator

This is the core of all my solo play, and honestly the only thing you need (outside of your system rule book/s) for basic solo play.

I have the fate chart, random event focus tables and Action and Meaning tables on my GM screen at all times – even when I am GMing for others – because it’s so useful. This year, on the 20th anniversary of it’s release, and updated second edition has dropped, making now the best time to pick this up for anybody who loves the TTRPG hobby!

UNE, The universal NPC Emulator

Create NPC’s and interactions with NPC’s on the fly. Here is Trevor Duvall of Me, Myself and Die explaining it’s use: https://youtu.be/3t9uGEaPCYk

The GameMaster’s Apprentice: Fantasy Deck

There are other versions of this deck, but this one has been useful for my whole family (even when playing in non-fantasy settings). It’s great for when you are a bit tired of rolling on tables for inspiration – you can just flip a card instead. Each double sided card has an amazing amount of prompts (like seriously, how did they fit so much on there!), including sensory prompts, items, names, words for inspiration, and even it’s own simplified Yes/No oracle and dice roll results.

The Book of Random Tables series

There are 5 of these books as of writing this, and each one is a treasure trove of tables covering everything from names, items, environments, social interactions, encounters and combat. Honestly, sometimes I just browse through these for fun.

The Tome of Adventure Design

Want to know what the bad guys motivations are, or generate a dungeon on the fly, or flesh out a magic item? This is a bible for not only solo play, but for planning regular RPG campaigns for your gaming group. And it’s another one that I like to read just for fun.

Donjon

A massive collection of online tools and generators for all sorts of roleplaying genre’s. I have this bookmarked on my phone for ease of access.

Auto Roll Tables

Another online tool that is bookmarked on my phone for it’s vast quantity of random generators. 

Perilous Wilds

This is great for the discovery of new places and encounters. Lots of juicy tables and generators!

NPC Conversations

For when I just want to generate a conversation between NPCs or my character and NPCs quickly – an alternative to some of the tables in UNE.

 

 

 

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