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Feedback on an idea...

Started by rpghost, November 11, 2001, 07:42:00 PM

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You know, I've had the idea for a while of working on a solo-adventure
game system. Something that you could play by yourself (without a GM).
I know there is some desire for this though some people might not want
to admit it :smile:

Lately I've seen several posts on other forums mentioning this style
of gaming. Some mention the desire for a CCG and some want an
adventure with just 1 player and 1 GM, and some want just to play
themselves like the old D&D choose your own path books. I think TSR
had actually made some solo-modules that you used one of those red
films to show the contents of each room.

With a good character/monster artist, a good dungeon floorplan
artist, a writer and a designer, a 4 person team could produce a
rather high quality game.

I would envision something along the lines of a set of playing cards
and a set of dungeon floor plans and you draw off each stack to play.
Toss in some special items cards and encounter cards, a treasure
deck, roll some dice for variety and combat and enjoy the "feel" of
a real game session without all the hassles :smile:

Something like this COULD be done as a PDF to test the waters, then
printed in cutouts later...

Anyway, I just wanted to bounce the concept off a few people and see
if anyone got excited :smile: Feedback is welcome... here are some
interesting links:


Jack Spencer Jr

Hi, James

I had started a thread on this topic a few months back on this very forum.  Response was light but some interest was shown in solo games.  That thread can be found four pages back or just go here.

A couple things about a solo game, and this is just off the top of my head.

It should focus fairly heavy on the G portion of the GNS or GDS, whichever you prefer.  This makes sense since it will preclude the social interaction which the N and S usually require to make worthwhile.  This assumes we're talking about an RPG-like game.

It any case, it should be fairly easy to set up and put away since it's designed for only one player.  I could play Warhammer Quest solo, but there are so many parts to get out I never bother.

Cards are a good way to go, from you example.  A simple deck is easy to pick up and put down.  (Solitare, anyone?)

Another good thing to put into the game is to make it difficult to cheat.  Someone will just play this by themselves and, after a while, will be tempted to cheat.  This has happened to me playing some old solos for Tunnels & Trolls.  It gets frustrating when you get killed in the first page.  It took more time to roll up the character than to play.

I think you're on a worthwhile track, but it also seems you're bogging yourself down with complications that will not benefeit the game and simply make it a little too bulky to play.  I may be wrong, but that's the vibe I'm getting.

Anyway, check out that old thread and tell me what you think.

Mike Holmes

There was an old SPI game called (IIRC) Monster Maze. Anyhow, you drew chits to create the dungeon and rolled on random tables to determine contents of rooms. Very simple, and effective, and resembles very much what you are describing. This sort of thing is only entertaining for a short while, though, as after a while it just becomes "more of the same".

Another example of a game that creates a world to explore is the Middle Earth CCG. I really like the world design in that game, and, with a very simple modification (make cards playable in categories of places instead of in particular places only), you could design a game that created a more interesting world than just a random maze generator (I also remember making dungeons with the random table in the back of the 1st ed. AD&D DMG and randomly stocking them for a solo game). The advantage of such a system is that the characters can travel all over the world and encounter anything that you might want to put on a card. This "object oriented" approach makes possible all sorts of adventures from random card play.

See also the Mythos CCG for a similar travel and story generation mechanic.

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Ron Edwards

I still think that a modern solo game is an awesome idea. If it could manage to be bloody interesting, and well-focused on the skills/standards for its play, then I'd be first in line.

Again: in my opinion, the finest of the breed was the Sorcery! series from Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.

Can anyone think of a way to do it that ISN'T that flow-chart style (if you go left, turn to #137; if you go right, turn to #74) at all?



This is veering a little into (so called) ergodic and deconstructionist literature but...

'A rather well-known example is Raymond Queneau's Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes (a hundred thousand billion poems; see Queneau 1961), which is a sonnet machine book of 10 [lozenge] 14 lines, capable of producing 10^14 sonnets.'

I've always though that this would be a viable route to making a solo adventure (though its use as a GM aid is immediately obvious). The player uses the 'book' as an aid in creating the 'situations' that will be explored with the use of the ruleset that already exists. When the 'situation' is resolved/exhausted the player then chooses another line and continues. Its incumbent upon the player to link the events that arise in the course of play, and make them part of an evolving whole. The game is played through a set number of iterations.

Of course this is still limited, but I think that it does present an contemporary alternative to the *very* linear solo adventures of yore.


Jack Spencer Jr

It is tough.  It's a matter of figuring out what the game does and then creating it to facilitate that style of play and only that style of play.

As in Warhammer Quest, which is purely dungeon crawl.  Which is why it has floor titles and minis to for position-based combat.

It is debateable how much fun it is to play a position-based strategy game by yourself, but it does work.  I just happen to think its too much stuff to drag out for a solo game, but that's me.

I think that something other than a solo gamebook a la Sorcery et al would work better.  Most of those boiled down to a choose-your-own-adventure book with dice rolling.  Unless it's possible to rig the dice rolling so that it actually IS important or not so simple to ignore, it may work but I can't think of any off-hand.

It all depends of what you're trying to do.  WHich is pretty frickin' obvious but it's tricky since we're talking about a solo RPG.  It depends on what you'd consider an "RPG experience."  You aren't going to get a well-fleshed out character in a solo game, unless it's little more than an interactive novel.

In any case, the experience will be diminished compared to group play in terms of what you can do with it, but that is also frickin' obvious.

A problem I'm personally having is trying to imagine a solo game that is not a dungeon crawl or at least not fantasy.  This is that fallicy that anything fantasy is RPG-related I picked up somewhere.  Sad, actually.

Anyway, here's an idea that sorta came to me just now. I don't have many specifics and I don't know if I'll persue it, but anyway...

A super hero game.  You create a character, give him a snazzy name and all and select powers from a list.  Maybe even assign dice to the powers and other abilities like Button Men, or something similar.

Then your character goes out patroling his city which constitues a deck of cards.  The cards are laid out in a spread, perhaps like a typical Solitare set up, perhaps completely wonky, to represent various areas of the city or points in time or whatever.  As cards are turned over, villians are encountered.  The hero then fights them either by comparing their straight values, the values on the dice a la Button Men or just rolling the dice.  Card suits or a similar device would indicate weaknesses or similar features typical to superheroes.  Play continues until the player finishes the deck, thus saving the city, cannot make another move or loses all their dice or point to damage.

This is a sketchy idea, but What do you think?

It's kind of similar to a dungeon crawl idea I've had also using cards where the dungeon geography is unimportant.  The player is constantly moving forward toward in an endless series of tunnels, rooms, and chambers.  They encounter monsters to fight and treasure to collect.

This is the sort of thing I'm talking about.  I ditched the geograph of the dungeon itself, (which can be a problem if you draw too many dead ends and the game ends w/o anything special happening.  Besides, it'a a pain laying out all of those cards on the table and if the cat jumps on them, then they get all screwed up) and focused on only certain aspects of a dungeon crawl game.  Namely, constantly exploring new territory and encountering new menaces and wonders (as it were)

Actually, I rather like this idea.  I may use it.


That old SPI game was "Death Maze", not "Monster Maze". My younger brother and I spent many an hour killin' stuff in that game. :smile: I still have my copy, in fact, with all of the 'pre-made' dungeons (those chit mazes were hell to keep together) we drew up, and all of our 'expanded' lists for monsters and treasure. Stolen from D&D of course.

I'm going to have to dig that out and play a game one of these days...
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Mike Holmes

Oops, yep, that was it. I, too, have a copy somewhere.

Crossing elements (as Death Maze does) is by far the quickest way to come up with more potential combinations for a solo game. No two games of Death Maze are likely to be the same. The problmem is that, unless you have lots of things in each list to cross, the combinations start to seem very familiar after a while. How different are goblins with shortswords from goblins with spears?

The key is to have lots of kinds of elements and very long lists of each. This is the difficult part, of course.

Object orientation is an interesting way to create unforseen combinations.

Member of Indie Netgaming
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Is there any reason this couldn't be latched onto the d20 craze?  It seems to me that the d20 system would be perfect for this kind of thing.  Especially if you parred it down to combat-trap-obstical relevant rules only.  Then basically you're providing Dungeon Tiles, Random Monster pieces, treasure, traps and magic item cards and so on.  Basically the mechanics of the game itself are already squared away and the only "New" stuff that you're adding is how to make it viable as a Solitaire game.

What I'm seeing is a whole line of products.  A basic set that covers levels 1-3 and then a line of expansion sets that cover levels 4-6, 7-9, 10-12 and so on.

Just my thoughts.



pblock has a very good one.  Only I'd lay out the cards face up to begin with (kind of like the Super checks the villainous-goings-on computer for an overview of what's happening right now in Anytown USA) and allow the hero to go where he (or she) will, to save the city. There'd be a key to what the cards actually mean (so strategy would come into play).  And the basic game would comprise a fixed number of cards drawn one at a time for each game.  So, each time you took an overview of the city on your hero's 'Supervideotronica' you could decide what to try (risk) in what order to win.  Plus, it might be fun to have your friends could watch while awaiting their turn (since the game wouldn't take much time).  Eliminations could be fun as a secondary goal (who's the greatest hero kind of thing).  

No killing, you just lose and get thrown out of Anytown as a wuss hero and end up hanging out with lame-outs like Ironman.  

I'll work on something.


Jack Spencer Jr


For the dungeon card game above, I'm thinking of using a d20 for combat and avoid traps and the like.  I'm thinking od putting a logo on the front that reads "Uses a d20" with "d20" in nice big letters (numerals)  It wouldn't look a thing like the d20 logo, but it would poke Wizards in the butt a little.


That sounds neat.  Not quite what I was thinking of, but hey, go for it.


  One computer game you might want to look at for inspiration is Nethack, one of the oldest single player rpg games in existance.  The two major draws of it are that no two games are ever alike, and that it is very difficult to beat.  An entire subculture has grown up around it, with stories, net legends, and its own set of stories of terrible blunders, great comebacks, strategies and foibles.  

If you can recreate the draw it has in a pencil & paper or card game, then you have a winner.


Mike Holmes

Mmmmm, Nethack, mmmmm. Also see Moria, Angband, and Omega. I love the text-walls dungeon games. I once had this monster half Troll with all sorts of extra strength and a magic shovel of digging; the guy just ignored tunnels and made his own wherever he went....

Yep, for chart-tastic random adventuring, these games can't be beat.

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.


Excellent input... I've gotton some other great input and interested people through other sources too. Seems to be a mix of being a solo game or a 1 GM and 1 player game as well as being a CCG or just a random dungeon game...

Anyway, if anyone is interested in brainstorming or working on such a product/project, let me know. I can setup some workspace and help manage/design the project (and of course market it with RPGHost Network).

I always have too many projects on my hands so, I just wanted to see if there was any reasoning in continuing to think about this. Seems there is some interest and a possible niche. Tagging d20 to it would be quite "funny" :smile:


Jack Spencer Jr

OK, a little musing going on here.

Now, we're talking about solo RPGs or at least pseudo RPGs or else we should probably move to a general game site.  

This mean play will have to be linear, much like in RPGs  Each event has an effect on future events.

Waitasec.  All games are like that.  At least that what they said in the first episode of DS9.  Baseball is linear, Football is linear.  Chess is linear.  At least in one sense or another.  

One item that does distingish a RPG is the continuing story aspect, or how you can play the same character in multiple sessions.  Furthermore, that character can improve over time so you can face bigger challenges later on, thus changing the stragtegy and keeping it fresh.

OK, so let's call this the Continuing Character.  It isn't necessary, but it is a feature that may be worth having.

Solo games, of all kinds, come in various styles and types.
The most prevailent solo RPG is  the solo gamebook or the solo module or the solitaire dungeon.  The were more-or-less invented by Rick Loomis of Flying Buffalo.  He got the idea from math workbooks were the answer to the problem were tucked away in the back.  SOmeone suggested writing an adventure like that and He Wrote Buffalo Castle, The first solo for Tunnels & Trolls and the first solo adventure that I know of.

These solo books have a flowchart formula, as ROn has said.  I'm hard-pressed to think of a better way to do that format.  You could just read along the story straight with some form of interactive feature so that the player isn't just reading a book, but I have no idea what it'd be, unless it would require element off the printed page.  i.e. you read along and when a fight breaks out, you play out the battle with minis and dice.  But this wouldn't work, either.

I've already noted the problem with gamebooks compared to just plain variable plot novels, namely the dice rolling.  If the book reads:

If you win the fight turn to page 33
If you die, close the book and never read it again.  You are dead.

Well, usually it said to try again, but it's way to tempting to simply turn to page 33 rather than roll dice.  Essentially, it's a rule with nothing to reinforce it.  Sure, your character won't gain in power, but if you're just ignoring those rules anyway, it won't bother you.

Part of the problem is the game shouldn't end if you're defeated.  Losing the fight should continue the story with you captures, wounded or recently brought back to life.  Something.  "Close the book and start again" is not an especially fun option.  Maybe one good way to work it is the entire book all leads to one final confrontation. Depending on how well you did in the rest of the book, you will be well or ill prepared for the final battle.  Then the final confrontation.  The last one has several options which the player simply chooses randomly.  No dice rolling, nothing.  Pick a page. Turn to it.  This is how you confrontation ends.

I rather like this idea.  I've played a few solos and wound up only about halfway through the story and just didn't feel like trying again.

This is of course railroading in the extreme but it's a solo.  It has to railroad, ya know?  This might be a great place for Bobby G and other similar devices.

Here's a little more of an idea:
The player has a number of points to build a character.  We'll say the four elements(fire earth air water), since it's simple and vague in meaning.  They can either roll four dice and take what they get or use the points to build a character, say 20 point to divide amoung the elements.  I see 4d10's.  That is, numbers 1-10.  They can have all 5's, various combinations of the 20 poits or a random roll which could possible yield all 10's or all 1's.

As the player reads the book, making choices and so on.  They lose points via injury, etc. and may gain points from healing, etc.  This takes the dice rolling out of the middle of the book and sets it up at the begining.  The character dies if the player loses all of their dice.  (Damage to a die that has reached zero goes onto another die)

The stragtegy lies in what is the best combination amoung the elements for the character in this particular book.  What are the best choices to make with the element spread they've got.

It's a half-baked idea, but it seems good.

Now, aside from gamebooks, there are other solo games, there are card games, board games, dice games.

At least I could see such games existing.

The disadvantage these games will have against the gamebook is that the gamebooks will have a bit more story involved.  That is, a well-written gamebook will read like a good novel, with well-fleshed out characters and the like.  That's difficult to do in a card game, but probably not impossible. (I don't know how well Once Upon A Time would work as a solitare.  That's just one guy talking to himself over cards.  Sure I do that anyway, but not everyone would enjoy it)

A solo game is to be a good game onto itself.  Perhaps mirroring element from the group RPG experience but it cannot hope to duplicate it.  

The problem with this is the lowest common denominator seems to be combat.  Not surprising since most RPGs are adventure orientated.  It'd be interesting to make a game that was not combat-centric.  I seem to be having trouble with it.

(Hmmm...  Little Fears  Closetland CCG  avoid the monsters, escape to home, something like that  hmm...)

The trick here is that a solo game will general focus highly on the game aspect.  This is because the S and N goal are really really dificult to pull off or are much easier to do with a computer, so why bother.  (that's a challenge, ya know.)

What a solo would require is a form of strategy and a random element.  I don't see it being much fun if the player can readily see the outcome from the begining.  And the stetegy sound be deceptively simple so it does require skill.

Or maybe I'm crossing the line.  Wasn't there some kind of organization that said that paintings HAD TO BE a certain size or something?  Well a game is what you make it, I guess.

I'm rambling here, but one final note.

Cards and charts seem to do pretty much the same thing, but IME cards work a little better.  This is based on comparing Advanced Heroquest to Warhammer Quest, but the randon dungeons via chart seem cumbersome (roll die, look up on chart, get dungeon tile)  compared to cards (draw card, get dungeon tile)  Also, the cards work better.  You could theoretically roll for the rest of t=your life on a chart.  In WHQ, each dungeon tile had one card.  Therefore, you could run out of tunnel pieces and you would eventually get to the final Quest room and all of that jazz.  You can also stack the deck to make more intricate dungeons.

This is just one comparason point.  Charts may actually work better in some applications. (Probably in some game I'll make, but I'll insist on cards anyway)

Just one guy's thoughts.