Welcome back! If you didn’t read Chapter 1: Beginnings or aren’t familiar with solo roleplaying tactics, you may wish to check that out first, as it will give you some startup information on what follows below: my first solo “actual play” report on this site, which also happens to be of my first ever solo play session! I’d done my research and knew roughly what to do, but it was my first attempt, so I’m sure I made plenty of mistakes and could’ve done things differently or better in more places than one. None of that changed the fact that I still had a blast! I hope you’ll enjoy reading it, too.
There was a section of Chapter 1 I didn’t mention in the previous post, but it fits better here with Chapter 2. I took some of the advice from the SoloRoleplayer.com materials I read (the website is defunct, but the content is provided free at DriveThruRPG.com) and other sources and spent a few minutes identifying my Bartle Type(s), as well as making some lists: likes/dislikes (movies, books, genres, characters, stories, themes, settings, etc.), the RPGs, solo engines, tools, etc. I want to explore, and even lists of subjects to research and adventure “seeds” that come to mind. I keep these updated periodically when something occurs to me and I reference them often. Of course, this is all totally optionally, but I just wanted to share these additional steps I took before I even rolled the first die. It may help you identify which direction you want to go if you aren’t entirely sure.
Chapter 2: “Tutorial Mode”
Chapter 2 of my notes was largely the “setup” before I actually played. More than just the general soloing ideas found in Chapter 1, I delved into specifics of which game, soloing engine, tactics, and tools I would use — mostly me “thinking out loud” (but on paper, for some reason). If you’re following along from the last post, we’ll assume you’ve got your game rules, a solo engine, and a means of record-keeping determined. For me, it was all written long-form in my notebook and the rest looked like so:
Next you’ll need a jumping off point or a place to start: a character and a story. Follow your game’s rules for creating a character, use a pre-generated character, or if you’re going the story-telling route, just make one up (some general details on appearance, backstory, things they’re good and bad at doing, etc. could prove useful). For a story, it can be anything with some conflict — a problem that needs to be solved (and your character is just the one to solve it!).
My notes from SoloRoleplayer suggest a “beginning framework” for setting up your adventure. I didn’t exactly use this approach — I attempted to follow the “Basement o’ Rats” traditional/cliche introductory adventure that comes packaged with Hero Kids — but I wrote it down in my notebook, so I thought I’d share it here as well, using “Basement o’ Rats” as examples:
- Setup: a location and “quest giver”
- The Block & Tackle Tavern in Rivenshore. The proprietor’s wife sets the scene for the quest.
- Information: The “tools” your character will need to complete the quest. Possibly involving other NPCs or investigation.
- The innkeeper’s wife comes running into the common room, screaming that giant rats have dragged the kitchen helper into the basement! You look like the adventuring type — will you please help?!
- The Quest!: possibly a different location (a dungeon?!) and the things you will encounter (monsters, traps, puzzles, NPCs, etc.), and deadline — conditions for success or failure.
- The Basement has a few rats, but they’ve entered through a series of tunnels and underground caverns beneath the town. There’s plenty of rats to fight, obstacles to overcome, some “flair” (or dungeon dressing) areas that aren’t central to the plot, and of course, the Rat King “boss” encounter.
- Wrap Up: Resolutions after the quest is complete. Retrieve your reward, lead-in for the next adventure, etc.
- You rescue the boy before the Rat King does unspeakable things to him and everyone is grateful! In fact, they promise free ice cream every day this week.
Something simple like this will be fine for your first soloing session. Or, just throw a problem from your imagination at your character and start asking the solo engine questions. If I haven’t said it enough, it’s totally up to you. There are a few other popular tools that fall into this “framework” category, though I’ve not tried using them myself as of yet: John Fiore’s the 9Qs (a solo RPG derived from screenwriting techniques) and Rory Bracebuckle’s Perilous Intersections (a solo RPG that frames scenes and directs your characters and their problems towards one another). Again, I’ve not tried either of these myself, so my descriptions and assumptions may not be totally accurate.
When all else fails, if you’re struggling to come up with anything interesting, pull out the AdventureSmith app, Rory’s Story Cubes, Story Time Dice, or Mark’s Adventure Glyphs, start with “Once upon a time…” and spin a story out of what the images tell you. Or, search for some other random adventure / story seed generators (or even writing prompts) online. Any of these can get you up and running quickly; just take whatever they throw at you and run with it — you may be surprised where you end up! I approach this as a challenge unto itself: can I make lemonade out of lemons or work the seemingly disassociative elements from story dice or random generators into a cohesive, interesting plot? Challenge accepted!
That’s it for setup. If you’re interested in the Hero Kids rules and mechanics, you can check out my Hero Kids Compatible Game Master Screen for a one-page summary. I created the GM screen from the notes I took down while reading through the core rules. It’s basically an opposed d6 system, where you compare only the highest die out of your die pool for a roll.
Here’s a recap of the Tabletop Diversions d6 solo engine I used, as well:
1 = “No, and “ (Not only no, but extraordinarily so)
2 -3 = “No, but <something yes-like>”
4-5 = “Yes, but <something no-like>”
6 = “Yes, and “ (Not only yes, but extraordinarily so)
Chapter 3: First Solo
My first solo adventure! I was practically jumping out of my skin to finally roll some dice after all that research. And, to some degree, I was also hesitant to begin, afraid of what might happen — that I wouldn’t enjoy it or I would make mistakes and do it “wrong”.
In hindsight, I can safely say there’s almost no chance of this happening to you and there’s no “right” and “wrong” way of playing solitaire. You’re learning through experience — trial and error, success and failure, hypothesizing and experimenting — to find out what you like and what works or doesn’t work for you. So, don’t hesitate to jump right in and give it a try. There’s certainly no need to go to the effort and extremes I did before starting your own adventures.
That being said, let’s get started! As I’ve mentioned above, I began with the Hero Kids game rules (since I’d already been playing this game with my 3 and 4 year old kids before I discovered the concept of solo role-playing), using a simple d6 soloing engine, and attempting to follow a published adventure from the Hero Kids rules (which I’ve also recommended against in Chapter 1).
Full disclosure: I’d read the “Basement o’ Rats” adventure some time before I tried to play it solo, but I didn’t recall too many specifics. I’d hoped to work through the thing avoiding the GM “spoilers”, but failed in most respects. I found myself struggling to find a balance between following the module as written (
avoiding looking at the GM notes and maps for monster placement, ability test difficulties, etc.), figuring out when and how to insert the solo engine into that, and, as a player, to “beat” the dungeon. These are some of the reasons I recommend you begin with something you create as you go — either from your imagination or from random generators.
There are printable maps, paper minis, and “monster cards” that come with the adventure module. I printed these off as well as a character sheet for a pregenerated character from the core rules, which I chose at random. With those ready, a handful of d6s on my makeshift dice tray (look for a DIY tutorial on that soon), rule PDFs for reference, and my trusty pen and notebook, I was finally ready to begin…
- Class: Hunter (male)
- Dex/Ranged: 2
- Armor: 1
- Special: Split Shot (split attack dice between two targets)
- Bonus: Evasive (if damaged, can move 1 square)
- Skill: Tracking
- Inventory: 2 health potions, rope
There’s not much in the way of world-building in the Hero Kids rule book other than a few introductory paragraphs and an unlabeled map. Maybe this is intentionally open-ended so kids can fill in their own details, but I half wished I had more source material to reference for story elements. If you delve deeper into the other published adventures and the Monster Compendium, you will find a bit more lore, but I’ve not seen any of it consolidated into one place (maybe we need a Wisps of Time Hero Kids Wiki?!), or a map that’s labeled with the place names (what is that town west of the mountains, anyway? and which of these forests is the one that you’re not supposed to linger in after dark?). There’s also no mention of race, but again, if you look ahead into the character expansion packs, the artwork clearly delineates typical classic fantasy elves, dwarves, lizardmen, halflings, and even quite a few anthropomorphic animal-folk races. My Hunter character has human facial features, but is tall and slender, so I’m calling him a half-elf.
A bastard born to a tavern wench, he grew up in the woods — a loner, struggling to escape the hardships of being looked down upon as an inbred, sneered at and shunned in his daily Rivenshore life. Still young by half-elven standards, he’s bitter and resentful, reserved in demeanor, making him less than charismatic, but is quick-thinking and resourceful — especially at home, in the forests of the Brecken Vale.
Ok, so I departed a tad from the Hero Kids suggested age range and delved into PG-13, “young adult” territory. Leave me alone — I’m starting to get into this! At this point, my mind is already racing with ideas to alter the written adventure setup, but will still tie in nicely with the Block & Tackle tavern starting location. Oh, and my hero still needs a name…
“Basement o’ Rats” is the quintessential newbie adventure — beloved by a strange few, eschewed by hordes of once-bitten role-players — and it’s just like it sounds: you get to play exterminator in a basement full of oversized rats. Pest control. Great. I’ll need to do something to make it more interesting, but I don’t want to stray too far from the module (I keep telling myself I’m “playtesting” it for my kids).
Officially, the adventure begins on a leisurely afternoon, having dinner with your family at the Block & Tackle tavern when suddenly the innkeeper’s wife comes barreling into the common room, screaming that giant rats have taken “Roger the muck boy” into a hole through the basement. But, I put my own spin on it:
“Dammit, Aeryn! I don’t know why you insist on visiting us while we’re working.” The scowl on his mother’s face made her look tired. Old, even. But then, she would to him — she was human. He sighed, knowing what was coming next.
“You’ll have to come back later. We’re both very busy. Look how packed the common room is!”
“Mother… Please… he’s my brother! I haven’t seen him in a fortnight and tomorrow, we depart for extended training in the northern Vale….”
The Block & Tackle hadn’t changed much over the years, his home away from home. It seemed to be aging better than his mother, Erilynn, though. The raucous lifestyle and pipe-smoke atmosphere in the place did little to keep a veteran wench looking her best.
“No…” she said. “The answer is no. Now, I’ve got–”
“HELP!” came the cry. The innkeeper’s wife was wide-eyed and frazzled as she came running into the kitchen. “Rats! The rats! They’ve taken Jayce!”
Aeryn’s jaw and fists clenched simultaneously. Instinctively, he reached to his quiver, his fingers lightly caressing the fletching of an arrow. His gaze narrowed on the woman as he steeled his resolve.
“My brother…” he said.
Yeah… perhaps a little intense for Hero Kids vs. Rats. I also was not sure if I should’ve involved the solo engine in any of that, or if it was good enough to just set the scene since that’s roughly how the adventure starts. These sorts of questions plagued me for a while, and I’d wager are common to anyone just starting out: When should I ask questions of the solo engine? What questions should I even ask? The good news is, there’s still no right or wrong way to do it. Go on your intuition and stick to a few “big” important questions, rather than stumbling over minutiae, but definitely don’t fret over making mistakes. You’re learning. It’s cool. No worries. There’s no one available for judgement in solo play.
It was around this point that I grew tired of writing everything out by hand, spewing out prose almost uncontrollably. Not to mention it was eating up all kinds of time. I worried that I would lose the “feel”, though, if I used less narration or that I would forget things down the road if I reviewed the notes (as I’m doing now, recounting it all to you). Weary, I conceded to just scribbling out a few brief notes and jumping into mechanics. Later, I decided “it is what it is” and there’s no need to rush, so I’m still tending towards writing everything out by hand.
The innkeeper’s wife, Maeve, leads Aeryn into the basement. It stinks. It’s dimly lit and full of rats milling around barrels and sacks of grain.
The adventure text indicated I could see rats moving between barrels.
1d6 6: Yes, AND[/spoiler]
Yes, there are three AND they have not yet sensed my presence.
One nice thing about Hero Kids is every published adventure lists encounter difficulties that are scaled for 1 to 4 players. Three rats is the number specified here for one adventurer. Unfortunately, I continued to stumble over whether or not I knew too much from reading the GM notes to make this worthwhile. I wanted to learn how to solo, but I also wanted to play the game — should I ask the engine what happens, or do I make an ability test roll? Should I sneak around the rats (spoiler: I know they’re not aggressive in this room), or attack them so I can test the combat mechanics? Should I ask the engine if there’s any sign of my brother, use another ability test, or use my character’s tracking skill? As you can see, there’s much that’s left in your hands. You’re faced with decisions as both a GM and a player and there are so many possibilities for any given situation. My only recommendation is to lean on logic and responsibility — do what makes the most sense for the situation, but you do owe it to yourself to have fun!
I decide to sneak past the rats to the hole in the basement floor where they’ve been appearing (after all — I’m just retrieving the guy, not actually tasked with killing the rats). This is an ability test — which is a base d6, plus two for my dexterity score, and I give myself another die since they haven’t noticed me yet — versus a 4 (easy) on a difficulty table. The highest die has to beat that difficulty number.
4d6 (keep highest) vs 4 (easy) [1,1,3,5]: Success!
Aeryn creeps deftly through the basement past the rats to the hole they’ve chewed through the flooring. The rats continue gorging themselves on the tavern’s food stores unawares.
1d3 3: No, BUT
No, BUT, you think you can manage your way down with your rope. This is another DEX ability test, this time with a die added for the “rope” in my inventory.
4d6 (keep highest) vs 4 (easy) [3,3,4,6]: Success!.
Aeryn anchors his rope and effortlessly descends through the hole amid distant cries for help. Below him, a dirt tunnel meanders off into darkness, surely leading to the den of the rats and his brother Jayce.
The air in the tunnel beneath the tavern is thick with the smell of midden and moist decay. Under his feet, hard-packed dirt leads East. The tunnel is dimly illuminated with the eerie blue glow of bio-luminescent fungi.
I decide to put the Tracking skill to use: 1 base die + 0 for intelligence + 1 for Tracking = 2d6 (keep highest) vs 4 [3,6]: Success!
Aeryn crouches down to read the dirt. A plethora of old tracks overlap one another in all directions. More recently, the tracks of 2 giant rats — dragging something — overlay the rest, leading down the tunnel to the East. Following the tracks, the tunnel opens up into a larger cavern that ends in a high wall. There’s a ledge above where Aeryn spots a rat sniffing at the dirt. Below, two other rodents squabble over a scrap of fleshy bone. Alerted to his presence, they turn and bare their pointy teeth, scampering towards him with a sharp squeak!
Combat! 1d6 initiative for each side: Rats 4, me 3. I first mistakenly let the rats move towards me simultaneously, which activated their special “pack attack” power. Instead, they should’ve taken turns, so I started the encounter over after the initiative roll. We tit for tat, I debate with myself over line of sight and cover rules, whether or not the 2nd rat, wedged single file into the tunnel, could hit or be hit. I decided it got an extra die for cover, but it still didn’t save the poor thing. Aeryn emerges victorious in his (and my) first Hero Kids skirmish.
He rests a moment to recover a lost hit point as he considers the ledge and the wandering rat atop it. After reviewing the ranged attack and movement rules and going off on a pointless tangent into the Pythagorean theorem, I figure I’ll just ask the solo engine and give it a -1 since it seems less likely. The roll is a 1:No, ANDhe rat seems to sense my intent, looses a frantic chittering sound and another rat appears. They leap down from the cliff and attack!
The rats are easily routed and I subsequently fail several ability tests to climb the ledge. I hit another point of indecision there. Just keep rolling dice until I pass the test? There’s little fun in that. Exasperated, I decide he searches around some more and finds a less steep approach and more purchase for his hands and feet, perhaps the same route the rats use to get up.
Encounter 3 is a T-intersection with a hole in the wall where rats can “shortcut” through and emerge on the heroes, but still doesn’t pose much of a challenge. Knowing the Rat King lies to the North, I feign my character’s ignorance and go South into Encounter 4, an empty chamber, to play around with the solo engine some more:
A cavernous limestone room opens before Aeryn with a path sloping down to a large pool. Reflected blue fungi-light undulates on the walls and several large stalagmites.
Is the water safe to drink? No, BUT Aeryn recognizes some small underground cacti plants that are know for holding small amounts of potable water. He carefully harvests one and quenches his thirst. Pointless detour, but hey… I’m learning here, right? But, the fun on this one is waning for me and I’m eager to see it through:
Another faint cry for help reverberates through the chamber, hailing back from the North. “Jayce…” Aeryn says, cursing himself for lingering too long by the peaceful pool. He rushes back through the tunnels, heading to the North passage. He eventually comes upon another large, stench-filled room, the floor covered in debris and refuse. He notices tunnels at various intervals around the room, leading off in all directions before the King of the rats leaps towards him with his Ratguard!
This round of combat, Encounter 5, was a tad trickier and I ended up using both of my heal potions to survive. Unfortunately, range-attack characters in Hero Kids aren’t very solo-friendly due to the costliness of ranged attack (first point costs 2 of your 4 starting dice) and a -1 die penalty for shooting at adjacent targets. Without a fighter to attract monster attention, you endlessly move and shoot. In any case, Aeryn emerged victorious and I was able to spin my epilogue:
As the Rat King’s corpse crumples to the refuse-strewn floor, Aeryn hears a rustling to his left. Debris and rocks are being pushed from one of the rat tunnels lining the room, followed by his brother, Jayce, who had apparently scampered away and walled himself in from the rats.
“Aeryn!” he rushed to embrace his older half-sibling.
“I thought you were eaten, Jayce… I’m glad you managed to fend them off!”
“Me, too,” he replied.
“Now… let’s get you out of this midden heap — and get you a bath!” Aeryn joked, pushing his brother to arm’s length. “You stink, my friend.”
The two embraced again — briefly, of course — then made their way through the tunnels, back up into the tavern basement, now free of rats.
“Jayce!” his mother rejoiced as she rushed over and squeezed him tight.”Thank the gods you’re safe!” She squeezed him tighter.
“Mom…” he gasped. “You’re… hurting… me…”
“Oh, hush! Let me have this moment,” she said. Then, with a frown, “…but quickly, before I retch from the stench!” They all shared a welcome laugh before she turned to Aeryn, her first-born. “Aeryn…” she said. “Thank you…”
He nodded and turned to leave, back to his home — his forest. He did not see the tear welling in her eye as she glimpsed the spirit of the man she had once loved: his father.
I had a lot to think about and process after that. On the whole, I enjoyed the heck out of it all and was very psyched to continue down the solitaire role-playing path. It’s been an awesome creative outlet for me, even staying mostly within the bounds of a pre-written adventure (and pre-generated character).
I’ve learned a lot about soloing through this process, as well as role-playing games in general — especially from the GM perspective. I also learned a lot about Hero Kids and discovered a wealth of related tools and resources from the community to use in the future. I even learned a few things about myself and my likes and dislikes. What fun!
I came away with a lot of ideas to carry forward and even more things to do and try — both for myself as a newbie soloist, and as a dad GMing for my kids. Hero Kids is a super simple system, so there’s not a lot of challenge from that perspective, but I was familiar with the rules, so it mostly just got out of the way so I could learn the soloing aspects. In that respect, I could’ve used some additional randomness and surprise from the solo engine, if only in the form of random encounters (granted, I was railroading myself with the adventure module).
I really surprised myself by going so prose-heavy, when I’ve always been more of a power player who’s interested in the game stats, advancement system, and mechanics as much as anything (not that I don’t enjoy writing in its own right — I just never really put the two together before). While I enjoyed that about it, the long-form writing in a notebook really caused the whole thing to drag out for hours (and pages) over the course of three days — much longer than I had expected. This led me to eventually just want the thing over so I could move on to other games and solo systems, but I felt compelled to keep up the story (which I actually continue in the next installment).
Before I get to transcribing that one, I have a couple of DIY/tutorial projects I want to share with you, and may make another foray into the Family Gaming section with the kids before coming back (we’ll see). Til next time, soloers!