Once again I’ll be combining two “chapters” from my notes, Chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 is a bit of me just rambling on, so if you’re interested in the Actual Play portion, jump down to Chapter 5. If you don’t know what solo role-playing is, or aren’t familiar with the Hero Kids game, you may want to check those out first. (Yes, I did use a kids’ RPG for my re-introduction to tabletop games and as my launch pad for solitaire play.)
Chapter 4: Still Learning
Time for Round 2! I’m going “off-module” this time and I’ll be employing some new soloing tools to come up with my own original story and adventure. I’m still utilizing the Hero Kids rules and its Brecken Vale setting to keep the emphasis on learning to use the soloist’s toolkit.
On the Hero Kids blog, I found a Random Encounter Generator (created by Josiah Fiscus and adapted to a web app by yours truly) based on the Monster Compendium supplement. The generator takes into consideration the location or terrain you’re generating for, difficulty level, whether or not it’s a “boss” encounter, and, best of all with regards to soloing, party size from 1 to 4 adventurers. Josiah reverse-engineered the Hero Kids encounter tuning and assigned point values to all the opponents in the Compendium so you can add up and compare to your number of players. You can see all that in the PDF version (and roll your dice instead of pressing buttons, if you prefer).
Last round, as I’m sure you recall, I used the simple d6 Yes/No solo engine found on the Tabletop Diversions blog and that was a perfectly fine introduction to using an oracle. I really felt like I could’ve used more “surprise” or unknown elements, so now I’m ready to introduce additional complexity, and setp things up — just a little — by moving to the engine found in the free so1um role-playing game. I used the v0.6 PDF version of the rules and plucked the engine out, which looks like this:
Begin asking questions.
To begin play, ask a question that has a Yes or No answer, it is important to keep it simple. Are guards present? Do I encounter a trap? For each question, roll a d6 and consult the table below.
If the hero has an applicable cliché or an advantage, roll 2d6 and pick the best result. If the character has a significant disadvantage, roll 2d6 and use the worst result.
1- No, And
3- No, But
4- Yes, But
6- Yes, And
And & But Results.
And amplifies, while But mitigates. No, And means things went really bad. No, But softens the blow a bit. Yes, But is successful but with a drawback. Yes, And is all kinds of awesome.
1- Nothing significant happens
2- An obstacle or something that aids the hero
3- A unique feature or situation
4- A unique feature or situation
5- NPC (1-3 friendly, 4-5 neutral, 6 not friendly)
6- Monster (1 friendly, 2-3 neutral, 4-6 not friendly)
There’s also a Difficulty table which might prove useful — in fact, so1um is a complete game, so you could begin solo play with just this one PDF — but, since I’m already using Hero Kids, I’ll lean on its rules for difficulties and ability tests if needed.
In addition to the AdventureSmith app (which probably goes without saying) there was one other tool I wanted to try out: a random dungeon generator. There are tons of these out there — apps, websites, desktop software, dice, cards, tiles, and geomorph variations — but I was interested in the PocketMod of John Yorio’s (Tabletop Diversions) “No Budget No Frills Pencil and Paper Dungeon Generator Ver. 3.0“. He made improvements on this version later, integrating playing cards for some of the randomization, but, being a fan of portability, I liked the fold-up PocketMod version that didn’t need a bulky deck of cards.
Nearly ready to jump back into adventure, I went through the Hero Kids character expansion packs (II, III, and IV) and analyzed their stats and special abilities in consideration of solo play. While I enjoyed my previous adventure, I wasn’t a fan of the Hunter character for solo play mostly due to the penalty for ranged attacks on adjacent targets (the monsters are almost always going to be adjacent, right?). I was torn between the Blade Dancer with a similar melee split-attack special, the Storm Mage with magic split attack (ranged up to 4 squares, but no adjacent penalty) and a “damage shield” passive ability (if he gets hit, the monster takes damage, too!), and the Brute who has 3 damage dice that increases to 4 if he’s hit (which is likely since he only has 1 armor die) which reminds me of a “berzerker” who recklessly dishes out damage in a fit of rage with no regards for his own well-being. These 3 seem like the best candidates for solo play, but I worry it’s because they also seem overpowered in relation to the other heroes — and if you’ll remember my emphasis on responsibility in solo play, there’s ultimately little challenge or fun in playing an overpowered character.
I finally settled on the Blade Dancer, since it seemed the most balanced of the three: 2 attack dice with split attack and a bonus to make it 3 attack dice if he misses, as well as 2 armor dice so he’s not too squishy. After considering the possibility of running both he and the Hunter and spin up stories of how they met, etc., I decide that the Blade Dancer is Aeryn and I will continue his story since there’s already some characterization to hang things on. After all, the Blade Dancer looks more elf-like than the Hunter, and I even found some colorized versions of the paper mini art that portray him as more of a drow (or “dark elf”), so that might fit even better with Aeryn’s complication of being a half-elven outcast. Great! Now let’s get our hands dirty.
Chapter 5: Aeryn Reborn
My second solitaire adventure, this time without a module to follow (as it should have been the first time), and while still using the Hero Kids rules, I’ll be upping the ante on the toolkit side, borrowing the d6 solo engine from so1um, which allows for a follow-up roll to influence your And and But results, and throwing in a random dungeon generator:
- Game: Hero Kids (with a Hero Cards III expansion character)
- Engine: so1um – a free one-page solo role-playing game
- Tools: AdventureSmith app for Android and John Yorio’s No Budget No Frills Pencil and Paper Dungeon Generator Ver. 3.0 PocketMod
Setup is basically the same as Chapter 3. I’ll be using a blank grid for combat positioning (which should be mostly irrelevant) as well as mapping out the dungeon on paper as I go. This time around, my character Aeryn has changed clothes into that of a more solo-friendly Blade Dancer half-drow.
- Class: Blade Dancer (drow — possibly female, but who can tell with an elf? KIDDING)
- Str/Melee: 2
- Armor: 2
- Special: Dual Strikes (split attack dice between two targets)
- Bonus: Aggravated (miss an attack, next attack gains extra die against that opponent)
- Skill: Lore
- Inventory: 2 health potions, gold
I actually swapped out the Momentum bonus ability (hit an enemy and get the extra die) with the Aggravated ability from the dragon-kin Blade Dancer. Not sure why they have this difference, but I like the sound of getting an extra die on misses so you’re more likely to hit next time.
In my first solo run, I used the “Basement o’ Rats” introductory adventure module from the Hero Kids core rulebook. It presented its fair share of challenges to run solo, not due to the adventure content, per se, but just trying to follow a published adventure as both Game Master and player — the fun factor diminished quickly when I got down to details (for most of which I had foreknowledge) and stopped spinning up prose. There are tactics and tools for running published adventure modules and dungeons as a solo player (one such idea is to play the GM and emulate the players instead), so don’t fret too much, but looking back on it all now, it really wasn’t the best place to start. There’s far more fun factor and infinite possibilities (and surprises!) when you’re not limiting yourself to a script, especially if you have the forbidden knowledge of a GM as a player.
For this adventure, I pulled out the AdventureSmith app and simply flipped through the thing, looking at the various adventure seed generators and settled on a simple one from the Macchiato Monsters Encounter/Travel generator:
Stalked by someone or something. They are close.
This piqued my interest as Aeryn had just left the Block & Tackle tavern in Rivenshore — where a half-elf (now half-drow) bastard was less than liked — to return to his home in the forest. Who (or less likely, What) could it be?
My first thought is his father. Though I’d considered him to be dead and gone when I mentioned it at the end of the first adventure, his mother saw the “spirit” of the man in Aeryn as he turned to leave, which could be open to interpretation — did she see his father’s demeanor, looks, sense of adventure, or did she see the shadow of his memory?
Could it be Jayce, his brother, or his mother, Erilynn, chasing him down to avoid leaving something important unsaid? Some other acquaintance or family member who saw him passing by? Or simply a racist bigot, surmising his drow heritage, who decided to hunt him down for a confrontation?
Can Aeryn see who (or what) is following him? No (this is a result of 1d6 2, as you can see above in the so1um engine excerpt. I did not actually roll dice this time around since the AdventureSmith app has a so1um generator built in that gives the result along with the follow-up roll for And and But results).
Yes, AND Unique feature or situation
Yes, and, not only can he detect their direction, he can sense it’s likely not human, but something smaller…
I used the AdventureSmith app to generate a creature with the Perilous Wilds generator (a game I’m not familiar with, but now I’m curious since it appears to be both “old school” and full of generators):
Activity: Traveling / Relocating
Disposition: Cautious / Doubtful
No. Appearing: 3 – Medium Sized
… and *sniff sniff* familiar smelling. Must be related to the rats he’d just dealt with in the Block & Tackle tavern’s basement.
Aeryn shoves aside the underbrush to reveal his mysterious followers: not one, but three giant rats! As he draws his blade to exterminate the vermin, he hesitates as they cower in fear — something is quite different about these rats. One has stood his ground, holding up a defiant paw, shouting “Hold!”.
Aeryn eases his stance and the rat, apparently the leader of the bunch, continues, “Wait. Please, good elf, sir. Lower your blade and hear us out?”
“I’ve nothing for your rat-kind scum,” he said, taken somewhat aback that the beast could talk. The rat-man stood upright and wore both a cloak and belted pack. His comrades donned similar attire, in a simpler fashion.
Yes, AND Neutral NPC — I interpret this to mean the rat people themselves are neutral, rather than introduce a new NPC, which is probably the intent.
He did not feel threatened by the creatures and they seemed of honest intent. Doubtless, less than waist high when erect, he didn’t think they would put up much of a fight once his blades were loosed. “What business could you possibly have with me? I’ve just slain a number of your brethren, among them your Rat King. They’d taken my brother, a mere child, for gods know what purpose…”
“Aye, friend. For slaying the King, we are in your debt. We were unwilling servants, spell-bound to obey…”
“A likely story, coming from one of their kind. Why should I believe you?”
“The King, while no saint himself, was content to feast on midden and wallow in the filth scavenged by his peons. No, he was ensorcelled as well! Stealing children was the foul intent of the Master!”
“The old man, in the tower of red clay that stands on the southern edge of the forest.”
“Near the crater?” Aeryn asked.
“Aye, on the outskirts of the Vale.”
“Why are you telling me this? What’s in it for you?” he eyed the ratlings dubiously.
“Safe passage…. through the forest. Our home lies in the marshlands beyond the tower. That’s where he captured us, the Rat King, and the simple rats. But, now there are only us three, and the journey would be too perilous for us with the might of greater numbers.”
Aeryn pondered it all for a moment. “And what’s in it for me?”
The rats huddled and whispered amongst themselves for a moment before the leader returned with their offering. “We’ll show you the way — the secret way — into the wizard’s keep.”
“Thanks. But, no thanks,” he replied, not requiring much time for consideration. “I’ve got no intention of angering a wizard in his own tower.”
“It may interest you, good sir, it is whispered amount the ratfolk of the marsh that the wizard has in his possession a powerful artifact — an artifact of elven make!”
Elven make… could it be? “Alright,” came his response. “So be it. I will escort you through the forest. But… the first sign that you might betray my trust…” he gave them a look that conveyed the potential outcome. “Can any of you fight?”
Yes, BUT Not friendly monster!
I use the Hero Kids Random Encounter Generator, set it to Forest and 1 player and it hands me back a:
Str/Melee: 3 dice
Armor: 1 die
Special: +1 melee die if hit opponent on last attack
And, this guy has 3 hit boxes instead of the usual 2 for “easy” monsters.
Before any of the ratlings can respond, a dire wolf springs from the bushes, teeth bared… (wolf wins initiative 6 > 2) … and lunges at the nearest one. He manages to draw a short blade from the depths of his cloak in time to defend the attack. The others respond in kind, making ready for battle as the beast bears down on their comrade.
I use the 3 different Ratling monster types from the Hero Kids Monster Compendium (Warrior, Skirmisher, and Slinger) for their stats and suddenly it’s 4 against 1 on the dire wolf. He manages to nick one of the ratlings before his demise, but otherwise it was a one-sided pounding.
As quickly as the dire wolf appeared, it was dispatched by the unlikely band. The hurt ratling licks his wound and they all recompose themselves (rest to heal hitpoint.
“I guess that answers that question,” Aeryn chuckles. “Shall we be off, then?”
The ratlings look to one another, then to Aeryn with a nod and the party moves south, deeper into the forest…
I don’t want to spend all day trekking through the woods, so I get to the point: Does the party make it through the forest without incident? Yes, AND Nothing significant happens. Well then! I suppose this makes sense for a now party-of-four. I really should have set that monster generator to the correct party size (I left it at one, of course, since I’m soloing!), as the poor wolf didn’t stand a chance. Fast-forward to the interesting bits:
Under cover of foliage, they size up the sage’s clay tower from the edge of a small clearing. Decorated generously with rather large arrays of spider webs and egg sacks, the tower appears to have at least six faces. The floor of the clearing is littered with web-encrusted, shriveled husks of what were once creatures of the forest. The ratlings turn their gazes from those which might’ve been shaped from kin.
“It’s time we take our leave of you, but not without our sincere thanks. As promised, we shall show you the secret way into the tower.”
Aeryn follows as they skirt the edges of the clearing until they come upon a large pile of limbs and brush. The rats pull the brush aside to reveal a small earthen tunnel, not unlike the one beneath the Block & Tackle.
“The secret way,” they say. “Ensorcelled brothers come and go at the Master’s bidding, through here.”
Will the ratlings stay and help Aeryn into the tower? No, BUT Neutral monster. I hesitate over whether that could refer to the griffon that’s supposed to guard the tower (from the /r/BehindTheTables generator) or perhaps the spiders that roam the grounds. I ponder on it for a moment.
Their vermin jaws clenched tight, the ratlings waste no time in refusing Aeryn’s request to stay and fight. “We’re sorry, sir elf, but we simply wish to reach our family in the marsh burrows,” came the reply.
I decide to go ahead and roll a monster from the generator and the result? Crone. I look it up in the Monster Compendium and she looks like a tough encounter for one (I did set the thing to Hard difficulty, after all). But, I also notice a bit of lore in her description. There’s a crone by the name of Margret who was driven to her crone-y state by the disappearance of her daughter. The text also reveals that the girl, in fact, survived and was taken in by a wolf mother. She now leads her own pack in the forest. Another bulb goes off as I recall the Wolf Child character from the Hero Cards II expansion and ideas for a potential party of two, or a side quest involving the Wolf Child or the Crone. Once again I’m torn between biting on the plot hook versus dragging this out further than I intended. I did decide to bite, however…
As Aeryn stands at the mouth of the tunnel, he ponders the idea that this could all be a ruse, a trap. Before can connect any dots, a wolf suddenly appears on the rise above the tunnel entrance. The ratlings draw steel and the wolf bares teeth, loosing a subtle snarl. Just as Aeryn moves to his sword hilt, the wolf sniffs the air by the tunnel entrance, then slowly backs away, whimpering. It turns and leaps back into the shroud of the forest and disappears.
Aeryn looks at the ratlings with a raised eyebrow. The vermin shrug, sheath their weapons, and say their farewells. “Elf, sir, take this,” the ratling says as he hands him a small woven totem. “Present this to any ratling of the marsh burrows and they will consider you as brother. Many thanks and farewell to you, friend.”
Aeryn nods, accepting the token of friendship and locks hand-in-paw with each of them before they scurry off to the south, towards their home. He turns his attention back to the matter of the child-thieving wizard and his keep — and the “elven artifact” that may be held within.
I suppose the “neutral NPC” I rolled before turned out to be the wolf instead of the crone or the wolf child, but it opened the door for a few things. The wolf child trapped within the keep, the crone is the wizard or in cahoots with him, stealing children in spite of losing her own child, among other possibilities. But first, we actually have to go inside…
Aeryn squints into the tunnel, attempting to discern… well, anything that might lie within. He steps inside and gives his night-sight a moment to adjust. He follows the dirt tunnel, on his hands and knees at first, for what seems like 100 meters or better. At last, the tunnel opens up into a large basement area.
I take a moment to sketch out a grid on on the facing page in my notebook, preparing to generate a dungeon with the d12 “no frills” dungeon generator. The generator also gives you room contents such as monsters, traps, empty, etc. I don’t recall any specific rules for traps in Hero Kids, but there are, of course, ability tests if I need to whip those out. The starting room is at my discretion, so I just start with the end section of tunnel and generate the first room.
I roll an 11, which is a room with a monster. A follow up d4 generates 1 additional exit, and two d10s give the width and the length: 5 x 7 squares. Once I sketch it out, I decide that’s too big for my piece of paper, so I end up halving the dimensions for the next rooms.
The monster? I set the generator to Hard and it spits out a Giant Spider (fitting, since they roam the outside, at least) and a Flaming Skull (eep!)
At this point, I kind of drop out of “narrative mode” and just move through the rooms, generating the map and any monsters. I think I was a tad anxious to end this adventure and move on to other things, but I also think I may not have put enough effort into the dungeon “dressing”, giving it some atmosphere and making it come alive with sights and sounds and other descriptive properties. Some sort of meaning or some clues to what might lie further into the keep.
Aeryn dispatches the spider and skull without issue and begins moving deeper into the basement. The generator throws a couple of hallways, one with another monster encounter, and a few corners before hitting another small room with 2 additional exits. Hallways I figure are mostly boring, but this room I’m determined to make an interesting plot element.
The room contents deliver a monster and the generator hands me a Ghost and a Ratling Skirmisher (who I imagine is ensorcelled and hopefully not related to my pals I just left at the door). I look this Ghost up in the Compendium and at first I’m confused since he has two melee attack dice, but no armor dice. When I finally get to the last line of his Bonus Ability section, I’m a little worried — the reason there’s no armor dice listed is because these incorporeal meanies take a 1d6 roll of 6 to be hit!
The monsters gain initiative and Aeryn immediately takes a hit. I decide to gamble and use my Split Attack ability, splitting my two attack dice between both monsters, hoping at least one takes damage (and if I miss them both, then I get a bonus die on the next attack — I assume versus both, so I could split attack again with 2 dice each, or use 3 against the ghost in hopes of hitting that 6). I miss both, so I’m optimistic about the next roll.
At the last moment, I decide to use the 3 dice and target the ratling first, since I know I’m likely to hit him and get him out of the picture so I’m only facing one enemy — but of course I miss! I take another hit from the ghost and have to use my turn to drink a health potion — only 1 left, now. The next round of combat, both the ghost and the ratling hit me, and I’m forced to drink my other potion. Things are not looking good all of a sudden!
I manage to take out the rat and avoid any damage for the next two rounds. I finally roll a 6 and make a dent in that ghost. We take empty swings at one another for a few rounds, but I never manage to roll another 6 and the ghost eventually does me in! Aeryn is “knocked out” (nice-talk for dead in Hero Kids terms) and the adventure comes to a close.
Yikes! Those ghosts are tough, and now I suppose that room has two of them instead of just one. It didn’t help that the rat got a bonus die for its “pack attack” ability since I was engaged the whole time. That was a nasty combination and my first thought was “I should’ve picked the Storm Mage”, the character with a damage shield. I’m sure he would’ve fared better in that situation, as any time the monsters hit him, they would’ve taken damage (even the Ghost, I presume), which would’ve made that fight trivial.
Obviously, since I’m playing alone, I could’ve fudged things a little and thrown Aeryn a bone, but there’s that whole “responsibility” thing to think about, plus I was content to let him “pass on” so that I can move on to other things myself.
I did have some interesting plot and backstory ideas in the works, though, so Aeryn may yet awaken in that wizard’s keep from his “knocked out” status to continue down those avenues one day, if I choose. Perhaps he comes to in the captivity of the wizard (or the crone) or is found and rescued by the wolf child and it becomes a party of two. There’s also the matter of Aeryn’s father and the potential connection to the “elven artifact” in the Master’s possession.
Ah well! For now, I’m eager to move on to more complexity, to learn and explore new things — all the games I’ve been accumulating at a rapid clip, and of course new soloing engines and tools — namely Mythic Game Master Emulator and a new game (an adult game!) called Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells. One thing’s for certain, though: Aeryn will not be forgotten!