By Clare C. Marshall
Read Part 1 Here
When you’re first diving into the world of solo RPG, you’ll probably see advice like “Check out Mythic!” or “Ironsworn has solo RPG built in!”
But what does any of that mean?
For the purposes of this article, I’ll discuss the systems I have experience with and break down what the beginner solo RPG player should dive into.
But this article is not exhaustive! By trying multiple systems, you’ll get a feel for your own personal play style so you can mix-and-match to your heart’s content.
First things first: do you already have an RPG system you want to play?
If so – you want a GM Emulator.
Choosing an emulator
The emulator is a crucial element to your solo RPG experience. It’s the system that introduces surprise, randomness, and discovery to your narrative.
I chose Mythic for several reasons: it’s been around forever, it’s comprehensive, and dare I say, intuitive. If you buy the right versions, you can use it as an emulator and/or an RPG system.
But Mythic can be daunting at first glance, since (at the time of writing) there are four versions:
Mythic Emulator (Blue)
Mythic Variations I (Yellow)
Mythic Variations II (Green)
The colours in brackets represent their cover colours, included here for ease of reference.
If you’re just getting started, here’s a quick guide to what you might want to pick up:
Mythic (Red) includes the Mythic Emulator (Blue). If you don’t have a particular tabletop RPG you want to play, Mythic Red has its own RPG system that’s mutable and beginner friendly. I used this to get started.
Mythic Emulator (Blue) is great if you already have a particular tabletop game (D&D, etc) and you just need the DM replacer element.
Mythic Variations I (Yellow). I own this, but I rarely use it. In many ways, my use of the Adventure Crafter (same creator) and Variations II (Green) replaces the mechanics in Mythic Variations I (see below).
Mythic Variations II (Green) is a must-have, in my opinion, if you’re using Mythic. It simplifies the Fate Check and adds three other checks: the Detail Check, the Behaviour Check, and the Statistics Check. Personally, worth it for the Behaviour Check. This is a great system for creating dynamic NPC encounters and conversations.
Choosing your supplements
One of the BEST parts of solo RPG is choosing and introducing extra supplements into your gameplay.
Supplements can be random tables, existing setting books, and NPC emulators. I even use gameplay elements from other systems to enhance or switch things up.
You could literally spend all of your time collecting gamebooks and hoarding random tables and not play a single hour. And that’s okay!
This can be overwhelming for the newcomer, so I’ll break down some of the supplements and little extras I use in my own play for clarity. Depending on what RPG system you’re using, you’ll likely bring in that system’s expansions and supplements as well.
While each of these resources has specific rules or directions, I don’t always follow them to the letter. As you become familiar with each resource, you’ll end up using it in a way that fits your play style. The point is to use what works for you and discard the rest.
I’ve included whether they are paid ($) or pay what you want, according to DrivethruRPG based on the PDF only.
The Adventure Crafter – $ – Also by Word Mill Games, the creator of Mythic. Although made for DMs, a solo player can use the Adventure Crafter to create entire adventures or add drama to specific scenes. There are five themes (Mystery, Action, Social, Tension, and Personal) that you rank from one to five according to the story you’re creating. Then, you roll on the appropriate random tables. This results in ideas for plot points or introduces a wrinkle into play. This is an excellent addition to any DM or solo player’s arsenal.
The Universal NPC Emulator (UNE) – PWYW – by Zach Best. A staple for any solo player or DM. Easily create NPCs but also determine their mood and motivations. I find myself turning to this almost every time in combination with other character creation methods because of its simplicity.
BOLD, the book of legends and deeds – PWYW – also by Zach Best. While perhaps not as popular as UNE, I turn to this when a character requires a specific backstory event, or motivation that springs from backstory. Not quite as simple to use as UNE, but with practice it never fails to provide me with an “AHA! So that’s why!” moment for my characters.
The Story Engine Deck – $ - The Story Engine Deck provides a framework for creating interesting, out-of-the-box characters that you can slide into any setting. More on this in part three.
Also consider adding tables that have a variety of names (characters, places, things) to your arsenal, or keep a random name generator open on your device for quick access. Tarot cards can also divine character motivations or backstories.
Whole systems I also use in conjunction with supplements
So maybe you’re like me – you like a pinch of this, a dash of that. You don’t want to play crunchy combat but you like a detailed world to wander around in.
Ironsworn – Free/$ - A favourite within the solo RPG community because of its solo-inclusive system. This baby was made for solos! All you need to play Ironsworn is your brain and the Ironsworn core book (currently pay what you want on DrivethruRPG). There is an expansion, Delve (not free – but worth it!) as well as a companion game: Starforged (similar mechanics but revamped for SPAAAAAACCCCCE).
Ex Novo - $ - This is a whole game in and of itself that I highly recommend for either cooperative city building or as an out-of-the-box setting creator for fiction writers/DMs. A great one-shot introduction to tabletop play that requires no prep and very little roleplay. I’ve used it to create entire cities and towns in fiction, or just as quick inspiration for a setting my characters were visiting as part of a larger adventure.
You can also check out my YouTube channel to see how I use supplements in my sessions.
My advice for newbies:
Choose a system. Try it out.
If the gameplay doesn’t work for you? Try something else.
The greatest freedom of solo RPG is you get to decide what and how you want to play. Don’t like the crunchy combat of 5e? Try Ironsworn. Want to introduce an outdoor-travelling element but you want to get nitty-gritty about encounters? Do a hexcrawl.
The point, perhaps cliché, is apt: the best way to figure out what works for you is to get started. Right now.
Clare C. Marshall is the author-publisher behind Faery Ink Press. She also blogs about her publishing experiences and experiments and explores the connection between storytelling and solo RPG on her YouTube channel.