I decided to create a review scale of how soloable a game is. How does one go about it? Well, I like to thank Todd Zircher for suggesting that I use a ten questions scale. I basically ask ten questions regarding the RPG’s soloability and then grade it based off how many it answered correctly.
As such, these are the ten questions and the criteria needed to answer them correctly.
1. Can this game be played solo without needing to tweak the rules?
A little redundant at first glance, but it makes sense when you think about it. As much as I like to make every game solo, there are definitely some games that require additional players. A Flower for Mara, although it’s my favorite RPG that I’ve soloed, couldn’t qualify for this as the game requires more players.
I think most people would rather play an RPG with only one character, so a game requiring more than one wouldn’t qualify. Same goes for games where the role of GM switches between players, since, well, you’re the only GM and it’d be hard to go about it without needing additional GM Emulators, as my Posthuman Pathways game has shown.
2. If the game is to be played with one character, is the game balanced enough to allow for that?
Most times, a player will tackle the solo games with only one character. Some games are able to do this just fine, but others like D&D may need to have some additional boosts to make the game more playable, as they were made for multiple classes working together in mind.
For instance, there are games that were built for one character in mind, such as Beloved or Winter, but other games have the minimal requirement for multiple characters, such as Hope Inhumanity or After School Curse Club. This isn’t even factoring in how the game would or wouldn’t work if you decide to play as one character.
3. Can you memorize the basic rules of the game without needing a cheat sheet?
Another basic question. Most players might not want to crack open a book to read the rules, especially since it might drag on the game, which is perhaps one of the biggest challenges when it comes to solo games and will be the core problem that these questions will tackle.
For instance, everyone knows how the OSR/D20 system works. Six attributes contribute to a twenty-sided die roll that determines whether you succeed at something. But for Powered by the Apocalypse games, you may need to crack open the playbook or even the rule book to remember the moves. That said, using your character sheet doesn’t count as a cheat sheet.
4. Are you able to understand the basic rules?
And then there’s the fact that you would need to even understand the rules in order to play the game solo. Usually, it’s the GM’s job to teach players how to play the game, but because you’re the one being both GM and Player, you need a good understanding of the RPG.
Going back to the example, Powered by the Apocalypse is very simple once you get the hang of it and the only thing you would need to double check on are the moves. However, THAC0, a common term used in OSR RPGs, tends to be something not a lot of people understand as easily.
5. Is the game able to cater to all four gameplay elements?
When Kenneth Norris published the Guide to Playing Alone, one of the things he included were the Bartle Types, which are four archetypes of what players want out of a game. These are, in the order introduced in the book:
- Diamonds, players who want to achieve something.
- Spades, players who want to explore the game, in and out of universe.
- Hearts, players who want to socialize.
- And Clubs, players who just want to hit things.
Part of the reason we solo roleplay is to get at least one of these four elements. In order for the game to address those elements, they would need to have rules to operate those. So, for instance…
- A game needs to have upgrades or levelling up to cater to most Diamonds.
- A game needs to have an open world or a dungeon-like setting, or even complex, customizable rules to cater to most Spades.
- A game needs to have socialization rules or rules regarding NPCs and mental/social conflict to cater to most Hearts.
- A game needs to have combat rules or rules regarding competition to cater to most Clubs.
D&D and its derivatives (though mostly Pathfinder) achieves all four of these niches easily, especially with the right tools. Though a Flower for Mara only has enough rules to cater to Hearts.
As this is a complex question, the scoring of this will be simple:
- If a game achieves 0-1 of the niches, it gets 0 points for this question.
- If a game achieves 2-3 of the niches, it gets 0.5 points for this question.
- If a game achieves all four niches, it gets a point for this question.
6. Can the game’s fluff or crunch service multiple settings without adjustments?
A perfect solo game is one that allows for multiple different settings to take place. The D20 system, while mostly stuck in fantasy settings, has other settings thanks to its ease of access and change. The same can’t be said for something like Call of Cthulhu, which is almost exclusively either in the 1920’s or modern times.
That said, you can tweak the game to take place in a different setting (case in point using Titan World to play a Jurassic Park game) which is why I added that stipulation at the end. Basically, if you play this game and can easily make it either fantasy, sci-fi, or even superhero, it gets a point.
7. Can the game’s main mode of engagement be played in under an hour?
Now, when I say “main mode of engagement”, I mean what the major draw is to the game. Dungeons and Dragons has the main mode of engagement being combat while A Flower for Mara’s main mode of engagement being coping with loss.
The reason I ask this is because most players don’t have a lot of time on their hands and being stuck playing a combat round where the most you can do is roll and miss for an hour isn’t what is on their mind. And I should know. I had seen D&D sessions that were basically just one large two-to-four-hour combat session.
8. Does the game have minimum-to-low bookkeeping?
You need to take notes, but taking notes starts to drag you have too much to keep note of. The less information you need to take in, the better the solo experience. It’s similar to questions 3 & 4, but in regards to stuff like keeping track of monsters or changes made in the story.
For example, Dungeons and Dragons hardly has minimum-to-low bookkeeping due to the treasure, experience, monsters, etc, while games like Snakes on a Plane only have you keep track of the time before the plane lands and your five stats. Note that this has nothing to do with Engine or Driver bookkeeping such as using Mythic or the UNE.
9. Can the game be replayed without repetition?
What separates a solo RPG from a board game or even a video game is that the possibilities are seemingly endless. However, some RPGs do feel stiff and have you fixed to a few possibilities without imagination.
The basic guideline for this is that the number of permutations should have a minimum of 50. The reason for this is that the lower number of permutations, the higher a chance you’ll have of having a repeat possibility. To give you an example, I played Plot Armor, only to find the number of permutations for a solo experience was 36, which unfortunately meant I was running into plot points I’ve already done and needed to work my imagination to help get out of the bind.
As for judging the permutations, I can’t really say for sure. This one is gonna be very subjective, but for me at least, the permutations to judge the RPG on is whatever the main feature that allows for such customization. For example, classes and races would lead to a bunch of combinations, thus if you need to experiment, you can.
Of course, this question above all else isn’t a one size fits all and it’s up the individual to figure out what qualifies for this question and what doesn’t.
10. Does the game have built in oracles or generators?
As much as I didn’t want to include this question, in the end, I ran out of questions to ask and realized this was the perfect question. This is what separates the soloable RPGs from the normal RPGs.
Basically, the game needs to have a built-in feature that either answers yes/no questions without resorting to an external Engine like Mythic or CRGE or, more commonly, a table for you to roll on that allows for random stuff, of course falling within the reason of the previous question’s 50-minimum permutation rule.
Obviously, games like Scarlet Heroes fulfill the former while Dungeons and Dragons fulfill the latter.
And with that, we have the ten questions, which gives us a (mostly) 11-point scale, starting from 0 being completely unsoloable to 10 being completely soloable. Feel free to use these questions to score your favorite games. I know I will. To test this out, I’m gonna review Dungeons and Dragons, having played that game more times than any other game. This qualifies for almost every edition of D&D.
- I think it can, so it qualifies as a Yes.
- Hmm… From how many times I’ve played it, it’s difficult to do so, so No.
- More or less. Yes.
- Yes, I’m able to.
- I feel like yes it does.
- Not exactly, as most of the editions take place in fantasy settings.
- As I said before, the main core of engagement, combat, can take over an hour, so no.
- Not exactly.
- Definitely yes.
- The DMG for 5th edition at least qualifies for this, so yes.
In total, D&D scores a 6, so somewhat soloable. But this is how I view it. Your score might be different.
I will be going through the games I solo roleplayed and giving them a score in a later post and then afterwards I will start implementing them for FATAL onwards. Until then, bon voyage, gamers!