Back when I started Solo RPG Voyages, there were only a few available Engines one would normally need to play solo. There was at least five that most people pointed to, to which I made one of my very first posts a five-day marathon of playing the same game, same setting, same story, but the difference was how the Engines worked.
This was what I called the Solo Engine RPG Battle Royale Week and it was a means for me to get out of my comfort zone with the Mythic GM Emulator and try out Engines in a controlled environment so I could look exclusively at the Engines and not let any outside force like how the game plays or a plot point causing the game to drag distract from the Engine’s overall quality.
However, as soon as I made that, I was given the request to review another solo Engine called CRGE. One month later, I find another solo RPG Engine for me to play with… and another… and another… Eventually, I wanted to do a second Solo Engine RPG Battle Royale Week, but I kept doing other things that occupied my time.
Now it’s almost impossible to pick just five Engines for a sequel. With solo gaming becoming more mainstream than ever before, more and more Engines are made to cater to various degrees of player. There’s even one author that creates Engines tailor made for certain RPG systems. What adds to this increase is how easy it is to make solo Engines.
For instance, I can take dice from the Genesys RPG system and use the symbols to interpret yes and no answers. Easy. I even made a system using the lowest numbered dice called the Coin, Tumbler, and Caltrop system or CTC for short. A coin is used for yes and no, a d3 (a tumbler) is used to see if it’s a “but”, “and”, or neither, and a d4 (a caltrop) would be a controller to see if a plot twist would be coming.
So now I have the situation of having so many Engines to try out and not enough games to pair them with. Granted, some are easy to pair, like PPM’s Engine or even cases like Ironsworn where the Engines come packed with their own games. However, it’s come to a point where it feels more pragmatic to read the Engine and make conclusions to how it plays rather than devote entire sessions to playing around with it.
Earlier, I made a review scale for RPG games based on how soloable they were, under the idea that any game can be played solo. The problem was that I had way too many variables and scored it on a ten-point rating. Worse still, it shot my own ideas and mission statement down and even made the system as a whole feel like more busywork than a two-paragraph review.
So, with this, I feel like it should be a little more restrained. Instead of numbers, I’d bring the Engine into a few categories based off ease of use, if the Engine is focused on mechanics or story (more on this later), and whether the game has a twist system. Rather than grading it, I feel like it’s more appropriate to see what sort of people would enjoy the Engines.
I’m not going to go into all the nitty gritty details like the odds of getting yes vs. no or how often you trigger an event, since that’d be edging towards reviewing and I’m only making recommendations for this list.
So, here we go. I’m going to take a look at all the Engines I played with in the past to see how they’d rank. This will be the system I’ll be using:
- Difficulty: How difficult is it to utilize the Engine and its surrounding mechanics to the best of their ability? Is it easy to remember upkeep? How steep is the learning curve? Ranges from Easy to Medium to Hard.
- Fluff/Crunch: You may have heard these words before, but might not have known what they mean. The fluff is an RPG’s overall lore while the crunch is the RPG’s game mechanics. Some games have more fluff than crunch and vice versa. In this case, an Engine’s fluff would be either an overall story behind it or how the Engine utilizes plot elements and an Engine’s crunch would be the overall mechanics behind the Engine or even outright tons of non-story based generators built into the Engine. If an Engine focuses on story, it gets a Fluff. If it focuses on mechanics, it gets a Crunch. If, however, there’s a mixture of Fluff and Crunch, I’d call it Balanced.
- Twist?: Fairly straight forward. Does this Engine have a twist or random event system? Some people might prefer one and others might not.
First up, the Mythic GM Emulator. This was a really good starting Engine back before 2015, and it still holds up to this day. It has an RPG that had a prototypical version the Engine. Comparing the two is akin to night and day, as the Fate Table was made more for task resolutions in mind and several Chaos Factor points share the same column. Not to mention the Event Meanings table was a 200-item list that would later be split into 2 100-item tables.
- Difficulty: The Fate chart is a little disorientating for newbies and can sometimes be difficult to remember if numbers after the large central number mean yes or no. Factor that in with keeping up with Chaos Factor at any given time and this becomes a bit overwhelming, but not enough for it to be hard. This gets a Medium.
- Fluff/Crunch: I kinda feel like the Engine is pretty fluffy, all things considered, as it utilizes entire lists of NPCs, plot threads, and an overall Chaos system that is based around whether or not the heroes are in control. Not to mention the first Variations book has several additional genres that alter the way the mechanics work for the betterment of the plot and tone. So, thus, this engine is Fluff.
- Twist?: Yes, two ways of achieving it. Either you roll doubles within the Chaos Factor or get a Scene Interrupt. You trigger an event table that you must roll on, then two words that bring meaning to the event, on top of any possible thread or character it comes up with.
Next up is the CRGE, of which is my favorite system and is easily the dominate part of CRGE Kai.
- Difficulty: Fairly easier compared to Mythic. Rather than keep up with a matrix of odds and chaos factors, you’re instead asking yourself where the question is leading, either to knowledge, conflict, or ending. You also have a similar factor to Chaos, but it’s easier to keep up with and better works with the “Loom of Fate”, the name of CRGE’s oracle. For this, it’s rather Easy.
- Fluff/Crunch: Given how a majority of the document describes the nature of threads and even how to structure a vignette. Very light on mechanics, and thus, it’s Fluffy.
- Twist?: Yes. Just one. If your answering number ranges from a 1-5 or a 96-100 at least, you get an “And Unexpectedly” result in which one from twenty different results, three of which are either reroll results or dealer’s choice.
CTC, the Engine I made for the sake of proving how easy engines can be made.
- Difficulty: I see this being an Easy system to get into with only three dice and them being the smallest amount of faces.
- Fluff/Crunch: It does require upkeep of NPCs and Threads, so I feel like this would be Fluffy.
- Twist?: Yes, though only one and it allows the three dice to be utilized in some way.
Apocalypse Oracle, the Engine I playtested recently. While the name implies it’s to be used with the Powered by the Apocalypse games, this isn’t the case and is merely inspired by those kinds of games to make the Soft/Hard/Pacing move tables.
- Difficulty: The author intended for this system to be Easy and I have to agree. Simplistic, D6 tables all around with a requirement of pulling out a deck of cards every now and then for certain generators.
- Fluff/Crunch: There’s quite a ton of cool, easy to use generators and there’s tons of mechanics for the Engine, right down to the narrative-heavy Moves that you can use to help… well, move the story along. This is our first Crunchy result.
- Twist?: Yes, and it can be achieved through rolling a 5 on the Altered Scene table and a 6 on the Pacing Moves table. You draw a card and the resulting suit and rank will tell you the twist. Really interesting method of determining it.
Covetous Poet is, by far, one of the most underrated Engines I have ever used on Solo RPG Voyages. It sadly doesn’t get as much love as CRGE or Mythic, though it could be due to its overly simplistic method and a rather complex series of generators for stories. Still, it’d be worth it to give this a shot.
- Difficulty: I would say this is pretty Easy all things considered. There’s a huge thing revolving around navigating many tables to generate plots but nothing too difficult and all the necessary Oracling is contained on one page much like how the Apocalypse Oracle did it.
- Fluff/Crunch: Heavy on the Fluff here, since most of its many tables are used to generate a narrative with twists and plot elements. It doesn’t help that those tables are dependant on the genre you’re playing.
- Twist?: Yes, and it is triggered in one of four manners: Roll Doubles on the fate chart, roll a 2 or 12 on the conversation table, when the characters enter a new location and when feeling like triggering one. A 2d6 roll determines the event, followed closely by using several massive tables for context.
Epic, though I sometimes call it Epic D6 for whatever reason I now have lost.
- Difficulty: I would say this is a steep learning curve, but not difficult. It takes a while to get adjusted to the idea of rolling a hand of five dice and counting evens, so I would consider this a Medium difficulty.
- Fluff/Crunch: This has a lot of Crunch to this Engine. I don’t think there’s a lot of Solo Engines that has a small minigame of answering yes/no questions quite like Epic.
- Twist?: Yes. Triggered by having the last two fate dice match. A D6 table determines the twist in question.
Fantasy Trip Solo, this is our first actual system that is made to be paired with an RPG rather than in Mythic’s case where the Engine was split from the RPG. As the name implies, this is for the Fantasy Trip and it pairs up pretty nicely, though it can be used for other games. However, the “roll 3d6” rule is a staple for The Fantasy Trip, and thus it fits it nicely.
- Difficulty: Easy, the tables and instructions are straight forward and they get the job done rather nicely.
- Fluff/Crunch: I would say this is Fluffy since the tables it has all set up something about the narrative.
- Twist?: Yes. If you roll a 3, 4, 17, 18, you trigger the “Interesting” twist, where you roll 3d6 and get one of 15 different results.
Fate Solo (Cabbage) is another Engine that is paired with a game, though in this case, the Fate Engine. While I’d say it can be used with other games, the problem is that, because you’re using Fate Die, it’s probably easier to just cut the middle man and play a game that also uses Fate Die for resolutions. I should also mention that I will have to differentiate this from PPM’s own Fate Solo system.
- Difficulty: The rules are simple to follow, even for someone who is just starting out with learning how the Fate Dice work and even how to follow up with a Surprise Factor. I say this is pretty Easy to learn.
- Fluff/Crunch: The mechanics to this are very Crunchy. There’s even full on rules on how to create a character for a game of Fate and the Surprise System has three tiers of surprises to unleash with its own rules of how they get triggered.
- Twist?: Yes. When you roll a + or – on the yes/no results, you trigger a “Surprise”, correlating to the Surprise Factor (its own Chaos Factor) that you add to a Fate Die Roll to get one of three tiers of surprises: Minor, Moderate, or Major, all relating to the question that triggered the Surprise.
Oculus Tri-Fold is a little confusing because there’s two of them. One is said to be the update though, so I’m going with that. There is also a pretty small game attached to the Engine. Out of all the engines on this list besides Covetous Poet, I highly recommend you guys try this out.
- Difficulty: Two pages, which can be printed out and folded into three small pages much like its namesake. The instructions are clear, easy to follow, and walks the player through an interesting premise. This is pretty Easy. However, a warning in advance: Oculus handles solo games in a much different way compared to others.
- Fluff/Crunch: I don’t think I’ve come across an Engine quite as Fluffy as this. Where as other Engines are simply GM Emulators, Oculus’s entire theme revolves around looking through the lens of another person and figuring out their story. It intricately ties a narrative to the oracle, even including an in-story reason for how to do multiplayer.
- Twist?: There are no twist mechanics to be see in this. The closest I could find is when you have shared viewings (i.e. multiplayer) and each viewer has interrupt points where they take direct control of the story but that just puts the story in the hands of another and not outright has its own random event mechanic.
RPG Solo has the distinct notion of being the second online Oracle, the first being the flash Mythic GM Emulator that got me hooked into Mythic and reignited my love for solo roleplaying in the first place. I can’t recall exactly what RPG Solo runs on, but it seems to be a rather unique system where you roll a D10 and determine the odds there.
There’s also an elephant in the living room, but I can’t for the life of me recall what it is. If I had to guess, it had something to do with the creator of the program not giving proper credit for the game icons that were used. I didn’t mention this when I was recapping my sessions for RPG Solo because I couldn’t remember and I’d rather not bog the blog post down with mis-remembered events.
- Difficulty: Easy given how it does all the heavy lifting for you. In fact, you don’t need to worry about cross-referencing charts, it just does it for you.
- Fluff/Crunch: This Engine has tons of random generators that you can chuck into your RPG and even make your own lists (up to 8), but at the same time, those generators are mostly used to facilitate the story in some way, so I think this is our first Balanced Engine.
- Twist?: As this is more an app than an outright document, I can’t look into the nitty gritty of how Twists are triggered, but I can say that Yes it has a Twist mechanic. Two, in fact. One is a watered-down version of Mythic’s Event system where it just gives you the two words and no context, while the other system, using Tiny Solitary Soldiers’ own system, just gives you the context. Honestly, it feels like the two should have been combined because that’d result in a context filled twist. Sorry, that’ll be the only critique you’ll get out of me.
Short Order Heroes, while not an official Engine, I consider it as such due to how I used it in a session.
- Difficulty: Easy. Just draw a card. If it’s 0-3, it’s a no. 4-7, it’s a yes.
- Fluff/Crunch: I’d say Crunch since you’re spending cards that would otherwise have benefited to the story.
- Twist?: No. There was none I came up with.
Tiny Universal is practically a game that has an Oracle built in and pairs nicely with Apocalypse World and other PtbA games due to a similar 2d6 mechanic.
- Difficulty: Easy, all that’s needed is to look at a simple list that tells you what your results are with the only additional complexion being that, if you want to roll with advantage or disadvantage, you roll an additional D6 and take the higher/lower of the two.
- Fluff/Crunch: I’d say this is Crunchy, since, as I mentioned, the Oracle is modeled around its own game and a lot of the rules are central to facilitating the game.
- Twist?: No. The Engine is pretty straight forward, all things considered.
Tiny Solitary Soldiers is essentially a step down from Tiny Universal in the sense that instead of 2d6, it’s 1d6. It’s made for war games in mind, setting up the scenarios for skirmishes instead of coming up with long, complex campaigns and it does the job pretty well.
- Difficulty: Out of all the Engines on this list, this is by far the Easiest to understand and grasp the rules of. Rules are as straightforward as they come.
- Fluff/Crunch: It’s gonna be weird to hear, but this is Fluffy, since it’s used to create stories in-between skirmishes and is able to use NPCs and Threads, as well as set the tone for scenes.
- Twist?: Yes. When you roll a 1 on a separate die, you roll two dice that net you an estimated total of 36 different combinations of plot twists. You could also trigger it by rolling a 6 on your scene roll, in which you get a “Meanwhile…” scene.
Ursa Minor is the latest Engine I played around with and its use is rather unique among the others in more ways than one…
- Difficulty: Reading this entire book to get every single detail for soloing with just this Engine alone results in this being pretty Hard to pull off. Not only does it have its own Chaos Factor in the form of Turmoil that increases and decreases depending on what happens, but also have different functions, essentially combining both the Surge Counter from CRGE and the Chaos Factor from Mythic. The Limner is straightforward, the odds being a DC for your dice to overcome, but its bigger brother, the Fray, which is reserved for solving multiple rolls at once, has a rather complex formula of how to plug numbers in. It’s doable, but it requires a lot of patience and understanding. After that, the Bihex, Trihex, and Incident systems are much more straightforward due to them being essentially D66, D666, and 2d6 + Turmoil respectively.
- Fluff/Crunch: Most definitely Crunchy, as there’s a ton of different tools for you to use and abuse to your heart’s content.
- Twist?: Yes. It is triggered a few times aside from “whenever the GM feels like it”, such as rolling a 14 on the Limner or, as the Engine itself suggests, using rare rolls that factor to only 1-to-6 percent of your total dice rolls (it uses a 13 on a D20, doubles on a 2d6, and triples on a 3d6 as examples). Afterwards, you roll on the Incident table to see what kind of Incident happens, with only three options that do not cause an Incident to occur. Once an Incident occurs, you roll another 2d6 on a different table to determine a specific kind of Incident. Finally, you roll 3d6 three times to define the incident in question… In short, there’s a lot of stuff that’s involved in determining the twist compared to other Engines, but in trade, it gives you a considerable amount of depth.
I should also do one for Freeform Universal, as that is said to be the forefather to Tiny Universal. Like Tiny, Freeform Universal’s Engine is built into the game. As I look at it though, it pretty much has the same qualities that Tiny Universal does: Easy, Crunchy, No Twist. I do want to say that it’s very unique in how it does the D6 roll. Usually people go with “higher/lower = better result” but then Freeform Universal, appropriate to its acronym, goes “FU” to that and makes it so that all Odds are No results and all Evens are Yes results.
With that, I’ve finished reviewing the Oracles/Engines I have played with and so, when I catch wind of a new Engine, I’ll put it through this exact same Litmus. Once I have about five or so reviewed, I’ll post a sequel. Perhaps I’ll even release a rank of Engines I enjoyed using. Let me know in the comments which Engines you want me to cover next. Until then, bon voyage, Gamers.