The Most Common Complaint On Solo Roleplaying and Why It Ultimately Doesn’t Matter

A common complaint seen with solo roleplaying is how the process is so isolated that there’s no true back and forth like a usual RPG. That, even with using randomized numbers with a fixed yes-to-no ratio based on either odds or situational context or even creating randomized events that your character has to overcome, you’re still just wearing the hat of a GM before switching it out for a player’s. This often leads to a question I think a lot of people will hear when talking about solo roleplaying:

“Isn’t it a lot like writing then?”

And that’s… honestly a good question. It’s definitely one that you’ll have different answers to depending on who you ask. Obviously, if you’re playing a solo game for the sake of the game, such as playing the Micro RPG chapbooks, then no. It’s not like writing at all. Same if you just play the game to get a feel for how your character or the world reacts and responds. These two aspects rely more on the crunch of a game rather than its fluff.

However, there is a serious question here if you care more for the story. You have the final say of what happens, after all, so, wouldn’t it just be the same as writing a book?

This article is here to debunk that question, and it will do so with one simple explanation: No, you don’t have a final say.

Let’s start with the very first thing you use when you solo roleplay: the game itself. When writing, you generally have no real hard limits outside of your plot structure and character arcs, which you can set yourself.

By contrast, an RPG already limits you in a number of ways:

  • The setting and possibly even lore is already chosen for you.
  • Who your characters are is dictated by the game’s rules and in some cases, even their backstories are made by the game.
  • The most important thing: whether the hero wins or loses is entirely up to the game or the whims of the dice.

Granted, there are RPGs that circumvent these hard limits. Some games are made to be used in any sort of setting (Fate and GURPS come to mind), some games allow you some freedom to customize your character and make them your own, and some allow you to alter the roll by means of using plot points (or bennies) so that it’s not completely up to chance, or even circumvent the whole thing entirely by making the system diceless.

But it’s still there. You’re not the one writing the story, the game is. This is compounded even further with the Oracle you assign to it. It’s the one that tells you yes or no, throws twists at your feet, and overall generates any additional content it provides. While you ultimately have to guide it by interpreting the results, you’re ultimately not the one deciding how it turns out.

You may have ideas of how a scene plays out, but the Oracle could surprise you with saying “no” to your roll or giving you an idea that you didn’t consider. It’s this interesting dichotomy where the player is less a player and more of an observer, waiting to see how the next roll unfolds. At times, you are not the author of the story, rather the Oracle or the Game is.

And this isn’t even getting into the concept of non-authoring. Long story short, there’s an entire movement dedicated to averting the very idea that solo roleplaying is akin to creative writing with extra steps or even ensure that the player doesn’t have to consistently switch hats when roleplaying.  

The tools used for non-authoring solo are intriguing, ranging from taking text blocks and cutting them up into small segments which you jumble around to using neural networking text completers like Write With Transformer or AI Dungeon 2. These are extremely fun to toy around with and I would recommend trying these at least once.

Ultimately, I don’t see how solo roleplaying can be similar to creative writing. I understand the connection made, but there’s a lot more bells and whistles to solo roleplaying. However, here’s a twist to this little article: In spite of all this, I like the comparison.

I like telling stories and roleplaying games are a vehicle to tell stories. It’s in the name: role-playing. It’s pretending you’re a superhero fighting the bad guys, it’s imagining yourself exploring dungeons as a different person, it’s seeing the world unfold before your eyes as a narrative is weaved, be it by your own imagination, a table you consult with some dice, or some really advanced AI programming built from generations upon generations of mistakes and successes.

In the end, you’re being told a story and you take part in writing that story, regardless of if you’re by yourself, with some friends, or a computer.

You’re playing a game solo, putting yourself into the role of an adventure and going on a voyage… Hence the name: Solo RPG Voyages.

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