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Scott's Tips for Successful Solo RPG Play

During a discussion on RPGNet, Austin's Scott Mathis shared his five tips for successful solo RPG play, and he's graciously allowed us to post them here on Solo Nexus.

From Scott:

Solo play spoiled me a little. It made me more selfish as a player and a GM. I'm getting over that. But after being exposed to unencumbered fun in playing for a while, I was resistant to go back to "slowing down" my fun velocity so that others could catch up. Again, it's something I've worked through now. But it was an issue for me when I hopped back into group role playing.

So, what worked for me when I did it...

1) Easy, yet fun, rule systems
The more complicated the rule system, the more likely you'll be to give up. On the flipside, the more vanilla the rule system, the more likely play will get boring. There's a happy medium.

I mean, 4e was a slog for me solo. There was just TOO MUCH to remember and keep track of. Especially if there was more than one protagonist. But HeroQuest was also a bummer for me in solo play. The mechanic was just "meh" in the end. It was all this bean-counting and then a roll and... it was over. No drama.

For me, a game like BASH (with the exploding die mechanic), B/X D&D, d6 Star Wars, even FASERIP are good candidates for solo play. Not too complicated. But just enough to maintain some degree of drama via the system alone. I'd probably lump ORE and WoD in with those as well.

In short, the system has to resonate fun with you or, I've found, you won't stick with it.

2) Sessions need to be short
The faster the better. We're talking RPGing at hyperspeed. The longer a session requires, the more time-investment is needed. The more time needed, the less likely you'll be to get going. That's another reason for picking a lighter system that still has some meat to it.

If you have to layout all your minis and maps and draw up a bunch of stuff or whatnot, you'll never get around to playing. But if solo sessions are pick-up-and-go, you'll play more regularly.

3) A good randomizer
Something like the Mythic GM Emulator is a must. That's really what separates solo play from writing. In solo play, you have no idea where the story is going. And that's fun. The better the randomizer, the better the play.

4) A good focus
I've found for genres like Action Horror, Fantasy, Noir, Urban Fantasy, Space Opera it's often good to have one central protagonist that allows the world to unfold around them. Because there's one central character, that character needs to be good -- as in complicated, cool and someone you can really care about. The character will pick up a supporting cast. Or maybe you could run with a Fahfrd and Grey Mouser sort of duo. But my experience is that the more PCs you have, the less engaging the session.

On the other hand, for Supers I've found that something like a Super-Hero family is the most fun. A group of supers that all interconnect and can collide in interesting ways.

For straight horror, I think it almost doesn't matter. Just have a system that let's you roll up characters really quickly. Honestly, I've never gotten straight horror to work all that well solo.

But a good focus will give you the desire to come back to the table.

5) Quick and easy write-ups
Session recaps just need to be that. Recaps. It's not fan-fiction. You're really just putting the barebones out there for the world to consume. You'll be happy when they do. Kind of disappointed when they don't.

But I've found the more time you have to invest in write-ups, the less likely you'll do them. And that snowballs to being less likely to play. The play's the thing, as Shakespeare would say. The write-ups are just the end result.

Try to keep it at a consistent 250 words or so. If you need more, include some highlights that you want to remember in notes at the end.

Try to keep your session diary as concise as possible. Something you could write and post over lunch. Then you'll be less likely to see it as a blocker. This post is about FIVE TIMES longer than a session recap should be, in my opinion.

Solo RPGing can be immersive. It can be fun. But it's a bit of a different fun. In much the same way Klondike is different fun from Poker. If you're not inclined to find fun in Solitaire with any other types of games, you'll probably fail to see the point of solo RPGing.

But it's there, I assure you.

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