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Jeff Pierce: How I Play & Write World vs. Hero Solo

Recently, I asked Jeff Pierce, the gamer/writer behind the successful Shadowvixen solo World vs. Hero/Mythic session, to explain how he makes his solo RPG sessions look so easy. Because solo role-playing experiences in writing can seem a daunting task to some, I hoped Jeff would be able to encourage others to finally give solo World vs. Hero or any other RPG a try by sharing how he generates the motivation, ideas, and time to do what he does so amazingly well!

From Jeff:

Basically, when deciding to play and chronicle a WvH session, I use the following to get started and keep at it:

1. Use something that really interests you, and that you know fairly well, as your World.
     While it's good to step out of one's comfort zone on occasion, truth is, we each have our favorite genres, game systems, campaign/adventure settings, character types, etc. That favoritism tends to lead us to become, in many cases, intimately familiar and knowledgeable about them. Think of how many tabletop wargamers are often well-read in not just military tactics and strategy, but also the history and politics and technology of the time periods they simulate! Regardless of the specific subject, the more interested you are, and the more thoroughly you know it, the keener your inherent motivation to not just start but finish a solo session that might, in some cases, stretch out over days or weeks.

2. Invest in your World and its Hero(es), so that you care about what happens to them.
     This is fairly obvious, though it has more relevance to an ongoing campaign than to a one-shot adventure whose setting and characters you may never revisit. Even in those latter cases, however, the greater the investment, the better the final product will likely be – and the more likely you'll finish what you started!

3. Set down a clear background of conflict potential.
Conflict is the root of nearly all story and gaming material. Whether expressed as an external confrontation between protagonist and antagonist, or in terms of a character wrestling with his or her own flaws and limitations, a conflict of some sort should be present right from the establishment of the game session.

4. Embrace randomness and imagination alike to develop and enhance those conflicts.
     I often don't have a pre-generated specific idea in my head before getting started on a solo session. Instead, I simply let Mythic do its magic, letting its results mingle with the established aspects of the game world to give me a starting point. That way, the element of surprise is preserved, and one can explore a perhaps unanticipated aspect of the World or of the Hero's background in the process. Here's an example of what I mean:
     Using the World setting I developed for Shadowvixen's campaign, there are several potentials for conflict – political reform, crime waves, labor agitation and unrest, ethnic/racial strife, foreign dangers, and any number of social/cultural challenges facing urban America in the early 1900s. With no particular idea which one might come into play, I ask Mythic a Complex Question – “What is the Theme of this adventure?” The result I get is “Agree / Portals”. What can I make of that?
     “Portals” is any kind of grand and imposing entrance or gate, but it can be interpreted metaphorically instead of literally. In this case, I'll interpret it as the immigration gateway – the ability of foreigners to enter the country under relatively easy conditions back then. But among many native-born Americans of the time, there was a consensus – they “agreed”, in other words – that there should be limits placed on the number of immigrants each year and from each foreign country. Some of the reasons for this policy were rational (labor unions wanting immigration restrictions to reduce job competition and increase workers' wages) while others' motives were much less charitable.
     Hence our conflict! Militant nativists are agitating for immigration restrictions, and some of them are starting to carry out attacks in ethnic neighborhoods in the City. As the attacks increase, so too do the anger and determination of foreign-born Americans to defend themselves. It's up to the Hero(es) to defuse the crisis by bringing the nativist criminals to justice, reassure the immigrants that law and order will be upheld, and steer the emotionally-charged debate into constructive channels.
     Of course, the same Mythic result gets you entirely different adventure seeds based on the World you're playing in. In a sci-fi universe, maybe there's an agreement in the works among the starfaring races about using a stable wormhole, except someone wants to sabotage the meeting – or the portal itself!

5. Play and write when you are ready and able to do so.

6. Don't feel rushed; Take a break to think things over, if need be.
     When playing/writing solo, you don't have someone across the table from you, drumming his fingers while you plot your next move. So one has the enormous freedom and flexibility to engage in the activity whenever you want to. From the writing standpoint, then, I've found it's best for me to engage in my WvH sessions when I'm creatively ready to go, and when I know there aren't any other pressing distractions. This gives me the opportunity to go at my own pace, and it often winds up with my getting "into the zone", where I can crank out a couple of rounds in an afternoon or long evening.
     Sometimes, though, you just hit that brick wall where you aren't sure where to go next. I've noticed that this generally happens usually between Rounds, when I'm trying to set up a new Location. Occasionally, you can write an interlude to buy you time and perhaps give yourself some ideas. But on other occasions, you're just going to be creatively stumped. In that case, go ahead and lay it aside for a bit and think about how best to go forward from that point. Don't be surprised if sometimes that lasts for days; but if you've made the investment in time and commitment to start something promising, you'll see it through and come back to finish it. If all else fails, ask Mythic some questions to help you through the creative block.
     In short, solo WvH gaming is just like many other kinds of writing, only you are doing so according to certain published rules and guidelines. And that brings me to my last rule of thumb when doing solo role-playing using WvH and Mythic products.

7. Don't be afraid to re-roll if the Mythic results don't make sense or won't fit into the story!
     It hasn't happened often, but there have been times when I've gotten a combination that I simply could not make heads or tails of, or that would have taken the story in a direction that didn't really make sense under the circumstances. In those instances, it's perfectly justifiable to roll the dice again until you get the first result that will work for you. Now, this shouldn't be done to extract the Hero from an unfortunate/tragic fate (especially if the Hero has done something culpable that causes him/her to deserve that result) or otherwise “cheat” the game system, if you will. Rather, re-rolling during solo WvH play is a recognition that you're trying to tell a good story, and that story needs to be driven with some internal consistency. If the answer to a particular Mythic roll is either indecipherable or would otherwise derail the tale you're weaving, go ahead and feel free to try again. After all, it's your story – make the most of it, in a way that leaves you satisfied with the results!

Thanks, Jeff!

And Jeff's next Shadowvixen solo game is in the works right now! Can't wait to see it!

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