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d20 Solo Adventuring

Started by rpghost, October 22, 2002, 12:08:03 AM

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Wasn't quite sure where to post this... hope it's ok here.

We (a game publisher and some talanted folks) are working on a new d20 enhancement for solo-adventuring. It'll involve card decks, tile maps, interactive fiction, and straight d20 rules to allow you to use your own character in our solo adventures. This will be a PDF product sold at

We are interested in your thoughts on the subject. We're looking for a few people who are knowledgable in solo-adventuring and/or tile based adventure games to give some input to this project. If you're interested in hearing our ideas and sharing your own to make an excellent low cost solo-gaming experience, please write me at


P.S. Don't forget about CyberCon 3 - totally online gaming convention being held this weekend!


It would certainly be more appropriate to the forum you chose if there was some discussion of theory -- ie: how one plays or the attraction of solo-games, how one might design a better solo-game (though Indie Design might be better there) -- not merely product advertisement.

Sorry if that sounds harsh, there's just nothing to discuss or think about contained in your post. Thus I think that the Connections forum would be a better spot for this sort of announcement, since you are soliciting for private input for development.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio


Ah, good point. I didn't want to drag the talks into public right yet... to early to do that. So I didn't want to clutter up the forums. But I'm more then open to ideas/concepts about how to make a solo-adventure a compeling draw to players. How to handle movement and mapping are some of the more complex issues. I've thought of many things from tiles to home made Fog-of-War cut outs or something... just kind of baffled on that one.

Anyway, feel free to move or delete the post :)

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Raven's right, regarding the initial post. However, with just a little nudging, we can keep this thread on-topic for James' benefit and also get some discussion going that's sufficiently idea-based.

It starts with finding those threads that Jack Spencer contributed to in detail about solo RPG play. He wrote some friggin' brilliant stuff that deserves exhuming and further consideration.

Anyone wanna hunt those down, provide a link here, and thus make everyone happy?


Kester Pelagius

Quote from: rpghostI'm more then open to ideas/concepts about how to make a solo-adventure a compeling draw to players. How to handle movement and mapping are some of the more complex issues. I've thought of many things from tiles to home made Fog-of-War cut outs or something... just kind of baffled on that one.

This one all depends.  There is the old school game book approach, a winner all the way around since it require minimalistic extras (dice, pencil, paper) or something more complex.  Somewhere, in a box, with a lot of old RPG material, I have a solo adventure from TSR (before the days of T$R, if my imp of memory serves) and it did have a few gimmicks.

The one that sticks out in my mind, and which may be of interest to you, is that it used a red clear strip so that certain passages, written in a special ink, could only be read when that strip was place over it.

Oor maybe you had to hold it up to your eyes, hmm.  No matter, it's basically the same sort of thing you see from time to time with those gimmicky "win something" games.  But as applied to a solo adventure it would at least keep those who are honest from inadvertantly reading text before they need to.

Can't speak to whether or not you should have a lot of other gimmicks, as I don't know if you intend the module/game to strictly be solo or maybe allow it to be used also as a normal module?

Kind Regards.
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri


Thy wish is my command, master!

I believe these are what you're looking for:
Solo rpgs?, Feedback on an idea..., and idea...
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio


Quote from: Kester Pelagius
Quote from: rpghostThe one that sticks out in my mind, and which may be of interest to you, is that it used a red clear strip so that certain passages, written in a special ink, could only be read when that strip was place over it.

While an interesting and workable gimik, it doesn't work well for a PDF :) It also doesn't offer much more (maybe less) then the standard numbered paragraphs.

We intend to make a mix cards and interactive fiction ... but the problem I'm trying to address is how to work with a static map for a dungeon lay out. At leat I think finding a way to do that can make this unique and help script the adventure.

We also plan to allow for multiple player modes (cooperative or compeditive) as well as an IRON MAN mode where everyone starts out naked and things like Altars and Fountians are added (ala NetHack/Moria).

I have the basic design doc done for this game, but I'm looking for original ideas and new ways to use old ones...


Kester Pelagius

Greetings rpghost,

Quote from: rpghostWhile an interesting and workable gimik, it doesn't work well for a PDF :)

No, I suppose it wouldn't at that.

(scratching head in wonderment at how he missed this thing was a PDF)

Quote from: rpghostWe intend to make a mix cards and interactive fiction ... but the problem I'm trying to address is how to work with a static map for a dungeon lay out. At leat I think finding a way to do that can make this unique and help script the adventure.

Easy enough.  Create your master dungeon map, number it as usual, write the text to go with the relavent areas.

Now, cut and snip the map into pieces/segments.  Include ONLY the pertinent areas with the pertinent text.  ALSO you can have seperate entries which reveal more or LESS detail about the area depending upon what was rolled or what path was chosen by the players.

For example:  Say you have a 3x3 dungeon cell.  It has a loose stone in the corner leading to a crude tunnel.  If the player doesn't roll/look whatever to discover it... simply send them to a passage that doesn't describe said stone leading to exit tunnel.

Of course you now have to add a way out for the character not reliant upon thet tunnel.  Great for story building, these seemingly dead ends are.  ;)

Hope that helped.

Kind Regards.
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri

Mike Holmes

Following up on Kester's idea, if you want a map for which you can use miniatures, just make it a full scale map. The player plays the page where he is at, and does any fights, etc. Also, instead of putting the "if you go north goto page 29" in the text, just put arrows on the map with the numbers next to them. This can be done ad infinitum. A player wants to investigate that barrel? It's numbered on the map. The text can say, "If the character approached the barrel from the doorway, goto 21" wherin the pit trap is detailed.

IOW, make the maps a list of elements to check out. Make enough innocuous ones in every room, and players may not check them all out (even label each and every ten foot section of wall and floor in case players want to search). They may just see a table on the map, and assume that it's just a normal table (as indeed would often be the description in the text). When in fact, there might be a faint symbol etched in it's surface only noticable on closer inspection).

See where I'm going with this? If you build a library of such elements, you can include them in your maps much more easily and frequently. Might actually be quite immersive.

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.


That's so simple I'm not sure why I didn't think of that at all. Maybe I was trying to be too creative. :)

So, in the case of a house floor plan were we really can't rely on randomness of tiles, we have a static map that is sliced up and pre-randomized so that the player doesn't see the overall map and how things connect until they actually play (walk through) the areas.

That could work. What we're planning is to make use of as many methods of mapping as we can. We've got a very talented tile artist to help :)

I was re-reading some of the old posts (which I actually was a part of)... most of it was just talking about old games and not very helpful. But one thread left some great ideas like time of day being used for different enounters and tracking a stat or counter (like good / evil points or something) to modify the outcome. This is the sort of creative input I was hoping for to help us expand on the idea and make it more fun.


Walt Freitag

Here are a few examples that haven't been mentioned in the previous threads.

Barbarian Prince (Dwarfstar Games, 1981)

The player moves the character figure on a hex map, with terrain types keyed to random encounter tables and which options available for each day's main action. The encounter tables are keyed to paragraphs in an "events booklet." The daily options each lead to a rule section containing die rolls with outcomes leading to either events in the events book, or further rule sections for resolving an occurrence. The event paragraphs contain no branching choices, but many of them contain further die rolls to determine outcomes (all of which are listed in the same paragraph) or lists of player options (which reference the rules section used to resolve each option). As a result, most event paragraphs are more like rules subtables than story passages.

There is a time limit based on a day count, and many other "global" rules that deal with events and options not explicitly indicated in a paragraph. For example: "If you finish actions for a day on any hex north of the Tragoth River, the mercenary royal guardsmen may find you. See e002 after normal events are concluded, but before you take your evening meal (r215)." The game system is fairly detailed, with the player keeping track of food, money, time, and followers. Combat is played in multiple rounds with individual wounds dealt (but no specific wound locations or effects). There's even rules for the effects of having found one's True Love, including what happens if you find more than one of them.

Tales of the Arabian Nights (West End Games, 1985)

A story-generating board game, designed for multi-player play but it's really individual explorations taken in turns with the other players serving as the audience for others' adventures.

Players move on a map with locations connected by paths. Locations indicate terrain type which affects movement and can also affect encounters. Player-character state cosists of: wealth level, destiny points, story points, treasures carried (relatively rare), 28 different possible statuses, and 18 different possible skills. The statuses are mostly bad and include things like lost, imprisoned, insane, accursed, enslaved, outlaw, envious, etc. (Also a few good things like respected, robe of honor, determined, and vizier, and some mixed-bag ones like married and on pilgrimage). Each status has specific rules for the advantages or disadvantages they confer on the player-character. The skills are a mixture of qualities (such as piety, appearance, quick thinking, and enduring hardship) and talents (such as beguiling, seamanship, wilderness lore, and storytelling).

Turns consist mainly of movement, and drawing an encounter card. Some encounter cards describe 6 immediate events selected by a d6 roll. Most indicate a number in the main text book (with multiple possibilities per card, depending on either which terrain type the player is on, or which pass through the deck it is). Those numbers lead to any of 111 tables presenting 12 possibilities selected by a roll of 2d12. (Bonuses and penalties are possible on this roll, so the 1 result is included). Each result gives a description of what is encountered in the form of adjective-noun (such as "Lovesick Enchantress" or "Dark River") and a letter A-K indicating which of eleven "Reactin Matrix" tables to use in the next step. In each reaction matrix, the table rows are listed by the adjective (not the noun!) from the encounter description, and the table columns represent the player's choices of how to approach the encounter. For example, table A has the choices Grovel, Aid, Rob, Avoid, Converse, Attack, Court, Abduct, or Honor. Each entry in the table (except where a star indicates the option is not possible for that row) is a number that links back to the main text book entries. Of which there are well over a thousand, which accounts for the elaborate indexing you have to go through to get there.

Most of the text entries have three parts: an introduction that sets up the situation, a result that applies if the player-character has a certain skill or one of a certain set of skills, and a "no skill" result that applies if the character doesn't have the skills listed. Usually the "no skill" results hose you with bad statuses, while the results if you're fortunate enough to have the skill give you benefits including gaining yet more skills. But the balance is actually fairly good. There are built-in ways out of the cumulative-bad-status spirals that characters tend to get into early in the game when they have few skills, and on a longer time scale the outlook steadily improves as players gain more skills.

I learned from the game's designer, Eric Goldberg, that this game was originally intended as a prototype for a computer game, in which the rather awkward indexing procedure would be behind the scenes. But text in computer games became obsolete before the game had a chance to get made (and with 1200 different text stories, building it with graphics would be impractical). But as a board game it's great beer-and-pretzels storytelling with a very lighthearted feel despite (or perhaps because of) the personal disasters that are constantly befalling the characters. The victory conditions that make it a multi-player board game are a tacked-on afterthought, with the result that my friends and I often ignored them and just kept playing, on some occasions all night (appropriately enough). However, I have to say I don't think of it as a truly solitaire game -- not because of the tacked-on multi player rules, but because it's so much more fun with an audience of other players.

StarSaga One: Beyond the Boundary (Masterplay Publishing, 1988)
(co-designed and co-written by yours truly)

StarSaga is a multi-player role playing board and computer game with about 900 printed pages of text paragraphs. Players are human space explorers and traders, outcast from human society (spacefaring but, as the result of a devastating "space plague," limited to a small cluster of inhabited systems by isolationist policies enforced by a blockade called the Barrier), but sometimes following clues left behind by a previous generation of human explorer-heroes (a direct and effective ripoff from Journey to the Center of the Earth.) Players choose from six specific characters with different backgrounds and goals (but sharing a common interest in exploration).

StarSaga is a multi-player game by virtue of the players sharing a common resource game, but as with Arabian Nights, the exploration is solo. (And StarSaga was most often played solo.) Players move around on the star map to reach planets whose locations, but not identities, appear on the map. Exploration of planets is handled by the text paragraphs, using the computer program in lieu of the sort of manipulations used in Arabian Nights. Each planet offers several options for exploration, and each option leads into a small branching text adventure, but the program handles the branching and linking so there are no "if x, then go to y" instructions in the text itself. The branches are based on player choices but also on character state, often (because the computer program let us hide the mechanisms) in hidden ways. For example, different characters see different options, and many outcomes are character-specific. Our program was also something of an illusionist serving a complex "roads to Rome" storyline. For example, the program decides which planet exists in a specific location only after a player goes there. Such things as which resources a player needs in the trading game, and which plotlines the player has shown interest in exploring, figure into that decision.

Some lessons

- Lack of an audience can be more of an issue in solo exploration than lack of a sentient GM.

- Brute force is effective. But creating it is brutal.

- A bunch of smaller text flowcharts, linked by some form of global mechanics rather than directly, can be better than one big (gamebook style) flowchart.

- BUT, imposing narrative continuity in such a case is more difficult. In StarSaga, extremely complex mechanisms provide a little bit of what the media-lab folks later called "narrative guidance" while preserving, along the way, much more freedom than the one-big-flowchart approach could ever permit. Arabian Nights has a little continuity afforded by the well-designed character state trends built into the game. Barbarian Prince has none; exploration becomes aimless wandering. (On the other hand, no one will complain of being railroaded in either of those two games.)

- AND, just because the individual text flowcharts are small and numerous, they can't be too skimpy. They still must give flavor and variety to individual events, something that the text in Barbarian Prince usually, and the text in Arabian Nights sometimes, fails to do. This is where the brute force can be helpful.

Some Ranting

Welcome to the interactive storytelling problem! Unimpeded free will for the character inside the game, vs. narrative quality in the outcome: you want them both, but you can't have them. You can't even trade off one for another. Start with quality narrative and try to "add" interactivity, and long before you've added enough to give the audience much impression of free will, the narrative quality is shot to hell. Start with a good free-form simulation of a setting and try to "add" narrative quality, and long before you've added enough to create good story-outcomes, players will feel their freedom inappropriately restricted.

The continuum we've got here is:


Simulator, no narrative continuity (except frame story): Barbarian Prince

Simulator, with a trace of narrative continuity and a lot of small-scale episode stories, created with enormous effort: Tales of the Arabian Nights

THE GREAT VOID: Interactive storytelling with free will and story-outcomes with narrative quality

Mostly-railroaded narrative, with considerable explorative freedom, created with enormous effort: StarSaga.

Railroaded narrative with limited explorative freedom: The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.


The two ends of the continuum are safe ground. You can create fun simulators and let players use them to "create their own stories" and accept that what they create will rarely be stories of narrative quality, let alone literary quality. The Sims is a great example of this.

Or you can create a clever way to present a fixed story of narrative quality in an interactive manner, and accept that players may only act within limits that protect the story. Text interactive Fiction is currently the highest expression of this craft. Photopia cannot be recommended highly enough, even though the presentation mechanism, and not the story itself, is what's interactive here.

Or you can juxtapose the two, as most computer games do. A big railroaded frame story, played out in (or, as in Myst, discovered through) achieving milestones within pure free will simulation episodes. This gives the players plenty of choices to make, and makes those choice important in the sense of affecting whether or not the story contiues to unfold, without allowing those choices to interfere with the overall story.

Braving the Great Void takes you away from that safe ground. Arabian Nights and Star Saga managed to survive at least to publication despite the difficulties, by maintaining firm connections to the ends of the continuum they were derived from. Arabian Nights is, in the end, a state game (that is, a simulator) given color by hundreds and hundreds of unrelated vignette stories. Star Saga is, in the end, a branching novel that just has unusually complicated branching that creates the illusion of freedom. ("A random walk down a funnel," is how one of my co-designers describes it.). It should also be mentioned that both these games were commercial failures.

Many more ambitious interactive storytelling projects have disappeared into The Great Void without a trace, often taking careers and companies with them. I suspect that when holodeck technology becomes available in the 25th century, authors will still be struggling with the problem of how to make holodeck adventures yield good stories without railroading and without a live GM.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere


In a vein similiar to Barbarian Prince is the much more recent Excalibur (by Wotan press IIRC).  Very similiar to how you explained BP only with much less crunchiness and taking the role of a aspireing knight of the round table.  Quest Cards generate various "missions" and dice are rolled to determine victory or defeat.  A good fun mix of chasing after boons from Arthur and chasing after giants in Cornwall.  

As written its very much on the simulation side of the spectrum, but with a little effort the very minor RPG elements (mainly whatever polish you wish to put on basic Pawn Stance) could be enhanced into something more.

Emily Care

Are there solo adventure games that have stats applied to obstacles encountered on the fly rather than pre-generated and contained in cards, charts etc?

--Emily Care
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games

Jack Spencer Jr

OK, some thoughts on the matter, although I'll bet I already said some of this in those old threads.

First of all, whatever you do that has the word "solo" stamped on it you should probably give some consideration to the fact that this will be played by someone all by themselves. If you can tweak the rules so that play is more exciting or useful then you will do better. You might do alright if you don't, but I believe you will do better if you do.

Just by way of example here, consider d20 combat which, last time I played D&D used miniatures and had a lot of dice rolling and modifiers involved. (I've made not secret that I don't care for the rock'em sock'em robots that is d20 combat, and combat in many other RPGs. I hurt him. He hurt me. I hurt him some more. continue until one falls down)

Miniatures are a bad idea for solo play. The require time to get out, and then time to put away again. This is taken in stride with multiple players, but by oneself? It's cumbersome. I own Warhammer Quest which is a bloody brilliant game designed for solo or GM-less group play (Ironically, I had been working on a game not unlike this for D&D but this was before d20) It uses cards and dungeon tiles and minis and I have yet to play a game and I probably never will in the foreseeable future. I have yet to get a group together to play and I sure as hell won't drag the thing out to play it solo. It's just too much set up and put away time involved. Some people probably do play minis solo and they're welcome to it, but to me a solo game is better if it's easy to pick up and put down. It should be a diversion, not an event.

Now the dice rolling. A lot of the solos I've futzed with are wanna be mini-RPGs with turn-based combat and all of that (Rock'em sock'em). I, personally, have found this tiresome. Lots of dice rolling and keeping track of hits or whatever. I find it gets boring fast. There are ways around this. I think I might have sited some in the thread linked above. I would challenge you to find your own workaround, a way to make it not be boring rolling of die after die while keeping it d20, heh heh heh.

And, a final point is character death. I cannot play the Tunnels & Trolls solo Naked Doom because I find it too frustrating. I think I covered this before as well, suffice to say that I always die in the opening scene when your character must run naked down a hallway while the guards fire poisoned arrows at you. I spend more time making up my character than I do playing that thing.

Now, this comes from the old school one-wrong-move-and-you're-dead dungeon crawl sort of game where the point or challenge is to see how far you can get before you die. A perfectly valid way to play, but this one-wrong-move thing still creep into other modes of play where it is not appropriate. So, if you make an epic solo where the hero must try to save the kingdom, rescue the princess, and kill the villian or whatever, having the hero die fighting the slime mold may not be a very good way to go. Better to have a scene where the hero fights the slime mold where victory means the obvious and defeat means he wakes up somewhere, perhaps losing an item or some such but his quest continues.

Or something to that effect. I hope you get what I mean here.

One thing I would like to see is a Talisman-like board game using the d20 rules. That would be something to see.

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: Emily CareAre there solo adventure games that have stats applied to obstacles encountered on the fly rather than pre-generated and contained in cards, charts etc?

Not to my knowledge, but I haven't played every game out there. Even so, having stuff decided on the fly really goes against the "canned" nature of solo games.

I suspect you have an idea for this and if so I would very much like to see it. :)