Have You Played Any Solo TTRPGs?

Over the past year or so, have been seeing people mention solo role-playing game experiences. Up until very recently I have ignored the topic entirely. As someone who was born an only child and is a bit of an introvert by nature, TTRPGs have always been the one part of my life where I have specifically craved social interaction.

Ironsworn by Shawn Tomkin will likely be my starting point.

To be honest, I have not even experimented with virtual tabletop gaming. It just doesn’t seem appealing to me. I think VTTs are wonderful. I am sure they have brought many more people to the hobby and provided access to games for many who would not be able to partake. It is just that to me, gaming is all about having a bunch of people over, sitting down and rolling dice.

Even my decision to write this blog was largely out of the desire to interact with people and share. The process of reading someone’s comments or posting my own thoughts on someone else’s post is enjoyable to me. It is just very pleasant to interact with a community like this.

All of that aside, I have been unable to escape the topic of solo games. This post is my white flag of surrender. I am going to dip a toe in and see what it is all about.

My History With “Solo Games”

Encyclopedia Brown.

I have written previously about how I came to discover role-playing games. While I have never actually played a solo TTRPG, I guess you could say that my first experience with some type of solo game would have been with the Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol.

These children’s mysteries focused on a boy detective in a contemporary setting, solving local crimes. Hints would be provided throughout the book and then the reader would attempt to solve the mystery by the end of the book. These were a bit juvenile for me by the time I discovered them, but the concept was very interesting.

Dungeon of Dread.

My first genre specific solo game book came in 1982 with Dungeon of Dread by Rose Estes. Released by TSR Hobbies, this was part of their new “Endless Quest” line of paperbacks. To my recollection, the Endless Quest line was preceded by and similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure books by Bantam Books.

Written in the second person, these stories followed a pattern of providing the reader with options as to how to continue after a number of pages. Each option would direct the reader to flip to a specific page within the book, where the story would continue. This process would continue until you ultimately arrive a one of numerous endings to the story.


The following year, while browsing a downtown bookstore, I landed a copy of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. This first book in the famed “Fighting Fantasy” series, this built on the “choose a path” idea by adding actual die rolls, which further simulated playing a TTRPG. From there I recall exploring the Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series, which built on the Fighting Fantasy series by allowing players to take on the role of either warrior or a wizard.

By the time I was done with these, I was in my mid-teens and my interest in these types of books was waning. It was another 10 years or so before the grind of real life pulled me away from RPGs altogether but in terms of any type of solo gameplay, that was it for me.

Current State of Things

It has been about 10 years now since I have made my way back to the TTRPG hobby. Since that time, I have tinkered with a number of new systems, as well as more old ones than I would have expected. As I mentioned previously, I have been aware of actual solo games being “a thing” for a few years now. However, in the past couple months I have really started to take the idea seriously.

In my ignorance I had assumed that these solo games would not amount to much more than more of what I had experienced in the 80s. However, with the more I read, it becomes clear that it is possible to weave creative tales with these systems. I have decided to investigate a bit deeper and see what I can learn.

I am most likely to start with Ironsworn by Shawn Tomkin. It seems to be the title that crosses my path more frequently than any other. In addition, the few interactions I have had with people who have played the system have been very positive. However, the purpose of this post was to reach out to the folks I interact with the most on here and see what you might be able to suggest.

Have you played any solo TTRPGs? If so, which ones and what were your experiences? Do you have any suggestions to share with someone who is just starting to explore this part of the hobby? I am really starting from square one here, so I would appreciate any input that you might be able to provide.

That is all for now. I hope you have a great week. Good gaming!

Consider a Who’s Who for Your Campaign

Whether we are running published adventures or using a world of our own creation, I suspect most gamemasters want to feel that their players are invested in the game. There is nothing quite as nice as wrapping up a session and listening to players discussing how they can’t wait to get together next week. Ever have a player tell you that they were daydreaming about the game while stuck in a meeting or commuting to work? It’s the best.

Does your party know these people? Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art @ Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games. http://www.fatgoblingames.com

I believe that populating your game with interesting and believable characters is key to hooking your players. That’s not to say that every character in your world needs to have a dossier complete with birthdate, star chart, and defined goals. Sometimes Wilbur the fish monger, is simply Wilbur the fish monger. Having said that, the more fleshed out your NPCs appear to be, the easier it will be for your players to escape into your imaginary world.

Who’s Who?

I believe that creating a “Who’s Who” for your campaign is a great tool for building rich NPCs that your players will want to engage with. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years and the practice has served me well. The process is simple enough and until recently I just assumed that everyone did it.

While I’m doing my prep for each session, I just keep a notebook or Word document open. Whenever I come to an NPC who the players are likely to meet, I jot down their name and maybe a line or two. If you want to go crazy, you can do this for places as well.

If you’re someone who struggles with names, there are countless name generators floating around online. Just plug in what you’re looking for and you’ll have something in a pinch.

A sample Who’s Who from a recent campaign.

By adding no more than 10 minutes to my prep time, my players no longer meet the dockmaster, city guard, and innkeeper. Instead, armed with this information they encounter Buckeye Crabcracker the halfling wharf-keeper, Sgt. Atheld of the city watch, & Suleiman the Kosantian owner of the Blushing Siren Inn.

Coming up with names for NPCs is pretty basic but it’s only the first step in creating a Who’s Who for your campaign. The next part is up to the players. I visit this after every few sessions, at the end of an arc, or whenever it seems convenient.

Our game nights usually start with players arriving one by one. It can be a bit chaotic. Everyone is usually chit-chatting and I need to get them to switch gears and focus on the game. During this time I announce that we’re going to update the Who’s Who.

I go around the table and ask all of the players who their characters have met during the sessions since we last updated the list. At this point everyone chimes in with the names of NPCs that they remember, as well as what they remember about them. I document all of this as they do, including only what the players themselves remember. The whole process takes no more than 10 minutes but it serves to both center the players on the game, as well as offer an interactive recap of recent sessions.

Is this fellow simply the “ship captain” or is he Ebeneezer Bellows, captain of the Tiburon? Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art @ Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games. http://www.fatgoblingames.com

I will usually reward the player who contributes the most with some small boon. For OSR games this might be an XP bonus, 5e players might get Inspiration, Savage Worlds players get a benny, and so on. I find that this really helps to get everyone to participate.

After every session, I send the revised document out to all players. However, I only share the version with the names of people and places that the group remembered. If the group as a whole missed any NPCs, those do not get passed along.

Over the course of time, I find that having access to this reference document really engages my players. When your cities feel like they are populated with living and breathing people, it increases the chances that your players will interact with them.

It’s satisfying to see the group break out with the Who’s Who as they are heading back to town following an adventure. Often each player will be flipping through the pages, deciding who they want to go see first. Maybe they know the perfect buyer for a piece of loot or perhaps they’ll seek out an old contact for important information.

On the flipside, the document acts as a tool for me during session prep. I can briefly scan through and pick different NPCs to drop into different scenes. Do I need someone to pass along a juicy tip? That sounds like the perfect job for young Jacob, who the party saved on their first adventure. Do I need a victim for the big bad evil guy? Hearing that Fletcher Orlem was slain while out hunting will ratchet up the tension more than some nameless villager.  

An old text editor Who’s Who from my friend Mike’s game, going back to the early 1990s.

Since we update entries for NPCs after every time the players mention them, they really start to take on a life of their own. Over the years, some of my most mundane NPCs (like Wilbur the fish monger) have ended up playing important roles in my games.

Finally, the Who’s Who gives me a nice souvenir from each campaign. Whether we run for years or a handful of sessions, having this document gives me something fun to look back on. Sometimes names and sub-plots get recycled and that’s all part of the fun.


That’s it for this week. Thank you for stopping by. If you do something akin to this or even something more elaborate, please drop a note below and let me know. Have a great week!