I’m absolutely behind the curve on this one, but it is my inadvertent opinion that solo role-playing games and toolkits are probably the biggest growth area for our hobby going forward. At the very least, they’re one of the biggest growth areas. I say I am behind and that it is my inadvertent opinion because I think everyone else recognized this when COVID-19 split in-person gaming groups apart, and I sort of stumbled upon the fascination and crystalized it as an opinion when I returned to Twitter in November and December of last year. Solo gaming has been with us in one form or another for many, many years – many of you remember the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf books, the Endless Quest and Choose Your Own Adventure books, and the Catacombs books. In recent times, Wizards of the Coast has relaunched the Endless Quest branding for a series of simple game books, and a Kickstarter that takes Troika! full circle back to its foundations has seen great success.
I foresee a continued renaissance in this direction and I am surely not alone. Thankfully, many creators have come around to producing their own tools for this style of gameplay, to emulate the imagination of a game master and the randomization of elements in equal measure. These toolkits, GM emulators, or “oracles” are gaining ground and embracing different systems and genres, complexity and randomness. I think we’ll see a growing market for these as awareness grows, and as we see with many elements of our hobby, a burgeoning culture of understanding and criticism leading to creators armed with superior knowledge producing superior tools.
I have found, in my very rudimentary, early-stages sort of “research” and fiddling, that solo play requires a different set of skills and approaches compared to normal play with friends. There are many considerations and some things work and some things don’t and I think there’s still so much exploration and improvement to be had here that it’s a little dizzying and very exciting. I am fascinated by this.
Inspired by the conversations I’ve had on Twitter and around the internet besides, I decided to inquire about peoples’ preferred toolkits, emulators, and oracles and give them a look through. When I’d done that, I thought I ought to collect some of them here. Mostly, of course, I am focused on fantasy role-playing games and in particular things that allow me to play OSR D&D or a close-enough approximation of it that it is both broadly compatible with my huge collection of stuff for those games and satisfying to play.
Solo Rulekits and Engines
OSR Solo – A platinum bestseller on DriveThruRPG specifically tailored to playing classic D&D games alone. This gives a substantial d6 and 2d6 engine for questions and guidance on how to interpret and incorporate them. Overall the advice and thoughts are useful and substantive, and offer a very useful foundation of understanding that I think helped me to work through other systems/toolkits.
As an aside, Parts Per Million also makes additional rules and toolkits for other popular OSR-related games. Also available are Hack Solo for the Black Hack game, Maze Rat and A Lonely Knave for solo gameplay of those games, Dungeon Crawl Solo for DCC, Ruinous Explorations for Worlds Without Number. Lone Star is a ruleset for Mothership solo play. Since new Mothership revisions are in the pipeline after a ridiculously successful Kickstarter, this may be one to wait on if you care about that sort of thing.
Dungeon Gig by Lucas Rolim – A very simplified derivative of B/X D&D, stripped down into a randomized dungeoncrawler. He wrote some more words about this style of gameplay and improving narrative quality in a randomized world here.
MUNE – The Madey Upy Namey Emulator is suitable for use with just about everything but is dressed up in the format of a D&D5E book. It’s five pages, free, and very simple, needing only a 6-sided die to help add randomness. Once you gain the hang of it, it’s not unwieldy, but it asks you to carry a lot of the load for it as its pages are filled with explanations rather than random options themselves.
Mythic GM Emulator – One of the “big names” in solo emulators. Also has a lot of supplements including a deck of cards and numerous full publications. This is a very full suite of options that can really do a lot of intelligent randomization for you once you get comfortable.
Lay on Hands Oracle – Alfred Valley’s gorgeous zine game Lay on Hands has its own oracle supplement which he has generously released as a free standalone object over on Itch. It’s a beautiful, metaphorical randomizer which should spark the imagination, but it is “resource-intensive” as far as your own imagination is concerned.
Ask the Stars Oracle – The prolific and clever Christopher McDowall, whose works are fairly well-loved in the OSR and OSR-adjacent gaming hobby, has offered a free oracle derived from a stripped-down root of Ironsworn. It too is more metaphorical than strictly literal but it may fit the bill well for you!
The Tiny Solitary Soldiers Solo RPG – A popular game engine for solo play for quite some time. Also a free option for those who want to keep costs down; available in a few formats. The blog it began on is defunct nowadays but the files have been archived by many.
Honorable mention to Four Against Darkness, a standalone solo delving game for dungeoncrawling which may be adaptable into something we seek here. It’s not a role-playing game, but it’s close to a starting point for one for solo purposes, perhaps.
Additional Dice Tables and Randomization Ephemera
Follow Me, And Die! Entertainment, aka Larry Hamilton, has put out a big variety of small PDFs for DMs which are terrific for general encounter and session prep. I really like them. They were also very quick to mind when I started pondering this solo RPG thing, because they are readily very useful as they allow you to leverage his mind and some simple procedural generation to produce good, evocative encounters and locations. He has a number available on DTRPG; some cherry-picked favorites are Random Dungeon, City, and Travel Generation and Road & Road Encounters, Businesses in Settlements (makings a living economy, even if it’s a nonsensical fantasy one, easy to track), Locks, Vaults, and Hiding Places to create unique challenges to place between yourself and treasure, Multi-Use Encounters, NPC Ideas to add color outside of your own predisposition to NPCs you’re generating on the fly, and Magic Items: Assorted Magic Items Disgorged From My Mind.
Unlawful Games – Linked over on Twitter; a tremendous collection of roll tables of all sorts both specific and general.
The Dungeon Dozen – Speaking of the d12, Jason Sholtis’ wonderful blog was a favorite of the golden age of OSR blogging. This book collects a huge number of his d12 tables and some art besides into one place. If you prefer hard copy, they’re available from Lulu.
Parts Per Million Roll Tables – Organized by system, genre, and dice type. In fact, their entire catalog could be of some use; it’s exceptionally well-suited to, and focused on, solo play. However, much of it I haven’t purchased. In fact, the vast majority, because they’re quite prolific. I am sure I’ll get around to trying out a bunch of it as I’ve already scooped their OSR-related Solo toolkits, but I don’t know when I’ll do it – if something stood out to you in your own experience with their roll table PDFs, please let me know!
Augmented Reality – Cyberpunk is often outside of this blog’s mission, though the original Cyberpunk 2020 was one of my earliest role-playing games; however, this is such a tight little toolkit for stocking a cyberpunk city that I would love to see become a common format for fantasy and other games that I am including it here as an example. I got it in early 2019 I believe and I’m still impressed by it today; I got it out of hope it would be useful in Mothership and Traveller games and I would suggest the same for you. There’s a supplemental PDF here.
The D&D Flavor Generators found here, made interactive by Redditor u/seriousd6 and including works cooked up by the members of a half-dozen subreddits, are rapid and easy, straightforward tools that can patch some holes as they arise.
The humble Random Table tag on this very blog; several articles in here including a random spellbook generator and random tables for giant dice are among my most enduringly popular which I think means they might be useful to you?
I really want to take hold of this with both hands in 2022 and try my hand at it in different ways. I want to try to dig deep and assess the solo options out there and maintain some opinions as I go in a notebook or something; hopefully you can catch me revisiting this topic throughout the year as things come to mind. I may even update this blogpost specifically with new discoveries. It’s already disgustingly apparent that collections of roll tables and related tools are invaluable – Guilherme got me thinking on this track in December with a Twitter conversation we can join midway here:
As I have mentioned, I think there’s an immense and fertile ground here with nearly limitless room for a lot of different ideas, experiments, and iterations as we all work together to devise support for this style of play. Web tools are also going to play a big part on this; the portability, searchability, indexing, etc is hard to beat! I expect we’ll see more and more in that regard specifically and the incredible skills of the nerd community with D&D/tabletop overlap will contribute hugely. Perhaps, in addition to rule designers and writers and artists and editors and layout designers, we’ll soon also credit web developers as intrinsic staff of a greater number of games? Heresy, I know.
I want to specifically thank Guilherme Gontijo, Lucas Rolim, Giovanni Tamba, @eldritchmouse, Alex T from Blackoath Games, @captainperson, Mike Lombardi, and Goblin Archives, all of whom took time out of their days the last little bit to chat with me on Twitter or Discord about solo gaming and their favorite options for it. Without their direction I doubt I would have found half of the systems here. They really set me on a great path and then pointed out the sights along the way and I feel very lucky to benefit from their experience.
Since it seems like this article will be sort of a living document, if you have some terrific roll tables you lean on, or GM emulators you like, please link them below for incorporation into the mix! If blog comments aren’t your speed, hit me up on Twitter @dungeonspossums and point me in the right direction and I’ll put them in if I can find a spot they fit nicely.