Monday, September 19, 2011

Solo Gaming Set Up

A few posts back I was asked how I set up for a solo RPG session.  I'll address that in this post and hope someone finds it useful.  I'll also talk a little about my experiences with the GME.

I've only completed one full story arc thus far.  So as far as story generation goes, I'm still developing.  I've got the excellent adventure generators from Adamant Entertainment.  These seem to have a ton of possibilities, not only for RPGs but for story-driven miniatures games as well.  The link I provided goes to the Space Opera generator; but there are others for different genres such as fantasy, military, and pulp adventure.  As for my first solo RPG games, I started with a simple premise and asked questions of the GME to get things moving.  The story evolved from there.

In terms of setting up my physical space, I have a wide office desk.  I set up my Asus netbook to use for typing the session.  I keep the main rulebook to one side and all my character sheets and the GME on the other side. Dice are needed, of course, as well as a pad of scratch paper.  From here out, it's like writing a story only I pause to consult character sheets, rulebooks, and of course the GME.  I try to keep sessions to one hour, as that's about all the free time I get for this hobby.

However, for the few Pathfinder sessions I've run, I've been able to keep things entirely on the PC.  I did this by using PDF rule books exclusively.  Also, I bought Lone Wolf's Hero Lab which not only allows me to keep character sheets on the PC but also has a tactical combat tab.  This tab lets you import monsters or other NPCs and keep track of the fights and all the details.  It's really slick.  I use an online dice roller as well.  Lastly, for the completely paper free experience, I use Mythic Apprentice that you can download from the Mythic Yahoo group.  So everything is on the PC and I can just type directly into Mythic Apprentice.

That's about the extent of my solo gaming set up.  While I love having hefty, full color rulebooks, I think they're not very efficient for solo games.  I've started getting all the Dark Heresy supplements as PDFs, and definitely all Pathfinder books as PDF.  Electronic books are easier to search and bookmark, and they don't suffer from wear and tear.  Definitely stay electronic if you can!

As for using the GME, I admit I was hugely surprised by what it can do.  I think as long as you have a well designed setting (like the WH40K universe or Pathfinder's Inner Sea), you can easily interpret the results you get from the GME.  If you don't have such a setting, as long as you have a good hunch for what would make a good story then you are still fine.  I think if you didn't know anything about the setting, you'd have a tough time with it.  You'd have to ask GME everything!

I will say that the best addition to the GME is the Mythic Variations book.  While you can live without it, it has a lot of clarifications and customization options.  The complex questions section increased the power and usefulness of the GME charts tremendously.

Working with the GME charts was a learning experience.  I learned chaos factor adjustments figure hugely into how things will go.* The rule to either raise or lower the chaos factor after each scene really wasn't working for me.  There were plenty of times where the scene wasn't getting out of control but wasn't letting up either.  So to me that meant it should stay unchanged.  Besides, GME needs a higher chaos factor to be more entertaining.  Without interrupts, altered scenes, and random events you could just as well day dream rather than play out a scene. 

The one big thing I learned is that you have to ask a lot of questions to get things moving.  Without questions, GME doesn't work.  As I worked through the sessions, I realized I sometimes had to ask questions just to generate a random event.  I guess I could insert a random event when I wanted; but then that's not really using GME and just becomes fiction writing.  So I asked a lot of questions and coaxed out events that way.

Finally, how you ask the question is paramount.  Here's where it's easy to fudge things and maybe even subconsciously cheat the system.  If the chaos factor is low, and you assign a low probability, you can almost guarantee you will not get a yes answer to your question.  "Is the main antagonist a Daemon Prince of Khorne?"  Chaos Factor: 3, Odds: Very Unlikely.  Even rolling 9% the answer is still no.  So if you feared meeting such a Daemon Prince, asking this question under these conditions almost -- but not definitely -- guarantees you won't run into that bad boy.  The main GME book talks about cheating and asking silly questions like "Do I find one million gold pieces right now?"  But it doesn't address that you can manipulate things without realizing just by phrasing the questions differently or asking under certain conditions.  I guess it probably can't be helped, and might even be desirable.  But I realized I was doing things like that to manipulate my story at points, and I took back those questions where ever I found them.

So there are my thoughts on my first time solo RPG sessions.  I'm brewing up a few other ideas, and will get started this week.  I think I'll keep the same characters and see where things go next.

*EDIT Added 9/20:  One thing I wanted to add but forgot to mention in my post is that the Chaos factor tends to feed on itself.  By this, I mean once you raise or lower the chaos factor it tends to keep rising or lowering.  This only makes sense, given that if the chaos factor is dropped then less random stuff happens.  Therefore the next scene will have a lower chaos factor, etc., and vice versa for raising it.  That's why I felt it was important to have a situation where the chaos factor stays the same.  Just be aware of this tendency, as the story can get crazy in short order once you move to a level 7 chaos factor!


  1. Thanks for this information.
    I've read about the Mythic series, but your explanation did a lot to advance my understanding.

  2. I'm glad that the post was helpful.

  3. Thanks for the information on Mythic Variations. I've been wondering for a while about how much it added to the GME (I thought it was focused on gaming with the Mythic system.)

  4. You're welcome, Ricardo. I think Variations helped me see the creative potentials of GME. I think it's a great addition.

  5. The concept of "backgrounds" in Mythic Variations is a very cool application of the GME, and I very much enjoy the alternate focus themes. Complex Questions are wonderfully versatile as well.

    As for the main topic, it was interesting to see your methods as described, Jerry. I originally asked the question because I have yet to find my way to a comfortable solo RPG set up - and I've tried many. I think I'm at a point where I don't want to write it all out. I'm looking for a gameplay flow akin to a group experience that is as memorable without needing to "author" events. Still working on it...

  6. I've just discovered GME and your blog and am looking forward to trying it out with Pathfinder. I'm looking forward to read more of your blog too! Have you kept up with GME and still playing solo?

  7. JayC, I've kept up with GME and solo play. Most of what I do these days are miniature war games. I'm using pre-generated scenario books and so I don't have to make many choices for the enemy AI.

    As for RPGs, since I am a writer in my free time, the RPG solo games ended up being just another writing exercise. So it was burning me out for actual writing, and I put it aside. Every now and again I get the urge to return to it, and I may still do so.