Getting started with solo RPGs
Also seven new GMless Zine Month games | immersive journal gaming
1. Diving into solo RPGs
Single-player RPGs are one of the most creative, fastest growing, and easily accessible types of tabletop gaming. The indie game marketplace, itchio, hosts almost 1000 games tagged as “physical” solo RPGs. With so much choice, how do you get started?
I turned to some savvy game creators for suggestions. Their advice is to start simple, find something that captures your interest, then dive in.
“Find something small and focused that intrigues you before jumping into something bigger and more complex,” advises Anna Blackwell, creator of DELVE, RISE, and other solo games. “Artefact was my intro.”
In most fantasy games, players seek wondrous treasures. Artefact shifts the perspective to a single magical item as it passes through different hands. For a sci-fi take, Bucket of Bolts follows one spaceship and its captains over time.
“Having a properly defined structure is a must,” advises Chaoclypse, game developer and actual play creator. “MIRU is a great starting point for that reason. It has a lot of board gamey aspects to it, which I think is great for people starting out.”
✅ Lingo check: “Actual plays” are video or audio recordings of RPG play sessions.
In MIRU you’re on a quest to destroy the robot that killed your brother. You’ll explore a randomly generated map, manage survival resources, and build-up your character.
“For the more creative writing side of things, I recommend the Alone on a Journey journaling games by Takuma Okada," said Thomas Manuel, game designer and journalist. “They're all games about a lone person exploring lost or ancient places - very moody, reflective, and creative prompts.”
✅ Lingo check: "Journaling games" are solo games where randomly selected prompts are catalysts to imagine settings, stories, and characters. Players use a journal to take notes, write dialogue, and create art to enhance the story.
Anna Blackwell’s Apothecaria is another excellent journaling RPG. You assume the role of a village witch creating potions for townsfolk, adventurers, and monsters. You’ll fill your journal with drawings of ingredients, stories of mischief, and recipes for the potions you’ve created.
For a traditional fantasy experience, Thomas recommends Ironsworn by Shawn Tomkin. “It's a popular choice for a reason: it comes with a very well-designed and free rulebook and the official actual play Ask the Oracle, helps with learning the rules.”
The podcast was what piqued my interest in solo RPGs. My brother and I have just started a co-op campaign in Shawn’s latest game, Ironsworn: Starforged. We’re loving this sci-fi evolution of the original game.
“I'd recommend just diving in,” continued Chaoclypse. “The first few times can seem daunting … but knowing ahead of time that it won't be that smooth initially can help.”
The Soloist’s steps for diving in to solo RPGs:
Visit itch.io - this link will take you to all games tagged as solo RPGs
Read a few descriptions - pick one that looks interesting
Purchase or download for free - an account isn’t required
Set aside a couple hours in a comfortable space and play
2. Seven new games crowdfunding now
☠️ Ailing Away - murder mystery in 1905 Venice
While you’ve been recuperating at an exclusive spa, one of the other guests has been the victim of a perfect crime which you’re determined to solve. It's like CLUE but it's single player, you get to kiss some of the suspects, and there's no board to set up. Dozens of clues, 8 suspects, and 52 scenes to explore. Designed by Justin Vandermeer | Crowdfundr live link
⌛ Project ECCO - day planner time travel
You’ve been tasked with tracking a time-consuming entity for an entire year. You’ll time travel across the pages of a planner, writing in and marking up dates based on prompts. In the end, will you destroy The Entity? Can you find yourself? Designed by Elliot Davis | Crowdfundr live link
⛵ These Stars Will Guide You Home - oceanic Epic
Journey with your fleet through a mysterious archipelago in search of a new home, discovering islands and journaling about events at sea and on land. Once the journey ends, you’ll write an Epic of the voyage from the perspective of a decedent centuries later. Designed by Albi Furlan and beautifully illustrated by Fernando Salvaterra | Kickstarter live link
👽 Contact - communicate with aliens through song
Contact is a co-op game where players use music to communicate with extraterrestrials. Players first create a playlist together, using prompts from tarot cards. They then draw questions related to their characters and the aliens, and answer them using songs from the shuffled playlist. In the final act, the players respond to the alen communication. By the end of the game players have a story and a playlist with new meaning. Designed by J. Strautman | Crowdfundr live link
⛳ Golf Quest - hit the high fantasy links
In this comedy RPG/ dexterity game, you play as a competitor in a fantasy golf tournament spread across mystical courses that include precarious mountain peaks, glowing mushroom forests, swaying pirate ships, dark dungeons, and more. Playable with friends or solo as a skill-based challenge or silly RPG full of clubhouse shenanigans. Designed by Anna Blackwell | Kickstarter live link
✉️ On the Way to Chrysopoeia - transmutation
Lead your characters on a quest to build an alchemical Great Work. Your journey is narrated through an exchange of letters between two players. As you go about your real life, you’ll reinvent objects and locations you see, turning them into ingredients for your grand project. Designed by Mogane Reynier with beautiful watercolor and pencil illustrations from Marion Bulot | Kickstarter live link
🌆 Hiria: The Eternal City - multiverse pursuit
Hiria exists on all worlds of the multiverse, but never quite the same way. You have tracked your quarry here, but they escaped to one of the other manifestations of the city. Each turn you discover a new city and different traces of your quarry. Written by Peter Eijk with evocative art by Jean Verne | Kickstarter live link
There are more GMless titles crowdfunding during Zine Month. Will cover some more in the next issue. Shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org if there is one you think I should be covering!
3. How to play immersive journaling games
Journaling games are one of the most popular categories of solo gaming. Paul Czege has played dozens over the past two years, designed a few, and now writes about them in The Ink That Bleeds, which launches on Kickstarter today. It is both a “how-to” book and a reflection on the genre covering the aspects, practice, and fun of journaling games. Topics include:
journaling methods that support immersion,
the power of writing dialogue,
transferring content between real life and journaling, and much more.
I asked Paul some questions as he was preparing for the launch of his campaign.
Who did you write the book for?
I think certain play of journaling games can be a meaningful, immersive, affecting experience of self-creation. I wrote The Ink That Bleeds for people who sense this potential in them.
What's one or two things you would like readers to take away?
I want people to feel how fun the play is, and I want them to understand how to get it for themselves. Immersion isn’t from how a game conjures its world and tries to sweep you up in it. It’s as easy as a certain writing practice and play choices you make, and playing games that allow them.
Do different types of players have different motivations for playing journaling games?
Yes. And we get our motivations from everywhere. From advertisements, from the choices we see others make in their lives, from lifestyle bloggers, from stories we read, and movies we see. But not all motivations we have are in our own interests. We believe things that aren’t true. We buy things that don’t make us happy. I think immersive journal gaming is about the purest motivation we all have, to purge ourselves of narratives and motivations that aren’t making us who we want to be. So, yeah, different players have different motivations. But we all want what we sense journal gaming has to offer.
For someone new to journaling games, with hundreds of choices and poor discovery options, where do they start?
Tough question for those reasons exactly. I work up to answering it in The Ink That Bleeds by showing people what to look for. The most immersive ones let you play a character like you, that I call your approximate self, and let you create characters you interact with, and write dialogue, and create the outcomes to situations. I have a collection on itch.io of ones I’ve played, and all the ones I write about in The Ink That Bleeds are in it. But it’s tough. I’ve played a bunch that weren’t fun. I’m hopeful The Ink That Bleeds is what helps people start, but I’ll gladly help people pick a game if they ask me on Twitter or Mastodon.
You can read an excerpt from the book at The Indie Game Reading Club. Back it to read the rest!
4. My daily Zimo picks
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