🎲 Solo GM's Guide, 5 new games, 2 bundles
And introducing The Inquiracle - the self-interview oracle
Welcome back to The Soloist where I share a mix of news, previews, and reviews of solo and co-op tabletop games, interviews with designers, tips to improve your play, original content, and more. It’s free and delivered every 2 weeks!
1. Soloist Interview: Deborah of Geek Gamers
Why it matters: Deborah is one of the most influential voices in solo gaming with more than 17K subscribed to her Geek Gamers YouTube channel. Her 170-page book, The Solo Game Master’s Guide, is essential reading for solo RPG players.
While many solo gaming guides are mostly packed with random prompt tables and mechanics for specific situations and settings, the Solo GM’s Guide provides tenets and tools to create fun RPG experiences using storytelling techniques.
“In the real world I am a book editor with a PhD in literature; The Solo Game Master’s Guide is informed by my daily life thinking about how narrative and stories work; what is necessary to produce a tale that makes you want to know what happens next; and how can the mechanics of RPGs be manipulated in service of stories.”
The “Think Like a Solo GM” chapter includes 10 Mindsets of Solo GMs — a useful set of principles for getting more enjoyment out of solo tabletop RPGs.
“Everything is playing” is the first and most foundational mindset. If you take the Traveller rules and make a character and put him in a spaceship that you’ve made and that’s all you do, you are doing solo RPG. If you take Ars Magica and make a potion, and that’s it, that is solo RPG. And if you run a full-throated, months-long campaign of epic adventure and travels, that too can be solo RPG.”
“What happens next?” is the only essential question a solo GM needs to have. If you are working alone with RPG materials and wondering what happens next, you are doing solo RPG. Wondering what happens next is the core question when it comes to narrative (I didn’t invent this idea — read E. M. Forster’s brilliant Aspects of the Novel to hear it from the master.)”
The Guide includes Deborah’s original “Literary Random Table,” 66 selections from 19th and early 20th century fiction that can be used as inspiration to start an adventure, change a scene or provide atmosphere.
“Victorian literature, with its 900+ page books, is so rich with atmosphere but not everyone needs to wade through those. I’m really proud of the curation I did there so people have access to these great works and can repurpose them for their own RPG.”
I also have some quick tables for starting with no rule set in mind. Rolling a few dice will give you a setting and some spark words to start an adventure. Once you get your story hook (the most important thing), then you can find a rule set to go with it!”
A deep appendix holds book and game system recommendations, essential resources, and a look inside Deborah’s old red leather “solo RPG wallet” — a collection of oracle tables she uses while playing solo games in her videos.
Deborah’s recommendations for beginning solo RPGs:
“Journaling RPGs are all the rage now and they can be a very easy entry point because basically everyone already knows what it means to write and keep a journal.
I recommend Scarlet Heroes for a more standard ruleset/way of playing. It can be played using supporting solo tables and oracles, and has lots of random tables for environment and encounters. Available to play in just one slim volume, it’s a good way to begin without having to invest in tons of books.”
Looking forward to:
Hermann Luttmann’s The Plum Island Horror. “Herm is a fantastic designer and very RPG-ish in his sensibilities. His Dawn of the Zeds, second edition is one of my all-time favorite games. I can’t wait to play his 1-4 co-op game of horror and survival.”
“I enjoyed putting together the literary random table in the Solo GM’s Guide so much that I self-published another literary random table in the form of a d88 overland book, Wanderings.
I liked that experience so much that I’m starting to collect even more entries for more thematic literary tables, so stay tuned for those.”
2. Solo and co-op game news
Stout Stoat is getting ready to launch the crowdfunding campaign for Border Riding, a collaborative history-building game, played by drawing evolving town maps on scraps of paper. The rules are printed on a massive foldout map! I was blown away by the production quality of their One Breath Left, and I’m looking forward to following Border Riding.
Project ECCO, Elliot Davis’s solo journaling RPG about time travel played across the pages of a planner, is heading towards the finish line. Elliot has been sharing his learnings from the game’s development in the.
- is working on Nexalis, a 150+ page solo and co-op “bright fantasy” RPG. You play a drifter, exploring a cosmic ocean with countless uncharted islands filled with unique cultures, mysteries, and magic. Nexalis’s Crowdfundr page includes a free 60-page demo.
- is working on a pocket-sized tabletop RPG that’s suitable for playing with or without a GM. It will come with prompts to generate adventures, NPCs and maps, and should fit into two printable booklets and two pamphlets. In this video the artist/designer works on character art and maps and talks about the benefits of working within constraints.
Caregiver, a solo storytelling game by Eran Aviram where you play an exasperated spirit trying to aid a group of clueless heroes on an arduous journey, just finished a big overhaul for the injury system and is in playtesting and copy editing. Eran plans to hand the PDF to Kickstarter backers in 2-3 weeks with print following a bit later.
3. The Inquiracle — a self-interview oracle
Oracles are mechanisms, like tables, that we use in solo and co-op RPGs to generate prompts. I thought it would be fun to create one to generate random interview topics.
The Inquiracle asks the player to roll two 20-sided dice and assign one roll to a “theme” table and the other to a “subject” table. The player interprets the combined result as a question and then provides an answer. Here are a some results:
Theme: (16) Technical | Subject: (4) Design
Q: What type of technology do you think should be used more in game design?
“As someone who’s played a lot of games virtually since the start of the pandemic, I’d love to see more games designed for video calls. There could be mechanics for muting yourself, stepping out of frame, holding up pieces of paper to the camera, sending emojis in the chat…I think more games should embrace playing over video and/or write alternate rules specifically for virtual play.”
Jason Christopher Burrows — Designer of Nihilation
Theme: (11) Experimental | Subject: (1) Project
Q: What experimental project would you like to work on?
“I keep coming back to this idea of an RPG played entirely with voice notes. Like a play-by-post but using Whatsapp voice notes. The game would feature rules that tie directly into making recordings, such as limiting how much recording time you have and what words you are and aren't allowed to use.”
Deborah — Host of the Geek Gamers YouTube Channel
Theme: (18) Influential | Subject: (11) Mentor
Q: Who was an influential mentor in your life?
“I’ve been so fortunate in my life to have had many mentors in various areas. But the person who comes to mind for this answer has to be my dissertation advisor. I’ll keep her name a mystery, but will say that she always pushed me to interrogate stories until they had no more to give… and then to realize that a good story will always have more to reveal. That lesson has served me well in life, and well in solo RPG.”
I’ll share more of these self-interviews through Notes - the space on Substack where writers and readers share short posts. Head to substack.com/notes or find the “Notes” tab in the Substack app. As a subscriber to The Soloist, you’ll automatically see my notes and can reply or share them.
4. Last roll 🎲
June indie game bundles
Do you like dungeons?
- of The Lost Bay podcast has posted the second part of his series covering #Dungeon23 — the tabletop RPG year-long design challenge.
Vaarn is my jam
In March, I wrote about the joys of game jamming. I’m taking my own advice and signed-up for the Vaarn Summer Jam ‘23. Vaults of Vaarn is a post-apocalyptic/post-human tabletop RPG that’s a gonzo mix of Gamma World, Dune, and Moebius’s graphic novels. It wasn’t designed as a solo game, but it adapts very well.