Playing Tabletop RPGs solo

A while ago I read a post on reddit of a guy commenting on his characters for a solo tabletop RPG campaign. At the time I looked down at the idea playing tabletop RPGs solo. Choose your own adventure games, sure, that is cool. But playing a regular tabletop RPG by your lonesome just felt silly to me.

Then I thought about it a bit more and realized there were several good reasons to play it solo. More importantly than that I remembered something that should have been in my mind from the beginning: the way people spend their own free time is their own business and none of mine. I shouldn’t judge it as doing so is just plain wrong.

I still kept thinking about it though, to the point where I realized there were a few situations where it could be interesting to me too. These are the one that I can think of, right now:

To become a better GM

I am the type of person who, no matter how much I love a system, will just skim it over after a certain point. That is not a good trait for someone who wants to GM their games.

The best way for me to learn a system is by playing it. My hope is that by playing solo, those rules will sink into my mind so by the next time I GM they are second nature to me.

This also goes for pre-written adventures. Some of the blunders that happened in a recent one-shot I DMed for my group were due to situations I didn’t expect. Yes, I know that no plan survives a first encounter with the players. Yes, I did read the adventure before starting, in fact I read it a few times to be on the safe side. And yes, I made notes about all the things I thought were important and I would need a quick glance at.

I know this method won’t catch all the ways that players can take me by surprise, no method can. But I am hoping it will allow me to see parts of the adventure that are weak or otherwise lacking that aren’t immediately apparent just by reading it.

To test new game systems

As much as I love D&D there are also a bunch of other game systems I want to give a try. Additionally a good campaign can take a lot of time to finish. So before the next one finishes I’d like to have a good idea of what system to propose to try out next.

But just to cut out some possibilities trying them out solo might be a good way to find if they are a system that I will enjoy. If I can’t enjoy the system it is unlikely that getting more people to play it will change my feelings on it.

This also goes for homebrew content on DM’s Guild that looks cool.

If this works out it should save some time and frustration for our group.

To learn more about Foundry VTT

My characters doing the intro adventure for Curse of Strahd
For an intro dungeon this place was harder than I expected

Right now my group uses primarily Roll 20 to play games. But if I get another opportunity to GM I will propose we use Foundry VTT.

The one-shot I did, half of the adventures were ran in Roll 20 and the other half were done in Foundry. From a GM perspective I found Foundry VTT a much more enjoyable experience. The rest of group seemed to at least not mind it either and we didn’t run into any serious technical issues even though it was hosted on my machine. *knocks on wood*

But again there is only so much you can learn about it by watching videos and doing random tests without running an actual game.

I learned this the hard way when a player asked me a question about Foundry VTT that I didn’t have an immediate answer for and when I fumbled the demonstration of a core feature from the software.

Another reason is because I want to implement homebrew D&D classes and subclasses. I tried to do it in a vacuum but kept wondering if I was doing it right. By actually playing with them I can get a feel if I am implementing the abilities correctly.

Granted, I don’t plan to actually play every class and subclass before implementing them. That would take a whole lifetime. But my hope is that once I do it a few times I will get a good enough grasp on how to implement it that it shouldn’t require much testing.

Resources I am using

Since I lost the link to the post that got me going down this path I had to do some research on my own. The first place I found was the Solo Roleplaying subreddit. More specifically, this post by u/dmarchu was invaluable to get me on the right track.

The other resource was the book DM Yourself by Tom Scutt. It gives a set of rules and advice on how to adapt D&D 5e adventures for solo play. It says it can also be adapted to other editions of D&D and OSR systems but I haven’t tried those myself.

The actual test

To get the most obvious part out of the way, no playing tabletop RPGs solo is not as fun as playing with a group. Nothing can compare. But still, is it fun?

To tell the truth, I am not sure. I just started on it and I haven’t made that much effort to immerse myself into it. I guess it is mostly because I am approaching this as a DM tool rather than an entertaining activity in itself.

To make it even more complicated I decided to start with Curse of Strahd which is kinda like playing in Hard Mode. There is a couple of reasons for that.

The first one is that Curse of Strahd is a sandbox-ish adventure. Thus I have to read the entire book to get an idea on how each part is related to each other then figure out how to put the pieces together into a more traditional adventure.

The second reason is because the encounters are meant for 4 to 6 players, without any suggestions on how to scale it for groups of different sizes. I tried the introductory mini-adventure Death House first to get a feel for it but even with all the changes suggested by DM Yourself I found it to be extremely brutal. By the end of it I had to nerf some encounters and even then my characters barely survived it.

Going forward I will be extra careful not only on how I approach these encounters but also on how I scale them down.

Two kobolds fighting bad guys in a warehouse
This one is from Dragon Heist. You can see I was feeling a bit lazy when getting tokens for the bad guys. :p

Otherwise I am achieving some of my goals. I chose to implement the Blood Hunter class in Foundry VTT. Even though I could just create the character in D&D Beyond and do all the rolls from there I wanted to implement it in Foundry. It is just so I could have some frame of reference on how to implement D&D classes. Plus it was a class I was curious to play anyway. :p

It also helped me to find some parts of the adventure that could possibly give me some trouble if I had just read it. Now if players ask me certain questions I will probably have an answer already.

In my search for already made maps that were VTT friendly I also end up discovering the Curse of Strahd subreddit. It didn’t have the kind of maps I wanted but it has some great advice on how to run the adventure by people who actually played it.

The other adventure I am experimenting with is Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. This one is for my own entertainment rather than as a GM tool. My group already played it but due to several reasons I didn’t ask to join it at the time.

Now that we are playing the sequel, Dungeon of the Mad Mage, I am kind of regretting it when they mention something from the adventure or we go to meet a NPC from it. All the names thrown around just fly over my head. Besides that it just looks like a fun adventure to play and that is reason enough for me to try it out.

I have done even less on this adventure than on Curse of Strahd but so far it has been interesting. Also, less brutal combats but that might change. :p

Those have been my experiences with Solo RP so far. If it continues like this I think all my objectives with this experiment will be met! 🙂

4 thoughts on “Playing Tabletop RPGs solo”

  1. There are as many ways to solo RP as there are individual tabletop RPG players and GMs, and none of them are wrong.

    “Me, Myself and Die” is a Youtube channel that makes solo RP more of an entertaining show, similar to what Critical Role did for standard multiplayer D&D. It’s a fairly fun watch.

    • True that.

      And thanks for the channel recommendation! I heard about it while doing my research on solo RPG but only watched the first episode. It was interesting but I need to go back to watching more of it.

  2. I can recommend “The Dark Eye”. Version 5 also has a good English edition and a few solo adventures. :p It’s the system I’ve been RPing in the most (version 4 and version 5 which is a complete overhaul of how you create a character making it really good and easy now, but it leaves the world as it was before!). I did start one solo adventure and never got far. I re-started it and stopped again. But not because it’s not good. Just because by the time I get off work, it’s time to make dinner or I’m simply too tired to read. Instead, I am reading some novels set in that world before bedtime.

    What I’d really like was the option to play such RPGs with just two people. But if one is the GM and the other is the player, it’s a bit boring already…

    • I remember you commenting about “The Dark Eye” a while ago. I didn’t know it had an english edition though. I will see if I can give it a try one of those days.

      I think the suggestions from DM Yourself should work also for two players. But yeah, even with just two people, with one being the GM and the other the player it is still doesn’t quite match the fun as playing with a group.

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