Solo RPG Playtest #1

My current top secret project is a solo fantasy RPG! You get to play as a classic pulp Sword & Sorcery adventurer, like Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or Elric. The game is structured to play out the standard scenes in a S&S short story, so if that’s your jam, then this is your jam.

You’re broke in a tavern when you hear about a fabulous treasure just waiting to be claimed. So you gather up your gear, and maybe a sidekick, and set off. You cross the rugged wilderness, overcome a few minor baddies or beasts. Then you enter a creepy ruin, sneak past the guards, fight a monster, defeat the villain, and claim the treasure. Then you roll for your denouement (how does the story really end?).

The first playtest

Meet Durga, the son of a trapper who lost his lover, and was inspired by a priest to travel the world with his trusty axe! One night in a tavern, he heard a rumor of the Black Iron Ring of Wall Walking, a treasure desired by all ambitious thieves!

So Durga stole some delicious provisions, wrangled a wild camel, and hired a mercenary named Tovia to travel with him. As they left the city and crossed a foul midden heap of waste and bones, a grim bounty hunter ambushed them. [ Meta-interpretation: Someone had accused Durga of killing his lover and put a price on his head! ] The hunter got the drop on them, but Durga slew him while only taking a minor wound.

This masked warrior could be Tovia. Could be. Maybe.

A few days later, as they rode through a petrified forest of twisted cypress trees, a swarm of vipers surrounded them. Durga and Tovia climbed up into a tree while their camel galloped away. Unsure of how to defeat so many beasts, Durga cried out to the spirits to aid him. Suddenly the clouds darkened and a freezing rain poured down. The cold-blooded snakes slithered away for shelter, and Durga found a pouch of silver coins. They caught their camel and continued on.

The only approach to the villain’s lair was a narrow stone stair. Lurking in the caves under the stair, Durga spotted a sleeping witch and thousands of bats. They decided to sneak up the stairs in silence, but the witch awoke and unleashed the bats. Durga and Tovia sacrificed their camel to the bats, and entered the lair.

This crystal raptor has nothing to do with the playtest, I just think he’s neat.

Creeping through a low tunnel, Durga found a maze of cellars under the lair. Terrified prisoners sat chained to the walls. Before he could help them, six (!) guards discovered the intruders. Durga attacked while Tovia protected his flank. They wounded two guards, but Tovia fell in battle! Durga dashed into the shadows and laid an ambush. When the guards walked by, he burst out and ran through the passage, slashing them all in the side. Two of the guards fled the battle, but the remaining four dealt Durga several more wounds, forcing him to flee up into the main building.

In a great hall full of mounted animal heads, Durga found Malak, a renowned trophy hunter. [ Meta-interpretation: Malak now hunted Man, as evidenced by the prisoners below! ] Malak unleashed a hail of arrows, forcing Durga to retreat to another room. There he set a quick trap using a crossbow and net. Malak burst into the room, taking an iron bolt in the belly and becoming tangled in the net. Durga then rushed in and slaughtered the cruel hunter.

Durga claimed the Black Iron Ring from Malak’s hand, and returned to the city. It only took him a few days to get back, but disaster struck on the road, costing him his left hand! And to make matters worse, when he reached the city, he discovered that his treasure was nothing more than a worthless fake! Oh well, back to the tavern…

Designer notes

It only took about 30 minutes to play through this adventure. At first my die rolls were massive and everything felt too easy, but then things turned against poor Durga quite a bit. The tables for creating encounters were pretty good, and the rules for running a battle worked well. I need to continue fine-tuning the roll results. And I made some upgrades to the character sheet / adventure chronicle as I went.

So I feel pretty good about all of that.

How does this game actually work?

The dice mechanic for this solo game is 2d6 + Trait with three possible outcomes: Miss, Weak Hit, or Strong Hit (similar to PbtA… or identical to PbtA). And I’m creating some detailed tables to help the player choose what to do and interpret rolls. For example, there are eight specific Actions you can take in combat, and each roll result is clearly stated in one table.

It’s turning out to be a neat little engine for creating Sword & Sorcery characters and short stories. It might be a good tool for creating a character concept you could play in other games (not the mechanics, but the back story). Maybe.

More as it develops!

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