There are a lot of reasons people might want to play a tabletop RPG alone, from a good method for learning rules to a lack of interested friends to just being simple fun. I’ve tried a few different systems to make the solo tabletop RPG experience work, and recently hit upon a pretty successful combo I thought I’d share.
A compact RPG system vaguely similar to a stripped-down Dungeon World, and available for pay-what-you-want here. Maze Rats packs its few pages with loads of random generators you can use to quickly put together compelling PCs as well as providing prompts for adventures and fleshing out NPCs and monsters you meet.
One of the most interesting things about Maze Rats is its magic system, which involves randomly generating spell descriptions to fill slots and then figuring out what effect the spell would logically have based on those random results. What do you think a spell called Moss Form would do, for example? Or how about Deceiving Spear?
The Mythic GM Emulator
If you’re interested in exploring solo tabletop RPGs, this is probably the single most important resource you need. There’s a lot to the system (and a lot I don’t use) but the main thing it offers solo players is a percentile-based table that can function as a Game Master, answering questions about the world and even throwing in random events on the fly.
The Mythic GM Emulator (MGE) isn’t perfect, but it’s provided some great moments in my sessions (especially combined with other tools). I’ll detail a bit of its use in action below.
The 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide
Plenty has already been written about the useful random tables that pack the 5e DMG. For this solo experience I mainly used the random dungeon tables, but I’ve previously used the Villain and Adventure prompt tables earlier in the book to generate entire plots with no prep.
First, I generated three PCs using Maze Rats’ character generation tables. I was impressed with how interesting and fleshed-out the characters seemed even with so little in terms of stats or descriptions, though I did find myself needing to write a few lines of personality for each to help guide me when it came to questions of how each would behave and what their goals, fears, and morals were.
Our heroes (with names generated from Fantasy Name Generators.
*Eledo Loneglory, corpulent know-it-all. Eledo’s starting equipment included a vial of acid, and his physical description included “acid scars,” so he’s clearly some sort of alchemist (and maybe not a very careful one). He starts with a single spellslot, which I randomly determined to be “Deafening Swarm.” It didn’t get used in this adventure, but I have a pretty good idea of what it will do.
*Piru Lyamri, tattooed warrior in bedraggled clothes. Piru’s equipment included two different horns (which I determined to be animal horns, though Maze Rats doesn’t specify) and her tattoos and bedraggled clothes made me think of her as a barbarian. After some more random generation it became clear that Piru needs to acquire a trophy from the corpse of a fearsome monster she defeats in battle in order to claim leadership of her clan back home.
*Delrico Life, sarcastic shadowjack (which means Delrico is good at sneaking and hiding in shadows). Delrico comes packing iron spikes, a jar of grease, and a metal file. With a combination of rolling and imagination I determined he was part of group of thieves that did something yet-to-be-determined that resulted in him suffering under a slow-moving curse. He’s seeking an item called the Book of Lies, which he believes will cure him.
I’ve found that it’s best for solo RPG fun if you have at least a vague idea of the world, area, or city in which your adventure takes place. A lot of what makes the MGE work as a GM replacement is your ability to fairly estimate the odds of something happening or knowing logical outcomes of certain actions, and that’s all very tricky to do if you know nothing about your setting.
On the flip side though, running a solo RPG session is a fantastic way of doing some world-building if you have a lot of blank spots in your setting of choice, because you’ll be forced to fill in details naturally and on the fly as story needs dictate.
For this adventure I used a homebrew island city setting I’ve developed in a lot of broad strokes but not many fine details. It’s not different in any significant way from a standard D&D world, and uses the Dawn War deities outlined in the 5E DMG and elsewhere.
Let’s go on an adventure
I started by doing Mythic GM Emulator scene set-up, including noting the Chaos Level (which starts at 5) and filling in some threads and NPCs based on the character drives and backstories. These elements are only needed in case of specific types of random events generated by the MGE, and didn’t come up in this adventure.
I knew I wanted to start things off in a dungeon, so I used that page of the Maze Rats rules and rolled to determine what the dungeon entrance was. It turned out it was a whirlpool, which I placed just off the edge of one the rocky cliffs on the outskirts of my island city. So my PCs were in a small boat they have hired to wait all night (the whirlpool only appears at dusk, for reasons I hadn’t yet determined at this point), and are immediately faced with the question of how, exactly, they can safely enter a whirlpool.
I turned to the MGE and asked it whether the PCs have special entry instructions (maybe there’s an “open sesame” command or something?). The MGE said no, so that was a dead end.
It looked like the party was just going to have to hold their breath and dive in. That certainly sounded like it qualified as a Danger Roll (Maze Rats’ main dice-rolling mechanic). Eledo and Delrico passed (Delrico bringing a rope tied to the ship along with him, to help the party leave) but Piru failed, so took a point of damage. 1st-level Maze Rats characters only have 4 health, so a single point is significant, especially considering the characters weren’t even in the dungeon at this point.
Enter the Plasma Roach
Once inside, the dungeon itself wasn’t underwater (because having all the characters drown right away just wouldn’t be fun, which is an important part of this whole process) and a Maze Rats roll told me that the dungeon was actually a ship. A ruined sunken ship accessible via a whirlpool, hidden under a major city? That’s pretty cool. That’s a detail I can remember about the city for future use.
For each new room, I used the random dungeon tables in the 5e DMG to generate contents on the fly. This first room was a workshop that smelled of oil (and in fact had oil on the floor) populated with a monster and treasure. For the monster I used Maze Rats and rolled up a Plasma Roach (again based on combinations of its different random tables and some rough guidelines for how its stats should look), a giant cockroach capable of delivering a shocking blast.
The PCs killed the Plasma Roach, but Piru took two more damage in the process. She was down to one health already, and decided to hang in the back of the group for the rest of the dungeon (Maze Rats is designed to be an unforgiving system with a lot of character turnover).
Since there was treasure in the room, I rolled on Maze Rats’ treasure tables and determined it was something called “Diminishing Embroidery.” Okay, so some kind of lace material that, when rubbed on an object, reduces that object in size by 50% for five minutes. That sounds fun (again, all of this is determined through a combination of random rolls and figuring out what makes logical sense/would be cool and fun).
The PCs explored the dungeon, with corridors and exits generated on the fly by the DMG tables. I prefer this method to using a full randomly generated map, because I like not knowing anything about where dead ends might be or what direction characters should be heading. It helps to put me in the headspace of players exploring a dungeon they don’t know anything about.
Down a flight of stairs (so “below decks” I guess) Delrico triggered a trap, causing one of the walls to partially collapse and do a bit of damage to him. I decided there was a chance the noise alerted something to the presence of the party, so I asked the MGE, and got both a yes and a random event.
Random events are combinations of different tables in the Mythic GM Emulator book, and this one was defined as something ambiguous that bestowed a path. Alright, so from one of the exits of the room a voice calls out, shouting for the party to “Come this way! Quickly!”
The PCs weren’t stupid, so they didn’t do as the voice asked. Instead they asked the voice to reveal itself, and after asking the MGE and rolling up a random NPC they met Mortimer, a hotheaded male beggar. Mortimer’s asset was that he had local knowledge (so knowledge of the ship, obviously) but his liability was that he was protective (so I decided he was defensive of his corridor and would actually kill anyone who tried to come down it into his lair).
Maze Rats told me that Mortimer’s goal was “power” and his mission was “destroy monster.” Perfect! Mortimer wanted the PCs to kill a monster elsewhere in the ship. Rolling to determine the monster told me it was a Winged Spider (yikes!), and Mortimer told the PCs that its lair was full of corpses and treasure. He would tell the PCs about the spider’s weakness if they swore an oath to give him the monster’s body and to split the treasure of its lair four ways. Piru wasn’t happy to be giving up the trophy, but ultimately decided a winged spider probably wasn’t good enough to win leadership of her tribe anyway, so the PCs agreed.
Attack of the Spider
Apparently the Winged Spider has a weakness for “puzzles,” so after leaving Mortimer in his tunnel the PCs did their best to construct one using a fishing net wrapped around the corpse of the Plasma Roach and weighted with an iron spike. That sounds like a puzzle a spider would like, right?
The PCs began their hunt for the spider, and entered a new chamber populated by a monster once again. I asked MGE if the monster was the spider itself, but put the likelihood at “Very Unlikely,” since I didn’t think they would find the spider that quickly. To my surprise, I rolled a yes! Acting as an advance scout, Delrico found himself face-to-face with the Winged Spider already!
Combat began, and I rolled initiative. The spider went first, and shot webs at Delrico, but he evaded them and had a chance to throw the puzzle roach on the floor and fall back. Maze Rats instructs the GM that “Clever solutions to a problem should usually work, as long as they are within the realm of possibility,” so I decided that the spider was distracted by the puzzle roach long enough for the party to launch one free attack each at range. They all hit, and the damage was enough to kill the distracted spider, so the beast was (rather quickly) slain.
The corpse was returned to Mortimer, who was instantly suspicious of how fast they PCs accomplished their goal (even success can have negative consequences, of course). The four went together through the dungeon, and quickly found a chapel full of spiderwebs, desiccated bodies, and treasure, along with a trap. Maze Rats is a game where traps are supposed to be obvious and more about finding ways to avoid or disable them rather than constantly searching for triggers, so I determined that a giant vat of magically boiling tar was waiting in one corner of the room, linked to the dead bodies by spiderwebs and ready to spill all over the floor.
After Delrico disabled the trap with another iron spike (those things are damn handy!) the PCs were free to loot the treasure, which they then split with Mortimer. Along with a collection of coins the PCs ended up with a pearl-colored potion (use TBD once Eledo can properly test it) and something Maze Rats told me was “owned blueprints.” I got this result and puzzled over it at first, and actually re-rolled the adjective to see if I could get a different kind of blueprints that had a more obvious application. I rolled “owned” again though, and took it as a sign. I needed to figure something out.
Since the blueprints were in a chapel, I decided they were blueprints owned by the church of Moradin, the creator god. And since the blueprints were in this sunken ship they were probably lost, right? Hey, maybe the temple of Moradin in the city would be interested in having these back…
And we have our next adventure hook, totally naturally! The PCs will visit the temple of Moradin and provide the blueprints, and I have a feeling the temple might need some special materials to build whatever it is, or maybe there are other missing blueprints the group will be paid to find…
Until next time…
So that’s about it! The whole dungeon wrapped up more quickly than I expected (which demonstrates how effective the Maze Rats/MGE/DMG combo is at creating an unpredictable experience), but there are doors and passages the PCs haven’t yet explored if they decide to return (and who knows what Mortimer is up to with that spider corpse?). For now the group left the dungeon and healed up, and are ready to head to the chapel or Moradin for the next stage of their randomly generated adventure.
Notes and Feedback
I’ve found this combination to be effective at generating adventures, dungeons, and unpredictable scenarios, and love the way the different elements combine to create and populate areas on the fly. Things become a lot trickier once you try to resolve social situations, as Maze Rats doesn’t provide many relevant rules for this part of the game (and it’s hard to avoid the feeling of talking to yourself), but you can basically lean on the MGE to fill in any gaps you need as you go along.
If you read all this, please let me know what you think, if you found it useful, if you have any questions, what tools you would recommend to flesh out a solo RPG experience, and if you’d be interested in more of this kind of thing.
Originally posted on reddit.