When you think of tabletop RPGs you probably have an image of some friends hunched around a table in a dimly-lit room. The game master is describing the scene with gusto and the players are enthralled. That’s the classic way games like Dungeons and Dragons are played.
What about if you have no one to play with? Is there such a thing as a tabletop RPG that you play by yourself? It turns out that the answer to this question is “Yes”.
Why Play Solo RPGs?
Isn’t the point of playing a tabletop RPG to spend time with friends and experience the drama and tension of a great story together? Obviously this is a big draw for many people, but there are also plenty of drawbacks to this form of play.
For one thing, the logistics can be a nightmare, especially since if one party member is absent you can’t really push the campaign forward. And getting four, five, or six people to all meet regularly is hard. Luckily, there are plenty of internet tools that let real humans play tabletop RPGs remotely. But this only solves part of the logistical problem. This is one of the reasons that D&D and other RPG campaigns can take months or years to resolve. They only get played in relatively short snippets spread out over long stretches of time.
Solo RPGs give you everything but the social aspects of tabletop RPGs. So if you still want the thrill and adventure of rolling that D20 to see if you got a headshot on a goblin, solo RPGs might be for you.
How Can You Play Without a GM?
To be clear, when I say “playing alone” I mean that there are no other people in the room. Not even a GM. But wait, you say, a GM is essential to a tabletop RPG! That’s not strictly true. It’s not the GM that matters so much, but the function the GM serves.
When you play a computer RPG, the computer acts as your GM. Sure, it’s pre-programmed to a certain degree, but it’s also interactive and can change in response to your choices and actions. This ability to pick up and play a rich RPG at any time is one of the reasons that computers almost killed off the traditional tabletop RPG for a while there.
But we are not talking about a computer program here. This is all still pen and paper. Is it possible for you to be both the player and the GM without spoiling the whole thing? Thanks to something called a “solo RPG engine”, it is.
Solo RPG Engines
An RPG engine is basically a game’s ruleset with additional mechanisms in place to automate the functions that a human GM would normally provide. In other words, it not only describes the rules of the game but (to an extent) automates them in a way that isn’t completely transparent to you. Here are some well-known solo engines.
Mythic GM Emulator
Created by Word Mill Games, the Mythic Game Master Emulator is a supplement that helps you create dynamic adventures with no prep and no need for a dedicated GM. Since it makes things “dynamic”, you have no idea what’s coming until it happens.
The emulator is meant for use with other games, but Mythic offers a complete, universal RPG rules set.
Conjectural Roleplaying Emulator
CRGE is another brilliant GM emulator that will cost you nothing, but donations are welcome! Using a series of yes and no questions, this system will work with any RPG system and removes the need for a GM. It’s streamlined, keeps things going in exciting directions, and is designed to create interesting scenarios.
Going It Alone
It seems so counter-intuitive to play a tabletop RPG by yourself, but when you think about it this is an analogue approximation of what a video game engine does when you play a digital RPG.
The big difference is that you can retain the depth and nuance of tabletop RPGs without the major narrative limitations from which computer RPGs still suffer. It’s a unique approach that combines the best of both worlds. It’s not a replacement for the traditional experience, but a fun and interesting alternative!