The Beginning

Recently, I began an Old-School Essentials “tournament” with my TTRPG friends. The idea is that each player gets exactly one try at the dungeon (resetting between runs), and the player who gathers the most gold and lives to return to town wins. It’s using the official Incandescent Grottoes scenario, which has proven to perhaps be the perfect choice. It’s been a very enjoyable experience, but it isn’t quite finished yet, so a post about that will come another time.

But I wanted to play more

There’s just so much cool TTRPG stuff out there. It’s unfair that the best way to enjoy them is to spend years playing a single one, because I could be entertained just by reading shelves of different systems and rules. I enjoy seeing how different perspectives to simulating a world and story can lead to differences in mechanics and practical outcomes. So, naturally, I have a problem with jumping from system to system. So, naturally, it was time to create a solo game that I could really let loose on. No limits to wacky ideas, switching systems on a whim, and no noses to turn up at the cringey inclusion of anime girls.

Uh Oh.

I’m glad you asked. The setting for my solo campaign is the cast of Touhou within the world of D&D 2e Planescape. Why? Not sure. I like the Touhou cast, and making a bizzare “fan game” using them feels pretty in-spirit. I also have always loved the Outer Planes since I began playing D&D 5e in December 2014. Each one has a wildly different character, being strange enough that they don’t feel cliche, while also not being so extreme that they’re unplayable. As for a plot… I don’t really have one. That’s a weakness I have as a DM. I consider myself to be the stagehands, and rely on my players to actually tell a story. That doesn’t work when I’m the only one at the table. But I was but a simple gnome with a simple dream, so I pressed forward.

Mythic GM Emulator

I find it to be perfectly… okay. Just like all the other oracles and emulators I’ve found out there. I tried using several of them diligently, but in the end, I’ve just fallen back to using X-in-6 chance. “If I roll a 1 or a 2, the wolf charges me. 3 or 4, it calls for help. On a 5, it runs away. On a 6, something else really unexpected happens.” I find gives me about as good, if not better results than my experience with oracles. However, I’ve heard lots of good things about Ironsworn, which I have yet to try. But rather than the philosophy of solo GM’ing, this post will be focused on the actual RPG game systems I used.

To Rolemaster! Wait, why?

The Cons

In the post I wrote about Rolemaster, I basically admitted that the system is unplayable as written. I still stand by this, moreso now after trying to use it for a solo game. I really am enamored with this sysetm, but only on paper. In practice, the complex systems rarely add more to the game. The time I spent with my nose in the rulebook and going “wait, what?” was a bit silly. And while I had fun playing with the rules and poking the mechanisms to see how they responded, it significantly impeded the actual game.

The Pros

After digging through so much mechanical rubble, I found a gem in the rough; namely, the experience system. Almost everything in Rolemaster gives you some experience points. You traveled ten miles? 10 EP. You casted a spell? 100 EP. Narrowly avoided a falling boulder, contribute to group discussion, or even just die? All of that is worth EP. Additionally, you get multipliers for experience based on how new the action or concept is to your character, as well as the danger they were in when they did it. This means the system actively encourages players to take unusual actions in dangerous situations, which I love. It also had a huge unexpected bonus: by simply writing short notes along with every bit of EP gained, like “Took a critical hit from a Goblin, 50 EP”, I ended up with a nearly perfect outline of the session. I think one day, I might like to try inventing a whole (solo?) TTRPG system off this idea. But that is for another day!

So I switched to FATE.

The Cons

FATE is extremely versatile! Which also makes it really bland. The more specific a game’s world is, the deeper and more immersed you can get in it (take Blades in the Dark, for example). If your game world is any possible scenario, that means the mechanics are bound to end up flavorless and detached—and they are. It’s like the Soylent of TTRPGs, it functions perfectly well and could definitely sustain a campaign, but you’ll enjoy yourself more if you go for something with character.

The Pros

FATE is extremely versatile! You could run anything in it. No, really, I think you could run just about anything in it. The rules are so abstracted and generic that I don’t think it’s bound to nearly omni-present conventions of RPGs. For example, you don’t even really have to play a character. You could play as a location, an abstract concept, or anything you could conceptualize as “taking action”. I’m tempted to make a list of extremely bizzare scenarios for it. Imagine a 10-page setting where players control an entire species as they attempt to evolve and thrive in a harsh pre-historical environment. Or maybe a game where players are controlling computer viruses that propagate through a wild and shifting digital info-scape. So many possibilities!

So, I switched again to Pathfinder 2e

The Cons

Pathfinder is a very rigid system. While I wouldn’t call it particularly difficult to play (not after playing Rolemaster), you will spend a lot of time searching things on the great Archives of Nethys. Most things you could logically imagine having some sort of rules procedure probably does. This can cause some confusion as you juggle actions and feats and conditions in your head.

The Pros

This system is one that I would call gamey. All those rules are there specifically so the GM doesn’t have to make arbitrary rulings all the time, and instead provide a mechanical baseline that you can rely on to move the game forward. While FATE felt like me telling a lackluster story to myself, PF2 felt like playing a free-form board game. For this specific campaign, that feels just right. If I wanted to write a story, I would just do that. But with this, I want to play a game. I like moving my guys around the board and using their cool and highly-customized abilities. And while in a “real” multiplayer game I think it could be hinderance, this kind of experience would be impossible to govern for myself if it weren’t for the strict rules backbone of the game.

What I’m still missing

I enjoy exploration a lot. Walking in random directions to find what cool (or boring) stuff is over there. I like it when locales have magical and colorful things to interact with, which is why I enjoy Planescape. And while I do think the books are very inspiring for my brain, it’s on a macro-level. On the micro-level, like individual floor layouts or encounters, I’m still fumbling in the dark. I think that a random encounter generator won’t capture the flavor of the strange planes very well, but picking everything out myself does spoil some of the fun. On this point, I’m not very sure what to do.

This is an area of continuing and evolving research for me, so I’ll still be looking around for potential new things to spice up my game… or completely overhaul it for a third time. Either one.

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