USR Wednesdays: Combat Variants

I’ve certainly looked at ways to mix up combat before. Let’s take a look today at a few more options to add something extra to your Domino Writing-style USR game.

Multiple Attacks

One of the biggest problems with classic role playing games is that boss monsters are just too easy to kill. Sure, the dragon has lots of hit points, and its breath weapon can knock everyone down by a third of their health if it hits, but the dragon only gets one attack. If the fighter, rogue, wizard, and cleric work together, they can take out the beast in no time. The answer is often give the dragon some orcish minions to fight alongside it, or allow it to breathe fire and scratch with its claws at the same time. Either way, the dragon can make several attacks, evening the odds it faces in battle.

In USR, we can do the same thing, giving a monster multiple attacks, instead of the one it normally gets (remember, in Domino Writing-style USR, a combat turn includes one move and one other activity, usually an attack). The limit is determined by the monster’s [Monster] Power Level.

  • The number of extra attacks a monster can have, above and beyond its regular attack, is equal to its combat bonus (Power Level I means no extra attacks, Power Level VI can have up to 5 for a total of 6 attacks in a turn).
  • Each extra attack a monster has costs it 3 starting hit points (one extra attack means the monster starts with 3 fewer hit points; five extra attacks means -15 hit points before the battle begins).

Note this only applies to monsters (which can be, of course, wolves, ninja, soldiers, trolls, robots, guards, or anything else). Heroes can’t buy extra attacks this way.

I am not left handed.
Gaining the upper hand is easy for two swashbucklers.

The Upper Hand

This one is borrowed from the Fate RPG, and it’s great for those games where combat is the exception, not the rule. You may need a marker of some kind, like a spare die, to represent having the “upper hand,” having fortune smile on you. The character who wins initiative starts with the “upper hand.” It stays with him or her until an enemy tries to steal it. If your ally has the upper hand when it’s your turn in combat, you can’t make use of it. But if an enemy has it, you can try and grab it from them. Then you’ll have it on your turn.

To “seize the upper hand,” you first make a non-contested die roll against a target number set by the game master (usually a 4 or a 6 — this should be relatively easy to do so the upper hand moves around a lot). On a success, you have the upper hand. On a failure, the upper hand stays where it is.

Whether you succeeded or failed on the upper hand roll, you can still make an attack roll on this turn (yes, you make two die rolls in one turn). If you succeeded at the upper hand roll, or you already had the upper hand from earlier in the battle, add your level to the attack roll, and even if you miss, you still cause 1 point of damage. If you don’t have the upper hand, you just make an ordinary attack.

The “upper hand” roll can be against any stat you wish on your first try, but it has to be against a different stat each time you try to seize it. The entire point is to generate cool combat maneuvers that aren’t necessarily damage-causing themselves:

  • Grabbing a rope and swinging into the fray
  • Dropping the perfect one-liner before opening fire
  • Calculating the exact coordinates for your attack to cause maximum damage
  • Mystically stopping time — for just a moment — to get into position
  • Spreading your wings as wide as they can reach, to strike fear in the heart of your foe

Nemeses

A discussion on the USR Google+ group about playing Pokemon in USR led to this idea: When a battle begins, select an opponent, who becomes your nemesis. You gain +2 on die rolls against the nemesis, as long as the nemesis is in the combat. If it’s defeated or otherwise leaves combat, you can name a new nemesis on your next turn.

Both heroes and monsters can select a nemesis on their turn, but someone can only have one nemesis at a time. A character can’t name an opponent as a nemesis if another character has already done so. Nemeses don’t have to be against one another: If you’re a police sergeant whose nemesis is Mario the mafia thug, but Mario has named your buddy the psychic detective as his nemesis, you get a +2 against Mario, but he doesn’t get a +2 against you.

USR Wednesdays: Companions

I took a look back at the community on the USR Google+ page, before it disappears, though of course nothing ever really disappears from the web. A few years back, there was a discussion on playing puppets, creatures that work with a hero as a kind of support staff. Puppets and their controller — in other words, companions of a hero. In classic fantasy role playing games, this is the druid or ranger with their wolf, hawk, or other animal partner. Helper robots in a science fiction settings are a pretty popular concept too.

What’s a companion?

A companion, in the terms we’re using here, is more than a simple Specialism. A private eye who has a trusty bartender informant doesn’t have a companion; he has a Bartender Contact +2 Specialism. All the bartender does is pass along information (and pour drinks). He doesn’t join the detective in a fight, and really doesn’t even leave the bar, in the story.

On the other hand, a dark elf two-blade ranger’s magical black panther is a companion (probably a Magical Black Panther +2); it’s useful as a warrior, but also a scout, a guard, and likely some other stuff, I haven’t read all the books. He literally never leaves his hero.

I would choose any of these.
Animal companions, classic fantasy style.

So, if both the bartender and the panther are designated as Specialisms, what’s the difference in game terms between a companion and a non-companion? On the surface, not much. Both offer a +2 bonus… but the panther’s bonus applies a lot more often. It all depends on how the player and the game master have decided how the companion works. That’s part of what defining a Specialism in the first place is all about — what kind of die rolls it applies to.

Other companion-type Specialisms
The puppets we talked about on Google+ are another companion-type specialism. The example I used was this:

(A) puppet could be a manifestation of a Specialism (Flight +2 is on your character sheet, but you can’t literally fly. One of your puppets can, though, and whenever you need to fly you summon the puppet to carry you).

That’s just “flavor text,” as they say in CCGs. This character can fly, it’s just being described as something the puppet does for the hero. It does open the game to more role playing opportunities — what if the puppet is missing or stolen? Is the hero’s need to fly somehow powerful enough that the puppet comes racing across continents to do its job? Or is the character just a little less capable now that his puppet is out of action?

Then there’s the situation where the companion is more powerful than the hero. There are a few superheroes who have this trait — young Billy Batson becomes the mighty Captain Marvel (or Shazam now, I guess), and timid scientist Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk. Though in USR terms, Shazam and Hulk are the heroes, and Batson and Banner are the Specialisms (maybe Young Boy +1, capable of being ignored by most people, and Genius Scientist +2). But the example I was really thinking of is Aladdin, who has an extremely powerful wish-granting Genie, who is a companion, especially in the well-known Disney version of the fairy tale. The genie isn’t a character himself, because he can’t do anything until Aladdin makes a wish.

Companion ideas

Like all Specialisms, companions, in whatever form they take, follow our guideline for creating Specialisms: They explain what a character can do, or how he or she does it, in a way that’s appropriate to the setting. A hero with a companion-type specialism might be able to:

  • Lift heavy things, thanks to a robot buddy
  • Fly with the help of a winged puppet
  • Coordinate attacks against orcs and dragons
  • Cross between the world of the living and the land of the dead
  • Scout out the enemy fortress, seeing it through a robotic bee’s eyes
  • and more…

USR Wednesdays: Signature Actions

One of the great things about USR’s flexibility is how much you can say with a single Specialism: a classic fantasy Thief is assumed to be good at sneaking, picking locks, quickly assessing the value of an object, backstabbing enemies, and so on. Someone with an Assault Rifle weapon doesn’t just have a powerful gun; they also know how to use it, carry it, maintain it and so on.

But sometimes you have a signature action — a way you use the skill, tool, weapon, or other Specialism that no one else does the way you do, or no one else does at all. Think of the cowboy gunslinger who has an extra single-shot derringer secreted away in his boot when his trusty sixguns are out, or the druid who doesn’t just talk to animals — they come to him to pass along information, without even being asked.

A signature action is chosen at the same time you select a Specialism. Each Specialism can only have one signature action at a time, though you can switch to another one at any time, as long as the game master approves. It should make sense for the story, though; a captain who’s a master at keeping his ship steady through a storm won’t suddenly become an America’s Cup yacht race champ, even though both signature actions would apply to the Sailing Specialism, or something similar.

A signature action awards an additional +1 to any die roll where it applies, so it’s one better than the Specialism, no matter what bonus the Specialism provides.

Every other image was clip art or Daredevil's enemy.
Bullseye, every time, with the right signature action.

Here are a few ideas, with a suggested appropriate Specialism.

Called shot: You gain this bonus when using a Gun or Bow to fire at a specific target, like a shoulder, a kneecap, or the weapon in an opponent’s hand.

Death from above: You’re especially effective at sneak attacks when Jumping onto an enemy.

Evocation: If you are a Wizard or Spellcaster, you’re especially good at one particular type of magic. Work with your game master to determine just what kinds of spells qualify as your type of magic.

Inspiring speech: A Military General or Leader Of Men can always rouse the troops to battle or keep them on task even when they’re exhausted, but you’re one of the best at doing it. You don’t need to roll for this, but some of your sayings show up when people are looking for motivational quotes.

Like a native: If you have French (or Elvish, or a Specialism for any language and culture), you not only know the language and customs like someone who’s lived there all their life, you also know things that most natives don’t know, from obscure history facts to slang terms that young people have just started using.

USR Wednesdays: Cool Cars

It was so much fun bringing back spells last week that I’m going to pull another one out of the archives… vehicles. We visited the 4A setting not long ago, and that’s all about cool cars. Vehicles have hit points and an armor bonus (which is also the total bonus of weapons they can carry). It was suggested on the USR discussion group that vehicles also have a Handling rating, on top of the Target Numbers established for a maneuver. Makes sense as a Specialism:

  • Bikes: +2 Handling
  • Small Cars, Large Cars, Small Trucks: +0 Handling
  • Large Trucks: -2 Handling

A Civic (Small Car) and an Expedition (Small Truck) perform about the same at high speed while dodging bullets, at least in fiction. You might want to add a few categories here if you’re really getting detailed with your cars. A Mustang or Camaro probably has a +1 or +2 Handling, while a rickety old truck has at least a -2 Handling.

Most comic book ones are pretty good, too.
What I think of first when I think of the Batmobile.

Batmobile (Large Car)

+4 Armor, 20 Hit Points

+1 missiles, grappling hook, and I’m going to boost its armor rating above a standard Large Car because it’s often portrayed as super, super durable.

General Lee (Small Car)

+2 Armor, 15 Hit Points

Let’s give this one a +1 to Handling because of all its jumps and swerves. It’s pretty large to be considered a Small Car, but it’s known more for its ability to move than its ability to take a hit.

Pursuit Special (Large Car)

+3 Armor, 20 Hit Points

Mad Max’s car isn’t armed itself, but it carries a lot of riders who have weapons.

Aston Martin DB5 (Small Car)

+2 Armor, 15 Hit Points

James Bond’s signature ride has +1 machine guns and +1 tire slashers, plus an ejection seat and a few other gadgets that will come in handy just in time (part of Bond’s Super Spy Specialism?).

Hell Cycle (Bike)

+1 Armor, 10 Hit Points

The flaming tires are the most memorable part of Ghost Rider’s demonic vehicle (traditionally — more recent Ghost Riders drive cars) and they provide a +1 attack bonus.

USR Wednesdays: More Magic

We first looked at classic magic about a year ago: discrete spells with specific results, as opposed to the game master- and player-interpreted rules that most of USR uses. Fantasy gaming has been using huge spell lists for decades; there’s no reason to stop doing it now. I created just a handful of spells in that first post. This time around, we’ll make the list bigger. Our guidelines are simple:

  • Any spellcaster can use any spell — there’s no divine vs. arcane magic, for example.
  • There’s no “spell level,” so even an apprentice can summon a mighty elemental force… or at least he can try. A high Target Number is probably in order in that case. Also, spells are measured by the number of hit points they cost the spellcaster whenever the spell is cast. A wizard can have a few very powerful spells, but he won’t be able to cast them often!
  • You can cast spells as often as you like, but you have to spend the listed hit point(s) first. Casting a spell counts as your action for a turn, or is considered part of your attack action — for example, Magical Missile is an attack by itself, but casting Entangling Vines adds to an attack roll using the Wits stat. Don’t forget that Specialisms (like Wizard or Fire Magic) apply to these Wits and other stat rolls also, above and beyond what a spell offers.
  • A spellcaster at level 1 starts with two spells, and adds one more at each level. Domino Writing-style USR goes to level 5, so a fifth-level sorcerer can cast six spells — enough for variety, not enough to require you to spend a half-hour writing spell text on your character sheet.

To create a new spell, just decide on its hit point cost: a good measure is a cost of 3 hit points per die of effect. The exact details of the spell are up to the player and the game master to work out, provided it helps tell a better story.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: the best Mickey cartoon?
Summoning isn’t always about combat.

As with all USR rules, it’s easy to add options to make the game the way you want it. Maybe each spellcaster has a signature spell that doesn’t cost as many hit points, spellcasters have a “mana pool” to cast spells from instead, or spells need to have subtle effects, and loud, flashy spells attract unwanted attention.

So, let’s mix all our spells together (the old and the new), grouped by Hit Point cost.

1 Hit Point cost

Detect Magic: All magical objects and creatures in an area the size of an average room glow a faint light blue for the next few moments, long enough for you to discern where they are.

Enhance: This spell boosts other die rolls. It costs 1 hit point to cast. Each additional hit point spent on the spell provides +1 to any one die roll, for the spellcaster or anyone else he chooses.

Light: The spellcaster touches an object and for the next hour, the object glows like a lantern. It can only be “turned off” by the spellcaster.

Magic Blast: Choose one enemy and make a Wits roll, opposed by an Action roll; on a successful attack, the enemy suffers 1d3 damage.

Prestidigitation: A small, harmless, obviously magical effect takes place, like flowers appearing from nowhere, or a room tidying itself up.

2 Hit Point cost

Charm: For the next hour, the spellcaster or one ally adds +1d6 to all Ego rolls when positively interacting with others (when trying to request help, or to calm them down, but not to intimidate or confuse them, for example).

Confusion: Make a Wits +2 roll, opposed by your target’s Wits roll; on a success, your target loses his or her next turn, trying to figure out what’s happening to him or her. He or she can still make rolls to defend against attacks, but can’t apply Specialisms (armor bonuses will still apply).

Magical Missile: 1 automatic damage to an enemy you can see. This damage cannot be avoided in any way, except by a more powerful magical defense.

3 Hit Point cost

Cure Light Wounds: +1d6 hit points to yourself or another individual.

Entangling Vines: Choose one enemy and make a Wits +2 roll, opposed by the enemy’s Action roll; on a successful attack, that enemy cannot move for the rest of the combat encounter, unless it uses its entire movement and action on a turn to free itself.

Shape Change: You magically shift your body, clothing, and possessions to appear like someone else of roughly the same shape and size. You add +3 to any Wits roll if you need to convince someone else you are who you are pretending to be. The basic spell lets a human change into an elf or halfling. For 4 hit points, you can look like a specific individual whose appearance you are familiar with, like a famous person. For 6 hit points, you can look like a creature of a different size or shape, from a mosquito to a dragon.

4 Hit Point cost

Lightning Bolt: Choose one enemy and make a Wits +1 roll, opposed by an Action roll; on a successful attack, the enemy suffers 1d6 damage.

Magical Sheld: For the remainder of the current combat encounter, add +1d6 to your defensive rolls (roll this die along with the stat die you roll to defend against the attack). On a die result of 6, the shield instantly fades and does not provide any more defensive bonus.

5 Hit Point cost

Summon Creature: Make a Wits roll, with a Target Number depending on the type of creature you want to summon (a wolf is 4, a barbarian warrior is 7, a demon is 14). It is called to you and will help you however it can for the next hour/combat encounter.

Teleport: One creature or object is instantly moved from its current location to somewhere else within eyesight of the spellcaster.

6 Hit Point cost

Cure Heavy Wounds: +2d6 hit points to yourself or another individual.

Fireball: Choose one enemy and make a Wits +3 roll, opposed by an Action roll; on a successful attack, the enemy suffers 2d6 damage.

USR Wednesdays: DC Superheroes

We’ve touched on Marvel’s heroes before, but what about DC’s? These versions are, like most traditional superheroes, at Tier 3, and blend the best of each version of the character (comics, movies, animation, and so on).

trinity - USR Wednesdays: DC Superheroes
Truly iconic.

Superman, Level 4, 15 Experience Points, Tier 4
Action D12, Wits D10, Ego D8
Specialisms: Super-Strength +4, Journalist +2, Role Model To All +3
Hit Points: 37
Equipment: Invulnerable +3 (not equipment, but used in combat)
Narrative Points: 6

Batman, Level 3, 10 Experience Points, Tier 3
Action D10, Wits D12, Ego D8
Specialisms: World’s Greatest Detective +2, Wealthy Sponsor Of Gotham City And Superheroes +2, Obsessive Hunter +2, Bat-Gadgets (Free-Form Specialism) +2
Hit Points: 32
Equipment: Martial Arts Expert +2, Batarangs +1, Grappling Hook
Narrative Points: 3

Robin, Level 1, 0 Experience Points, Tier 1
Action D12, Wits D10, Ego D8
Specialisms: Detective In Training +2, Friend To Other Superheroes +2, Teetering On The Dark Side +2
Hit Points: 22
Equipment: Martial Arts +2, Staff +1
Narrative Points: 8

Wonder Woman, Level 2, 5 Experience Points, Tier 3
Action D12, Wits D8, Ego D10
Specialisms: Princess Of Themyscira +2, Representing The Power Of Women +2, Always Does The Right Thing +3
Hit Points: 25
Equipment: Sword +2, Deflecting Bracelets +2
Narrative Points: 3

USR Wednesdays: Motivation

What drives your hero to do what he or she does? For many RPG characters, the answer is simple: to collect the treasure, to stop evil from destroying the world, or even because it’s just the right thing to do. Of course, the quest-giver in step 1 of the six-step adventure design can also provide motivation for a specific adventure.

But sometimes you need to give the heroes a “kick in the pants” to get started. Though you can do anything in a role playing game ― that’s probably the best part of playing them ― some guidelines need to be in place. A hero can’t be good at everything, which is why stats have different ratings, and Specialisms only apply in some cases.

A character needs to get along with the other characters in the party, too. A lone wolf is a cool concept, but it doesn’t work in a typical adventuring group, where everyone contributes something unique to every adventure. And in most games, the player characters need to be heroes, doing something that helps themselves and society as a whole. A thief may steal, but not from his buddies. Heroes carry swords and guns, and know how to use them, but the weapons are specifically meant for orcs, Nazis, and evil minions, not anyone and everyone.

If your players need a push in the right direction, supported by game mechanics, try giving them a motivation. This is their particular reason for doing “hero stuff.” It may relate to their Specialisms, but it doesn’t provide a bonus to die rolls itself. Instead, whenever a character does something that relates to his or her motivation, award the hero a Narrative Point (probably about once per game session). A motivation is a tool to get characters (and players) moving, and to help give characters more well-rounded personalities. You can even take a Narrative Point away if a player doesn’t play the character according to the motivation that’s been selected, though if you’re using motivation in your game, your players probably are embracing the characters they’ve created.

What are good character motivations? The model for this is the classic Ghostbusters RPG from West End Games, way back in 1986. It had five Goals for characters, which are just as relevant for modern-day heroes:

I don't have an actual Ghost Die, though.
Still fun after all these years.
  • Fame: You want to live forever, you want to learn how to fly. No, actually, a fame-seeker wants to be known by everyone. You achieve this motivation when you get outsized attention: you’re on TV, bards compose a song about you, or crime lords summon you by name, because they’ve heard of your badass reputation.
  • Money: Every RPG character has this as a motivation at some level. But you’re especially interested in wealth and the possessions it brings. The abstract nature of USR means you don’t need to keep track of cash (unless you want to). But you can also achieve this motivation by talking the hotel owner into paying the heroes double their normal rate to bust ghosts, or by acquiring a rival company, whether that’s by making a deal or threatening to take proof of the CEO’s dirty deal to the feds.
  • Serving Humanity: Humanity, or whatever species you are, benefits when you’re around. This is the motivation of the classic paladin or good cop, to protect the innocent and be a shining light of goodness in the world. But don’t forget that slaying demons and keeping eldritch horrors at bay is just as helpful to humanity.
  • Sex: This means what you think it means, if you want it to (think of the classic Dead Alewives skit: “If there’s any girls there, I want to do them!”). It can also mean charming people who don’t want to be charmed. It can have nothing to do with wanting to have an intimate relationship with another person ― this motivation can be achieved by convincing the king that you’re the right man for the job on your charm alone.
  • Soulless Science: The advancement of knowledge (even magical knowledge) is what matters. You don’t want people to suffer as a direct result of what you’re doing ― switching the brains of two living organisms without their permission is the work of evil ― but a house can move into another dimension while you study the effects of the transport, as long as it gets put back at the end of the day. You like taking things apart… putting them back together isn’t always as interesting.

USR Wednesdays: Solitaire Role Playing ― Part 3

Way back in the early 2000s, when D&D 3.0 variants ruled the hobby shop shelves, there was a tabletop version of the computer game Rune. The PCs were slaughter-happy Viking types, pretty standard for D&D. But what made the game stand out what that you could score points for playing a role playing game.

Scoring points in a tabletop RPG isn’t new; I think the early tournament modules for D&D were similar, or at least rewarded you for getting farther than other groups before dying in a dungeon designed to kill characters. But Rune had an entire scoring system.

Roll to win.
Definitely a competitive GM.

Competitive Role Playing

Players and a game master who are comfortable with one another’s style and okay with the idea of inter-party conflict may want to try competitive gaming. Each character gains 1 Victory Point each time he or she accomplishes one of the following tasks. The character or characters with the most Victory Points at the end of the game session wins. If a character is killed, the player loses all the Victory Points earned by that character.

Note that the characters still must accomplish the goals of the adventure as a group, and no character receives Victory Points for something that the entire party does together (like discover a treasure). Characters also earn no Victory Points for attacking, stealing from, or otherwise harming one another.

Optionally, a game master can complete too, earning 2 Victory Points per task marked with an asterisk (*) that the enemies of the adventure accomplish; the other tasks are PC-only. Use the list below to create other tasks worth Victory Points.

  • Be the character who makes the action that defeats 2 opponents that are weaker than the characters in a single combat encounter (every 2 opponents defeated equals 1 Victory Point)
  • Be the character who makes the action that defeats a single opponent with a power level equivalent to the characters (a more powerful opponent may be worth 2 or more Victory Points) *
  • Cause maximum possible damage on a dice roll, not counting “open ended” dice rolled again *
  • Do something appropriate to the character’s personality that greatly helps the party
  • Do something appropriate to the character’s personality that greatly hinders the party
  • Do something that makes the GM and/or players laugh out loud *
  • Roll a critical failure or critical miss *
  • Roll a critical success or critical hit *
  • Survive attacks by 2 or more opponents in the same turn without suffering any damage *
  • Use a power or ability intended for combat to accomplish a non-combat activity
  • Use a power or ability not intended for combat to make a successful attack

USR Wednesdays: Solitaire Role Playing ― Part 2

When I buy board games, I look for ones that can be played solo, as most of my gaming is done that way. There’s a few games that are designed for a single player, mostly variants of traditional games like… Solitaire (with a deck of playing cards), or Yahtzee.

But more often, and more thematically, there’s co-operative games, where two to five players can take part, working as a team to defeat the game itself. Usually it’s a puzzle that needs to be solved in a limited amount of time, or there’s a set of instructions for monsters and obstacles that the players follow to simulate the opposition. If every player has one character on the same team, it’s easy enough to have one player as all the characters on the team, as long as you keep track of who’s doing what. That’s what I’m trying to add to Domino Writing-style USR here.

These two options build on the solitaire rules introduced last week, and expand them so you can play USR, or any tabletop RPG, without using a game master.

Co-Operative Play (no Game Master)

The rule for solitaire role playing (do what makes sense for whomever you’re playing as at that moment) can also be used for co-op role playing, where all players are taking the role of adventurers, and there is no game master.

If an adventure or monster description doesn’t provide an enemy’s combat tactics, assume its tactic is, “Move into position to make the most effective attack and fight until death.” The most effective attack is usually the one that does the most damage against the greatest immediate threat, though some enemies will take a few turns to enhance their abilities with spells or other powers before attacking.

This will require a high Wits roll.
The recovery action at work with a +2 for the professional medical assist.

The Recovery Action

To make an adventure more of a challenge, the player or players may want to limit the amount of healing available during the adventure. In combat (which starts when the first Initiative roll is made and ends when the last enemy is defeated), characters can use healing spells, medical kits and other healing available to them as described in the game’s normal rules.

However, characters cannot heal outside of combat, except for a Recovery action: The character instantly regains half his or her total Hit Points, round up. Recovery can be done only once per character per game session. For an adventure that lasts several days of game time, a character also regains all health each morning when he or she wakes up.

The Recovery action means characters can’t expect to eventually fully heal from even the worst combats, and means the player or players may even fail to finish adventure successfully, and lose the game.

USR Wednesdays: Solitaire Role Playing ― Part 1

Playing a tabletop pencil-and-paper RPG is always more fun with a group of people, but sometimes schedules don’t work out, or you just want to test a new rule or adventure you’ve written. There’s only one Rule Of Solitaire Role Playing:

Do what makes sense for whomever you’re playing as at that moment.

When you’re playing by yourself, you have to play each PC, all the NPCs and all the monsters. Obviously, since you’re both GM and players, you can’t really keep secrets — but you can do what makes sense to the characters.

For example, a fantasy adventure may indicate a secret door in the wall of the dungeon room the heroes have just entered. As GM, you know the door is there, but as the PCs, you have no idea. So, make “search” rolls, just as other players would if they were taking part in the game. Another example: you roll initiative for each side in a conflict. When the villains are taking action, they’re trying to defeat the heroes just as much as the heroes are trying to defeat them. You can even “fudge” dice rolls, if you like, but usually that’s done to keep a PC alive or keep the story on track, and when you’re GM and players, you don’t necessarily have to worry about that!

Dialogue with NPCs, developing relationships with other player characters, and investigation scenarios don’t really work in solitaire role playing, since they’re so dependent on interaction with other players in the game, at least not how they’re traditionally done. However, you can write out a sample interaction, as if you were composing a bit of game fiction, based on the personalities you’ve developed for each hero.

Combat in Solitaire Role Playing

Solitaire role playing is best-suited for detailed combat encounters, making it almost like a board game. Many games have tactics for monsters (like “use magic to enhance the villain’s defenses, then move into combat,” or “fight until slain”), but leave the combat tactics for PCs up to the players, as they should. However, when you’re both GM and players, you’ll need to have a tactic for each PC, too.

Take action!
They probably all have different tactics. At least they would in an RPG party.

Choose one combat tactic from the list for each PC in the party, or roll 1d6 two times (you’ll see what I mean below) for each when creating the characters. That tactic is the PC’s default action in combat — obviously, a “Selective” character that prefers to hang back and fire arrows at enemies from a distance won’t keep firing if there’s an orc right in his face. But at the beginning of the battle, he’ll stay toward the back of the room, instead of charging in like another hero might.

Feel free to let the tactic reflect the PC’s personality, too; an “Opportunistic” hero who hunts for treasure before fighting will probably be hard to keep in line in an open-air market.

Two characters with the same tactic might have different approaches to combat. A “Controlling” wizard who likes to cause area of effect damage might summon lightning in every battle, while a “Controlling” barbarian could cause area effect damage by moving into the middle of a horde of enemies, then swinging his sword in a circle to slay a half-dozen foes at once.

Character motivations may be different, too: two heroes may both be “Vengeful,” in an enemy’s face when delivering the final bit of damage. But one does it because he’s an assassin who needs to know his target is down, and another does it because her god calls his servants to prove their worth in warfare.

First Roll: 1 or 2

Second Roll:

  1. Ambitious: Eliminates the greatest threat first
  2. Cautious: Stays in the back of the battle and aids allies, only fighting if he must
  3. Commanding: Gives orders (which may or may not be listened to) then follows his own orders to the letter
  4. Controlling: Prefers area of effect attacks, trying to defeat as many foes as possible at one time
  5. Curious: Wants to know how things work (technology, unusual creatures, magic, etc.) and spends time investigating them for a possible advantage instead of simply taking them out of action and moving on
  6. Determined: One-on-one duelist — finishes off one enemy before moving to the next

First Roll: 3 or 4

Second Roll:

  1. Dramatic: Flashy, prefers making unique stunts to simple attacks — he might have a pile of unique gadgets he wants to try out, or likes playing pranks on his foes
  2. Efficient: Eliminates the easiest threat first
  3. Negotiating: Tries to neutralize threats without bloodshed (“talks down” foes, intimidates them, etc.)
  4. Opportunistic: Makes sure he knows where the treasure (or the door to the next room) is before getting into the fight
  5. Partnership: Finds a combat partner (animal companion, another PC, etc.) and performs a reliable, effective attack
  6. Pragmatic: Uses the environment (furniture, the natural world, vehicles, etc.) as his preferred weapons, often strikes from behind cover

First Roll: 5 or 6

Second Roll:

  1. Quick: Hit and run strikes, constantly moving and making attacks from different directions and/or against different enemies
  2. Reckless: Charges in, regardless of consequences, sometimes even before the party has made a plan
  3. Selective: Prefers to attack from a distance
  4. Slaying: Moves into the thick of battle and attacks anyone and everyone who comes near
  5. Unexpected: Does something different each time — roll once on this table before each encounter; if you roll “Unexpected” before an encounter, the character has the same combat tactic as he did in the last encounter
  6. Vengeful: Gets up close and personal with enemies to deliver a killing blow

P.S. This blog post is late because WordPress switched to a new text editor that took a while to figure out. Back on track next week.