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Ardor in the icy pits

Solo or solitaire play appeared very early in RPG history, and yet I often considered it marginal or beta play. I certainly saw it that way until about 2010, especially the second round of Ronnies and the contest/event 01/01/11 organized by Em and Eppy. By then, I’d wholly revised my similar thinking about twosie play, so was more open-minded about solo play and was even working on Cathedral at that point. I love playing Swords of the Skull-Takers and The Plant, for instance, and, as it happens, at the time of this writing I’m five days into playing The Beast.

I should have been more thoughtful before then, considering how much I like the Fighting Fantasy series, or at least the one I’m most familiar with, the four-book Sorcery! adventure. These are very developed versions of the “choose your own adventure” method, following instructions to go here or go there throughout a series of numbered and lettered paragraphs. If I’m not mistaken, this method was in place long before fantasy role-playing became a thing; I seem to recall it in other genres too, as a kid activity not associated with the hobby.

At least in my experience, the other publisher who focused most on this method was Flying Buffalo, with a very extensive line including a lot of little ones in its magazine. I played a number of them without ever becoming a big fan; they always seemed to struggle with the goal of what exactly the player was supposed to be bringing to the table. A few were compelling and “not like the others,” the more so after I talked with Mike Stackpole about this very thing, and he mentioned how some of them were about what kind of hero you chose to be, rather than left-right-fight-left-right.

Anyway, I just unearthed this little booklet that I bought in 1980, a T&T solitaire. I was in a very quest-ish state of mind, seeking to find role-playing material that expressed fantasy as I understood and desired it, which D&D of that time was failing to do. And this is an interesting discovery in that it was buried in a bunch of high-school notebooks rather than with my game stuff; i.e., I haven’t seen it since college, thirty-five years ago.

So, time to play it! I hope you watch the videos including Part 2 and Part 3, because I’d like to address the following point using this play experience very precisely.

In playing with this methodology, it seems to me that one must be making decisions one can “get behind,” i.e., that have enough information to go on that they are significant at the playing-on-purpose level. Such things as character survival or treasure gained are variables in that experience, not ends in themselves.

Therefore in the text itself, I want to look at described events, i.e., “this happens” phrasing. I want to identify the ones that could instead have been either a randomized outcome or a decision to go to this or that instruction. In other words: potentially railroaded, because most of the time such things are framed in that decision or roll mode, but these few are not.

The most obvious one in this play-experience was the fall off the icy stair, but I think there are a few others throughout the booklet, and I definitely know I’ve felt the difference (based on this feature) on and off throughout my history of playing this type of game.

Can such text be constructive, i.e., well-suited to the purpose of play? Can it be a relatively powerful form of Bang? Or is it a failure of the otherwise robust technique that’s more common throughout the text?

editorial note: the Part 2 video was borked, so I've replaced it and edited the link above.

Actual Play


Ron Edwards's picture

When calculating Adventure Points for Saving Rolls, you multiply the dice results by your level. So instead of 115 additional points, that's 460, which added to the baseline reward for the adventure, makes 1210 total.

I totally messed this up in group play too.

Gordon C's picture

I have a bunch of 'em, and played a good number of 'em ... not so much when I first got them, but some years later in the mid/late-80's when I couldn't find a group I wanted to play with. I know they had an impact on me, but I'm not sure what it was ...

Oh, and I had other "solos" - Citadel of Blood/Deathmaze (SPI/Greg Costikiyan), Fantastic Enounters (West Coast Games). They were more randomized and fidly, so I played less, but - I bet I was influenced by them too.

Ron Edwards's picture

Ah! As for The Fantasy Trip, I played the hell out of Deathtest, Deathtest 2, and Grailquest. The latter was the first I'd encountered which focused on the ethical choices you made during the adventure, rather than tactical considerations of mapping and resource management. Some of the T&T ones leaned this way too, especially those in which you could end up playing a Cugel-like opportunist or a decent/hero, as you saw fit.

I am very interested in how many of us treated these texts as pedagogy, especially when the fantasy-gaming groups one joined turned out to be difficult in one or another social and creative way. I know for myself that I found only fellow superhero role-players to be fun for me, as they were dedicated to their content and used the game as an instrument to get there for their own version. It seemed to me as well that I could feel a rapport with, for instance, the authors of Sea of Mystery or (later) Fighting Fantasy: Sorcery! whereas I could not with a group of actual players and their version of D&D or Rolemaster, not even with good friends. I even used FF: Sorcery! as a kind of pole star of encouragement when working on my earliest game designs.

Which is all the more reason to investigate when and how the randomization mechanics matter in the very wide library of published solo adventures. I suspect that some distinct profiles would emerge.

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