Solo Skald |||

After I read Geek Gamers’ Solo Game Master’s Guide (“Solo GMG) last year, her approach intrigued me. So I decided to experiment with different resources for a solo game rather than play one designed for it or just use a couple of oracles. Actually, this play session happened last year, but I didn’t get around to writing it up until now. Also, as a note, GPT-3 and ChatGPT are helping me with a bit of the writing, but I’m still doing most of it. This is experimental, after all, so I’ll let the AIs turn some of the notes into longer prose.

CATS

The CATS procedure is generally intended as a safety tool, but in this case I decided to use it to clarify what I wanted to do in my own mind.

Concept

Welcome to a far-flung future, where science and fantasy are intertwined and the world is strange and mysterious. Technology and magic have advanced, creating a world that is both familiar and alien. Ruins and artifacts from ancient civilizations exist side-by-side with the living and breathing. The world is both fascinating and dangerous, offering a plethora of opportunities for exploration and adventure. The skies are filled with flying machines, some powered by electricity, some powered by magic. The ground is filled with creatures that are both fantastical and scientific. In the depths of the sea, strange creatures swim and strange technologies are still being discovered. There is a sense of mystery in the air, as the inhabitants of this world try to understand the secrets of the past and the potential of their future.

Aim

To play a solo adventure, to explore the ways in which we can assemble thematically-related materials from disparate sources, and to provide material for Solo Skald (blog).

Tone

The tone of this game is picaresque: likable, hopeful adventure. The characters are treasure hunters, not particularly concerned with morals, and are more focused on the goal of their journey. Although success is not guaranteed, their journey is relatively safe, as the characters are unlikely to die. This gives the atmosphere of a light-hearted adventure, where the characters have the freedom to explore and take risks, without having to worry as much about the potential of a lethal outcome.

Subject Matter

This game focuses on a post-apocalyptic world filled with crumbled civilizations, leaving the remaining societies in a state of disarray. With no well-structured government or rule of law, the players must grapple with the unknowability of the universe, and find their own hope for a future worth living in. The game encourages players to explore what it means to be human in a world filled with chaos, and find their own purpose in what others might treat as a hopeless situation.

Resources

In the Solo GMG, Geek Gamers writes about a few different kinds of resources. I don’t know that I broke them down the same way she intended, but here’s what I used.

Generative Resources

These are the broadest and most open-ended” resources, particularly random tables and lists or random passages from books.

Locations

  • Worlds Without Number: Ruins” p. 186-203; Creating Exploration Challenges” p. 234-247
  • Numenera: Jade Colossus: Numenera Ruin Mapping Engine” p. 84-127
  • Tome of Adventure Design: Overview Approach” p. 18-27; The Map” p. 230-293
  • Ultraviolet Grasslands: Misfortune” p. 150; Encounters” p. 151; Destinations and Discoveries” p. 152; Discoveries and Historic Periods” p. 182
  • Vaults of Vaarn: Vol. 1: Oases in the Wastes” p. 34; Ruins of Vaarn” p. 37; Arcology Domes” p. 41
  • Vaults of Vaarn: Vol. 2: Buildings” p. 29

Monsters

  • Worlds Without Number: Monster Shapes and Appearances” p. 285; Uncanny Powers and Abilities” p. 288-291
  • Numenera Discovery: Creatures by Level” p. 222
  • Numenera: Jade Colossus: Creatures by Level” p. 130
  • Numenera: Ninth World Bestiary: Ecology of the Ninth World” p. 11-13; Creatures by Level” p. 17; Random Encounters” p. 18-19

Suggestive Resources

In contrast, suggestive resources are slightly more direction-oriented, like components from board games.

Maps

Subreddits

Rubric

This doesn’t need to be the rules, but it includes them. In this case, I will start with Abenteuerspiel, modified slightly to accommodate Worlds Without Number and possibly Numenera. In WWN, we effectively have three classes: Expert, Mage, and Warrior. (There’s a fourth class, Adventurer, which allows a character to multiclass.) This matches up closely with Numenera Discovery’s types: Jack, Nano, and Glaive.

However, WWN and Numenera also have foci”, which are both descriptive and also grant abilities. We can pull these in for purely fictional purposes, and mechanically they may enable things that would otherwise be difficult, or grant Skilled or Advantaged dice where appropriate.

We may add to the basic Abenteuerspiel procedures if we want more attention or detail in a particular area.

Also, I ended up using The Perilous Wilds, a supplement for Dungeon World by Lampblack & Brimstone, for building out the site in greater detail as a process during play.

Ruin Generation

As GG suggests, I kick off with a sense of place. I’ll start with the WWN One Roll Ruin” table:

  • What do the locals think of it? It’s considered someone’s private property.
  • How did it become ruined? It was abandoned when it became useless.
  • Why hasn’t it been plundered bare yet? The true entrance to it is unknown.
  • How old is the ruin? Generations old at the least.
  • What basic kind of ruin is it? Mine or tunnel system
  • Who’s used the ruin before? Rebels against the local ruler

I’ll also use the Creating Exploration Challenges” tables to get more of a sense of what’s inside. The type of site is military - hidden bunker or strongpoint”.

Inhabitation

  • Important Inhabitants: A major inhabitant and the remnants of another group or pack they deposed
  • Possible reasons for hostility: Local resources are insufficient for us both
  • Possible reasons for alliances: We give protection for a tolerable price
  • Why did they come here? Forced out of their old home by enemies
  • Why are they staying here? A foe outside threatens them if they leave
  • Type of inhabitant (Modern Ruin Site): Vicious local monster lairing here

Now we’ll define our goal. Possibilities include:

  • Rid ruins of monster
  • Get protection payment
  • Find some other treasure in the ruin

Rather than start with a monster, though, we’ll roll up some tags first.

Sacrificial Bargain

The natives of the ruin have made some kind of pact with a dread power or sinister force, receiving support or power in exchange for some sacrifice. This sacrifice might fall directly on the natives themselves or they might plunder their neighbors for wealth, human sacrifices, or such other resources as their patron demands in payment. Failure to hold up their end of the deal may be fatal to the inhabitants.

  • Enemies: Frantic leader driven to desperate bargains
  • Friends: Foe of the patron power searching for its catspaws
  • Complications: They’re realizing that they can’t hold up the deal
  • Things: Object that symbolizes and empower the pact; precious object lost by a sacrificial victim
  • Place: Terrible chamber of ritual offering; storehouse or living area made abundant by the patron

This suggests that it’s a symbiotic relationship. The monster doesn’t want to leave because it’s dangerous out there and the local populace supports it. The population did so because they got some benefit from the monster. Maybe that was just keeping the costs within some threshold rather than letting it sweep through their area. Alternatively, whatever was in there before was worse, so the monster keeps that other group under control. The sacrifices” supplement the monster’s needs.

Mastigophore

What’s the main creature in there?

From Numenera Discovery p. 241. This is an automaton that looks human but can instantly transform their hands into long barbed whips. They are encountered in one of two modes: on guard or hunting. For the former, they guard certain ancient ruins, complexes, or machines. The automata need to consume organic material to function and create their weapons. Although they can subsist on plant matter, whoever created mastigophores designed them to enjoy hunting and killing animal prey.

Chirog

What is the other group that has been reduced to remnants?

Numenera Discovery p. 229. They are reptilian abhumans with thick armor plates covering their bodies. They live to hunt and kill. They understand prior-world relics and despise them. Even more than killing humans, they enjoy destroying the relics of the past. Chirog live in small packs with a clear leader who is usually a female.

The mastigophore primarily protects the ruins against the chirog. Local inhabitants want to sustain the mastigophore because, if it is defeated, the chirog will destroy the technology in the ruins and then attack the humans themselves.

Our group wants to get some of the treasures inside the ruins without direct confrontation with either group.

Characters

Abenteuerspiel says each character needs:

  • Name and pronouns
  • Three pieces of equipment
  • Two skills
  • One ritual

For the names, I’ll use Ultraviolet Grasslands, Other Voyagers” p. 168. Also, we will add Story” from this source.

I will modify this as follows:

  • Warrior: -1 Ritual, +1 Equipment
  • Mage: -1 Equipment, +1 Ritual
  • Expert: -1 Ritual, +1 Skill

Warrior: Dana Al Piz

  • Pronouns: she/her
  • Equipment: Animal Traps (2); Lantern & Oil (2); Rope (60 ft)
  • Ranged weapon: Scavenger Bolter (basic recycled rifle)
  • Skills: Tactics; Mimicry
  • Story: Incredibly skilled but scatterbrained. Do not mention the war.
  • Pool: 5

Mage: Sarca Artifiziale

  • Pronouns: they/she
  • Equipment: Dagger; Caltrops
  • Skills: Rituals; Dexterity
  • Rituals: Summon Spirit; Protect Area
  • Story: Nervous. Saw a mysterious creature. Twice.
  • Pool: 5

Expert: Kasciuto Moderni

  • Pronouns: he/him
  • Equipment: Crowbar; Fire Oil (3); Steel Mirror
  • Skills: Destruction; Bartering; Improvisation
  • Story: Full of jokes. Terrified of all metals and murmurs of the machines that eat.
  • Pool: 5

Stocking

Originally, I used a map from Dyson Logos, but I lost track of the original name. I also stocked it using a procedure from WWN, which I ended up not using fully although it did help me think through which areas to include. Instead, I ended up using the Perilous Deep” process referenced earlier. The result is procedurally generated exploration in an existing map.

Black Galleries of the Hollow Puppet

To do this, I set the size to Medium” and wrote several themes, common areas, and unique areas. Then I created a small d12 table to roll on each time the group moved into a new area. These include the type but also whether it includes Discoveries and Dangers.

Themes (d12)

  • 1-5: Sacrificial Bargain
  • 6-9: Military Training
  • 10-12: Bottomless Hunger

Common Areas (d12)

  • Checkpoint
  • Armory
  • Briefing
  • Commemorative Hall
  • Ruined Barracks
  • Training Area

Unique Areas

  • Nest
  • Recharging Station
  • Sacrifice Storage
  • Chemical Storage

d12 Area Type & Contents

Unthemed area:

  • 1 Common, empty
  • 2 Common, Danger
  • 3-4 Common, Discovery + Danger
  • 5-6 Common, Discovery

Themed area:

  • 7 Common, Danger
  • 8 Common, Discovery + Danger
  • 9 Common, Discovery
  • 10 Unique, Danger
  • 11 Unique, Discovery + Danger
  • 12 Unique, Discovery

Exploration

NB: This represents my notes exactly as I wrote them as I went, rather than my usual full prose.

Entrance: End of a ravine. Pinkish-white rock, a small dribble of a creek coming out of a rough entrance. Look carefully to see remnants of ametal gate, town away generations ago.

Dana goes in first, lights a lantern (2 oil left).

7 - Common, Danger: Theme - Sacrificial Bargain. This is a checkpoint with a mastigophore present and on guard. No arcana present with the group, so they should be okay? Risky action - could attack or summon help. Dice: unconditioned, skilled (tactics), equipped (lantern), supported (group), advantage (no arcana). 6d6 => 2x 6, stress = 1 (pool => 5). No trouble from guard.

The group approaches the checkpoint, their eyes locked on the towering mastigophore that stands guard. They had heard stories of these automatons, and the terror they could bring to those who dared to cross their paths. The group holds its breath as they draw near, fingers nervously resting on the hilts of their weapons. But to their relief, the mastigophore simply stands there, observing them silently.

The group cautiously passes by, trying their best to remain unnoticed. They keep their heads down, eyes fixed on the ground. Suddenly, a loud clanking sound breaks the silence, making the group jump. The mastigophore’s metal claws scrape against the ground as it moves, its sensors scanning the group for any signs of danger. But after a few tense moments, the automaton stands still once again. The group lets out a collective sigh of relief, their hearts pounding in their chest. They have successfully passed through the checkpoint without incident.

5 - Common, Discovery. Commemorative Hall. Stacks of medicine (mundane). Leave for now. Plinths, now bare.

The group enters the commemorative hall, their footsteps echoing in the vast room. They are surrounded by towering stacks of medicine, containers filled with various pills and liquids. The group quickly decides that they have no use for such mundane supplies at the moment and opt to leave them behind. Maybe they can come back for them later.

Their attention is drawn to the plinths that line the room. Once they were adorned with objects of great significance, but now they are bare and empty. The group can feel the weight of history in this room, a sense of reverence for all that has been lost. They stand in silence, each lost in their own thoughts, before finally leaving the hall and continuing on their journey.

1 - Common, empty. Armory. Smashed useless weaponry and tools. This is just off the hall. Next room off of it?

The group comes across an armory, its doors hanging off their hinges. They cautiously enter, weapons at the ready. Inside, they find a room littered with smashed weaponry and tools, rendered useless by time and neglect. The group sifts through the debris, but they find nothing of worth. They leave the armory and continue on their journey.

11 - Unique, Discovery + danger. Nest. Danger: Several chirogs. Discovery: Locked door. Armored lizards, generally hate humans. Sarca - mildly terrified. Kasciuto wisecracks and starts spreading fire oil while Dana lays down covering fire. Dice: stress, unconditioned, skilled, equipped, supported. If this goes wrong, melee with Chirog. 5d6 => 6, stress = 2, pool = 5. Chirog flee through crack in wall into depths. Move back through hall, didn’t see anything interesting.

The group stumbles upon a nest, filled with the dangerous and deadly creatures known as chirogs. These reptilian abhumans are covered in thick armor plates, and they live to hunt and kill their prey. The group cautiously backs away, their eyes locked on the beasts.

Sarca is mildly terrified, their heart pounding in their chest. Kasciuto wisecracks, trying to lighten the mood as he spreads fire oil. Dana lays down covering fire, keeping the chirogs at bay. If this goes wrong, they will have to fight the creatures in melee.

To their relief, the chirogs are driven off, fleeing through a crack in the wall and into the depths. The group moves back through the hall, searching for anything of interest. But they find nothing, the room and the beasts a dead end in their journey. They move on, their hearts still pounding from the close encounter with danger.

11 - Unique, Discovery + danger. Theme: Sacrificial Bargain. Recharging station. Discovery: Puzzle: broken pieces of tech. Gather these up (may be useful in crafting / repair). Danger: Creature eating / resting: Mastigophore recharging, lashes out. Dana fires back while group takes cover. Goal: destroy the automaton. On failure, take injury condition. Dice: stress, unconditioned, skilled (tactics), equipped. 4d6 => 6, stress = 5, pool = 5. Condition: electrical burns.

The group stumbles upon a recharging station for mastigophores, and they quickly see an opportunity to gather valuable tech. Sarca sets to work gathering the broken pieces of tech, while Kasciuto watches her back. But they soon realize that they are not alone in this room.

A massive mastigophore is recharging its energy. But as the group moves closer, the automaton lashes out, its metallic claws slicing through the air. Dana fires back, keeping the mastigophore at bay while the rest of the group takes cover. They have to destroy the automaton before it can recover its strength.

The battle is intense, but the group ultimately prevails. But as they celebrate their victory, they realize that Dana’s skin scorched from electrical burns. The group tends to her wounds, grateful to have emerged from the fight with their lives still intact. They move on, leaving the recharging station behind as they continue their journey through the ruins.

7 - Common, Danger. Theme: Sacrificial Bargain. Danger: creature dying. Mastigophore chases down, self-destructing. Most at risk: Mage (Sarca stays in back), but others share risk. Dice: stress, unconditioned, skilled (dexterity), supported, Devil’s Bargain (need to find a different way back). 5d => 4, stress = 4, pool => 5. Condition: concussed.

The group is making their way back through the halls when they hear the sound of clanging metal behind them. They turn to see a mastigophore, its systems damaged and in the process of self-destructing, chasing after them. They race down the hall, searching for a different way back.

They duck into a room and slam the door behind them, just as the mastigophore crashes into it. The metal buckles under the impact as the automaton self-destructs. They realize that they must find a new way back.

Sarca is hurt. She has been concussed, and the group tends to her wounds. They all must move quickly to escape the collapsing facility and get Sarca the needed help. They move with urgency, their hearts pounding in their chests, as they race to safety.

5 - Common, Discovery. Checkpoint, find gems. d12x100sp = 100, found in a device that seems to be alive. Fearful & alert, some ancient artiform. Kasciuto is terrfied, but Sarca tries to convince it to come with them. I will protect us” (can cast ritual later). Dice: stressed, skilled (ritual), supported (Dana), DB: Kasciuto takes condition terrified”. 4d => 5, stress = 5 (pool = 5). Condition: Angry with Kasciuto. This artiform will come with them. Thru here, maybe a way out?

The group comes upon a checkpoint, and they find a device that seems to be alive. It is full of gems and is very alert, like an ancient artiform. Kasciuto is terrified, but Sarca tries to calm it and convince it to come with them.

I will protect us with a ritual later,” Sarca says, trying to ease its fears. To the group’s surprise, the artiform agrees to come with them. They make their way through the checkpoint, hoping that there might be a way out.

However, the success is short-lived as Sarca becomes angry with Kasciuto. The artiform’s presence has put them all in danger, and Kasciuto’s fear only makes it worse. Sarca scolds Kasciuto for not being more brave and responsible, but the group continues on, hoping to find a way out and protect their new companion.

9 - Commmon, Discovery. Theme: Bottomless Hunger. Map room [briefing]. Chirog infested (but not present ATM). Collapsed wall. Can we block it up? Kasciuto takes lead with Dana’s help; could get bruised or Chirog could show up. Dice: stress, skilled (destruction), equipped (crowbar), supported, advantage (scattered chirog), 5d6 => 6, stress = 6, great success!

The group comes upon an ancient map room that was once used for briefings. However, it is now infested with the dangerous creatures known as chirogs. They have a bottomless hunger and will attack anything that moves.

As they explore the room, they notice a collapsed wall. Kasciuto takes the lead, with Dana’s help, to try and block it up. They work quickly, knowing that the chirogs could show up at any moment. The task is dangerous, and they could get bruised or worse, but they press on.

To their great success, they manage to block up the wall and keep the chirogs at bay. The group breathes a sigh of relief, grateful for the temporary reprieve from the dangerous creatures. They explore the room further, searching for any information or supplies that might help them on their journey.

Let’s rest here. As promised, Sarca will try to cast Protect Area ritual Rituals are always risky: could attract enemies! Dice: stressed, skilled (rituals), equipped (caltrops), supported (Dana w/ animal trap). 4d => 5, mixed, complication: patrolling automaton outside, may be an issue after rest.

The group decides to take a rest in the ancient map room. Sarca had promised to cast a Protect Area ritual to keep them safe from any potential threats. The casting of rituals is always risky, as it could attract unwanted attention from enemies.

Sarca is equipped with caltrops, and Dana supports her by setting up an animal trap. They work together to set up a secure area for the group to rest. The ritual is successful, but with a complication. A patrolling automaton is outside the room, and they may be an issue after they have rested.

The group takes a deep breath and tries to rest, aware of the potential danger outside. Sarca and Dana keep watch, ready to act if the automaton discovers their presence. Despite the tension, they manage to get some much-needed rest, ready for whatever challenges may lie ahead.

Replenish: Dana & Sarca each get 1d back. Sarca & Kasciuto clear conditions.

After a brief rest, the group feels replenished. Dana and Sarca each recover somewhat, ready to face any challenges that come their way. Sarca and Kasciuto also clear their mental conditions, feeling more focused and alert.

The group takes stock of their supplies, making sure they are fully prepared for whatever lies ahead. They gather their weapons and gear, ready to face whatever dangers they may encounter in their journey. They exchange a quick nod of determination, ready to continue their quest and overcome any obstacles that may come their way.

Die of Fate (is mastigophore still here?) 1d => 3, yes, but back is turned.

Dana will try to divert its attention, making Chirog sounds and throwing a rock. Dice: stressed, skilled (mimicry), supported (Sarca’s dexterity), advantaged (warded). 4d => 6, stress = 5, pool = 5.

Flee to the next area!

As the group prepares to leave the ancient map room, they hear the sound of a patrolling automaton outside. Its back is turned, however, making it the perfect opportunity for the group to make their escape.

Dana decides to take the lead and divert the mastigophore’s attention. She is skilled in mimicry and with Sarca’s support, she makes Chirog sounds and throws a rock. The group is advantaged by the ward put in place by Sarca’s ritual, giving them the upper hand.

The plan works, and the mastigophore is diverted long enough for the group to flee to the next area. They make their way carefully, but quickly, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the patrolling automaton as possible. The group exchanges a relieved sigh as they finally reach the next area, safe from danger for the time being.

5 - Common, Discovery. Armory, stairs. Do they lead up or down? (We want up) 5, up. We’ll get out and emerge into morning sun.

The group reaches the armory and finds a set of stairs. They need to go up to reach their desired exit; a cautious peek indicates that the stairs lead upwards. The group lets out a collective sigh of relief and begins to ascend the stairs. As they climb higher and higher, they begin to see glimpses of daylight filtering through cracks in the walls.

Finally, they reach the top of the stairs and burst out into the morning sun. They are greeted by a beautiful vista of rolling hills and distant mountains. The group basks in the warmth of the sun, grateful to finally be back in the light after their time in the dark and dangerous underground facility. They take a moment to catch their breath and savor their hard-won victory before setting off on their next adventure.

Conclusion

I really liked this approach and will give it a shot again, changing up a few things as I go.

First, I need to take better session notes, or at least write them up sooner than 5 months later. I have a sense of what happened, but not in detail and I don’t think it would work exactly the same way next time. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’d like to be able to write this up in a way that would be useful to others.

Second, I really like Abenteuerspiel. It describes itself as is rooted in Messerspiel and Trophy Gold and inspired by Free Kriegspiel Revolution”. Basically, much like other games, when you do something risky, you figure what could go wrong (it’s usually quite obvious) and build a dice pool possibly including one special die, the stress die. The highest result is the outcome, and if the stress die is equal or higher than the number of dice in your pool, you exhaust a die from the pool. There’s a bit more, but not much. It’s a very simple system and could be easily reskinned into settings other than the typical faux-medieval fantasy. It’s also licensed CC-BY 4.0, so you can use it for free as a basis for other games.

The only real problem I ran into with this hodgepodge was the Perilous Deep process, and that’s largely due to poor understanding on my part. I’d like to roll with it again in the future, but probably with a little more preparation before the session. I don’t know if using a map in advance was the right decision, but Dyson’s maps are so inspirational for me that they’re worth the extra work.

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