Thursday, September 5, 2013

Playing Alone: the Social Aspect?

My particular play patterns are quite chaotic. Whenever I can grab a moment or two, I try to make some use of it. I try to do a little every day. Sadly, I can’t commit to any realistic minimum — sometimes I scribble down a scene, and other times just a portion of one during moments in between appointments. I can’t remember the last time I played face to face with anyone, but it’s just not an option for me. Needless to say, I place all my creative energy on playing solitaire and how to improve my solo experience.

Today, I was finishing a scene that had a largely social aspect to it. While I was doing it, I had an exciting (for me) epiphany!

Allow me to digress.

In my current solo Drowsbane campaign, things are heating up in a fun way. Before, using the 9Q’s system, I always did have somewhat of an idea where things were headed. In the current adventure I’m running, “Mystery of the Burned Man”, it’s turning out to be largely about riddle-solving and plot building, only I really have no idea where it’s going and what it’s about. In other adventures, like “The Rescue of Cauhlath” (which I’ll post next), it’s a pretty straightforward premise: the characters are caught by pirates. They must escape. This is an extension of having a clear heroic motivation to follow. The motivation of the current adventure is less defined and tangible, leaving more gray areas for development, where even five scenes into it, anything could happen. This is exciting new territory.

One question I see arising frequently in discussion is “What do you do in a solo game? Like, how do you do actual roleplay?” This common question admittedly represents a significant stumbling block and weakness of solitaire rpg’s. What does one do? I find that some form of journaling is important and necessary, personally. I need to set it down, or it’s as if it never happened. If it’s written down, it’s documented. It really happened. If not, I was just thinking about it, but didn’t really participate in the exercise.

But what about the roleplaying element? What about issues of social interaction between PCs and NPCs? That’s another one. Can one really create a social interaction in a solo environment? Of course, knowing what a dialogue might be about, it’s easy to summarize how it might go. That’s storytelling. Using non-critical dialogue or banter to portray details, themes, or to set the scene has its place too. Having some social mechanism in the system to determine with some uncertainty which way a conflict may go helps make it more of a gaming experience. One still has to know where everyone stands in order to make a conflict out of it. But is there something more?

Today, I had a basic scene setup in mind and knew who the NPCs involved were, but I knew nothing about their true motives or their interconnections. As I wrote down the protagonist’s questions, I decided to give the NPCs 9Qs (now an included modular attachment to the 2013 version of the Nine Questions system) a try to fill in unknowns. I skipped around and adapted the questions to try and answer such things as the NPCs’ knowledge and attitudes of each other, determine particular alliances, past events that may have influenced these alliances and attitudes, and vague notions of their motivations. Whether those motivations are the real ones or not can only be determined by further development, which still keeps me guessing as a player.

Using a random idea generator (Rory’s Story Cubes are my personal favorite), I answered the protagonist’s questions one by one. I literally had no idea what the NPCs would reveal next, and each throw of the die revealed a new truth. My epiphany was the approach by which I answered these questions one at a time, using context as my only internal influence, that yielded consistent yet unpredictable and exciting results. It was a fun moment, and gave me great hope that the “social element” between characters can be handled well. This may not be mind-blowing to anyone else, but it was an “aha” moment for me.

What have you discovered that can provide fuel or direction for social interactions in you solo rpg’s?

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