Looking for solo (one person) RPGs - do they exist?
I am looking to find out if solo RPGs exist, and which you'd recommend.
I do not mean "one-on-one" 1 player + 1 GM games. I really mean "1 person."
Update: After receiving two (fine, up-voted) answers that indicate Choose Your Own Adventure solutions (which rocks with nostalgia), I should add that I'm not looking for simple linear decision tree gaming. A counterexample: I've got my own little creative-writing mini-game where I write out a story, but once every 5 sentences a series of dice-rolls forces my written sentence into something else, and I have to adapt as writer. Not really an RPG, but also non-linear.
**A game with only one player is not an RPG.** As such, a solo tabletop role-playing game cannot exist. I realize that this statement is controversial. Let me make my case. I'm basically defining "RPG" to answer the question. My argument boils down to "an RPG requires an audience for the role-playing." It's very difficult to answer this question without doing so. 1. There's no official definition of "role-playing game." We can argue semantics (and I am), but the best definition at this point is one that will be accepted by the majority of people who play tabletop RPGs. 2. There
You can totally still roleplay even if the only one there to experience it is you.
Not an answer, but in that case I'd suggest simply trying to write a fantasy adventure novel (maybe take a course, attempt http://nanowrimo.org, etc) - the actual process and feeling will be quite similar, and maybe the result will be fun for others as well.
I find this question truly confusing, particularly with the clarifications. Inevitably any single player game becomes either: a creative writing challenge or a decision tree. Without a GM you are essentially left simply determining the results of your own actions or turning to a device that provides you with a limited set of responses. Choose Your Own Adventure-style gamebooks just provide you with a campaign-world to explore and the GM responses. Otherwise you might as well be sitting there with a stack of tarot cards.
Imagine that the live GM was only able to answer yes or no questions in a GM plus one player setup. That is social, has an audience, etc. Next imagine the same setup but unkbeknownst to the player, the GM is secretly rolling dice with a constant 50/50 chance of getting a yes or no. The GM is still an audience, but can't affect anything going on in the player's imagined space. That is going to require that you define what the purpose of the audience is and how it's relevant to the act of taking on an imaginary roll.
@Keoma Without engaging in debate/argument, I only want to point you to the philosopher John Searle's (unfortunately named) Chinese Room thought experiment. Your line of reasoning draws on the still-unresolved concepts it (and its detractors) grapple with, so you might find it interesting.
@SevenSidedDie Thx for the link. Ive been looking into AI for possible ideas of knowledge representation that could be borrowed for solo pnp games, but didn't find anything I felt I could adapt. I'm not arguing, but I want to clarify that I'm not claiming mechanics have minds, but that if the player can't catch on that the GM isn't affecting anything in the IS, their experience is the same as far as this hypothetical setup goes. There's more to what I'm postulating in order to make it tighter, but space is limited.
Well, Tunnels and Trolls, produced by Flying Buffalo, has a series of adventures that are designed specifically for a single player. They're similar to Choose Your Own Adventure type books, but you have a character that has stats that you roll for, you equip them by purchasing equipment, and then, when adventuring, you roll dice and try to defeat monsters, avoid traps, etc., and go to different paragraphs in the adventure book depending on how you succeed (or fail).
They're interesting, but tend towards the very difficult to survive...presumably to keep them interesting for a longer period of time.
The basic rule book and original adventure, Buffalo Castle, can be found at: http://www.flyingbuffalo.com/bcintro.htm.
However, that adventure isn't the best of their lot, by a long shot. More interesting adventures are "Gamesmen of Kasar", "Naked Doom", and "Sewers of Oblivion".
Be warned: these are not well balanced, high-quality adventures of the modern ilk. Still, they fit the description of what you're looking for.
+1, thanks. 'Advanced CYOA', cool. Das Schwarze Auge / Het Oog des Meesters also had this, as well as the TSR 'Death knight solo CYOA' (forget the official name). I've played both, but now (as update to the question shows), I am looking for something less linear / decision tree-ish.
If you're OK with a solo RPG which is extremely depressing – moreso if you don't have a group – there's Hikikomori, which is about a social phenomenon in Japan where young men become shut-ins.
The author's own words on how it walks the fine line between RPG and simply writing fiction:
[T]his game is a “solo RPG,” which admittedly is kind of an oxymoron. But I figured that if I’m going to make a game about antisocial shut-ins, it ought to be a game you could play by yourself. In this game you’ll be rolling dice (you’ll need plenty of ten-sided dice) and following instructions to generate events, making some choices about those and rolling a few more dice, and then writing a fictional diary entry based on the results. Out of necessity it’s not as open-ended as a normal RPG, but then it’s mostly a writing exercise. […]
By default, the game ends after your character goes through seven unusually eventful days. One of the ways in which it’s like a typical RPG is that there isn’t any particular way to “win.” If you want your character to get out of his rut and rejoin society, or stay the same, or kill himself, or whatever, you can try to steer him that way, but a lot of stuff will come down to how the dice fall.
Hikikomori is one of the earliest extant examples of a "solo" roleplaying game, and is inevitably mentioned on forums when people ask if such things exist. Whether it succeeds in being a roleplaying game and not just guided writing is one of the things the player ends up trying to answer.
Emily Care ran a contest, the RPG Solitaire Challenge, which invited people to make solo RPGs. Many games were written and submitted, and the results were judged to find winners and honourable mentions – so it even answers the "which are good?" part of your question.
Emily Care's introduction to the winning entry nicely encapsulates the idea of a solo RPG and how it can break out from being solely a writing exercise:
Storyleaves, by Jamie Fristrom
A solitaire role playing game is an elusive thing. A game that lets someone create a story on their own, while retaining the tug and pull of a game with a game master or other players. Storyleaves gives a player the tools to sit down and craft a tale that though it springs from their creativity is surprising and takes on a life of its own. World, character and story are built out of elements decided on by the player at the beginning, and then the tale takes form through turns for the Protagonist and Antagonist in turn. The story leaves, cards with custom story elements created at the start of play, giving unexpected form to the twist and turns, decisions and actions of the characters. Jamie wrote it as a tool to break writer's block, but it has become a thing of its own. Something that anyone can use to while away a few hours and discover new worlds. I understand this game is already being refined, and I look forward to seeing what Jamie does with it. In the meantime, I heartily recommend this game as my favorite of the RPG Solitaire Challenge entries.
You can get a bunch here.
The only one I've tried so far is Star Smuggler. It was pretty good.
Looks like a more open-ended CYOA, right? Checked it out a little, looks cool.
Gah, trying not to self-promote but I wrote a game to address this challenge. It's called The Plant and it was an entry in a contest where "solo RPG" was the restriction applied to me. It borrows elements of Jackson Tegu's The Smoke Dream, Choose Your Own Adventure, and structured freeform play.
I recommend procedural content generation. As in
- make random tables to fill your world
- make rules to make it behave and interact with itself
- create a slice of "world"
- explore and interact with it
- keep a blog so people can read about it and play it :)
It's what a roguelike does. I'd start with generating some cities and some goods to be traded. Then you can generate the rest of the map as you explore it and find new trade routes, bring artefacts from long lost tombs back to civilization and act as messenger between distant civilizations. Sounds fun to me :)
I really like this idea. However, it's more "how to make a solo roleplaying game" rather than answering the question of whether such already exist somewhere. Still, I'd love to see this fleshed out in a ready-to-use thing. It would be kind of like How to Host a Dungeon, but with a smaller scale of action.
As someone already said the old Red Box D&D had a solo adventure in it. WOTC have brought that back to life with the "Essentials" range for 4e in The Essential Dungeons & Dragons Starter, and it's very cheap too.
However, for something a bit more detailed, take a look at the solo adventure for 4e written by Chris Sims called "Dark Awakenings", but you need a DDI account to be able to download it.
And don't forget the old Fighting Fantasy books, which I found much more enjoyable than CYOA since they had combat mechanics and dice rolling. A few Fighting Fantasy books are now available for iPhone and iPad.