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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.

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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 –  Adam Dray Jan 28 '11 at 18:57
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You can totally still roleplay even if the only one there to experience it is you. –  okeefe Dec 22 '12 at 9:29
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Who says an RPG requires an audience? –  Keoma Feb 7 at 20:04

35 Answers 35

up vote 42 down vote accepted
+50

Mythic RPG is a system designed to be played without a GM. Playing it as a solo game would work right out of the box.

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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.

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I just remembered something: How to Host a Dungeon, a

solo game of dungeon creation where you build a dungeon through its history from the dawn of time.

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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.

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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.

Download links for Storyleaves, the other winning entries mentioned, and the rest of the solo RPGs submitted to the contest are available from the list of Solitaire RPG Challenge entries.

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Sure man,

You can get a bunch here.

http://dwarfstar.brainiac.com/ds_index.html

The only one I've tried so far is Star Smuggler. It was pretty good.

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Traveller's Merchant System is known to be fun for Solo Play. Roll up a sector, make a ship, and go try to make a profit!

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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.

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There are at least two alternatives, both of which I have enjoyed greatly. The first is Choose Your Own Adventure, which haven't been in print for years, I think. As a medium, they were just one step less railroady than novels, because you could pick one or two given branches. You couldn't say, "None of those options is what I'd do here!" and explain your new idea, because nothing was written to explain what would happpen then. That's why I'm okay with their absence.

Now I opt for the other alternative: daydreaming. This is basically how I compose a lot of the backstory for existing campaigns. I think of a setting, then characters, then run through how those characters will interact and do things in the imaginary setting. I can choose to just decide how things play out, or I can roll dice as needed. This is the one-player RPG I recommend.

(I think we'll see that all answers are pretty much one or the other of the above alternatives. Probably most will be something like CYOA but with RPG-like affordances like dice rolling. I'm interested to find out if I'm right.)

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I recommend procedural content generation. As in

  1. make random tables to fill your world
  2. make rules to make it behave and interact with itself

then

  1. create a slice of "world"
  2. explore and interact with it
  3. 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 :)

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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. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 29 '10 at 17:42

Here's a nifty set of charts for playing Traveller on your own. I have had a lot of fun with it.

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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.

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Mongoose has republished the "Lone Wolf" series which is a more-RPG-ey choose your own adventure kind of solo RPG deal. They also published a "normal" d20 conversion of the books into a multiplayer RPG.

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You might also check out Jackson Tegu's The Smoke Dream, which is unfinished (another version is eventually forthcoming, we hope) but very promising as far as solo play is concerned. You wander through and interact with bits of this surreal mansion-y setting, based on draws from a standard playing card deck. Very much like a tabletop version of those old text adventure games on the computer.

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I've also used Mythic, and I love it. However, I'm still looking for other ways in which a person can play solo.

I saw this linked in a discussion, and it's more of an embrionic idea. Very simple, but an interesting direction:

http://www.rpglaboratory.com/solo_story_system

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Traveller would be a decent choice, since you roll up planets randomly, you're discovering a lot of new stuff. FASA Star Trek has the same characteristic, in terms of coming across weird planets with weird life forms.

I think exploratory space sci-fi is one of the best fits for solo play as you're creating the world as you go, and then have something to share with other players later on.

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Personally, I suggest two options:

Chronicles of Arax, which has a free core rulebook that has a starter adventure that I personally like. It also has really cheap supplements that you can add on to that, and you can get a bundle of stuff for it containing 5 adventures, more gear, and several character classes for $7.50.

I also recommend Zombie Death Town, which is rather small (so say what you will about value on account of that). I enjoyed it, and it could be fun to do on a plane or car ride with a smartphone or iPod, but it is on the simple side. I also had issues beating it, but I could just be horrible at it.

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Similar to the Dwarfstar games, check out Dark City Games and The Fantasy Trip.

The rules are free, light, and flexible. The adventures cost money but there are a couple of free, introductory adventurers.

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Welcome to RPG.SE! Could you expand a bit on why you think this game fits the requirements? –  wax eagle Jul 18 '12 at 12:24

The Doctor Who Solitary Story Game is similar to Barbarian Prince (Dwarfstar Games) in design; it is more than a choose your own adventure while still not requiring all the creative headbanging of a mythic-style, solo RPG. It feels like a very open world with very different possibilities each time you play. There's a huge amount of content for that game.

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DestinyQuest has not been mentioned. I played through the first one and it really was great. I've played Fabled Lands and a bunch of T&T solos and I think DQ is probably on top of the pile. I got a solid 5 hours of game play out of it.

I think Mythic can work really well if you imagine you're playing with a very logical and balanced GM who follows the lead of the dice she rolls without fudging anything. Continue to ask "what would a balanced GM do in that situation?" Don't over think it, play quickly The original Mythic RPG system is great(the one in the orange book) - its all about qualifying something as average, above average etc and works very well if you approach everything very logically. I recommend it.

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I think most RPGs can be played solo; let the dice act as oracles which provide constant surprises. Justin Achilli's Belluna campaign epitomizes this approach, using D&D 4e as the engine. The first post in the series is here.

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I've played a game of Don't Rest Your Head by myself easily enough, which is strongly narrative-based with a fairly light set of mechanics specifically designed to drive the narrative direction, rather than dealing with any mechanics like saving throws, hit pints, grapple rules, etc.

Genrally, I'd hazard to say that any strongly narrative-based rpg works well solo. Essentially it's just like writing a story, except you occasionally roll dice (or whatever other mechanic it uses) to resolve conflicts (be it combat, skill challenges, results of one attempt or another, etc). Things that have too many mechanical rules tend to interrupt the immersion in the game when you are essentially both the GM and the player.

Then again, it's subjective, as some people enjoy the mechanics as much if not more than the story-telling component of roleplaying.

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If you have a PiecePack, you could try your hand at "One Man Thrag". I enjoyed it when I played it.

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There have been several solo RPG books published. Similar to CYOA books, except you made a character and rolled dice in addition to making choices. Check out this ad for Fuel's Gold. I think SJG also released several fantasy books along a similar vein. The old Red Box D&D had a small CYOA still mini adventure that also included rolling as an introduction to the game.

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Fighting Fantasy CYOA were written by the british Steve Jackson (cofounder of Games Workshop), not by the American one (founder of SJG). –  Tsojcanth Aug 26 '10 at 16:40

I friend of mine used to play Heroquest2 with Mythic (GM Emulator). I really worked.

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Legends of the Ancient World - paragraph driven solo modules available; traditional system derived from The Fantasy Trip. Still in print.

The Fantasy Trip - paragraph and map driven solo adventure modules available; When SJ redeveloped from the same principles, being unable to buy it back, he devised GURPS instead...

Tunnels and Trolls - Very Rules-Light traditional engine with lots of paragraph driven modules. Still in print. Some versions of the modules included a light version of the core rules. One such module is available free at http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=54407

Fighting Fantasy - paragraph driven, custom rules in book.

Car Wars - a few paragraph driven solo adventures requiring a core ruleset, and several stand-alone paragraph novel format available. Focus is mostly upon vehicular combats, but some RP.

Mythic is a possibility, but it works better with several players.

Do a search for interactive fiction, as well... the classics by Infocom are very much roleplaying, but not game-systems, per se. Lots of very good free games of that type. Doesn't scratch the itch for everyone, but it does for some.

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Fabled Lands is another CYOA-alike, but it's much more robust (it has dice rolls, stats, equipment, inventory, and the like) - and more importantly, it has a lot more flavor and room to distinguish yourself as a character. (You will have different options available to you depending on which gods you worship, what class you are, etc.) And most importantly, the writing is just plain good.

Bad news? They're out of print and the series was never finished. Good news? They have a dedicated fanbase which gives immediate applications in the form of a very nice computer scan/remake/GUI, and (I only just found this out now, and I'm Very Excited) we're also getting reprints and an iPhone/iPad version with some gorgeous new art.

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I'm not sure what you mean by an RPG. Because to me, the quintessence of RPG is the interplay between GM and player. So once you lose that, you are left with...what?

There were some good compromises between CYOA and RPGs back in the day - mostly, they were CYOAs with die rolls thrown in and others here have already directed you towards TFT and T&T, etc.. I would also point out the ancient GURPS Module, Up Harzburk! which is in that same mold.

You might just want to try this search page on RPGGeek, too.

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Maelstrom has at least an example solo-play introduction adventure in the rulebook.

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The following RPG's have specific solo modules: James Bond 007 RPG (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), Call of Cthulhu RPG (Alone Against The Wedigo, Alone Against The Dark), Star Wars RPG (one in Rule Book, several in various magazines e.g. Challenge mag), D&D Basic RPG (X-1 was solo also I think).

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