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#RPGTheoryJuly – 31st – Reincorporation

Finally a topic that is close to the heart of the way I like to solo play.

So the basic creative process in both group play and solo play is this. An idea (NPC, Organisation, location etc) is created (Creation). Later on you need that an NPC/Organisation/location again and it is easier to reuse the existing one than go through the creation process yet again. This is Repetition. I encourage everyone I teach to solo play to scan over the list of unused story arcs, or adventure hooks and see if they can be connected to form a more coherent plot, but one running parallel to the PCs that they are just getting glimpses of.

The actual ruling from Solo Fate

As soon as you start to link things that your character has touched upon before you are using Reincorporation. At the time of creation you had no idea that the strange phone call you heard was part of a major conspiracy or the horse you stole was Jesse James’s Stonewall.

Reincorporation happens when you link one creation to other ideas. It doesn’t only enrich the first creation by adding a new detail to its description but it adds new details and enriches the things you connect it to. A wonderful example comes from Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.

That is a perfect example of reincorporation. Not only does the scene go on to tell us about how Trillian become Zaphod’s travelling partner, we learn more about Arthur’s previous life, more about Zaphod and about Ford.

For the full scene and more about the party in Islington you will have to (re)read the book. The point is that reincorporation embeds new facts back into your world and adds details to everything it touches.

Reincorporation is, in my opinion, and essential part of building a solo sandbox campaign that will have longevity. It doesn’t take long to have three or four significant schemes, plots and villains each with their own agendas operating around your character and there is no reason at all for you to interact with them. The idea of -> Here is the plot <-, you will accept this quest! simply does not apply.

In a group game reincorporation can add details to new NPCs to help make it appear that they didn’t just spring fully formed out of thin air. A simple trick is to ask the players to make some kind of memory check for their characters. Those that succeed remember seeing this character in the past at a location, maybe you mentioned some unusual characters in a tavern or the characters were at a busy council meeting at a castle. This simple act of reincorporation casts the NPCs history back into the characters past and the characters can infer from it that they know the same tavern barkeep or they have the same political patron.

With NPCs that make friends, fall in love, fall out of love, split up and make up it is easy to explain how you can have a common contact but in all these years they never mentioned the aforementioned NPC. If you suddenly want to drop an entire dungeon into a country and no one had ever heard of it, it can be harder. One technique is to make it the place were known heroes died. It can then appear to be something the characters know about the world but the players didn’t know. Alternatively changing a few details and you can make connections to a secret organisation that has already had contact with the players. No one else knows about this place because it is a secret kept by this secret organisation, don’t tell anyone. Change an odd detail here or there an you can associate the place with a religion or cult in your world. Little details can embed a new location into an existing world.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 30th – Asymmetric Power

As I understand asymmetric power it is a reference to player character classes, professions and races where one may be more or less powerful than another or a game mechanic that can aid or hamper one player over another. A really basic example is rolling 3d6 for your Characteristics. If you roll middling or slightly below average you may not have any particular penalties but, especially in older version of D&D and its derivatives you could be excluded from particular races and character classes. A character that rolled a set of high rolls not only gets bonuses to many actions, they get access to all the professions and races and could get +10% experience for high primary characteristics. So not only is the character capable of achieving more because of bonuses to rolls, better to hit and more damage which could all mean more experience but when the experience is earned they get 10% extra. This will level them up faster and so the cycle repeats and gets worse at each cycle. The solution to this particular problem was to give an array of numbers and the player assigns them to the stats they want. No one is excluded from any race or profession and no one gets any particular advantage.

With character classes there has long been a fallacy that wizards are especially weak at low levels but are compensated for that by being incredibly powerful at high level. This is of course a fallacy. In games with simple char gen if your wizard dies in the first level or two you just make another one and eventually one will survive and as soon as you get to fifth level you get fireball and everything is fine.

In games that have detailed char gen that takes hours you tend to find things like fortune points or fate points that help keep characters alive when they should have died. You also frequently find the GM doesn’t want to ruin his game session by calling a halt while you spend three hours creating a new first level wizard so you may find a bit of plot armour creeping in.

Either way what tends to happen is that wizards survive to be high level 100% of the time if the player wants to play a wizard and the GM wants to run and extended campaign. I ran a game where I explained that magic was extremely rare and every single player immediately rolled up a magic user. If magic is rare then having magic would give you a huge advantage. I play in a game and the GM said that his home brew world is extremely magical, to the point where most families will have at least one person who could use cantrips and every village would have a genuine spell caster. Every player rolled up a magic user. If everyone has magic and you didn’t then you would be at a serious disadvantage.

In both cases the perception was that without magic you would be weak and it is the GM’s task to balance adventures so the challenge should be something that five magic users can cope with. Also that the first few levels were the training wheels levels and the GM isn’t out to kill you (yet). After 5th level you were more than capable of looking after yourself especially if they all worked together.

The only systems I have played where I can say there was not this asymmetry between magic and non-magic characters was Hero System and my own 3Deep. I will also confess to the fact that the magic system in 3Deep was inspired by playing Champions back in the 1980s. There may be others but it always remains that fighters can hit one person at once and a wizard can blast dozens of bring down castle walls or any number of other mass effects. Things that a warrior cannot do.

So many games look back to D&D for their tropes that they fall into this same asymmetric flaw.

Yesterday I think I wrote about my healer character. In Rolemaster you buy spells by the list. A list has group of spells organised by level. You could know the entire list but you can only cast the spells of your level or lower (there are optional rules for casting higher than your level spells with big penalties – called over casting). The problem with this system is that spell casters power snowballs. If at first level you know one or two lists, which is typical you will have one or two spells. At second level you may learn a new list so you know the 1st and 2nd level spells on that list and the first two you learned so you now have 6 spells (3x1st and 3x2nd). At 3rd level you gain another list and now you have four lists and know the first three spells on all the list so you have 12 spells.

By the time you are 5th level you would have stopped spending skill points on combat skills and you start learning two lists per level. It is easy to have eight lists giving you a range of 40 spells to cast from. You cannot cast them all as you have a limited amount of power points with which to charge your spells but it is the range and breadth of magic available.

Even a Lay Healer would have a three attacking spells available by 5th level and many more defensive spells. By that level there is no real fear of being caught up in a combat. Lay Healers also have no restrictions on armour barring helmets. So when I get to 5th level I can be wearing heavy-ish armour, protect myself further with magic, carry a shield and even attack at range using magic. As long as I keep enough power back to keep people alive after the battle I can create the impression of being the complete all rounder. The reality is of course that the fighters will be more fighty than me and the wizards will be more wizardy than me. But I still get to play a full and active role because of this built in profusion of magic. The wizards have the same volume of spells but their sphere of magic isn’t as broad ranging as the lay healer. They have a great number of attacking spells for example, they can fly faster and teleport further but they will never be able to heal and they have less defensive magic. The other realm of magic is your clericy/druidy magic and they don’t get to wear the heavy armour and they are even more lacking in attacking spells. The only thing they can do that I cannot is bring people back to life. I can stop you dying and put you back together but I cannot restore life if you actually died.

Depending on who you listen to some role master players think Clerics are the most powerful profession as they do have some offensive spells, they can wear some armour and they can heal and restore life.

Some thinking that your typical wizard type is the most powerful as lightning bolt is the most dangerous direct attack in the game and a death cloud the most powerful area of effect spell in the game.

I think lay healers are the most powerful profession in the game because they have strong defenses, incredibly wide ranging magic for attack, defence and just about everything utilitarian in between, they are healers and their core skills relate to social interaction and mental skills. There is nothing this profession cannot do once they get past the first few levels.

Absolutely no one thinks any of the arms or skills based characters our outstanding.

If that isn’t asymmetrical I don’t know what is!

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 29th – Elliptical Play

Elliptical play was something that I had never heard of until today.

So the principle is a bit like Elephant in the room. In role playing there is stuff going on, probably centre stage but the characters are not involved in it. They may know about it, be effected by it but they do not take part in it. In many ways Zweihander is entirely based on elliptical play. Zwei heroes are the people that make a difference to one persons life or maybe a household. You may take on a gang of thugs here or a lurking horror there but saving the world is not what the game is about.

There are plenty of heroes doing that sort of thing in many of the campaign seeds but it isn’t you. The great events are more likely to just provide a backdrop to a game.

Elliptical play is also used to skirt around topics that do not get played out. We do it all the time to skip boring “stuff”. We are going on a quest of a thousand miles but the actual travelling a thousand miles is not so exciting so we skirt around it. In some games the journey is actually the bit that gets role played but the big battles are skipped over. If not in a journey then in political campaigns. One of the most popular board games amongst my circle of role players used to be Diplomacy. It is almost entirely elliptical in that it is technically a wargame but the battles are almost entirely skipped over. All the ‘action’ happens away from the board and in inter-player diplomacy.

In all my solo rules I have a record sheet for ‘loose ends’ or ‘story arcs’. This is a place where you jot down potential adventures that you are not pursuing. I recommend that at the beginning or end of the a solo session you scan down the list and if any seem like they should naturally connect, maybe they have an NPC in common or a theme then you use a coloured highlighter and connect them. That still doesn’t mean you need to actively play them but it helps to know that there is another adventure/plot/scheme happening in your solo world even if you are not a part of it.

Once you have a connected thread of off camera events you can think what it could be. I now like to use PbtA clocks to measure the progression of these off camera events. As you improv plot complications and story twists if these hidden schemes fit the bill then you can connect them and advance the clock.

Image result for blades in the dark progress clocks

In this case the clock is not for an obstacle but other world events.

There is a lot of stuff that you quite simply do not want to play though that you can assumed happened and advance the clock. You then pick up after the event and progress from that point onwards.

I think it is debatable if there is a need for elliptical play in solo games. You are in control of the content. There is no need to skirt around difficult subjects if you don’t want the game to go there. I don’t actually see why RPGs need to go near difficult subjects in the first place, that seems contra to the entire idea of playing a GAME. If you want to use RPGs for therapy then you should know what you are doing before you get into it. This blog is not about therapy.

My favoured profession in group play is that of healer or medic. We play a lot of Rolemaster and the Lay Healer profession is a great all round profession. In a near future game I was in my medic was still special forces trained and I got to carry a .44 magnum (Do you feel luck?) but I was still the medic. As a healer do I want to skip the combat scenes? Hell, no! Amy I central figure in combat? Normally yes but I probably don’t rack up as many kills as the marines and knights.

Why medics?

It all started in a campaign long ago. We had a GM that was so clearly fudging the dice to keep up alive that we would throw ourselves into stupid combats just to prove the point, even just between ourselves as a private joke. The GM would always have an NPC healer and she would (his healers were always female for some reason) always keep us alive and patch us up just enough to complete the quest/whatever.

When I decided to play a healer it caused the GM a minor panic. The group didn’t want to two healers and no one wanted to go out of the way to find an NPC healer anyway if they already had one in the party. But he[the GM] no longer had control over healing and death. For once he had to honestly balance the threats and quests he sent us on. This of course didn’t work, he just fudged their to hit rolls and damage. He may as well of given all his villains over ripe bananas to fight with instead of weapons the way they never did more than minimal damage once people started falling over in big fights.

I will also confess to being a bit of a min/maxer, but I am also a damn good role player (even if I say so myself). Playing a supposedly weaker profession, but one that is min/maxed amongst a group of characters of middling to fair ability sort of balances out. If I was level for level equal then I would be overshadowed in every way except post combat healing. As I am gaining experience faster than my companions, being a level or two higher is actually putting me on a par of sorts. As my character is not an in your face leadership contender, I am peasant-born amongst nobles, it also means I am never going to steal the limelight from the players and characters that need it, and that has nothing to do with numbers on a page, min/maxing or character level.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 25th – Fruitful Void

The Fruitful Void is the space in which your own imagination gets to do its stuff. There are lots of elements in an RPG that take away your possibilities, as soon as you choose one class or profession for example you have excluded many options, pick a race and that takes away options. You have a probability of success and of failure and they define what you can and cannot do. Put a genre and a setting into the game and that also limits your options.

The more things that are known the less space there is for your imagination to take over.

The amount of void you give, as game designer, will have a huge impact on your games style of play. Fate for example has few rules and even the setting and genre are undefined until play starts. The players and GM can start to fill the void (fruitfully) but creating a collaborative setting. That is the void being used by design in a constructive way.

The down side of the void is when there are unintended gaps in the rules and the GM is left having to try and fill the void in isolation to keep the game on track. That is far from ideal.

From a solo play perspective the Oracle harnesses the fruitful void with every roll. If you think of the story so far being one side of a square, the game rules is another. The Oracle result provides a third side, you have an answer, it is known and it is now a fact in the game but what does that answer mean. This has you filling a micro-void, the meaning of the answer, with every oracle question.

Fruitful voids are the natural home of both improvisation and of exploitation. Just because rules do not explicitly say that you cannot do something doesn’t mean you should do it. In group play there will always be players who want to ‘win’ or be the best and if that is how they get their kicks and it doesn’t upset the other players or GM then that is fine. Could you do this and should you do this are two very different questions!

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 23rd – Probability

There are times when probability is your friend and times when it is really awkward!

In almost every RPG the probabilities are just slightly skewed in the favour of the player characters. The point of that is so that stories get a chance to progress and move forward. If it was you or I dumped into a world saving situation I would be rather worried about the world’s future. That is because the world is not skewed in my favour.

The game theory implications of skewing the probabilities in the players favour is a tightrope. If starting characters are too competent then the game is likely to lack challenge. Too little bias and the characters fail too often and the game becomes frustrating.

Getting the balance right is a designers decision and reverberates right through the whole way the game plays.

Probability is a lever that a designer and pull and during play testing you can try different probabilities, varying biases between success and failure.

Solo Probabilities

As a solo rules designer for other people’s systems I have to deal with the design choices made by other designers. With an Oracle the player can skew the probabilities themselves by deciding the likelihood of a yes or no answer. The challenge for me is to build an Oracle that gives equal chances to the extremes of yes and… and no and… results.

Oracles are not the problem.

The hardest challenge yet has been the open question tool in Solo Fate. Fate Dice, most typically 4dF, have a range of -4 to +4 and and strong bias to -2 to +2. Even with just 9 possible results it is very hard to build a wide ranging open question tool. In this case there are not enough possible results to attach possible answers to. At the same time the bias to just five of of the nine options meant that using 4dF when you really want hundreds or thousands of possible answers was the big challenge.

So the lesson to take away is that while dice allow you to play with possibilities they also open and close doors. Make your game d100 and it may be perceived as more complex, make it 1d6 and it may appear simplistic. Start to sum the results of dice and you get probability curves and the more dice the more of a bell curve you get with the extremes becoming much less likely than the median values.

Once you have just 6 or 9 possible answers then a 10th or 11th option may need an entirely new mechanic. I am damn sure that was the birth of the d66 and d666. A designers desire to look nice and simple and stick with d6s but then needing random tables with plenty of variety.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 22nd – Loaded Questions

This is another one of those solo play ‘no brainers’. The Oracle has no opinions and it has no bias. There are two points where bias can be introduced and that is asking the question that is best for the character, and not the question that is best for the game and the second is in interpreting the results.

I will talk a bit more about positive bias below.

It is very easy to fall into the trap or more accurately succumb to the temptation of asking the question that is best for your character and not the question that is best for the game. Often the two are in alignment anyway but asking character centric questions can introduce plot armour into your solo games.

Loaded Questions

Loaded questions often have a bias built into the question wording. As a GM we often scatter adverbs and adjectives into our narrative descriptions to try and reinforce our vision of a place or person. Projecting our vision over to other human players will always be imperfect. Adj-scattering is perfectly fine in description but when you start to put it into questions that is when questions become loaded. “How much do you love…?” “How much revulsion do you let show?” funnels the available responses into your questions by presupposing your characters reactions. It is fine in dialogue as the NPC may be fishing for compliments.

In game design loaded questions have their place. In some ways you can start to apply layers of setting into the characters. If you have questions like “How does your character feel about their alien overlords?”, “Does you character know anyone who has betrayed a worker to an Alien Overseer?” These questions attempt to cast the Aliens as the bad guys and hint at a paranoia amongst the class of society that the players will be emerging from. That is fine.

Loaded Questions that May Cause Offence

On the other hand a simple line on the character sheet that says Gender M/F can cause offence. There is an assumption there that there are only two acceptable options and you will choose one or the other.

A more acceptable version may be:


That also works in lots of sci fi games where robots, androids and aliens have absolutely no recognisable gender.

Rolemaster used to have a character sheet that had

Age _____ Appears _____

The idea was for elves to have a real age that could be hundreds or thousands of years old but may appear youthful or no more than middle aged.

That could apply to gender. The last female character I played appeared, dressed and acted as a male. I try not to play females as I have never been one and that is the reason why I also nearly always play humans. So this becomes a viable gender question on the character sheet.


In my Devil’s Staircase Wild West game I don’t even have gender as a character sheet field. Characters records are simple enough to fit on a post-it note and gender had no mechanical impact. The player was welcome to add as much character background and description as they liked to a second post-it. That was where those sorts of details should live and the player can address it as they see fit.

In my FUDGE system character generation is also purely narrative. In this system loaded questions can reinforce the subtleties of the setting. The characters are drawn to London to hear the reading of a will in a 2020 modern London but the world is one in which demons can take human form and magical rituals are real and powerful. We want reasons for ‘adventuring skills’ in people just like you and I. The loaded questions used to inspire the players to create their characters can help build rounded characters.

Positive Bias

Mythic has a mechanic called Chaos which takes the successes or failures of previous scenes as a dice weighting factor and pushes questions towards yes and strong yes answers. The more scenes that end in player failure the greater the Chaos Factor and the more the shift towards yes and strong yes answers. The flaw is that if having a string of tough scenes and the characters in retreat and you emerge finally on to a concourse. Asking the question “Would security have covered this concourse by snipers?” is a valid question and one that could be a likely yes. With Mythic’s Chaos Factor the bias is now more likely to kill the characters than help them.

For a long time I didn’t incorporate chaos into my solo products but I have started to bring it back but via Powered by the Apocalypse’s Clock mechanic. A run of No and… results counts down a Chaos Clock. The Chaos Clock does not bias the oracle roll. When the clock runs down it introduces an Interrupted Scene in Mythic parlance or A Complication in my Oracles. The intention is the same, if the story isn’t moving forward then something has to change.

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#RPGTheoryJuly- 21st – Consent & Support

I believe, although correct me if I am wrong, that this is a non-issue in solo play. In every set of solo rules that I produce I always emphasize that with the Oracle or open question tools that you take three factors into consideration; the story do far, the Oracle answer and the sort of adventure you want to have. If your stories take you to places you don’t want to go then the issue doesn’t lie with the game.

Curiously, I have always considered games with larger narrative currency economies to be the most supportive. If anyone at any time can say ‘No, that doesn’t happen.’ They can change the situation. 7th Sea, for example, is entirely built around narrative currency. Every raise you spend buys you a portion of the games narrative. I picked 7th Sea as every adventure I have seen has the same boilerplate text at the front including the X card rule.

The X card is a mechanism where a character can invoke the X card and it immediately vetoes a topic from the game. No discussion, no push back and no need to explain yourself.

7th Sea is also, in my limited experience, the single most inclusive game there is.

The multi layer approach of narrative currency, the X card, inclusive setting and the ultimate control of the solo game is why I chose it as the very first game I wrote system specific solo rules for.

The 7th Sea Solo Rules are also one of my best selling supplements despite the fact that I have never done any promotion or advertising.

7th Sea is not an easy game to solo play, it will challenge your improv skills if you are unused to solo play but it is well worth the investment of time and effort.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 20th – Competition

It is 40 years since I have entered a D&D competition and I don’t remember doing very well. I am not going to talk about that.

There are lots of ways that competitiveness comes out in role playing. I have four players in my face to face group. First is the elven magic user. In the system we are playing there is no such thing as a magic user but ever since school this player has played basically the same character, an elven magic user. It doesn’t matter what system it is or their implementation we get the same character. Why because they end up as the most powerful characters. Being the most powerful plays into the players need to win.

Player number two is a power gamer. He needs to have the biggest numbers and to be the most powerful. Of all the personality clashes at our table it is between the elven magic user and, right now, the warrior mage. Two characters that most need to win. The fallings out are over their competitiveness and two alpha males that won’t back down.

Player number three is the noble knight. He isn’t always a knight, sometimes he is a ranger. The common factor is that he likes to have power over the other players.

Player number four is for some people a GMs nightmare. Right now we have two games running, I play in one and run the other. When I play alongside him he is a bard, when I run the game for him he is another warrior mage. Both of which are complex professions to play. In the interest of game balance these professions need to resource balance. Player number four doesn’t read the rules of any game that we play and even after quarter of a century still doesn’t retain anything. I have known him the longest of all the players and he introduced me to my first non-D&D game. The thing is that No.4 doesn’t get numbers. He sees numbers and his eyes glaze over, show him a table and it may as well be in runes. The man is a literary genius and before retirement was highly placed in UK counter terrorism but RPG rules are beyond him.

I am an extremely competitive person. My resume reads like a character background. In real life I compete in fencing at an international level although as a veteran, I compete in horseback archery internationally and I do a few middle distance (6k to 10k) running events in Europe each winter to keep my fitness up. I am a company director of a multinational business and do game design for fun. Even my horse is a pocket warhorse and trained for mounted archery, spear and we are working on mounted sword fighting. In the photo above she even has her own d20 and wants a copy of Ponyfinder for Christmas.

When I role play I often play healers. I cannot but help a certain amount of min/maxing. By taking a supporting role I can focus on role playing and not roll playing. I have to rein in my competitive spirit or risk steamrollering other players. Right now in the game I am playing I am a 4th level Healer and the Mage, Noble Warrior and Bard are 3rd, 3rd and 2nd level respectively. How? Because the GM gives exp for roleplay and problem solving right alongside combat experience. I role play my character more so I gain more experience. My compatriots are still playing the same characters they have played since out school and college years. If the current trend continues before long I am in danger of being a better fighter than the noble warrior, more magicky than the mage and more persuasive than the bard simply because I am outstripping them in levels. Modesty, restraint and being the last man standing will be the order of the day.

Solo Play

When I solo play the gloves are off but strangely I have no inclination to mon/max. I play all sorts of strange characters and there is no urge to win. I assume it is because there is no one to beat or even measure myself against.

Solo play allows me to explore unusual characters that would never be suitable party members. Curiously my healer I am playing now started as a solo character. I think this may be part of his roleplayabililty. I have played this character for months in the past. I know him and how he speaks and reacts. In the first few face to face sessions when other players are still settling into their characters I was full flow and comfortable. What is more I had already explored the range of magics available and how to combine them to get me out of untold scrapes.

I don’t know if it is competition that brings out the worst in people or the it is the worst people who just have to compete. It is certainly an element of human nature. It is clearly a falsehood that there is no win or lose in role playing games. role playing games give you hundreds of opportunities to win/defeat/outwit and overcome. Once you are invested in a character there is also a high price to play in losing if it happens to be fatal and final.

Don’t tell me that RPGs are not competitive.

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 18th – Narrative Currency

Not a fan.

My understanding of Narrative Currency is that of using some kind of token to take control of the narrative. In some games there are physical counters or tokens. The players have them and have to spend them to dictate a change in the narrative.

The furthest I have gone down this road is the use of FATE points in games where someone should have died or failed dramatically and they get to spend a very limited number of FATE points to avert death or make the roll again.

My first real encounter with an in game currency like this was the Conan 2d20 game. The name escapes me, possibly excised from my memory. It had bowls of counters for just about everything. When I read the rules I wasn’t that impressed but it seemed OK and using the quickstart rules as a one shot seemed like fun.

This is where things broke down. We don’t sit around a table when we play. My group gets together so infrequently due to scheduling that we have to make a special effort. We rent a airbnb property for a weekend and dedicate the entire weekend to gaming. The sitting room has several sofas plus big leather armchairs. It is a big room full of big furniture. We get to spread out. The best bit is that the house we use is called Rivendell and once when we arrived we found a d8 on the games table provided by the owners. We are not the only gamers to use the place!

When you start to play a game that is dependent on passing counters or seeing the upper face of a particular die they just don’t work when players can be nearly 10m away from each other. At our age even getting out of a big soft sofa is an effort (not for me I am still fit, normally, but some of my players now have dodgy knees and hips).

It is really hard to maintain atmosphere when the players are grunting and groaning trying to get out of their chair to spend a FATE point.

From me Narrative Currency is a bad thing, not because I don’t like the idea, I don’t like the actions in play when you players are aging and some of them middle age spreading!

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#RPGTheoryJuly – 17th – Self-Reflexivity

Now we are slap bang in the middle of solo play territory. Solo players are arguably the royalty of self-reflexive play.

Self-Reflexivity sounds complicated but can be phrased as a game within a game or a tale with a tale. The absolute core of solo play is when you break away from the adventure and start to use the Oracle of choice. You are now playing the game with a game. You roll the dice, will you be lucky or not? Will the result be good for your character or not? Now you have the result but what does that mean right now? The zombies are after you and you race into the parking lot and grab the door handle on the first automobile you get to. Is the door door locked? You stop the game, set your odds and roll your dice and get… “No, but…” The oracles seen through that lens is clearly a game within a game but there is more.

What does the “No but…” mean? At this point we start to improvise an answer and meaning. We take the game so far into account, the genre and setting. We then create a packet of meaning, a tiny story to explain the meaning of a “No but…” answer. Is the car locked? No but the zombies have got here first and the interior and dashboard of the automobile is completely trashed.

We now have a tiny story within a the greater story of our solo game. As I said at the top solo players are the royalty of self reflexive play.

I am going to digress here. In researching this post I came across an academic study of Self Reflexivity in TTRPGs. The definition was…

It’s a game you play with friends in a social setting. …

It’s an exploration of intriguing or fanciful scenarios. …

It’s a chance to be someone you’re not. …

It’s a celebration of sticky situations. …

It’s collaborative daydreaming. …

It’s exercise for your personal sense of drama. …

It’s a way to trick ourselves into creating interesting things. …

It’s something you’ve been doing all along. (Ravachol, 2013a).

What Is a Role-Playing Game? Ravachol, E., Dig a Thousand Holes Publishing, USA, 2013.

I take issue with that definition. Incidentally, I follow Epidiah Ravachol on twitter. So I have pointed out to him that solo play is a legitimate branch of the role play hobby. No reply yet but I will update this when I hear anything.

My version goes…

It’s an exploration of intriguing or fanciful scenarios. …

It’s a chance to be someone you’re not. …

It’s a celebration of sticky situations. …

It’s interactive daydreaming. …

It’s exercise for your personal sense of drama. …

It’s a way to trick ourselves into creating interesting things. …

It’s something you’ve been doing all along….

Me, 2019