When I first saw the title for today my first thought was about railroading players. If you have a set objective in mind then you are more likely to be tempted into railroading your players to achieve that objective. Then I remembered Sagas of Midgard (@DHornGames). This is a fairly rules light RPG with just one objective and that is to die well. You cannot railroad players into killing their characters, you can only give them opportunities.
In solo play I frequently don’t know what the objective of my game will until I am forced to produce it following an oracle or story prompt roll. I keep a list of loose threads as my solo plays unfold and I try and link loose threads together. This means that there are less loose ends in total but it can turn several loose ends into the hints of a greater story arc. There is certainly no railroad because there aren’t even any tracks.
That is true most of the time. When you try and solo play your way through a purchased adventure module things suddenly get more ‘enclosed’. The advice I was given for soloing modules was to read the module in detail. You can then use your knowledge to answer the oracle questions. I did this recently and for me it is the most dissatisfying of experiences. I then did feel railroaded because the option I wanted wasn’t an option.
So if I am playing a module of my own choosing and using the rules of my own choosing and my own choice of solo engine the only thing that is different is my normal preference for a sandbox experience and the defined objectives of the module. The point of playing the module was to experience someone else’s ideas rather than my own and to absorb more setting ‘lore’. What I got was that definitely feeling of being railroaded towards a climatic scene and that was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not. What probably would have been better, for me, would have been to extract those bits of setting information on to post-it notes and worked them into my own free play. I could have put words into my own NPC’s mouths, I could put carvings on to my own cave walls. I think the reason I didn’t is that I had assumed, wrongly, that the author knew best.
Maybe, playing bought adventures is a skill I have yet to learn? That is entirely possible. Maybe I should do more? I certainly need to do them better!
Getting back to game objectives I would say I don’t like them being built in. Keep them ‘soft’ such as have fun or exploring Norse legend. Your mileage may vary of course.
As a bit of a P.S. if you want to play a solo game with a single objective try Todd Zircher’s No GM’s Sky. The objective is to ‘get home’ in a universe that doesn’t even exist until you start playing.