How To: Solo a Module

I will confess right from the start that my preferred style of play is an open sandbox where adventure is something that sweeps the character up, rather than a published module that has a defined start, middle and end.

At the end of this article is a free sheetsheet download form. You can get all the advice in this article on a single page to keep as a handy reminder.

Having said that, my regular group is doing a middle way, where I have salted the world with plot hooks that will feed them into modules and they can do, or not do. It is their choice. They also don’t know what modules they have done and what they haven’t

Solo playing a module is different to putting a regular group through one, but some of the same prep needs doing.

Firstly, you need at least a passing knowledge of the module. I suggest reading it all, if you can skim read and get all the salient points, that may be enough.

I am a huge fan of the humble post-it note/sticky note.

Organise the Adventure

What you need to do next is create what amounts to a flow diagram of the key points in the module. These are the things that MUST happen if the module is going to be completed. Put each one on a post-it.

Mounting each key point on a separate note means that they are easily rearranged if your solo journey goes slightly off course. I arrange rumors, that are likely to either impart essential information to help the character survive or plot hooks to get your character involved into one group. Key locations into another and encounters into a third.

Taking B2 Keep on the Borderlands as an example of a classic module. Some of the rumors would instantly attract a magic-user (A powerful magic-user will destroy all cave invaders/A magic wand was lost in the caves’ area) whereas others would attract a fighter (Piles of magic armor are hoarded in the southern caves.) and so on. Knowing your character and the hooks that are likely to get them involved cues up some of the roleplaying scenes.

There are then a set of wilderness encounters, the hermit and lizardmen etc. There can all be treated as scenes in the solo play. You can soon map out a likely path for each adventure. Roleplaying events in the keep, leads to this rumour being learnt, which leads to this expedition and this encounter.

When the Caves of Chaos are introduced there are distinct tribes that are essentially separate adventures, as the caves cannot be explored in a single sortie. These you can break down into essential encounters and challenges.

Applying the solo rules means first and foremost not asking questions that you know are going to break the module. Many questions you could ask of a theatre of the mind game, will not be required. You have a map that tells you the exits or the contents of rooms.

Group into Scenes

Having a map or diagram of key events that are required gives you objective. If you were DMing a group and an event was essential then you would move the NPC to the right place, or move a room to put it in the character’s way. You can group your post-it notes into scenes.

Scenes are the essential building block of solo play. Some oracle questions/plot twists may say “xxx end the scene”. You can still use this, because you have organised the module into scenes.

If you know that the next room contains an ogre and you roll a plot twist that says “An organisation changes the location”, the organisation could be a small as an orc ordering the ogre to attack. I can assure you, as a low level solo character, an attacking ogre WILL change your location, probably rapidly backwards!

On the notes above I have already sorted out the numbers of encountered and in what locations, the numbers in brackets. Being organised means that I don’t have to break up my solo play too much to fit into the module.

Building Blocks

I cannot reiterate enough that the basic building block of the solo game is the scene. You build them before you play the module, you play through them in the order that makes sense. Some scenes will be preplanned, some will evolve naturally.

Keep on the Borderlands could look like this

Scene 1: Arrive at the Keep
Scene 2: Interview with the Castellan
Scene 3: Find the Raiders
Scene 4: Spiders!
Scene 5: Meanwhile back at the keep
Scene 6: A magic wand you say?
Scene 7: Kobold Attack!

There are bits I have time jumped, parts that I want to play in detail. I like my games roleplay heavy and combat light. Keep on the borderlands encourages characters to take alternatives to combat and to build relationships within the keep, as it becomes there base of operations. If I was playing this module the wilderness exploration would be played down and life in the keep would be played up, but that is me, and the beauty of solo play.

Levels and Encounters

For an adventure marked Levels 1-3, I would look to use a character at the top of the scale. My PC would be 3rd level. For the encounters, I would divide the numbers encountered by 4 with a minimum of 1 and round any fractions up. So 5 goblins would become 2, 5 divided by 4 and rounded up the next whole goblin. The logic being that most modules were written for about six characters and taking the middle level as an average would give a total of 12 player levels, A third level character is then balanced by quartering the number encountered.

More Solo Advice

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