Right now, I am playing Westlands, which is a Sword of Cepheus variant. It is what I would call a Hard Fantasy game, in the same way that Traveler and Cepheus System are hard sci-fi. This is not a game where wizards are throwing fireballs around, or for the most part, your hero isn’t going to wade through hundreds of enemies and then have a rest and be ready to do it again.
There are rules for mooks, which I am using to make being a solo hero a bit more viable, but I enter every fight thinking that this could be the end. I am certainly not looking for fights where I am outnumbered.
In solo games, I should be able to pace my combat or hazardous encounters to match my desired play style and danger level. This is obviously true, but there is another factor as well. I want the world to feel real, the challenges to be challenging, and the reward to be rewarding. If every encounter is a walkover, what is the point?
I consider anything to be an encounter if it forces me to make a meaningful choice. Slapping a two-way junction in front of me isn’t an encounter. Yes, it is a choice, but without any other information, the choice between the two has no significant meaning. If one way was guarded and the other wasn’t, it begs the question, what is worth all that protection? Now, I have to choose between the easy, safe way, which probably leads to nothing of interest, or the more dangerous path and learning what is behind it. Now my choice has meaning.
My oracle for this game has yes/no/and/but answers. I decided right from the start that I would try and use yes, but… answers as triggers for encounters. So far, it is working well. They are so common that I cannot possibly use them all for combat encounters, which would make the game rather short as I wouldn’t last very long, so I have had to get more creative.
This decision has had a huge impact on the richness of the story. Most RPGs use the same three legs of adventure, combat, social, and exploration. I am restricted on how much combat I can introduce as this is a lethal game. I can use exploration to make more interesting and varied terrain and natural challenges, but the richest vein to mine is the social aspect.
If I lean too heavily into combat and exploration, the game can begin to feel a bit too boardgamey or wargamey. This is not something I am looking for in my games. On the other side, if I increase the amount of social interaction and conflict, this leans ever more toward the roleplaying side. This is what I want, and now the oracle is acting as a prompt to develop my NPCs more.
The adventure I am currently involved in has me sneaking around the temple complex at night. My first thought was that I was limited in what social interactions I could have. Surely, anyone I meet would be more interested in shouting the alarm than having a conversation. But, by thinking in 3d and having plenty of balconies overlooking walkways and courtyards, it is easy to populate the temple with people who can either give me thought-provoking titbits of information or, with a bit of disguise on my part, prepared to talk to me when we meet.
Add that to a companion NPC, and there is plenty of chatting to be done.
I normally use but… answers to throw complications in my character’s way. This time I have been trying to ramp that up from complications to full encounters.