In August, I wrote about how solo play can help to salvage games others don't want to play with you. Within that article, I mentioned a new RPG that I had just acquired, leaving the image of a Bloodbeast as a clue to the game's identity (which Crystal Star Games' Shane guessed correctly). The game was the new edition of the British classic Advanced Fighting Fantasy by Graham Bottley, and, for many reasons, I'm very, very eager to run this system. In fact, I haven't been this excited to run any RPG since the early 1990s! I thought it would be even more exciting if I added the Mythic GME to the mix, throwing in some randomness that the players could interpret, giving them the power usually reserved for the GM! Who could resist?
At the time I had posted the article, I had been unsuccessful at finding players to join me. Since then, it hasn't gotten any better.
I removed Mythic entirely from the game and pitched AFF on its own. Still, no bites.
I offered long campaigns, short campaigns, and one-shots. Didn't seem to matter.
I invited people to my home, I offered to go to theirs, I suggested meeting at eateries, and I even pitched using Google+ hangouts like the folks running ConstantCon. Still, no dice.
What makes this so tragic is that, despite being a solo gamer, I'm far from alone. Currently, I have more gaming friends than ever! I play in a weekly RPG group and go to weekly minis tourneys and also attend several monthly gaming events around the city. A few of these folks, both friends and strangers alike, gave me "maybes" at best, but, inevitably, no amount of players equalling 3 or 4 were willing to commit to the same day or time. Bust-o.
The point is, I've not simply struck out with a few people, I've struck out on a self-esteem-crushing magnitude the likes of which I have not seen since my Spellfire CCG days!
This, for me, is nothing new, though. I've admitted before that I often gravitate toward esoteric fare which is why solo gaming is how I spend some evenings while my wife pities me from a safe distance away.
However, what is new for me is that I really, really want to run AFF, not be a player. I even wrote a complete horror-fantasy adventure for the Halloween season at a friend's request (he has since become unavailable to play), and I'd hate to see October go by without running the story! So, where does a solo GM get players?
I know that some gamers on the Yahoo Mythic boards have used the Mythic GME as a "player emulator," but I don't want to interpret information. I want a human being to make a decision.
Enter Donald Featherstone, my hero.
In Donald Featherstone's Solo Wargaming, Chapter 4 introduces the concept of the press-gang. From Mr. Featherstone:
A press-gang is a body of men specially detailed to force civilians to serve in the Navy or Army.... It is not a bad idea for a solo-wargamer occasionally to set himself up as a one-man press-gang with the almost certain results of securing a reasonable number of victims if only because they were unaware of his intentions or because of the sheer unfamiliarity of his approach.In other words, get the people around you to participate in your solo gaming activities by catching them off-guard! Even if they have no idea what is going on, so long as the task you give to them is simple enough to complete, you, the solo player, cannot lose!
Don gave wonderfully amusing and clever examples of employing wives and children in war games, but what about RPGs? How can I, the wannabe GM, press civilians into service as the players in my RPG without actually having them play?
Answer: a multiple-choice questionnaire! Here's the basic premise:
- You, the solo GM, create the PCs.
- Make a number of multiple-choice questionnaires equal to the number of PCs in your game. Label each of the questionnaires with a very brief and simple description of a different PC.
- Wherever there would be an encounter during an adventure or a narrative moment that required a decision to be made, create a multiple choice item consisting of two-to-four possible actions for that event. Place the items on the questionnaire in the most probable order the events would occur.
- Present the questionnaire to a different "civilian" per PC. Ask the civilian to choose one and only one answer per item, and tell him or her to keep in mind the PC description when choosing. Choosing an answer does not require familiarity with RPGs nor does a context or story need to be given. (Alternatively, each item on the questionnaire could contain a brief and simple description of the event, if desired.)
- Collect the questionnaires without looking at them.
- When you are ready to "run" your solo game, reveal the answers to the first item to yourself one at a time. The consensus is what the entire party does, though PCs that chose otherwise may revert to their original choices if things go poorly. In case of a tie or no consensus at all, choose the party's action randomly. Play out the result as per the responses and/or common sense.
- If the final outcome of the action is a negative one, give a demerit to the PCs whose civilians had made that choice.
- In subsequent decision-making events, the character or characters with the highest amount of current demerits may not cause a tie and may not have his or her answer included in the choices if there is no consensus and a decision must be made randomly.
Here's a possible multiple-choice questionnaire for the first part of my AFF horror-fantasy adventure:
CHARACTER: Young mind-reading noblewoman with a taste for adventure
- Toward familiar agony / Toward strange discomfort
- Want stuff / Need stuff / Don't care
- Ignore / Aid / Attack
- Follow / Steal / Attack / Avoid
- Avoid / Attack / Observe
- Longer path, easier terrain / Shorter path, rougher terrain
- Ignore strange cries / Investigate strange cries
- Slay / Abandon
- Investigate / Avoid
- Admit truth / Lie / Feign ignorance
The above would be sufficient for the first part of the adventure. Not included are life-and-death decisions that would be entirely obvious. Item 10 would actually only be a choice for one of the PCs, but, since I wouldn't know which one in advance, I would include it in the questionnaire even though it is not an issue of consensus.
So, that's the idea thus far. After almost two months of being handed lemons, this is the first batch of lemonade I've made.