I was first introduced to the idea of solo role-playing by coder and fellow gamer Sophia Brandt, but I never got around to trying it until now. While one of the best aspects of pen-and-paper RPGs is the social aspect, sometimes you just want to fly solo. And if my video game library has anything to say about it, then I tend to go single-player. Today I’m playing Freebooters on the Frontier using Mythic Game Master Emulator and Rory’s Story Cubes. Throw some West Marches-style ideas in there and we’ve got a pen-and-paper roguelike. If you’re interested and want to learn more about gaming solo, check out Sophia’s blog or this Google+ community. One last bit of full disclosure: you might have noticed that the DriveThruRPG links are affiliate links. This means that a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking said link is credited to my DTRPG account. Which I’ll probably use on more games, anyway.
Instead of rolling up an entirely new character, I’ve decided to play as Jutoomb from my previous post. She is everyone’s favorite gluttonous, bigoted (but well-meaning) Magic-User with a forked, silver tongue. Her spellbook contains two intriguing spells called Elyalto’s Blessing of Salt and Salt Voice. She has 23 silver on hand (a far cry from the 10,000 needed to win), a magic staff that increases her spellcasting capabilities, a bag of books, and spell components. Right out of the gate, she’s at her encumbrance limit. Pair that with her 2 hit points, and it looks like hiring a bodyguard is in her future.
For those playing along at home, you can check out her character sheet, which I hobbled together on Google Sheets.
Despite the fact that Freebooters characters have the life expectancy of mayflies, I want Jutoomb to have some semblance of a backstory in the form of her motivation. I roll three Story Cubes and get a hand, a lightbulb, and a lightning bolt.
So let’s say Ogethas, as she was known then, was the youngest of five children, the Chaotic thumb that didn’t really fit in with her Good- and Lawful-aligned siblings. It turns out the blood of a naga ancestor ran strongest in her veins, and there would be no escaping it, no matter how many volunteer opportunities her siblings dragged her to. It was during one of these events that Ogethas met a lampman, a member of a magical race resembling towering men and women with oil lamps for heads. Their fearsome magical displays frightened and dazzled her, but most of all made her want to wield that power herself. For years, she practiced the magical arts in secret, and one day she gathered her belongings and left home. She turned her path west, beyond the known borders of the kingdom, where the haunting lands of the lampmen were said to be.
But what exactly do we know about the lands beyond? During a regular game of Freebooters, the group will create the map of the unexplored frontier together. With the solo system we’ve got going on, this is just going to be a fun exercise in map-making. I’m using the Inkarnate beta to create these maps, and I’m starting with the first step: a blank map.
Village • Sunnivar’s Tear
Poor, Steady, Watch, Resource (boar oil), Oath (Eaglekeep), Oath (Clearwater), Religious (Sunnivar), Enmity (Lakehome)
The last steading that flies the king’s banner is a fledgling village by the name of Sunnivar’s Tear. It may lack the grandeur of its brothers and sisters (especially the capital city of Eaglekeep), but Sunnivar’s Tear is nothing if not determined. And it needs to be. The surrounding lands are marked by a persistent, heavy mist, known to block out the sun even in the middle of summer.
To combat the gloom, the people of the tear have taken to hunting the abundant wild boars of the area, using the animal’s fat as lamp oil. Since the oil can be used in the production of other goods like soap and margarine, a trade arrangement was made with the nearby town of Clearwater. In return for oil, Clearwater sends the Tear additional troops.
The Tear’s fervent dedication to the Sunnivar, the tutelary deity of the kingdom, goddess of progress and the journey of life, has attracted unwanted attention from an unconquered halfling village a few days away. While the halflings are not outright hostile, they are wary of the kingdom’s presence. The halflings of Lakehome (which refers to both the village and the nearby lake) worship Hilda, the local goddess of tradition.
Jutoomb, for her part, ignores the politics of the area and chooses the Tear’s White Owl Tavern as her base of operations.
The collected knowledge about the lands beyond the kingdom’s borders are from half-hearted expeditions into the frontier and a few, tense interactions with the halflings of Lakehome. The mist may blot out the sun, but once you venture far enough into it, even the fog can’t hide the towering mountains in the distance. And no one knows what’s behind those. The mountain range runs north and south, like a wall meant to keep those on the kingdom’s side out. Between the peaks and the Tear are countless miles of wet swampland, stagnant lakes, and, Jutoomb hopes, the land of the lampmen.
One of the tales that are told around the White Owl hearth is the story of the lampmen’s origins. It is said that the entire race was created by an ancient civilization. In fact, ruins of that race can be found on the opposite side of the halfling village’s lake. Some say that these creators were the cause of the eternal mist that surrounds the area, while others say they were lost in its swirling depths. An increase in oil sales usually accompanies the telling of the tale.
Jutoomb has also heard of an area called the Cursed Hollows. Usually the name is enough to turn away the faint-hearted, but there are no faint-hearted left in the Tear. The Hollows are supposed to be located behind the aforementioned ruins, but the halflings deny any knowledge of the place. Rumor has it that’s where they bury their dead, anyway.
Almost a week’s worth of travel in a more southerly direction, on the other hand, takes adventurers to an abandoned tower the locals call the High Circle. Calling it a tower is generous—the circle refers to a ring that connects four legs supporting a single room rising high above the mist. No one knows who built it, and no one has been fool enough to make the steep, dangerous climb.
Finally, if there’s anything that makes the natives throw a prayer in Sunnivar’s way, it’s mirrored sightings. A mirrored take the appearance of the creature it encounters, except twists the imitation. A traveler knows when the mirrored takes their form when they see themselves in the campfire light, flesh torn to shreds and the mask of death on their own face. The grisly sight ends more adventuring careers than other wildlife in the area. The mirrored seem to gather around the Lake of Ghosts, a popular stopover on the way to the High Circle.
Of course, Jutoomb hears all of these rumors and can only rub her hands at the knowledge that awaits her.
Next time, Jutoomb’s adventure begins. I’m interested in using Mythic to emulate both the PC and the GM. We’ll see how it goes!
Die Heart, Sophia Brandt’s blog with plenty of solo role-playing resources and OSR resources
Freebooters on the Frontier, available on DriveThruRPG
The Mythic Game Master Emulator, also available on DriveThruRPG
Rory’s Story Cubes
A Gamasutra article covering the history of Rogue
The Lone Wolf Roleplaying Google+ Community
The Inkarnate mapmaking tool (currently in beta)