Tabletop for one: As the dice fall, so does a hero

Now where were we?

Oh, right. Initiative rolls between tough, dwarven ex-soldier Jindra and three Redbrand ruffians on the streets of Phandalin. Here she was, trying to do everything on the DL, with a mind towards infiltrating this gang’s base. But it turns out they’ve gathered some intel on her  as well, and the thought of some adventurer hanging around town is something they ought to nip in the bud.

redbrand_ruffian_by_almega_3-da1ttfi

Initiative rolls came out to a tie (4) but these ruffians have the edge in dexterity so to them the first attack goes. Unfortunately, these enemies each get two attacks, so there was a very real possibility of getting smoked before the round even went to Jindra. However, out of six attacks, only one was a hit.

Surrounded by three enemies, Jindra had little in the way of options so she took a swing at one…and missed. Feeling in dire straits though, she blew her action surge and not only hit, but scored a critical. She actually managed to drop one of them right off the bat. i thought she might have justice on her mind more than fury, and it would be a knockout shot rather than a straight up kill.

Next round didn’t go so great, with the Redbrands landing one strike each, and Jindra scoring a single hit of her own plus using her Second Wind to get some precious hp back. The following round took Jindra’s health down pretty low, while Jindra dropped another bad guy. At that point, she risked an opportunity attack to move away from them and try to escape, with a mind towards making it to the Townmaster’s Hall and maybe getting some help from Sildar.

As it turns out, when only one Redbrand remained, he’s supposed to flee as well and head for Tresendar Manor. So, i guess it’s really no secret where this gang is holed up? Which begs the question why they need that secret tunnel entrance in the woods.

In retrospect, i should have thought a bit more about options and tactics. The smart move would have been making a break for the Townmaster’s Hall right away.  At any rate, this particular encounter was a learning lesson that could be applied to any size group, really. While the default actions of an RPG group is basically fight to the death every time, it makes more a more interesting experience to put some thought into any encounter.

On a related note, i’ve been listening to a lot of gameplay podcasts recently, most notably those of Acquisitions Incorporated. And also Titansgrave. There’s a few other ones but those are my favorites.

Both of these shows offer excellent examples of my idea of an ideal RPG experience. Although different in tone, both campaigns are focused primarily on the story. More than that, there is a real dedication to bringing the characters to life in the spotlight as the heroes of their respective stories.

What i enjoy most about AI games (aside from the humor) is the players’ efforts to think in relatively realistic terms about the situations they find themselves in, the elaborate schemes, plots and tactics they devise, and the shift from multiple combat encounters to instead usually one grand battle per session.

titansgrave

In Titansgrave, the roleplaying is just so delicious. i don’t want to diverge too much, or spoil it for anyone who checks it out. Suffice it to say, the flow of the show and the game itself does an excellent job of creating real drama by expertly weaving together great DMing and on-the-fly story developments through player actions and reactions.

Back to the game at hand, the townspeople who witness Jindra’s streetfight with the Redbrands are grateful and bolstered to see someone stand up to them. Those manacles once again came in handy, using them to secure the Redbrand she KO’d and bring him to jail. Townmaster Harbin is reluctant to emprison the ruffian, afraid of the almost certain blowback from the rest of the gang. But Sildar admonishes him and it’s into the cell for the thug. A natural 20 Intimidation roll from Jindra helps cement the deal.

At that, with just 1hp to her name, Jindra announces she’s just going to take a little rest…and passes out.

The next morning (after a long rest) it’s time to head for the Redbrand base. They probably wouldn’t waste any time at least coming in force to the jail to retrieve their man, more than likely with violence on their mind, so Jindra makes haste to get underway with her own mission.

Following Carp’s directions, she very un-stealthily (rolled a 6, stupid disadvantage) makes her way through the woods and finds the secret tunnel entrance. She tries to remain concealed and watch the tunnel for a bit, but sees no signs of anyone coming or going, and then heads into the tunnel warily.

Not too far ahead, the tunnel opens into a crevasse, with two arched wooden bridges across the span on the close and far ends of the chamber.

In her head, she begins to hear murmurs and mad cackles. Something tries to penetrate her thoughts, but her strong dwarven resolve keeps the strange intrusion at bay. Nevertheless, she senses a powerful hunger and hears whispered demands for food in her thoughts. It’s pretty freaky.

Reaching into her explorer’s pack, she removes what is left of her rations and holds them out into the darkness.

Nothic_smaller

A bizarre, horrifying creature creeps out from further in the crevasse and snatches the rations, greedily devouring them. But the mind-speak suggests it hungers for fresher meat, like maybe dwarf flesh that has to be tastier than the corpse-flesh given to it by the redcloaks.

At a loss, and with nothing else to offer, the creature’s large single eye gleams maliciously – an absolutely devastating attacked called “rotting gaze” that melts off 10 necrotic damage from a failed Constitution save.

For the nonce, however, the nothic won the initiative after its surprise round rotting gaze, and a hit with one of its two claw attacks brings Jindra low. She feebly hits the thing and, realizing i’d need to survive long enough to hit it maybe five or six more times, i’m already wondering what sort of character i’ll roll up next.

And that’s what i’ll share next time, since the nothic’s claw-claw combo on round 2 translated into the nasty thing feasting on dwarf flesh.

Jindra was dead.

death-and-treasure-254

At least Jindra made it further in her adventuring career than Aleena the cleric. Damn you, Bargle!

Even in a solo situation like this, with no other players to react or DM to lay this at the feet of, it was quite deflating. In all the decades i’ve played RPGs, i don’t recall ever having a character die – either my own or someone else’s (although that could very well be due to game groups fizzling out before that could happen). i’ll admit, i was bummed. But then i realized it was an opportunity for a fresh start, and a new take on this whole solo tabletop rpg experiment.

One of the best character death stories i’ve heard was that of a TPK, with the players all rolling new characters and starting over the same adventure. Eventually, they delved into the same dungeon where their previous character all met their end. Deep inside, they came across a half-crazed wildman fiercely guarding a pile of bodies…which they learned were those of their earlier creations, one of whom had actually survived but become hopelessly lost in the labyrinth and survived only to protect his fallen friends, desperate that someone might come and save them. That’s pretty awesome gaming right there.

What’s your most memorable RPG character death? Did you fall into an acid pit and even rolling a nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh nineteen wasn’t good enough to get you out? Were you unceremoniously felled by a random encounter? Was your killed saving the rest of his party from certain doom? Let me know in the comments!

acquisitions-inc

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Tabletop for one: the social pillar

With things at the Cragmaw hideout having gone swimmingly for Jindra the dwarf shield fighter, she (and i, by extension) was feeling pretty good about a career as a solo adventurer. Using stealth, patience, tactics and a few tricks, the tough ex-soldier was still alive, brokered a deal between a goblin tribe and a growing village and had a pocket full of gold coins. She’d hit 2nd level and spent some time in Phandalin.

Phandalin

Hanging out in the common room of the Stonehill Inn, she learned from gossipy barmaid Elsa that the town’s orchard keeper, Daran Edermath, is a former adventurer. It occurs to me that maybe he might have a clearer idea where Cragmaw Castle is located, where Jindra’s friend Gundren was taken captive. Adventurers get around and know stuff, after all. Knowing that it’s “20 miles northeast” is pretty vague, so any chance to narrow down the specifics would be helpful.

An old farmer at the inn, Narth, overhears this conversation and mentions someone named Sister Garaele, who oversees the Shrine of Luck here in Phandalin. She recently took a trip and returned to town wounded – maybe she was ambushed by these Cragmaw goblins? Again, a possibility of nailing down some more information.

Closer to the townsfolk’s concerns, however, are these Redbrands thungs. Innkeeper Tolben Stonehill’s wife tells Elsa that if Daran were any sort of adventurer worth his weight in gold, he’d do something about these ruffians terrorizing the locals. It seems that a woodcarver who recently stood up to the Redbrands when they leered at his wife had come back later and murdered him! They took his body and kidnapped his wife and daughter right in front of witnesses. WTF?!

As a player, this part really bothered me, as i’m sure it’s meant to. Up until this point, the Redbrands are spoken ill of by the people in Phandalin, but it doesn’t come across in the text as anything quite so dire. They’re mean, nasty, intimidating and so forth, but here we have a blatant murder and kidnapping. So it would seem this gang is quite powerful and confident that no one around here can challenge them. Clearly, Townmaster Harbin Wester is at the very least an unwitting accomplice, being too scared to do anything about it including put out word to any larger governing bodies for help.

Toblen’s young son Pip piles on the Redbrand hate, mentioning that they nearly caught his friend (another child) recently after said friend, named Carp, stumbled upon a secret tunnel in the woods where he saw several Redbrands emerging. Carp is the son of Qelline Alderleaf, a farmer. This gang is despicable!

It seems the only business in town that hasn’t been harassed by the gang is the miner’s exchange. Hmm…that bears investigating.

The interesting part of this portion of play was trying to accomplish the social pillar of D&D 5E on my own. It was definitely different than a typical situation at the game table, even if it were a single player and a DM. But, like several other situations so far, it had the advantage of no time limit or possibility of other players getting bored while all of this took place (in the imagination of course). In some ways, it actually made more sense to me in the context of there being a single adventurer there in the common room. Consider this: a full party of armed and dangerous PCs all mingling about an small local tavern, prying information from scared townsfolk who no doubt look at the group as potential saviors, could also be a little awkward. But it’s unlikely that a single person would be expected to boldly confront this powerful gang and run them out of town. Further, the conversation between the character and the townsfolk present felt more natural. Often in game groups in this scenario, everyone would gravitate towards different people at the inn and strike up their own conversations. That always came across a little weird to me. In the adventure text, there are other people present with additional information, but i didn’t feel like it would come out naturally, so i didn’t include them as participants. That felt realistic to me – they had some problems, burying their concerns in ale by themselves, and overhearing all the talk of the Redbrands probably would not rouse them from their introspection.

At the end of this segment, Jindra was torn. On the one hand, her friend Gundren was in trouble. Rescuing him is her primary motivation and goal. He is in immediate danger, being the captive of a tribe of violent goblins. But on the other hand, we have terrified townsfolk under the thumb of a despicable gang of murderers who kidnap women and children without relative. i imagine Gundren, being a goodly dwarf, would probably be more upset if these people’s plight were ignored in favor of rescuing him. Besides, he’s a fellow dwarf and he’d be damned if a bunch of goblins would break his spirit! So it’s decided to see what can be done about the Redbrands first.

Now, Jindra has two quests: find the location of Cragmaw Castle and mount of rescue operation, and take care of the Redbrands. So i made two lists, one for each of these goals with whatever information Jindra had learned about each of them.

For the Redbrands, she had a lead to the Alderleaf farm, where learning about Carp’s discovery of the secret tunnel in the woods could be very handy. There’s the miner’s exchange, which the Redbrands leave alone, that has sparked my curiosity. The home of the woodcarver who was murdered might have some useful clues. And good old Sildar might have an idea on what to do as well.

At the woodcarver’s home, nearby to the inn, there are clear signs of a struggle. There’s blood spatters from where he was killed, and a middling Investigation check (13) reveals tracks that lead out the back but a dismal Survival check (3) leaves Jindra clueless about following them anywhere.

The miner’s exchange proves a bit more promising. The woman who runs the place, Halia, comes across as stern and a bit intimidating, like there’s more to her than meets the eye. So perhaps the Redbrands are afraid of her for some reason? On the other hand, if she is powerful, she must not be all that good if she’s not doing anything about them. She explains that real power in the world comes through economic control, which she has established by exerting control over the wealth in this region through the exchange and managing real estate claims for excavations and the like. She has heard of Gundren and the rediscovered mine, and hopes to benefit greatly if it is reopened. Jindra tells her about Gundren’s capture, and Halia surmises that maybe other forces wish to control the mine for themselves. She has heard of the Cragmaw tribe, but does not know the location of their fortress. She does however mention that the Redbrands have a goblin minion who potentially has useful information in this regard. It seems like she is hiding something or holding something back, but with an Insight check (11) Jindra cannot guess what that might be. On the upside, she offers 100gp to eliminate the Redbrand leader, who calls himself Glasstaff, and bring any documents discovered in their base back to her. The gang has taken over the ruins of Tresendar Manor on the east side of town and made that into a gang stronghold apparently.

Over at the Townmaster’s Hall, Sildar is aghast to learn about the Redbrand situation. He is ashamed of Harbin for doing nothing about it and it’s pretty clear Sildar is moving towards a leadership role here in town. Playing a part in removing the Redbrand threat would go a long way towards that, and Jindra is all too happy to help make that come about. Sildar’s other concern with the Redbrands is that he thinks they may have something to do with the disappearance of a Lords Alliance colleague of his, Iarno Albrek. This Albrek fellow had come to Phandalin a while back to help the city become more secure and prosperous. He has since gone missing, too, and is perhaps a captive of the Redbrands. The plan was that Gundren would reopen the mine and the Lords Alliance could help restore Phandalin as a center of wealth and civilization in the region.

At this point, I realize that Jindra does not actually know anything about whatever mine several people have mentioned. Sildar is a trusted ally, so i figure he’s someone who will give her the skinny on it, which he proceeds to do. More than 500 years ago, clans of dwarves and gnomes entered into Phandelver’s Pact, an agreement to share a rich mine in a wondrous cavern called Wave Echo Cave. Human spellcasters, allied with the clans, channeled the cave’s natural magical energy into a great forge called the “Forge of Spells.” (Sounds pretty awesome, huh?) Phandalin grew thanks to the flow of crafted magical items, until a marauding force of orcs swept down from the north and laid waste to everything in their path. A great battle at Wave Echo Cave destroyed much of the cavern, leaving few survivors and sealing it off. Over the centuries, the location was lost…until Gundren discovered an ancient map revealing its location.

It’s worth pointing out here that most of this session has been social interaction with NPCs and roleplaying, which is where i thought i’d encounter the most challenge playing a solo game. Surprisingly, it has not only not been that difficult, but instead a great bit of fun. Divorcing what i know from what the character Jindra knows is really not all that hard. In fact, working with the character’s extremely limited knowledge in comparison to my own has made the noncombat parts of playing more enjoyable and realistic. As i touched on in a earlier post, as i’ve gotten older, the practical part of adventuring has become more interesting to me. For example, what i mentioned about the scenario at the inn, or how the common occurrence of an adventuring party walking 20 miles through the wilderness fully armored and armed is no big deal, and perhaps most especially how the common devolution of adventurers to murderhobos really bothers me from a realistic and roleplaying perspective.

Murderhobo

Little did they know this man was the richest in the kingdom

“Murderhobos is a term used (orignially pejoratively, but occasionally affectionately) for player characters in RPGs, both in video games and tabletop games. The term arises due to the fact that most adventuring characters and parties are technically homeless vagrants, generally living on the road and sometimes in temporary accommodation, and the default solution to problems faced by the typical adventurer boils down to killing things until the problem is solved or treasure is acquired.

In many games (especially older pure hack and slash-types of the type that Gary Gygax despised) killing things and taking their stuff is simply the order of the day, all morally acceptable and proper, either because that’s all the players are interested in doing or all the GM can come up with. In more nuanced settings, “Murderhobo(s)” is used especially to refer to characters (or entire parties) of looser morals who tend to regard massive collateral damage as an inevitable and unremarkable consequence of their actions, or who are quite happy to slaughter otherwise friendly NPCs at slight provocation or the prospect of financial gain (basically, munchkins).

Although it is a fantasy standard that adventuring parties are welcomed into towns and villages and hailed as saviors, there is a small trend for this to be inverted in some games and stories (usually for comedy’s sake) and have the protagonists be treated as the homeless serial killers they actually are, either by having them rejected from civilized society or by having the NPCs/minor characters respond with pants-shitting fear whenever the heroes present themselves. Murderhobos left to their own devices are bad news for the region they occupy, so they are often dealt with by giving them quests that take them to dangerous places in distant locations, where they can kill some other monsters (or at least some foreigners).”

— from 1d4chan.org

The final piece of intel to look into is the Alderleaf farm, where the young boy Carp might have some useful knowledge to drop on Jindra. Qelline Alderleaf is a wise female halfling farmer, whose 10-year-old son Carp dreams of becoming an adventurer someday. It seems that, while playing out in the woods near their farm, he found a secret tunnel near the ruins of Tresendar Manor. Some “big ugly bandits” wearing red cloaks emerged from the tunnel while he was there, and he narrowly avoided getting spotted. He offers to take Jindra to the spot, but there is no way she would bring a child anywhere near a dangerous situation like that. Frankly, as a player i’m surprised that is even an option or that it doesn’t say his mother would protest such a thing. Directions would be more than helpful.

Qelline tells Jindra that if she wants to learn more about the surrounding lands, a visit to her good friend Reidoth would be beneficial. Reidoth is a druid who “knows every inch of these parts.” By “these parts” i wonder if that extends, oh, say 20 miles northeast of here?

Before dashing off to check out this tunnel, however, Jindra wants to make a stop by Barthen’s Provisions and see if anything strikes her as potentially useful for what she’s planning to do, which is basically single-handedly infiltrate a murderous gang’s stronghold to dismantle the operation. Wow, writing that now in retrospect sounds incredibly stupid!

On her way from the farm to the shop, however, she is confronted in the street by three ruffians wearing grimy red cloaks.

They demand she hand over all her valuables and then get the hell out of Phandalin. Seems they’ve learned about her presence in town and asking questions about the Redbrands, and they’re trying to scare her off.

But Jindra is a proud dwarf and tough former solider.

“That’s funny – i was just on my way to tell you the same thing!”

And you know what that means: time to roll initiative.

Next time, we’ll find out how Jindra fared in her main street standoff and how the infiltration of the Redbrands’ base turned out. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have already picked up on that.

In the meantime, how do you typically handle social interaction between players and NPCs in your games? Do you have any insights into what makes for a memorable social encounter?

Tabletop for one: Interlude

Before Jindra’s adventure continues in The Lost Mine of Phandelver, i wanted to take a quick break to share a few thoughts and ideas that came up after surviving the goblin hideout.

level up

Firstly, she leveled up! This is always great news in an RPG, bringing with it an increase in capabilities. The additional hit points are always welcome. The only other change for the dwarven fighter was the Action Surge ability, giving her the option of taking an extra action once per short or long rest. For a solitary adventurer, this is huge.

In researching what other players have discussed about the specialized build of a shield fighter, i came across an intriguing forum thread exploring the RAW for shields as weapons and any precedents existing in the rules that would help buff this concept. Although both the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide are scant on information, one person pointed to the Monster Manual of all things. In it, there’s an entry for a human gladiator, who has in its arsenal of attacks a shield bash. The damage is described as 2d4 +4 (the +4 being its Strength bonus). Additionally, a Medium or smaller creature struck by this attack must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. The latter part of the attack seems a little overpowered to me (for a PC) but i like that damage profile – double what i was using, considering the shield as an improvised weapon.

fantasy cap

Another thing was discovering a homebrew subclass called the Guardian. Quite obviously inspired by Captain America, this fighter archetype focuses on the notion that the best offense is a terrific defense, using a shield as a weapon with some nifty tricks.

The first and primary ability this archetype brings is the Offensive Defense, granting proficiency with a shield as a light melee weapon that dishes out 1d6 bludgeoning damage. It also includes the Cavalcade Throw, allowing the fighter to throw their shield as a ranged weapon that returns to their hand afterwards. Once extra attacks per round are gained, the Guardian fighter can use those with the Cavalcade Throw to ricochet the thrown shield to other enemies within 10 feet of each other (one ricochet per extra attack). That is incredibly awesome, giving this highly-specialized sort of fighter a ranged option that they otherwise wouldn’t have (as a roleplaying option to forego any other weapons but the shield).

The next Guardian ability i don’t really like all that much, called Stalwart Commander at 7th level. This represents Cap’s battlefield command prowess, allowing the fighter to use their force of personality to direct others to action. Mechanically, it is a little wonky and also, not exactly how i envision Jindra.

The other abilities, Refined Defense at 10th level, Errant Charge at 15th and Generous Vitality at 18th, are pretty solid.

My thinking is maybe i’ll tweak the Guardian a bit, and swap out one of the other fighter Martial Archetype 7th level abilities for the Stalwart Commander. The Champion’s Remarkable Athlete is appealing. Or, maybe the Battle Master’s Combat Superiority. That’s the 3rd level ability but the maneuvers from that plus the Guardian’s shield throw would add a lot of variety to just bashing bad guys round after round.

Since it is designed as a group game, a lot of the abilities and powers in D&D and other games lend themselves, naturally, to supporting teammates. Several of the Battle Master maneuvers, for example, involve aiding or buffing allies. At first, i figured i’d skip on those choices, since Jindra was the only PC in the adventure.

Coming off a few solid months of Adventurers League-only play, it is incredibly refreshing to play a home game not constricted by organized play rules. While i completely understand the need for those guidelines, the best parts of RPG-ing is molding the game to what you want it to be.

But anyway, after rescuing Sildar and with an eye towards essentially assaulting a goblin stronghold, the thought of bringing along some NPC allies is a distinct possibility. First of all, there’s Sildar himself, who might feel obligated to help in Gundren’s rescue. He was, after all, the dwarf’s guard when they were ambushed. Then, there’s Gundren’s brothers, who i’m certain would want to help rescue him.Then there’s straight-up hirelings, described in the PHB as costing a mere 2gp per day for skilled experts such as mercenary soldiers. Jindra racked up 155gp already so, hiring some skilled help wasn’t a terrible idea.

Finally, i had a mind to think ahead beyond The Lost Mine of Phandelver. What would Jindra do after the adventure concluded – assuming she survived that long?

There’s a few other published D&D adventures that might be worth exploring. The Hoard of the Dragon Queen, in particular, appeals to me because it’s about dragons, which i love taking on in D&D, and also contains a good amount of political maneuvering that would make for a fun story. Princes of the Apocalypse is cool because it’s essentially this edition’s version of Temple of Elemental Evil, one of my all-time favorite adventures. But, although my work schedule has put the kibosh on my Adventurers League availability, i was part of an ongoing group going through that campaign already. Rage of Demons looks neat, focusing on the Underdark. But what most intrigues me is the next planned campaign book: Storm King’s Thunder, this generation’s iteration of the classic Against the Giants adventures. More than likely, i’ll go for that since it’ll be the newest thing and the story and classic roots is really exciting.

microscope

However, a game i picked up on a whim called Microscope adds another option. Described as “a fractal role-playing game of epic histories,” Microscope looks to be a sort of grand, world-building game focused on creating rich worlds. The fella at the game story highly recommended it, and another guy who saw the book sitting on my table stopped to talk about it with me. Although it is a game in and of itself, he said Microscope is also a great way to come up with and develop worlds and settings for other games, something i’d thought about myself when i decided to purchase it. i told him about this very series of posts, about solo RPG play and how i thought about incorporating Microscope into it, and he agreed that it would be a great resource. He also expressed support for this style of play. He was interested in learning how things turned out and also a follow-up on what i thought of Microscope and how it integrated with my gaming.

As an aside, i want to give a big shoutout to Emerald Tavern Games & Cafe in Austin, Texas. As a great lover of both coffee and games, this is the perfect hangout for me and where i am writing this post. The staff here are all gamers themselves (as well as making kickass cappuccinos) and always willing to talk about games of any sort. In fact, one of them was talking to some dude about Imperial Assault, a campaign-style board game i’ve wanted to try for some time, and i kinda jumped in there out of curiosity myself, leading to the dude and i deciding to meet back up here to try it out next week.

Anyway, next time on Tabletop for One, i’ll share what happened after Jindra hit 2nd level and struck back out on the road to further adventure in The Lost Mine of Phandelver.

In the meantime, what are some of your favorite homebrew game concoctions? And, do you have a favorite place to hangout amongst other gamers?

Tabletop for one: Discretion is the better part of valor

In the previous installment of Tabletop for one, my solo RPG play character Jindra the female dwarf shield fighter was crouched in a thicket outside the entrance to a goblin “eating cave,” a hideout used by the Cragmaw tribe to launch ambushes along the Triboar Trail. After <barely> surviving an ambush herself, she completed her goal of delivering a wagonload of goods to Phandalin – along with a goblin prisoner – and headed back out to investigate this hideout and hopefully find and rescue Sildar Hallwinter. Sildar, a human warrior, was taken along with Jindra’s friend and patron Gundren Rockseeker. The latter was absconded with to Cragmaw Castle, a fortress many miles away. Closer at hand was this cave, and with any luck Jindra could enlist Sildar’s help in mounting a rescue operation.

get into rpg

In order to differentiate between the narrative retelling of the adventure experience and the insights into solo play that i had, going forward i’ll put those observations in italics. A few people who i’ve been communicating with about this experiment have expressed interest in learning what insights i gain to this style of play and applying it to their own gaming hobby.

i’m also very interested myself in seeing where this method of play goes after completing (or dying trying to complete) The Lost Mine of Phandelver. Specifically, how higher-level D&D games might play out and also what other game systems might be fun to try. Over the decades i’ve been an RPG-enthusiast, i’ve come across myriad games that i wanted to play but never did, or played only once or twice, so this is a good opportunity to revisit some of those.

But, for the nonce, let’s see how 1st-level Jindra fared at…

The Cragmaw Hideout

Hiding in the thicket for several hours, Jindra observed the cave entrance to gather intel, which paid off during a shift change for a pair of goblin guards using a blind to the east to monitor the opening to the cave. The goblin guards appear to be rather inattentive for the most part, and Jindra waits until nightfall to make her move. Because of their general laziness and the cover of night, i figure advantage on a Stealth check is okay, but due to Jindra’s chainmail that gives disadvantage, it’s a wash.

Despite a relieving roll of 17, my hopes at a stealthy approach were dashed by an even higher Perception check from the goblins. To spice things up, i thought maybe Jindra miscalculated her timing and makes her approach during a shift change, meaning she then had four goblins to contend with. It was a difficult battle for the lone adventurer, but i got extremely lucky with the dice rolls and survived with only a minor injury. i thought about taking a short rest, but figured it might raise suspicion if the guards coming off duty never returned, so i concealed their bodies and crept inside.

It is right after this encounter that i thought to myself “a stealthy character would go a long way towards survivability in a solo game.” When i was creating Jindra, my thinking was a tanky, high-AC character was most important, especially at low levels where her 19 AC would make it very difficult for enemies to hit her. For the most part that has proven true. But stealth would allow me to avoid encounters and get the drop on bad guys more often. On the other hand, my role model for this experiment, Rob Kuntz’s Robilar character that i talked about last time, was a fighter in plate mail armor and he did okay (with a ring of invisibility though).

Again with the Stealth disadvantage, i manage a 15 (for real – not fudging character dice rolls are one of the defining guidelines of this experiment) and creep on into the save. The sound of snarling greets Jindra’s ears, and she peers around a corner into the first chamber she comes across to spot a number of nasty, hungry-looking wolves chained up. Hungry, huh? Fortunately, Jindra has four fresh goblin steaks-to-be stashed nearby, and returns with one of them in short order, which the wolves are all too happy to set upon. The sound of rushing water from a stream cascading from the cave entrance provides a good noisy cover for these actions from any baddies further inside. The wolves, occupied with their meal and a barely-made Animal Handling check, remain distracted enough for Jindra to explore the chamber a bit.

In the back of the chamber is what is basically a garbage chute, a fissure in the stone leading upwards. With Jindra’s proficiency in Athletics, climbing the chute was very easy (rolled 25) and she scaled her way up it with aplomb. Peeking out the top of the fissure, she spots a bugbear (could this be the Klarg that her goblin captive mentioned?) and a mangy wolf relaxing by a large fire across the room.

Here is another situation where solo play was handy for a couple of reasons. First, in a group of players, not everyone might have the physical skills to successfully climb up the fissure, making any plans to go this way mean the party would split up (never a good idea) or require time and planning to get everyone up that had the potential to cause alarm or bring unwanted attention to the endeavor. Second, not everyone might want to even pursue this course of action to begin with. Maybe some disagreement, or a player feeling like their character, who in their imagination would absolutely go this way, was being short shrifted into going another way. Incidentally, i could take all the time i wanted to consider my options too, since no one was waiting on me.

Although i did not read ahead in the adventure, it is maybe a little metagaming to think going this way wasn’t the default linear path through the cave. On the other hand, it did exist as a option, and i imagined that if Jindra thought this bugbear was the boss, he might have the captive Sildar nearby. Perhaps she could start at the end essentially, skip past scraping her way through a bunch of other fights (which would leave her low on resources to take on this boss monster) and get out of there quickly.

So, she went for it.

The loud sound of rushing water from a nearby chamber, the crackling fire and the relaxed state of the bugbear and the wolf i figured gave Jindra a surprise round to take her action. Who’s going to expect a heavily-armored dwarf to crawl out of a garbage chute while you’re chilling in your lair, anyway?

Klarg

The brutish Klarg the bugbear hits like a sonovabitch!

The plan: bum rush the bugbear and knock him into the fire, then try to eliminate that wolf as quickly as possible. If the fire doesn’t take out the bugbear, at least he’d be hurt.

Amazingly enough, the encounter went according to plan! Klarg had a hefty amount of hit points, but the charging attack and fall into the fire took out a good chunk during the surprise round. And since Jindra won the initiative, she bashed the wolf pretty good while the mangy thing missed her.

Klarg, who likes to speak in the third person, was furious naturally. And also singed, taking an extra point of fire damage while he got up out of the fire. He called to Ripper, the wolf, to rip me apart while taking a wild swing himself and missing. The next round, the wolf went down, and Klarg missed again.

The menacing bugbear connected during the following round, a shot that nearly killed Jindra in a single blow, from full health. Bugbears have an ability called “Brute” that deals extra damage when they hit, and it is most definitely brutish!

A couple of rounds (and thankfully misses from Klarg) later, and Jindra stood victorious. The final blow was made more dramatic because it was a critical hit.

nat 20

Standing at 2hp, it seemed wise to take a short rest. The way i saw things, it was night, so it was plausible Klarg would be sleeping and not disturbed, and the loud noise from the adjoining chamber covered the sound of battle, so Jindra would be safe for an hour. That potion of healing i bought before starting play was well worth it at this point.

This battle taught me some things. First off, carrying and using potions of healing is a good investment. Often in both video games and tabletop games, i tend to hoard this sorts of things “for when i really need them.” When you’re on your own, those situations arise much more often. Next, coming up with a plan and some tactics is a good idea whenever possible! If you have the opportunity to observe and plan ahead, take it! At this point, i was looking forward to living long enough to take the Battle Master subclass, thinking those maneuvers would really open up some interesting options. i was also flirting with the notion of multiclassing, something i’m typically loathe to do.

Back to the adventure at hand, there are no signs of Sildar’s whereabouts in Klarg’s lair. There is, however, a nice amount of treasure! Included in that treasure was two more potions of healing, thank goodness. There’s also a significant amount of supplies marked with the symbol of a blue lion, which Jindra recalls seeing on a store placard in Phandalin.

Continuing with my disadvantageous attempts at Stealth, Jindra began working her way essentially backwards through the cave system, managing to surprise the goblins in the chamber next to Klarg’s and dispatching them quickly, racking up another crit in the process. Those are always fun. These goblins were manning a makeshift trap, prepared to release crude barricades to a pool where a waterfall spilled into the chamber and flood the tunnels below, which is the way adventurers would have to go if they didn’t climb up the fissure.

A rickety bridge overpass further in was manned by another goblin guard, who despite being hidden was easily spotted by Jindra. With a 20 foot drop to the cavern below, she went for another shove (it worked on Klarg!) and the hapless creature plummeted to its death.

Wheeling and dealing

Ahead, the tunnel opened up into a chamber the goblins were using as a sort of barracks. One of the creatures was tending a cooking pot, while two more were lounging about. Remember those ball bearings Jindra bought for her starting gear? She spread a bag of those out on where the tunnel opened into the barracks and called out a challenge to those inside. Predictably, a couple of goblins came rushing to fight her, and both fell prone when they slipped on the ball bearings. Moving carefully towards them, a crit right off the bat took care of one of them.

From inside the barracks, a goblin boss shouted out a threat to the invading dwarf. Identifying himself as Yeemik, the boss held a captive human over the edge of a ledge and threatened to push him off unless i gave him a chance to talk. The fella looked pretty beat up and worse for wear to begin with, so Jindra acquiesced.

The conniving Yeemik was tired of taking orders from the larger, meaner, nastier Klarg, and wanted to be the big boss himself. His deal was, if i took down Klarg and brought back his head, he’d release his prisoner (presumably Sildar). At least, i hoped it was Sildar, and the stew on the fire didn’t have anything to do with his whereabouts.

Jindra tells Yeemik, if he wants Klarg’s head, he can go get it himself – it’s currently laid out with his mangy mutt Ripper back the way she came from. Past the corpses of the bridge guard, and the goblins manning a waterfall trap. Oh, and the guards outside. And on the road. And the one in the town jail. Just for shiggles i roll an Intimidate check – 16. Yeemik is terrified.

Instead, i have a counter proposal: release Sildar, stop ambushing travelers, and help me return the stolen supplies to town. Become a different kind of boss, and maybe work on establishing a better relationship with Phandalin. While there, i pledge to protect him and speak on his behalf to get his goblin buddy released from jail.

Sildar is skeptical of this whole deal, weakly telling me not to trust Yeemik. But Jindra believes even a goblin can change and become a better person. Yeemik is naturally skeptical as well, but Jindra reassures him she’ll protect him as long as he stays calm.

Heading back into Phandalin on another wagon, laden with stolen supplies to return, a weary Sildar and an unshackled goblin drew plenty of suspicious looks. At the Townmaster’s Hall, after some heavy negotiating and assurances from Sildar, a deal is made. Sildar, who reveals himself as an agent of the Lords Alliance, sets himself up there and to some extent pulls rank with Harbin, as he aims to establish some law and order to these parts. Yeemik and Sildar reach a grudging respect of sorts, and we escort the goblins to the edge of town.

Impressed with Jindra’s work, Sildar awards her 50gp and enlists her help to continue to work on taming this part of the world, and also to rescue Gundren and deal with the main force of Cragmaw goblins. Linene Graywind, who runs the Lionshield Coster where the stolen supplies are from (the place with the blue lion on the sign) rewards Jindra another 50gp for returning the stuff and agrees to help any way she can.

And that was it for this segment.

The greatest takeaway from the last bit of this adventure was that, even though a group of players crafting a shared narrative together is an important part of tabletop RPGs, it is not that difficult to accomplish this alone. Because i didn’t read ahead in the adventure, it was easier to avoid any player knowledge bleeding over into character knowledge. The encounters could be steered any way that i wanted, and therefore the narrative much more controlled. i’m not saying it’s better than playing in a group, but it was certainly fun to have things play out the way i imagined them. It is very likely that a full group of players would have wiped out all the goblins in the hideout, including Yeemik. But because i had to be more cautious, and actually try not to get in a ton of fights due to much more restricted resources, i think the story became a lot more interesting.

From this point, Jindra has quite a few avenues to pursue. She is primarily invested in rescuing Gundren, and that feels like the most pressing thing to take care of. An ongoing orc threat and a gang of town ruffians should be dealt with, but a captive friend in great danger i think would trump all of that.

What’s next?

i’m going to see The Lost Mine of Phandelver through to whatever conclusion Jindra arrives at. Afterwards, i don’t know for sure.

Lots of people have been sharing their thoughts and ideas with me about other editions of D&D, other RPGs that might lend themselves to solo play and various options that already exist in all these games for solo play.

Thank you to everyone who has commented, written, Tweeted and shared your thoughts on this topic. Please feel free to continue to do so, i appreciate every one of the interactions!

Tabletop for one: me, myself and D&D

Before i get started on this installment of the single-player version of D&D i’m experimenting with, let me first just say: wow!

If my first post on this topic is any indication, there is a lot of interest about the possibilities and potential for tabletop RPG solo play. The Long Shot had a ton of visitors, and more importantly a lot of engagement from people who have played RPGs on their own, or for whom the idea is interesting and exciting enough to try themselves.

dice weapon

On Twitter, Master Gorfordel pointed out that 4E Starter Set came packaged with a single player choose-your-own-adventure sort of quest called Ghost Tower of the Witchlight Fens. And several people commented to me that they started playing D&D on their own due to various reasons. Late last night i came across The Indie Dragon/The Lone Crusader whose website offers tips and suggestions for solo play.

The DM whose Princes of the Apocalypse campaign i was playing here in Austin until my work schedule changed told me his own solo RPG experience starting with him

“making characters and going up against what ever monster i randomly opened the monster manual to.  pretty soon i had my own adventuring party.  i still do it today to test scenarios for my home game – helps with the mechanics and makes me a better DM.”

What i’m getting at is my wonderment at the number of gamers out there who are intrigued by or already participate in solo tabletop RPG play. So, i don’t feel quite as weird about it today…although i didn’t feel that strange to begin with. Like i mentioned before, it’s not much different than playing a video game with a guide book, except more imagination and less looking at a screen, which puts it in the win column for me.

In order to differentiate between the narrative retelling of the adventure experience and the insights into solo play that i had, going forward i’ll put those observations in italics.

Where were we?

Oh, yes. The Triboar Trail on the way to deliver a wagonload of goods to Phandalin for Jindra’s old friend Gundren Rockseeker. The erstwhile dwarven Shield Maiden and now adventurer found the road blocked by a pair of dead horses, felled by black-shafted arrows. Since there was no getting the wagon around them, it looked like the oxen would have to be used to pull them aside in order to move forward.

Unfortunately, Jindra got her first lesson in Adventuring 101 as she approached the horses to get a closer look.

Goblin ambush

Yep, those sneaky little buggers had set a trap for unsuspecting travelers, and Jindra the Green Adventurer fell right into it. (she did make a point to be wary, but a failed Perception vs. Stealth roll of the dice is what it is.)

goblin

One of those black arrows got her pretty good, knocking out about 1/3 of her hit points right off the bat during a surprise round. Already, i was starting to think of a new character to roll up.

But things went better from there. Her Second Wind ability gave me a cushion, and one of the two goblins who charged from the cover of the thickets along the side of the road went down hard to a shield bash.

The other melee goblin and she traded misses back and forth for a couple of rounds, while the one with the bow continued to fire wide as well. Finally, a solid hit took the melee goblin down, at which point the archer decided to flee. Jindra gave pursuit, catching up to him pretty quick, knocking him out and putting those manacles to use.

At the ambush site, she discovers the horses belonged to Gundren and the human fella he set out with, Sildar Hallwinter. Tossed to the side is am empty leather map case.

The captive goblin yields some intel, informing Jindra that the dwarf was brought to King Grol, the leader of his Cragmaw tribe, while the human was brought to the “eating cave.” That doesn’t sound too good. Whoever this King Grol is, he dwells at Cragmaw Castle, a ruins the tribe occupies about 20 miles northeast of the nearby cave hideout. The hideout is manned by about ten more goblins and led by a nasty bugbear named Klarg. A few days ago, Klarg got a message from Grol about Gundren’s trip. Apparently, someone calling themselves The Black Spider paid Grol to set an ambush for Gundren, and deliver the dwarf and his belongings to Cragmaw Castle.

Jindra assures her goblin prisoner that she’ll be sure to mention his cooperation in being forthcoming when she delivers him to the authorities in Phandalin. What to do with the captive is something i thought about for a bit. Most parties i’ve played in would pump the creature for info then kill it anyway, or it would never have survived the initial encounter. So here is one example of how solo play allowed me to play the game on my own terms.

One of things i’ve noticed as i’ve gotten older is that i respond to situations in these games more realistically. It’s neither fun nor satisfying to go around like the stereotypical murderhobo, solving all the problems with violence. Likewise, i tend not to consider sentient monsters as simply obstacles to be fought or even just “the evil thing that must be slain.” In this situation, the goblin was defeated, shackled, and willing to tell me things about his tribe’s plans – without the threat of violence – presumably to save his own skin. Would it be right to essentially just murder the poor creature when i got what i wanted?

The adventure text leads me to believe that most parties would head for the goblin hideout at this point, or possibly even towards Cragmaw Castle. After considering the situation, i decided Jindra would continue towards Phandalin first. She had a job to do – deliver these goods – and without knowing what she might be facing or how long it could take, it felt more prudent to complete that task first. Besides, what is she supposed to do, go rolling up on a goblin hideout with a wagonload of provisions? Also, she had her goblin prisoner to deal with.

Phandalin, ho!

Jindra got some sidelong glances coming into Phandalin with a shackled goblin riding shotgun, but some military jargon about battlefield prisoners’ rights were a good enough explanation, and a helpful townsperson pointed her to the Townmaster’s Hall, the default seat of city government.

Outside the hall is basically a help wanted sign, indicating that a band of orcs has been menacing travelers to the east along the Triboar Trail at a place called Wyvern Tor. There’s a 100gp reward for dealing with the situation. That’s a lotta coin!

Inside, Jindra meets Harbin Wester, a fat, sweaty human who is the townmaster. He is a bit taken aback by the goblin captive, but since the hall does have a jail cell, he locks the pitiful creature up there until he can figure out what to do with him.

He tries to convince Jindra to take up the job of dealing with the orcs, and she does plan to give it some thought, but she has more pressing concerns beyond delivering the goods. There’s the matter of her captive friend and his companion to deal with first. For his part, Wester doesn’t have any resources to spare. His jurisdiction ends at the road out of town, apparently, so Jindra is on her own.

A couple of things came to mind during this part of the adventure. One is that Jindra’s personality began to develop more concretely here: she has a singular purpose and sticks to that directly. First, it was delivering the goods. Then seeing about rescuing Gundren and Sildar. Aside from the orc problem, the adventure text gives numerous options for side quests here in town. A full party of players would more than likely spend some time exploring town, talking to people, learning of these quests, and probably even a good amount of time right there in the Townmaster’s Hall asking Harbin tons of questions. As a solo player, my character is in charge of her time, direction and destiny, and right now she’s no-nonsense: drop off the prisoner, deliver the goods, rescue her friends.

Barthen’s Provisions is easy enough to find, and the proprietor Elmar Barthen pays the promised 10gp for delivery. He and Gundren are well-acquainted, and he is sad to hear about his capture, surmising that it could have something to do with the exciting discovery of the lost mine of Phandelver’s Pact. A failed History check leaves Jindra wondering what the heck that is, and she files the information away for later investigation. Elmar notes that Gundren’s two brothers, Nundro and Tharden, had set up a camp somewhere outside town, but he’s not sure where exactly, nor why they would camp outside town and not stay somewhere in town (which is where Jindra will head next to get some rest – she’s only got 3hp!). When the time comes to head off to Cragmaw Castle, it might be wise to enlist the brothers’ help, and Jindra tells Elmar that if he sees them, to let them know about me. Before parting, Elmar’s recommends the Stonehill Inn and cautions against the Sleeping Giant, known as a hangout of a nasty gang called the Redbrands.

The Redbrands again come up at the Stonehill Inn, when the innkeeper Tolbin offhandedly mentions his concerns about them, how they’ve been shaking down local business owners, terrorizing the town, and Harbin Wester not doing anything about it. People are afraid to take matters into their own hands or stir up trouble out of fear for their safety and that of their families, like Tolbin’s wife and children.

Sounds like this town needs some good leadership!

But that all can wait for another time, as Jindra pays for a hearty meal and a private room to get some much-needed rest. The following day, she strikes out early and returns to the ambush site. Off the road to the north, she discovers a trail that the goblin captive indicated led to their hideout cave. There are a large number of footprints, but Jindra is unable to discern any greater details (failed Survival check).

With great care and caution, she follows the trail north. Despite being overly careful, she misses spotting a snare trap set along the path, although she is able to nimbly jump out of the way and avoid getting strung up in the air.

Further down the trail, she does spot a concealed pit trap and avoids that one completely. Fool me once, shame on you, goblins. Fool me twice…better not fool me again.

Finally, Jindra arrives at a clearing leading up to a cave entrance. A stream flows from the mouth of the cave, and thickets along the hillside give her cover to creep up and get a closer look.

At this point, i’m reminded of stories i read about game sessions with Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz back in the early, early, early days of D&D. Kuntz had a character named Robilar, a fighter who often played solo games with Gary as the DM. Robilar was very and able to accomplish a lot of dungeon-clearing on his own. Part of that was due to some extremely useful magical items, but more than that, it was because of caution and patience.

Robilar

So, i took a play out of his playbook and decided Jindra would hide there in the thicket and observe the cave entrance for a while to see what she could find out. This is another instance where a full party would more than likely just head right in. Maybe a rogue or ranger would scout ahead a little bit first, but ultimately, a team is able to take more risks because they have each other to rely on. Jindra the Solitary Adventurer didn’t have any companions to save her bacon, so charging inside would probably just wind up getting her killed. Again, i’m not averse to character death in this solo gaming adventure, but i’m going to try and stick to the rules and play Jindra to win, so i’m not taking any unnecessary chances. The best part is, i’m not holding any other players up or taking away from their experience.

And that’s where we’ll leave Jindra today. Did she gather any useful intelligence? What fate awaits her inside the Cragmaw Hideout?

Before you find out with the next installment, i am super curious about other people’s experiences with solo tabletop RPG play. Please share in the comments if you’ve tried this, still play this way, are curious about it yourself and what sorts of things you’ve learned from it, questions or concerns you have, tips, strategies, suggestions, advice. i am really amazed to discover how many people are interested in this and would like to connect with more of you!

Tabletop for one: solo RPG play

Thanks to a misunderstanding of my friend and one-time grad assistant instructor, Jonathan Killstring’s, Blog of Doom, the notion of a single-player RPG burrowed its way into my imagination, so i put my reservations and hesitations aside and tried it out to see for myself…

game dice

Can a person play D&D by themselves?

Turns out, yes. The tipping point for me was considering the video game hobby. Like millions of people, i engage in video gaming and have done so for decades. Granted, a lot of my gaming time is spent playing MMOs, which by their nature involve other people to varying degrees. But the premise of a single player becoming embroiled in combat, exploration and socialization is a baseline for games of all stripes. The latter of those – socialization – might involve digital NPCs in large part, but still, there it remains.

So, while it could be considered sad, weird, awkward, unusual or just plain an abomination, i pulled out my polyhedral dice, pencil, D&D books and a blank character sheet and got started.

The overreaching goal or any RPG is to craft a story with a mostly unknown ending through gameplay that relies on the aforementioned pillars of combat, exploration and socialization, using dice rolls to determine the outcome of various actions while a character grows in power and stature in the game world.

Also, as the Blog of Doom pointed out, many heroic stories follow the journey of a single character. In this case, it would be my character, and i would also be acting as the DM for the adventure (this is where the misunderstanding occurred – Killstring meant a single player and another person as game master).

The heroic protagonist of the single player D&D experience

For my experiment, i needed a character, so i started at the beginning of the Player’s Handbook and went from there. Lately, i’ve been doing a lot of Adventurer’s League play, so using the standard array of ability scores was my first inclination. But the appeal of rolling scores hearkened back to my earliest days of gaming, so i went with that. Ability scores are important, of course, but i’ve never been one to place too much emphasis on them. Many people seem to overlook that a score of 10 is average, thinking they ought to have at least 13’s or 14’s in every ability.

Rolling 4d6 and dropping the lowest rolls for each of the six ability scores, i wound up with: 16, 12, 15, 10, 12, 10. Not too shabby! Purely crunchy, these are higher than the total standard array. If i’m honest, i would have liked to have one low score though. Sometimes the lowest score helps define a character as much or more as the highest one. But, i stayed true to the rolls and kept them. With her racial bonuses, she wound up with the following ability scores:

  • Strength: 18
  • Dexterity: 12
  • Constitution: 17
  • Intelligence: 10
  • Wisdom: 12
  • Charisma: 10

Since i’d be playing essentially a homebrew game, and without the possibility of feedback from min-maxers/optimizers/rules lawyers, i decided to go with a character idea that many a D&D player has discussed and built over the years and across different editions: the Captain America build. As you probably guess, this character build uses a shield for not only defense, but offense as well. From an min-max standpoint, it’s far from ideal. But, like any concept, it can be optimized.

In D&D 3.5 edition, this concept was achieved through a lot of splatbook feats, which D&D 5E doesn’t exactly have. There’s plenty of forum discussions on the RAW about using a shield as a weapon and interpreting things, but at the end of the day, one of the most important “rules” of D&D is that the rules are just a guide, and going outside of them for the sake of fun and storytelling is encouraged. As always, the DM is the final arbiter of the rules of their own game, and in this case, my DM was more than accommodating. My plan is to aim for the fighter’s battle master archetype, reasoning that the maneuvers and accompanying superiority dice damage would give the character some battlefield control.

And so the female shield dwarf fighter Jindra Gold came into being. At one time a soldier, an officer of the Shield Maidens, she made a terrible mistake in battle that cost many lives (an event she wishes to keep secret). Leaving the military life behind, she laid down her weapons and dedicated her life to protecting those who cannot protect themselves, relying only on her shield. She faces problems head-on, believing a simple, direct solution is the best path to success. Her experiences in the military led her to believe that ideals aren’t worth killing over or going to war for, so she left that life behind and instead looks for opportunities to prevent harm to others.

Although she is proficient with all simple and martial weapons, the RAW indicate a shield would be an improvised weapon, something relegated to the purview of the Tavern Brawler feat. Since Jindra essentially took a personal oath to forego using conventional weapons, i decided her time since leaving the military behind and using her shield in combat gave her proficiency in that style. For the damage, i stuck with that of improvised weapons: 1d4 bludgeoning damage.

Another nice difference from organized play is that i could roll for my starting money and buy my own gear instead of taking the default equipment. A few items that stood out as potentially useful for a solo hero wound up in her explorer’s pack: three bags of ball bearings, two sets of manacles and a potion of healing. Using a shield as a weapon as well saved me a bit of coin, and i naturally invested in the heaviest armor i could afford: chain mail.

Finally, her randomly rolled trinket is an ancient elven arrow. It would be interesting to discover how this trinket might play into the character’s narrative and the larger campaign story. The idea of trinkets in 5E is something i thought was really cool since first checking out the PHB. Every time i play D&D, i hope the DM weaves personal character things into the story like this, as well as gets to know how the players envision their characters and back stories and finds a place for them. Whenever i DM, this is a priority for me to help make the players’ experience richer. This experiment would be no exception.

The adventure begins

Starting off a new campaign and a new way of playing D&D, i settled on that Starter Set adventure, The Lost Mine of Phandelver. This is an adventure i’ve never played, so i was excited to try it out.

phandelver

Before starting out, i laid out a few guidelines for myself.

  • Encounters would only involve half the amount of enemies described in the adventure text. Generally, adventures assume a party of four characters. So a single character would more than likely get slaughtered! (during actual play, i adjusted this guideline depending on specific situations.)
  • Because enemies would be lessened, the amount of treasure would be lessened by the same degree. For example, if an encounter involved four monsters, and i only used two, then their hoard of treasure was half the amount described in the adventure. Treasure is meant to be divided by a party, and i felt like it would be too much wealth to keep it the same.
  • No cheating on character rolls. So, if i try to be stealthy and fail, no fudging it to make a success. On the other hand, DMs often “adjust” their rolls for the purposes of drama, storytelling or flow of the game *wink* i mean, it’s not really “cheating” if the goal is to have fun, right? That being said, i’m not against the idea of character death – it happens. If it winds up being ignominious, i can live with that. Coming up with new characters is one of my favorite parts of RPG’ing.
  • All reasonable effort would be made to divorce my dual roles of player and DM. That is to say, allowing whatever i knew of the quest/map/decision trees, etc. i would have to consciously keep in mind not to let it influence what the character might do. This was surprisingly easy though. Since there were no other players, there was no one to become impatient if i took a long time to consider what i might do, what action to take, and so forth. In fact, deciding what to do, where to go and who to speak with was the most enjoyable part of the experience so far. Everything was up to me!
  • Use of miniatures and battle mats would not be used. This game would be all theatre of the mind. Maps, on the other hand…maybe. i’ve never been the player that gets excited to make the map, and as the DM i’d already have access to maps so it would feel pointless and needlessly time-consuming to try and map out what i think a map would look like based solely on…my own description of the map i already was aware of? Yeah, that sounded like a waste.

According to the adventure hooks, the character’s friend a patron – a fellow dwarf Gundren Rockseeker – hires me to escort a wagon of goods to Phandalin. Once delivered to the town’s provisioner, the payment for services is 10gp. Protecting a merchant trip is a classic D&D first adventure and right up the alley of the protection-focused dwarf.

rockseeker contract

The adventure suggests players come up with their own ideas how they know Gundren, so i decided Jindra, with her proficiency in smithing, was the daughter of a dwarven smith. Gundren, back in the day, would take her father’s goods to market and so he’s someone Jindra has known for a long time.

So it was that Jindra Gold found herself driving an ox cart laden with an assortment of mining supplies and food, traveling south down the High Road from Neverwinter towards the small town of Phandalin along the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms. She’d just veered east, taking the Triboar Trail towards the town, and had to pull the cart to a halt because the road ahead was blocked by two dead horses, their bodies peppered by black-feathered arrows…

To find out what happened next, come back soon for another installment of Tabletop for One. After just one session, i am hooked on this new style of playing D&D. It satisfying my love of gaming in general, D&D in specific and is a great way to not be staring at a screen to enjoy a hobby pasttime.

In the meantime, what sorts of out-of-the-ordinary RPG sessions have you had? Do you think the idea of a solo D&D adventure is outrageous? Cool? Any ideas or suggestions for making it more interesting?

Let me know in the comments!

An exposed nerve, part five: lonely planet

This series of my rambling on has so far proven pretty useful, to me anyway, for taking a look at acute aspects of my state of mind since moving away from my hometown Cleveland, Ohio and beginning a new chapter of life here in Austin, Texas.

Being alone is something i have struggled with on-and-off since arriving here. A broader perspective is that it’s something i’ve struggled with my whole life to some extent. This morning i read a thing on my Facebook feed that led me to think more about the situation.

If you want to be strong learn to enjoy being alone

alone

Today feels like the perfect time to have seen something like that. As a friend recently pointed out to me, i’ve tended to seek out surrounding myself with people perhaps to a fault. Not a large number of people, mind you – i’m very choosy about who i share time with as well as having a high personal bar for those people. i could not tell you the particulars of that bar; it’s more feeling than a quantitative measure.

Many of the choices i’ve made, decisions i’ve come to or actions i’ve taken in life were contingent on the inclusion of other people.

i would not have sold all my stuff and took a one-way trip to Europe on my own. Writing and trying to sell spec screenplays, failing, moving to California, then back to Ohio and deciding to shoot a feature length film is not an undertaking i would have embarked on by myself. Even going back to finish college is likely something i wouldn’t have done if i weren’t at least motivated by a desire to improve the quality of life for the relationship i was in at the time.

In contrast to those and countless other examples, my time here in Austin has been 100 percent a solo instance. That’s not to say i don’t rely on communication with friends and family elsewhere for moral support or to stave off times of conversing solely with my cat.

There is no one to help out around the house, to bounce ideas off of, to make laugh, to pick where to eat. i have no editor or professor to dole out assignments. A familiar locale isn’t down the street, no recognizable places or faces to retreat to for a sense of belonging somewhere.

i’d be lying if i said these things and more don’t get to me from time to time. It is an unfamiliar situation for me in just about every way.

Some advantages come along with this scenario, though.

When i am out, i’ve found that both myself and others are more chatty with one another, which makes sense. If you’re out with a friend, you’re primarily engaged with them. The opportunity for strangers to interact with you is lessened. And, at least for me and my previously mentioned choosiness in who to share time with, if i am with one of the chosen few, i’m probably not paying much mind to others who might wander into my orbit.

You really get to learn more about yourself being by yourself, quite a beneficial circumstance. For one thing, i’ve gotten a much better idea what sorts of interests i have and activities i enjoy, left to my own devices. Barring the restrictions of having a full-time job, my time is my own. This has yielded a few revelations.

i don’t like biking as much as i’d led myself to believe. Once i got my first car when i was 16, i left bicycles behind until my 20s, when i was cajoled into the hobby of trail-riding by – you guessed it – another person. That was pretty fun, except i did not have any interest in the extreme version of this (like going off the trail and down steep, underbrush-covered ravines and the like). As my biking buddy put it back then, “you just have to be okay knowing you’re going to wipe out and get hurt,” or something to that extent. But i was not okay with that! Cruising along the beaten path, feeling accomplished for pedaling up a particularly steep incline, that was satisfactory for me.

Once or twice since those days, i’ve gotten myself a bike with every intention of doing it more seriously – for health and exercise if not purely for fun. Right now in my little apartment i have a bike that is largely unused. When it comes to mobility for fun and health, i much prefer walking. That goes for running too by the way – not into that. Nope, i like a nice walk around the neighborhood or, ideally, through a picturesque park. Last week i visited Zilker Park on the recommendation of a colleague and had a blast strolling around for several hours.

Without an agenda of either time, destination or rate of travel, i’ll talk a walk. Walking around downtown metro areas is tied with parks (compared to, say, suburban residential neighborhoods). That’s my next day-off excursion, to head to downtown Austin in the morning, park the car and spend the day walking around to see what i discover.

Here in Austin, i’ve gotten to indulge my love of tabletop gaming, big time. There are tons of gamers here!

Until very recently, i had a nice regular thing going every Saturday afternoon through the Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League, which is the official organized play system. Several years ago at Gen Con, when D&D 5E was not yet officially released, i participated in a Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle session that, looking back now, formed the base from which the current AL evolved.

Unfortunately, a new manager at my job revamped the schedule when he started, so my Saturdays are no longer free. This is a bummer. At first, i was mighty steamed since my Saturday gaming has been my only real socializing since moving here. But, i am trying to be more positive about things so i look at it as an opportunity to explore more and different things in my new city when i have time off.

All that being said, i’ve got the tabletop gaming bug more than ever thanks to a few months of regular playing. In fact, in some ways it’s soured my interest in video gaming; no current video game still can match up to the appeal of taking a seat at a gaming table with other people and crafting your own epic stories and characters together. The most disappointing thing not being able to attend is that one of the AL DMs is running a static campaign that i was really enjoying.

With any luck, i can find a regular gaming group that gets together at a time and day i am able to join. Alternatively, i’ve been trying to find people at my work to form a group with. We all have the same odd hours so hopefully i’ll have some luck there.

Now, as is my modus operandi this post is straying into too-long territory. The final thing i’ll get into as regards learning to enjoy being alone is the freedom of living without expectations, both from myself and others. While it is of course always a matter of choice what one does with one’s time and lifestyle, there can nevertheless be stumbling blocks to making changes to how, why, when and what one does.

Being alone removes some of those roadblocks, though. At least, that’s how i’m approaching things lately. In other words, nothing i do is going to seem uncharacteristic to the people in my life because outside of my co-workers who barely know me to begin with, there is no body in my life at this time.

Coming to that conclusion, which maybe is a no-brainer for some, has already brought about some improvements.

i am trying to live more instinctually. If i have an inclination to do something, i’ll do it instead of mentally making pros and cons lists or otherwise trying to quantify a decision.

In the morning (yes, it’s still morning, barely) when i wake up, i get right up and out and start the day with a yoga routine. The past me would have thought it was silly, or cliche, or felt awkward trying to do the movements that my out-of-shape body struggles with. But who cares? i’m at home alone. And wow, what a difference! Even the 15-20 minutes i spend uncoordinatedly moving around has relieved a heck of a lot of tension, both physical and mental. Afterwards, i’ll go jump in the pool for a bit and then lay outside in the sun. That serves multiple functions, like putting some color in the night owl/hidden indoors lifestyle skin tone i’m trying to move away from. Also, it’s nice to relax, not think about anything and let thoughts and stresses melt away.

Stresses like, am i doing the right things for my career? Should i be striving to do more freelance journalism work? What can i do to get more ahead? How should i be spending my time instead of with <insert any activity i might be doing>?

The list goes on…except it hasn’t been lately. i’m only me, doing what my instincts tell me. Anyone whose been hanging around The Long Shot long has seen it change quite a bit and these days it’s been much more personal than ever. There’s probably some conceit in that, thinking whatever i might have to share about myself is somehow of interest to anyone else. i could just as easily keep a private journal. But if i’m honest, there’s something different about putting these sorts of things out there that helps me stay honest.

At the end of the day, no matter what sort of writing i choose to do, i can only hope that there is truth in it to share.

How about you? Do you enjoy being alone? What lessons have you learned from time on your own?