Tabletop for one: Don’t get too attached

If i’m honest, the death of my first solitaire RPG character, Jindra, was rather deflating. She wasn’t min-max, and she didn’t make it too terribly far into the Lost Mine of Phandelver, but it was still disappointing and left me wondering what i should have done differently.

“Play with a full group!”

Yeah, yeah, i know.

A couple of things in the intervening time made the character death easier to swallow. For one, it’s a made-up character in a fantasy scenario in my imagination. So there’s that.

Further, i hadn’t gotten too attached to the doughty dwarf, and besides, if i wanted i could just fudge things, continue on and gloss over her unfortunate demise.

It was while listening to the Mines of Madness podcast that i got past the inertia and settled on rolling up a new character. In that recorded play session, one of the PCs bit the dust within about 15 minutes, to be replaced by the sudden arrival of a new character to the team out of nowhere. This practice continued throughout the game sessions, as the brutal encounters felled several adventurers along the way.

It occurred to me then that, of course, there’s no limitations on how to run a D&D game. Unlike a video game that’s constrained by its programming, in a tabletop game even the rules as given aren’t really holding anyone back from doing whatever they want. So, yes, i could simply continue on with Jindra. Or, i could insert the sudden arrival of an ally to revive her and keep going, or rescue her, or replay the entire encounter, or a million other permutations.

But, i also really enjoy the narrative of games, regardless of genre or format, and so i settled on continuing the quest, with a new character, but picking up where i’d left off more or less.

My first inclination was to min-max a new character. After all, wouldn’t it be prudent to reduce weaknesses as much as possible while exploiting strengths? Players do this all the time, even in group settings where the other party members are meant to compliment each other and win the day through teamwork.

Some sort of spellcaster was my initial plan. Clerics seemed like a good choice. They’ve got decent combat abilities, armor and weapon proficiencies, and magic that included healing. With the right domain option, too, they’re pretty customizable.

Wizards, on the other hand, have immense variety through their arcane magic. Single-target and AOE spells would definitely come in handy, as well as the wide array of utility spells that can provide crowd control or, hopefully, avoid combat altogether. Because let’s face it – wizards are squishy and a single solid hit from an enemy could fell one, especially at low levels.

Warlocks are a solid option. Decent hit dice, a really strong, reliable damage cantrip in Eldritch Blast, and in general they’re just a cool class that i’ve always enjoyed.

A strong case can be made for druids as well, with their early access to wild shape giving them a ton of options for scouting, avoiding combat and, if need be, becoming a powerhouse like a bear.

Sorcerer didn’t really cross my mind. I’ve never really liked them all that much. To me they seem too focused on elemental damage spellcasting. In a group, they always come across one-dimensional to me and, in a solo situation, they’d lean too heavily towards magical glass cannons for my purposes.

A jack of all trades, and master of none, is oft-times better than master of one.

A strong case can (and has) been made for bards as a single-player option, which is kind of weird since they’re also the ultimate support class. While they do exemplify one of my favorite sayings, and i’ve played many a bard with immense fun, this option wasn’t clicking with me.

Then we’ve got the martial-minded classes.

Paladins are really strong. As a big fan of this class, it was a really strong contender. Paladins have a ton of great abilities, and as a roleplaying option made a good bit of sense. A single paladin on a quest, relying on their divine connection to see them through danger is not difficult to imagine.

In a similar vein, the ranger is not only a classic loner and a perennial favorite class even in editions where their power isn’t so great, but also a really solid combatant with nice utility spells and decent skill capabilities. Despite 5th editions relatively weak beastmaster archetype, in a solo situation that could be incredibly useful.

In the end, despite all the pros and cons or the core classes that i considered, i went in a wholly different direction.

Although in development as a playtest version only, Unearthed Arcana’s Awakened Mystic class struck me as a fun alternative to the core classes. Currently only scaled up to level 10, and not an official release, it looked like a fun possibility to try out. For one thing, they have several interesting abilities that seem like they could really come in handy. Most notably, Conquering Mind feels like it could really help in a large variety of situations.

Another change to my approach at solo play was realizing that i wasn’t attempting to playtest the game or the particular adventure – i was simply trying to have fun rolling dice and coming up with my own narrative along the way. There’s nothing holding me back from altering the content, taking the story in different directions or injecting some of my real-world sensibilities into the plot or characters.

With all that being said, a very unusual character came into existence to replace Jindra in the Lost Mine of Phandelver.

As-yet unnamed, the character is a human with the sage background. Since psionics are far from prevalent, the sage background felt like a good choice to represent the character’s research into the power of the mind. As such, he is a discredited academic researcher. The way i saw it, more conventional magicians and scholars discounted his work as fruitless, and basically ruined his reputation in academic circles. The image of this character that was emerging went down a dark path, and i decided that he would not be a good-aligned person.


Taking inspiration from some of my favorite television shows, i concluded this character would operate much like Dexter Morgan, or Hannibal Lecter (the TV version).

Polite, well-kept and classy, this mental mastermind in everyday life was a regular fellow, a normal member of society under the guise of a scholar. He would enjoy speaking in layered truths that only he understood, and beneath it all would be a coldly logical, emotionless person whose only pursuit was becoming his perfect self.

As to what he might one day evolve into, i gave him a motivation of being compelled to kill those who had discredited him and leaving tableaus behind with subtle clues. In essence, a serial killed (but without the cannibalism). As such, the character’s bond was easy to choose: don’t get caught.

Going with the sinister scholar theme, for his human bonus feat, i chose Keen Mind. This feat has absolutely no combat application, but from a roleplaying perspective it stood out as very useful (which would come into play almost immediately during my first session with the character).


As to how that first session went, that’s the focus for another post. But as a prelude to it, i needed a reason to involve this character in the goings-on with the Lost Mine of Phandelver. After all, it was a simple caravan guard job that hooks characters initially, and that was over and done with.

What would bring a sinister psionic scholar to Phandalin?

Since Jindra was killed assaulting the Redbrand hideout, i used the gang of ruffians themselves to hook this character into the quest. It seems that Iarno Albrek was one of the magical colleagues who’d had a hand in discrediting my anti-hero’s research into psychic power.

After tracking him down to Phandalin and learning of his masquerade as the Redbrand leader Glasstaff, whose gang had amongst other crimes started a slave trade, the character got himself captured by slavers and taken to their base to await sale. What the slavers didn’t know, however, was that he’d used his Blade Meld power to conceal a weapon by dissolving it into his body.

As for what happened next, that’s a tale to be told another day.

In the meantime, how do you decide what sorts of RPG characters to play? Do you like to come up with a concept and background first? And how do you react to character deaths? Do you look forward to rolling replacements? Did you ever play a game with lots of character deaths? How did that go? Let me know in the comments below.

Good gaming!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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

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.


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?


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!