[solo gaming]“Challenging the player” in a solo game. Is it possible?

edited January 2014 in Story Games
I’ve often read the concept of “challenging the player; not the character” in some OSR blogs. Makes total sense, and I think it’s usually an aspect of RPGs that I enjoyed in the past. So, stupid question, outside of adventures crafted for solo play, like the Tunnels & Trolls or Fighting Fantasy kind, can one truly “challenge the player” when you’re playing solo? The answer would seem to be ‘NO’ in most cases as you would run into the so-called Czege Principle (http://random-average.com/TheoryTopics/CzegePrinciple). This being the case, it’s probably safe to say that during solo sessions most of the challenges will be of the “challenge your character” type, which would mean most of your enjoyment would probably come from watching the outcome of putting your character through such challenges; a little bit like playing God with your character perhaps.

However, there is a little solo game called Beloved, which shows that it is indeed possible to challenge yourself as a player: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gnPx8AlhF1TMarQ165Y1vGM382c6epUvCu1-HkXvICI/edit?hl=en&authkey=CJDYi58F&pli=1# The trick here seems to be in coming up with seemingly impossible to solve challenges (in the case of that game, an invincible monster), and then as a player, trying to figure out how the challenge is not actually impossible after all by looking for holes that you may not have been aware of when coming up with the challenge.

Thoughts?

Comments

  • edited January 2014
    If chess legends can hone their skills by playing chess against themselves (making the best move for each side, without favoritism), I think it's certainly possible! :-D You're merely pitting your creativity against your creativity. You just have to push yourself when you're providing adversity--don't let yourself slack up and give an easy challenge to yourself. Set a high bar, with no simple workaround. Write it down. Then take a break and come back to it. (The "take a break" step could also be cleverly integrated into the game as a diversion where you have the character doing something else.)

    I think one of the things that makes this possible is that you have no other players to measure yourself against, so you have less temptation to go easy on yourself. Only you will know if you made something too hard for yourself.
  • By "outside of adventures crafted for solo play", do you mean to exclude the provision of any and all predetermined challenges? If so, the case might indeed be that it is difficult to challenge players without providing the actual challenges. You leave only one possibility, and that is having the player choose their own challenge.

    That single allowed venue - choosing your own challenges - seems entirely possible to me, though. I could e.g. see a game that proffers a varied fantasy landscape, some geography, denizens, resolution rules for various interactions (and principles for determining more for a variety of situations) and then enables the player to choose a challenge and ask themselves: is it possible to accomplish this? The player would be motivated in large part by exploration of game states, possibly in the context of a wider scene where others are doing it as well; they would want to be the first to figure out how to beat the dragon without using the wheelbarrow (or using as small a wheelbarrow as possible), or whatever attracts their curiousity. Perhaps they'd attempt to figure which of a set of predetermined characters or character classes is the "strongest".

    Reminds me of the 3rd edition D&D charop challenge culture, where people would set their charop skills against various sorts of intricate challenges (e.g. conquering a specific version of Hell with a character of no more than N level). I don't see why that wouldn't work as a solo game.
  • Y'know, thinking out loud--it'd be cool to have a game where you were a mentor and a hero, switching between the roles. Use something like Burning Wheel where giving the hero bigger challenges results in circumstances that give greater advancement and rewards. As the mentor, you want to toughen up the hero by challenging them. As the hero, you want to beat the challenge. It'd be a game that uses incentives to get you to see both sides.
  • If chess legends can hone their skills by playing chess against themselves (making the best move for each side, without favoritism), I think it's certainly possible! :-D You're merely pitting your creativity against your creativity. You just have to push yourself when you're providing adversity--don't let yourself slack up and give an easy challenge to yourself. Set a high bar, with no simple workaround. Write it down. Then take a break and come back to it. (The "take a break" step could also be cleverly integrated into the game as a diversion where you have the character doing something else.)

    I think one of the things that makes this possible is that you have no other players to measure yourself against, so you have less temptation to go easy on yourself. Only you will know if you made something too hard for yourself.
    I think this is sort of what Beloved does, if I'm getting it correctly.

    I'm also assuming that "challenging a player", in that OSR way I read, basically means testing their creativity and their problem solving.

    @Eero_Tuovinen
    By "outside of adventures crafted for solo play", do you mean to exclude the provision of any and all predetermined challenges? If so, the case might indeed be that it is difficult to challenge players without providing the actual challenges. You leave only one possibility, and that is having the player choose their own challenge.
    By that I meant, that solo adventures of those types (fighting fantasy, or even some click-and-point adventures in computer games), may have puzzles or situations that are designed to challenge your thinking as the player, rather than challenge your character's set of stats.

    When I was first thinking of this topic, I couldn't think of other types of solo gaming such as playing with the Mythic GME, which can be much more off-the cuff and with no prep, where you could get a similar sort of challenge. My thinking was, "If I create a puzzle or situation, I will know the answer since I'm the one creating it. Therefore, 'challenging the player' in a solo game must be impossible." But then I remembered Beloved, which manages to do something close to it.
    That single allowed venue - choosing your own challenges - seems entirely possible to me, though. I could e.g. see a game that proffers a varied fantasy landscape, some geography, denizens, resolution rules for various interactions (and principles for determining more for a variety of situations) and then enables the player to choose a challenge and ask themselves: is it possible to accomplish this? The player would be motivated in large part by exploration of game states, possibly in the context of a wider scene where others are doing it as well; they would want to be the first to figure out how to beat the dragon without using the wheelbarrow (or using as small a wheelbarrow as possible), or whatever attracts their curiousity.
    This sounds cool!
  • When I'm playing solo games the effect I find most problematic is feeling no pushback. When I'm making everything up there is no resistance. It feels like eating a bad vegetarian food. You feel empty and unsatisfied. (A good veggie meal on the other hand is totally satisfying).

    I've said it before but one technique that works is having two sides and playing them hard.

    Do the rest of you have this empty feeling?
  • I actually don't feel like there is no pushback, since I use randomizers or "oracles" like the Mythic GME. The problem I usually have is that there is an inordinate amount of dice rolling the way I tend to do it.

    What I do feel, usually, is the lack of that "challenge the player", but that's OK, since I sort of enjoy the "story" that comes out. Not that different from playing Barbarian Prince, I guess, except your imagination is doing the heavy lifting.

    Back on topic: Have you had a chance to play Beloved? I'd be curious how you feel about that game in terms of challenge.
  • edited January 2014
    Beloved works by making past-you the GM for present-you.

    The trick here is that present-you is more knowledgable, capable, and clever than past-you.

    I think other games could use the same principle. Or a new principle!

    (also here is a better version of beloved: with art! link

    yrs--
    --Ben
  • Now that you mentioned "past-you" and "present-you", @Ben_Lehman, I want to make a solo RPG about time travel. :-D
  • @Ben_Lehman:

    Thanks! I’ll get the improved version asap. I have a few questions stemming from reading the original game, but I want to read the new version first. :)

    I love the “past-you as GM”/”present-you as Player” principle. Other than tactical AI rules, I am completely ignorant of any other principle that would allow one to set up a player challenge that would test one’s creativity without going completely “meta”. If anyone else knows some, I’d love to hear about them too!

    @CarpeGuitarrem:

    I think the world needs a Back To The Future RPG to be a happier place. :)
  • I think in general, any game that doesn't depend on hidden information would work solo with one person playing both/all sides. It's too hard to pretend you don't know something. But to make this interesting there has to be unknown information, either through sheer system complexity (chess), because a solution hasn't been thought of (this seems to be Beloved, but I need to look into this), or because the information has yet to be created by some randomizer (e.g. Mythic GME).

    In the last case I think we can look to solo board games, and even co-operative board games somewhat, for guidance. I have some experience with the "Leader" series of solo board games, specifically Thunderbolt Apache Leader, which is a mostly-strategic level game. The resolution is pretty fast, and even more so in other games in the series, but you spend all your time planning your missions: assigning aircraft, pilots, and weapons. This is similar to char gen exercises, except with consequences in subsequent missions in your campaign. Cards, chips, and dice determine the specifics as they become relevant. Frex: you have an idea but not the specifics of the opposition on a mission, similar to 1d6 orcs. Actually, I wonder if you could just play dungeons solo, but only read rooms as you get to them. I don't have enough experience reading them to really know.

    An idea I've been toying with, more aiming at the board game space (specifically Mobile Frame Zero), is to have a non-real-time partner/community who writes situations with AI for you/others. This is essentially puzzle creation and could be done by yourself too, as long as there's sufficient difficulty.

    Also, if your memory isn't great you could extend the "past-you" and "present-you" by creating the situation and then playing it a year later, but this may just be an adventure crafted for solo play.

  • Also, if your memory isn't great you could extend the "past-you" and "present-you" by creating the situation and then playing it a year later, but this may just be an adventure crafted for solo play.
    Hmmm. Still, time-capsule play! I like that idea too!
  • @timmonkey
    I think in general, any game that doesn't depend on hidden information would work solo with one person playing both/all sides. It's too hard to pretend you don't know something. But to make this interesting there has to be unknown information, either through sheer system complexity (chess), because a solution hasn't been thought of (this seems to be Beloved, but I need to look into this), or because the information has yet to be created by some randomizer (e.g. Mythic GME).
    I'm arbitrarily putting the option of unknown information created by randomizer in a different bucket. This thread might be interesting story-games.com/forums/discussion/18328/hidden-information-vs-non-existent-information-was-hidden-information-vs-unknown-information. I didn't specifically mention solo gaming in there, but it's what I had in mind mostly.

    Unknown information through complexity of system, though, fits better with the 'player challenge' (in the problem-solving manner), IMO, as long as all the whole "board" is visible and as long as there is a goal (like checkmating). Hmm...I need to think more about this.
  • Solo game may be like playing against the game, like board games Ghost Stories and Pandemic (all players are on the same side). The rules of the game works as a kind of randomizer.

    Me and my partner work together on a game called "Beast". It's a one-person game about having an erotic relationship with the Beast, gross and sensual entity. Every day the player draws a card at random with events/questions, which intend to push their boundaries and answers them. (question examples: "the Beast will give birth soon. Are you happy?" or "Sex with the Beast leaves marks on your body. What are they? How do you hide them?"). The questions have presuppositions, what happened in player's character life (which is an alter-ego of the player) - so it is not so easy to negate the facts implied on the card.

    Important thing here (and as I know now in "Bacchanal"): to challenge the player emotionally in this way - the player has to want to push their boundaries.
  • Now that you mentioned "past-you" and "present-you", @Ben_Lehman, I want to make a solo RPG about time travel. :-D
    Hey, I'd play that. It's a natural that future you will learn things that past you did not know. I could easily see your mind getting blown. :-)

    I've mentioned in a few places that I find my 'challenge' in taking random information and crafting scenes, plot, and dialog from that. I like to keep a written log/journal and maintain a separate game track and narrative track.

    I could see a web site, plug in some basic data, and it randomizes a whole plot with a web of locations, actions, npcs, and objects. And then, it hides it from you. As you play your solo game, you also navigate this web of clues that are revealed one at a time. Some of the branches will dead end, others with be hubs of activity with relationships and plot twists to be revealed. You'll still have to interpret things, but there is an underlying structure to discover rather than just points on a random table. As you walk the web, time also advances, so there might be elements that are time based as well. For example, the beggar in act I might be dead in act II.
    --
    TAZ


  • I've mentioned in a few places that I find my 'challenge' in taking random information and crafting scenes, plot, and dialog from that. I like to keep a written log/journal and maintain a separate game track and narrative track.
    Yeah. Still, I want to more narrowly focus on player challenges that can be taken on from the perspective of the character one is playing. I'd put the challenge of interpretation in a different bucket of fun.

    I could see a web site, plug in some basic data, and it randomizes a whole plot with a web of locations, actions, npcs, and objects. And then, it hides it from you. As you play your solo game, you also navigate this web of clues that are revealed one at a time. Some of the branches will dead end, others with be hubs of activity with relationships and plot twists to be revealed. You'll still have to interpret things, but there is an underlying structure to discover rather than just points on a random table. As you walk the web, time also advances, so there might be elements that are time based as well. For example, the beggar in act I might be dead in act II.
    --
    TAZ
    I would totally use something like this as a solo play aid. This reminds me of things like NOLIST, which is about using AI to experiment with creating narratives. I think I saw a kickstarter somewhere for a program that uses similar techniques to procedurally generate a mystery that the player can solve.

    I think that I will start a thread at some point about stuff like this. I have a few AI books that I bought in the hopes of mining them for ideas that might be used as aids. For example, relationship maps are akin to graph data structures. I've mentioned before that I've used Bayesian calculations in Javascript to help me come up with odds that I feel are "realistic".

  • Solo game may be like playing against the game, like board games Ghost Stories and Pandemic (all players are on the same side). The rules of the game works as a kind of randomizer.
    @bloodymess:

    Yeah. I like this thought. See the comment by @timonkey about complexity. To make it non-deterministic, one could “seed” the adventure with random values.
    Me and my partner work together on a game called "Beast". It's a one-person game about having an erotic relationship with the Beast, gross and sensual entity. Every day the player draws a card at random with events/questions, which intend to push their boundaries and answers them. (question examples: "the Beast will give birth soon. Are you happy?" or "Sex with the Beast leaves marks on your body. What are they? How do you hide them?"). The questions have presuppositions, what happened in player's character life (which is an alter-ego of the player) - so it is not so easy to negate the facts implied on the card.

    Important thing here (and as I know now in "Bacchanal"): to challenge the player emotionally in this way - the player has to want to push their boundaries.
    Pretty cool! I think the mechanical principle here is related to games that use “event books” like Barbarian Prince or Tales of the Arabian Nights. I also like the focus on emotional challenges in your example. Outside of having pre-defined presuppositions, I guess one could just create some dilemma and it might still be fun, though I think having that systematized would be LOTS of fun.

  • @Dreamer, you may already have seen this, but Beloved was written as part of the RPG RPG Solitaire Challenge, in 2011. Texts of many of the games are available at the site.

    The designers came up with many ways to get a solo player to offer challenge to themselves. Cards were a common prompt used, as in The Turning Leaves, Champion of the Realm and Joker Quest, to offer situation framing, and also as an obvious analog to simulate conflict in rp. Drawing was used in Monster Hunter X, Map of House and Beloved among others, as an activity to provide randomness or creative inspiration. What's the Frequency, Kenneth? uses google searches. And Training the Templar pits you against physical challenge as you overcome obstacles by working out.

    To me, solo play feels like the same kind of activity as multiplayer rp, just you're not as distracted from the fact that it's a semi-spontaneous fictional generative activity since there is only one of you. The challenge provided in other rps provide both tension to the moment, so that you don't have a slack feeling of "I can do anything, so what's it all worth?" and also, simultaneously, zip together peoples contributions to the fictional events. Two-for-one.

    The Czege Principle could be re-stated as, "if you create the fictional elements, the challenges they face and also resolve them, it may alienate others from investing in your creation since they were excluded, and also may be less satisfying to you than if you incorporated input from others, or faced some external stimuli that gave your ideas a dimension you wouldn't have thought of on your own". But that's kind of wordy. :)
  • Thanks, @Emily_care!

    I do have that link, but have not looked at every game, even though it’s been 3 years!

    Maybe I’m making a distinction in my mind that just does not exist, but, of the games mentioned, I think Map of House, like Beloved, most closely approximates the kind of player-challenge I had in mind. I’m thinking of problem solving of the type where you are sort of looking at the problem through your character’s eyes, as opposed to something more meta (which is a lot of fun too).

    To me, solo play feels like the same kind of activity as multiplayer rp, just you're not as distracted from the fact that it's a semi-spontaneous fictional generative activity since there is only one of you.
    Never thought of it this way, but it makes total sense.

    The Czege Principle could be re-stated as, "if you create the fictional elements, the challenges they face and also resolve them, it may alienate others from investing in your creation since they were excluded, and also may be less satisfying to you than if you incorporated input from others, or faced some external stimuli that gave your ideas a dimension you wouldn't have thought of on your own". But that's kind of wordy. :)
    Haha, yeah it’s lengthy, but it gets the idea across in a very clear way. It also highlights the possibility that non-human external stimuli are an option, something that may not be quite obvious to a lot of people. I say that because a lot of the folks that have cited the Czege principle do so only to assert that solo rpgs are not possible.
  • All,

    I just wanted to share another interesting idea I found through my google+ feed: using logic puzzles as the basis of quests.

    http://world-of-tiglath.blogspot.com/2013/12/logic-puzzles-as-plots.html

    The author, Jeffrey McArthur, is doing two things that I find really interesting. One of them is splitting the puzzle’s clues so that the party needs to obtain them through NPCs. The other is using the logic problems as obstacles to obtaining information like maps, etc. I think the last idea is a bit easier to implement in a solo game, but as of now I’m not sure how the first idea would work in a solo game without a bit of meta-gaming.

    It’s not difficult to find logic puzzles in magazines, newspapers, etc. The only wrinkle might be finding ones that match the flavor of what you are playing, though I suppose a number of them could be easily adapted.
  • Hey Yeah! I have This cool logic book that I'll be using for my current solo Dungeon World (Dark Heart) game. Awesome suggestion! Each bit of info from the logic puzzle will be revealed if I achieve success in an obstacle. Conversely, if I miss, the countdown for the front moves forward... Ooooh delicious foreshadowing tension!
  • That book does look cool. Can you share one of the logic problems if you don't mind? I'm curious as to whether they have a "medieval" flavor to them.
Sign In or Register to comment.