So basically, I've spent too many brain cycles on a thought experiment
related to solo roleplaying/gaming. As a result of that, I have come to feel that the activity requires too much in-game content creation to match the experience of roleplaying from a player's POV. The closest experience I feel one can get with current technology is that of being an improvising GM with a GM-PC.
Still, I haven't completely given up on trying to keep some degree of 'pushback', surprise, mystery, 'immersion' and a sense of exploration that comes with being a player (as opposed to GM). At times I’ve mused that in order to get that feeling in a solo game, one must engage in a bit of self-deception in the form of reframing the activity. It is my belief that this can be achieved with a premise that synergizes with what’s required of you as a solo player. I now believe that it is critical, at least for me, to have some synergy between the premise and the act of content creation required of me as a solo gamer.
I think stumbled upon this some time ago by accident, and I hadn’t even realized it. In one of my solo sessions
, I was using a deck of cards
as an idea generator. This particular deck turns out to have some hidden tarot iconography which turned out to be great because I had chosen to play a psychic woman trying to stop a serial killer. Though she wasn't doing a tarot reading herself when psychically seeing anything related to the serial killer or his victims, the use of the cards felt like a great thematic fit. Now I wonder how much better it would have felt if the PC herself was actually using a tarot reading to see those things.
Anyway, I’m now thinking that hiding the act of GM-like content creation as an in-game activity carried out by the PC is probably a good way to have an immersive RPG-like experience as a solo player. I can think of two ways: a PC with god like in-game creation powers, or a PC that uses the Player's creativity tools as some sort of divination device that informs them of what's going on (rather than relying on their senses). Basically, the GM act of creation is justified as an act of ‘divination’. Does this make any sense?
There is actually one solo game, Oculus
, which does that through its premise. You're basically a person who has found a magical talisman allowing you to remotely view another world and focus on one of its inhabitants (your Familiar). The talisman is the Oculus game itself, which is mechanically similar to a GM 'emulator' (you assign odds and roll a dice to get a yes/no answer, in addition to getting pairs of keywords to interpret when first setting a scene).
My only dissatisfaction with this particular game is that there is that constant contact with the system is not encouraged enough, and also that your role is somewhat passive as a viewer in that you do not per se control or influence your familiar (even though you do, but it's not framed that way). Other than those quibbles, however, I always thought it’s a great idea.
So, here goes my own first attempt at this idea. Since I’m more of a Italian horror/giallo genre fan, I’m going back to the psychic idea along with the tarot deck: Premise:
“You’re a patient at a psychiatric institution who has an actual psychic gift. Through your tarot deck, you can see serial killers doing heinous things far away from the institution grounds. The catch is that if you’re seeing them, it’s already too late for the victims.
The same gift also allows you to read from the tarot things that are seen from the perspective of ONE person that is somehow involved in the situation. This person could be the next victim, a police detective, a relative, etc. However, in contrast to your connection to the killer, your bond to this person is more personal—perhaps because you both are hate, or are obsessed with catching the killer. That bond results in a very strange phenomenon: You can directly influence them through your cards, though they don’t know it. They will feel it as a strong instinct, idea or hunch they will follow (in a way you’re remote controlling them).
The connection between this person and you is the only hope you have of stopping this serial killer as you’re never ever leaving the institution after having committed some sort of atrocity in the past. So if you’re thinking of alerting anyone in the facility as a way to help, don’t. That is unless you’re really hankering for a lobotomy. Otherwise, you’re on your own. ”
So, from that, here are some ideas I have so far:
- 1. The game always starts with the player starting a real time clock running each time they sit down to play. (It would be fun or interesting if real time has some correspondence to the passage of in-game time, I think. I haven’t decided yet what the correspondence should be).
- 2. Immediately after that, the PC will be reading the cards which will either:
- 2.a. Tell him or her something that the serial killer is doing at that moment, or
- 2.b. something that the person they’re bonding with has witnessed in relation to the serial killer (seeing the crime on the news, receiving bad news, finding a body, being chased by the killer).
- 3. The real importance of the clock is in gamifying the tarot interpretations (in other words, the content creation) by giving the player a time limit in which to write something coherent down. Going past that time limit should have some sort of consequence. Possibilities:
- 3.a. A doom track that moves at determined time intervals as well as when a time limit is blown past.
- 3.b. Maybe staying within a time limit, moves the doom track backwards one spot.
- 4. You may run into #3 above because the tarot reading may be nonsensical or too cryptic. This may mean that there the psychic connection is momentarily weakened. However, the clock keeps ticking. What did the serial killer do while you were disconnected? What did the person you’re bonded to do without your influence? The only way to find out is to read the cards to see what you missed.
- 5. When you influence the person you share that bond with, you still have to find out how it went by doing a subsequent reading. The cards are the only way you can visualize what is happening.
- 6. I think there is space here to add more RPG elements such as stats for the person your PC is bonded to so that you can perform ability checks at the Player level when it makes sense. I need to think further about this, but I’m inclined towards systems like Trollbabe’s where no NPC ever rolls.
- 7. I feel like something interesting could be done with the bit about the PC having done something atrocious herself or himself that landed them at the psychiatric ward. Maybe something having to do with redemption or being released, or being pushed to commit a final atrocity. Still brainstorming that as well.
That’s all I have for now. If I somehow finalize this and get to playtest it, I’ll update the thread. I’m open to ideas on how to make this more fun.