One of the biggest obstacles in pen-and-paper is finding a roleplaying group and setting a date with that group for when you’ll next play together. Many campaigns end early because of these scheduling issues. If you really want to play pen-and-paper, even though you don’t have a group for it, or everyone has cancelled again, then Solo-RPGs or solo role-playing games are an exciting alternative.
How to play solo RPGs
In a solo RPG, you are both the player and the game master. This means you make the decisions for your character, but at the same time you control the adventure around your character. It’s a bit like playing chess against yourself. To keep it exciting though, you need tables to roll dice on.
For example, if you have a table of places prepared, you can roll dice to see which of those places your character will visit next. Also, when our solo character meets people, you can roll dice on the tables to see if they are friends or enemies. And if they are enemies, you can roll what kind of enemies (“flying”; “scaled”; “undead”; etc.). You also roll dice in combat to see if the actions you take are successful. And you roll the dice to see what kind of consequences you suffer if you fail.
This takes a lot of the decision-making out of your hands, so you can enjoy the adventure without knowing the end of the story from the start. Because of this random element, the story is also different each time you play. So for solo role-playing games, all you need is yourself, your creativity, dice, and a whole lot of tables. It can also be helpful to keep a notebook on the side so that what you experience alone is not forgotten. Many suggestions for Solo-RPGs and an open community can be found on /r/Solo_Roleplaying/. You can also create your own maps to increase emersion and make the experience even better.
Popular Solo-RPG Systems
As always with PnP, you can just make up your own rulebook and write your own tables. However, you have less to do if you play one of the more popular solo roleplaying games on the market. I will introduce some good solo RPG systems here:
Ironsworn: Ironsworn is probably one of the most popular Solo-RPGs. In Ironsworn, you set out as a Viking on a dangerous journey through the Ironlands, a harsh and unexplored fantasy world. You can play Ironsworn with a game master, but also alone or in pairs. Ironsworn has a fixed rules system, flexible character creation, creative suggestions, and detailed examples, tips, and options in table format. I highly recommend the Youtube series Me, Myself & Die for this system. There is also a recent sci-fi version of Ironsworn: Ironsworn Starforged.
Core Runner: Core Runner is a free-to-play cyberpunk adventure for single players. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the player focuses on exploring the industry of Rise City. It features unique dice mechanics and high replay value. 36 events offer a total of over 120 different outcomes that can lead to 11 endings.
Dungeons & Dragons: Yes, you can play pen-and-paper games alone that are actually meant for groups. Of course, this is also true for DnD 5e. You simply take on all the roles in the game and can even control multiple characters. On dmsguild.com there are good rule extensions for solo play.
Solo-RPGs in video games, board games and books
Don’t forget that nowadays video games or board games can also play the role of a game master. Yes, the feeling is different when you really sit down with your dice and tell yourself a story instead of sitting in front of the PC. But there are games like Divinity: Original Sin 2, Baldur’s Gate 3, or Mansions of Madness that offer an authentic pen-and-paper experience for gamers.
Lastly, there are the choose-your-own-adventure books. Many of us remember these books from our childhood. Here, as a reader, you make choices for the story and then jump to the page where it continues. This medium also allows you to make decisions in an adventure, control the story, and all without a game master, or other players. Much like a solo RPG.