Solitaire SWADE

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One thing that struck me on reading the new Savage Worlds Adventure Edition was that the added GM tools make it better suited for solitaire play.

In the last ten years or so there has been an explosion of products for solitaire gaming, so I read through the ones I have to see where they differ from more mainstream RPGs, and I found they have extra elements in up to four categories; random encounters and events, a quest generator, an oracle, and abstract combat rules. Let’s look at these in turn.

Random Encounters and Events


Old School RPGs have these by default, as the idea of a scripted story arc was a later development. Savage Worlds has minimalist random encounters; draw a card once per day in dangerous territory, face cards are an encounter (essentially a 1/3 chance), and the card suit determines whether you encounter an enemy, an ally, an obstacle, or some sort of treasure. Individual setting books might or might not expand this by adding more traditional random encounter tables as well. I will probably plagiarise encounters from other games here.

Quest Generator


Your solitaire PCs need something to do, so you need a way of generating (and resolving) quests, and there are several approaches to doing this.

  • Games like Mad Monks of Kwantoom, Ruins of the Undercity, No GM’s Sky and Interstellar Overthruster specify an overall campaign quest. This is usually exploring a place of mystery in search of treasure, whether the place is an underground labyrinth or a sector of space, and the treasure is a pile of gold and gems or a new garden planet. Once the game kicks off, random events drive the action, but the overall quest draws you back if you veer off-course.
  • Games like 5150, All Things Zombie, Larger Than Life and Scarlet Heroes randomly generate a quest for each adventure using die rolls. The first three give the player some agency over which specific quests he accepts or rejects, because each is an episode in a larger emergent storyline – and in the latest editions of the first two, there is also an overall goal for the PC to achieve.
  • Mythic relies on the player creating an initial scene, after which the dice and the player’s questions drive the story, using tables of random keywords and what is essentially a reaction test.
  • Solo relies on random encounters which the player stitches together to create a storyline within one of four basic frameworks, each of which is arguably an overall storyline, if not always a specific goal.

The core rules of Savage Worlds don’t have a mechanism for generating random adventures, although many of the setting books do, usually based on a combination of card draws and dice rolls. It does, however, have some good mechanisms for resolving the quests in an abstract form, much like the Plan in Solo; Chases, Dramatic Tasks, Mass Battles, Networking, and Quick Encounters. So again, I need to borrow some mechanism for generating quests; the simplest one is to have an overall plot thread or goal, with random events and encounters generating disturbances which must be overcome.

Oracle


This is a way of answering the questions you would normally ask the GM, such as “What’s in the room?” or “Is it raining?”

This includes the time-honoured device of random encounter tables, but also a more general way of generating a yes/no answer – and since the 1970s I’ve been using reaction tests for that purpose, and it works just fine, so there’s no reason to stop now.

Like most games, SWADE has reaction tests. In fact, offhand I can’t think of an RPG that doesn’t. Oh wait, yes I can; the Amber Diceless RPG. It need not concern us further here.

Abstract Combat Rules


At some point, your protagonists are going to be fighting NPCs, animals or monsters, and there are two main approaches to that; either the full fat combat rules with a set of standing orders for NPCs, or abstracting the combat to the point that the NPCs don’t need to take any decisions, and therefore don’t need rules to do so.

Early solitaire rules tended to go for the first of these, and the best of them were the Two Hour Wargames rules such as 5150 or All Things Zombie; those had very simple and elegant rules for NPC actions, which generated very believable outcomes and ruthlessly punished poor tactics by the player.

However, more recent offerings such as Solo and 5150 No Limits have drifted towards abstract combat, eliminating the need for standing orders, figures, terrain, and a tabletop generally.

This is where SWADE shines, as it already has all you need here for an abstract approach to combat, in the form of Quick Encounters, Chases and Mass Battles. I would want to resort to the full combat rules occasionally, to avoid skills fade; but if I couldn’t do that for a particular session, the game could continue easily enough.

The rules for Networking and Dramatic Tasks give you the same capability for non-combat tasks, including finding information, social conflict and whatnot, collapsing them into a montage-like event governed by a few dice rolls. That would be useful for solitaire play as it allows for what Solo calls “roleplaying in the middle”; roll the dice to see what happened, then explain the result in flashback.

(Here the recently-reviewed The Scheme Pyramid might work well in terms of generating the steps required to complete a mission, I’ll have to try that.)

Finally, if I get stuck for what to write in the quiet patches which occasionally emerge in solitaire games, I can resort to Interludes for inspiration – these fill the same niche as the team interactions in Solo.

Quo Vadis?


So looking at that, all we need to add to SWADE for solitaire roleplaying in mechanical terms are extended random encounter tables and a mission generator, it already has everything else we need. I can see why they’re not included in the core rules, as they are highly setting-specific. One does need a setting as well, but then one always does.

I am quite inspired to try this out, but it will probably have to wait until the New Year now.

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