4/6/10

STRANGE DESTINIES INDEED

I've been playing the Strange Destinies solo adventure right off the Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 box. This has inspired me a lot of fresh ideas and set a new course in my musings about solo adventures. Here they are.

1. A Story With Options

In this widespread vision of solo RPG play, you play the hero of a story. The story is more or less defined in advance, and paragraphs are nudging you forward towards its completion. There might be challenges, and many opportunities to die or to fail, but eventually, you'll choose the right path, or maybe become strong enough, and finish the adventure in a blaze of glory. It's like picking choices (more or less blindly I daresay) and trying to guess whatever preplanned route was set by the designers.

The Warlock of Fire Mountain was damn tough. Yet, there was barely a couple of options to get to its end, and one only to finish him victoriously.

2. A Creativity Puzzle

What hit me with Strange Destinies is that you can't really win if you're not playing creatively with the booklet and its rules. Some paragraphs hint you at doing something the text doesn't talk about (make a torch with a wolf's skins? Cook your food? Trap a monster?), some other sound so absurdly tough that you can't really overcome them. Yet, the text tells you what happens when you do. It's like throwing a 12th level monster at your 1st level character in Labyrinth Lord and the text saying "when the monster dies, go to paragraph 127". First reaction is "what the hell?", second is "okay, let's think about it, is there a way to defeat it? What can I think about that's NOT in the text?"

I don't see why solo play couldn't derail from the written text as much as party adventures do. The interesting bit is that you can't do so if you don't really immerse in your character and think creatively.


In Strange Destinies, I've stumbled through mushrooms before, and died because of their spores. Now, as I carry on with another character, a Black Dwarf named Hoderl the Nift, I turn cautiously around their stalks and a bit later, face an incredibly powerful giant ant. The ant was much, much more powerful than Hoderl. What would Hoderl do? Fight dumbly to a certain death? No. He would run, and try to lure the ant into the mushrooms. I rolled a Speed saving roll, rolled high and went back to the paragraph in which the mushrooms were described. I rolled another, rolled high, and went to the spore paragraph with the ant. I kept running, tracing 3 or 4 paragraphs back when the spores produced their effect. Hoderl, who had over 30 in Constitution, survived, and left the caves. The ant followed, heavily damaged by the spores. Once out of the caves, an ogre tried to catch him, but he managed to escape as the ogre was bashing the ant. Hoderl then entered the caves again from the start and I considered the ant as defeated when I got back to the paragraph it was described in.

Some people, probably basing themselves upon A Story With Options, would consider that as cheating. By the time I played Hoderl, I had become an expert of these caves, with over 13 characters having met death inside. This is player's knowledge versus character's knowledge. In my example, player's knowledge is backing immersion, my 13 previous deaths had shaped Hoderl as a survivor. That made him partly him, and partly me: MY player character. As far as I'm concerned, I consider that solo adventures should find a way to produce this immersion feeling, and to offer a decent challenge level as well.

Strange Destinies do, because if you play it by the book, your character will die. Some paragraphs tell you that if you've lit a torch, monsters will flee. Yet, no paragraph ever tells you that you can light a torch. Why? Because you shall know whether your character carries a lit torch or not, you're impersonating him or her, not just rolling dice and picking options.

A few mechanisms help to induce this Creativity Puzzle instead of rollercoasting you into a story: a table of wandering monsters like in Strange Destinies, random loots, random paragraphs, monster evolution and/or diplomacy, etc. Playing solo implies that you, the player, should take a bit of the GM's responsibilities as well. For hard-core fans of option 1, this is pretty much breaking the rules. Yet, no story-based play experience was ever rewarding as Strange Destinies was, a solo adventure in which I was both the player and the GM.

2 comments:

  1. Wow! Nicely done, my friend. You are truly internalizing the solo experience.

    And did you ever become a giant ant yourself?

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  2. Never. I walked on the ledge above the lava (those five DEX rolls!) and eventually reached the long twisting tunnel to the exit. I had way enough "food" by then and won the 10.000 AP. As the text itself says: "you have done the impossible". It really felt like this and that's what I expect from a solo adventure — immersion, thrill and a sense of well-deserved victory. On a side benefit, I began to understand what sets some adventures apart like this one, Deathtrap and Naked Doom and maybe will give a shoot at writing one myself at some point. It's nothing like Fighting Fantasy ever was, a truly different design option. Thanks for this, it is splendid.

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