I could have chosen to write about any of the other prompts, mainly because I know about them. I consider that I know more about them than I know about this topic—Solo—but the month is coming to a close and I’m feeling daring. So I’ll try something new.
I’ll write about something I know little about—and something that I have no experience with.
When I was young I lived near a supermarket. And when that supermarket chain left the country I live in, they had a major sale that included many things.
Chief among them, books.
That’s how I discovered Sir Terry Pratchett, by the way. I chanced upon a copy of Guards, Guards and fell in love with it.
But that’s another matter.
The other thing that I discovered was 4 volumes from the Space Hawks series. Little did I know that I had stumbled upon the one writer who created a whole genre.
The Choose Your Own Adventure books.
Proto tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs)?
Origins fascinate me. So, when I fell in love with TTRPGs, I obviously tried to learn more about their beginnings—about their lineage, so to speak.
That’s how I learned about a war game designed by H.G. Wells (yes, the same Wells of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds fame). That’s also how I learned about Commedia dell’arte and other forms of improvisational theater.
But the lost link in the history of TTRPGs rightfully belongs to Choose Your Own Adventure books, in my opinion.
In these books you get to be the main character and you’re presented with situations in which you have to choose what to do. When you make a choice, you go to a specific page or numbered paragraph which describes the result of your action. If you choose you well, you can solve the book and reach a happy ending. If not, your character can die and you have to start again.
Does it sound familiar?
So yeah, the closest experience I have with Solo TTRPGs is the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’ve played many of them, in different settings and genres, from science fiction to fantasy to horror. They fascinate me immensely, and I often recommend them for people who want to get an idea of what a TTRPG feels like.
And yet, I can’t bring myself to play a Solo TTRPG so far.
I’m sure that Solo TTRPGs existed before the pandemic but, once COVID changed our lives, they exploded. For weeks it seemed like everybody had a Solo TTRPG they had been working on, and one after another got published on many different platforms.
I caught wind of them mainly on itch.io, the new darling of Indie TTRPG designers. I bought some, I downloaded some for free, and I even claimed some community copies when money ran out. I have maybe a dozen or so Solo TTRPGs on my computer.
And yet I still haven’t played any of them.
State of Denial
Just to clear the air: I consider Solo TTRPGs to be real/true TTRPGs, in the same way that Game Masterless (GMless) and diceless TTRPGs are real/true TTRPGs. I don’t deny their place, significance, or worth.
And yet, I still can’t bring myself to play one.
I can sense my inner denial. A part of me refutes the notion of playing a Solo TTRPG, not out of any disrespect, but out of a romantic notion that I can’t discard in its entirety.
You see, my mother once said that TTRPGs were my way of socializing—and she was right. I can socialize as most people do, but when I play TTRPGs is when I feel most comfortable with a group of strangers. I hate parties and I’m hopeless at bars and other places of entertainment. But put a (virtual) table in front of me, some dice, and characters, and I’m ready to go whenever you want me to.
So yeah, I’m not playing Solo TTRPGs because I’m still clinging to the notion that TTRPGs are for socializing. That they’re about meeting with other people to tell a story communally. I’ve already accepted the hard truth that I may not get to play TTRPGs with my loved ones, don’t take this away from me.
I’m afraid of Solo TTRPGs, if I’m being honest.
I’m afraid that I’ll like them so much that then I’ll start questioning all the effort it takes to gather a group in this day and age. That I’ll start comparing the group TTRPG experiences with those in Solo ones. And that Solo TTRPGs will come ahead.
That may be in the end I’ll leave traditional TTRPGs for the Solo ones.
So, that’s it. That’s why I have no experience with Solo TTRPGs—and why I may not try them in the near future.
If I do, however, I’ll let you know.
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