Introducing the “Play It Solo” Series

If you want something done right, best do it yourself.

Want something played right? Play it solo!

Most, if not all, published adventures for Dungeons and Dragons are aimed towards groups of players and a Dungeon Master, because… well, that’s simply the way it is.

Dungeons and Dragons is a game designed to be played with other people in a shared roleplaying and storytelling experience.

You would be hard pressed to find an adventure that is written for a single player. They do exist, but:

  1. They are few and far between.
  2. Some of them are designed as introductions to group play.
  3. They may not support the edition of D&D that you want to play.
  4. Some may not even use Dungeons & Dragons rules at all.

Since Dungeons and Dragons 5e is a new game (at the time of writing), there are no solo adventures published as of yet and if past trends are anything to go by, it’s likely none (or extremely few) will be released, unless some independent company decides to write a few.

On the other hand, there are and there will continue to be a wealth of new adventure modules designed for group play released for every edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

The solution is therefore quite simple: why not make use of the resources that are available?

What Is “Play It Solo”?

“Play It Solo” is a series of articles that turn existing published adventure material designed for regular D&D group play into a single player, solo D&D experience that can be played without a DM.

The articles will guide you through the adventure, indicating which pages in the adventure you should read and thereby avoiding spoilers that might ruin an adventure for you.

I will be releasing one very soon, but just to give you an idea, the article might consist of something like this:

Chapter 1: The Village

Decide the marching order of the party and decide who will be the spokesperson.

When the spokesperson is speaking to an NPC, will there be another character observing the conversation in order to gauge the motives of whoever the other character is speaking to (i.e. making Wisdom (Insight) checks to detect any falsehood, hidden messages, etc.)?

What will the other characters do when the spokesperson and his ‘assistant’ are engaged in conversation?

Will one of them observe any unusual behaviour from the townsfolk around them? Will another be trying to overhear gossip with his bat like hearing?

Decide these things before you begin.

  1. Read the boxed text under the title ‘The Adventure Begins’ on page 2 of ‘A Generic D&D Adventure’ booklet.
  2. Decide what you will tell the gate guards – if anything.
  3. Read the rest of the passage under the title ‘The Adventure Begins’ for possible responses from the guards.

Decide what you wish to do now, then click the box below:

What will you do here?

1. Find an inn

Turn to page 5 and read the passage titled ‘The Inn’.

2. Catch up on local gossip and rumours

Make a DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check as you gather information. Alternatively, you can make a DC 15 Charisma (Pesuasion) check instead.

  1. If you succeed, turn to page 4 and read the passage titled ‘Suspicious Kobold activity’.
  2. If you fail, you learn nothing.

3. Explore and observe your surroundings

Make a DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check.

If you succeed, read the text under the title ‘Stalked by Assassins’ on page 7 of the booklet.

If you give chase, resolve the encounter as described in that passage of text.

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The idea is that you read each “Play It Solo” article from top to bottom (unless prompted to do otherwise), stopping when prompted to read certain passages of text in the published adventure that a particular “Play It Solo” article is referring to.

You will then be asked to act on the information you know. This will mostly consist of deciding what you are going to do in a given situation.

Make sure you consider each and every possibility – write it all down on a piece of paper if you have to.

Also be mindful of a character’s personality traits, bonds, ideals and flaws. For example, if a character is obsessed with wealth, he will want to pursue missions that pay well and will try and push the rest of the party towards that direction in any way he can.

Once you’ve done that, you will either be asked to read on or click on a light grey spoiler box like the one above.

This spoiler box lists possible actions that are appropriate to the current scenario.

If your intended action is listed, simply read the section that corresponds to what you are attempting to do at that point.

For example, using the above example, if you want to get to adventuring as soon as possible, you might go around town and ask around for any jobs that need to be performed. In this case, you would read and perform the checks in 2. Catch up on local gossip and rumours.

If what you are attempting is not listed, simply choose from the list whichever option is the one you are most likely to do. For example, if your group is proactive rather than waiting for quests to drop on their laps, they are likely to ask around for jobs that they can earn money from. In this case, pick no. 2.

Some of the options will contain links that you are prompted to click on. This will open a new tab in your browser where you can complete objectives or reveal spoilers that simply cannot be shown in the main article.

A common sub-page might be a page of magic items. Whenever you want to identify a particular magic item, you click on a link that takes you to a page with all the items listed. Clicking on a particular item reveals what that item does.

When a new tab opens, it’s important that you do not close the previous tab. Once you have resolved any actions in the sub-pages, you will need to carry on from where you left off on the main Play It Solo article page, unless prompted otherwise.

Play It Solo will provide little, if any, narrative – D&D is about using your imagination, so allow your own imagination to create its own epic story in your mind.

To avoid issues with copyright, the articles will contain very little, if any, content from the actual adventures themselves, so you will need to purchase the relevant adventure module before you can play it.

Actions in Hindsight

hindsight

This is what you’d look like too if you missed out on that Holy Avenger.
Artwork By “Changer the Elder”

I will also talk a little about a concept I call ‘Actions in Hindsight’ which is something I will include in my “Play It Solo” series.

Often, when I play a D&D adventure on my own, I tend to gloss over my surroundings without giving it much thought once I’ve read the area description. But when I continue reading, I discover that there is… I don’t know… a secret door that you had to actively look for, leading to a chest containing a Holy Avenger!

The trouble is, I would probably never have thought to look for secret doors, but now I know a tasty bit of kit is hidden in a place where I can see it, I curse myself for not being more attentive to my surroundings.

But wait… no one’s looking and it’s not like I have a DM – plus if I was to roleplay a thief correctly, wouldn’t he or she just do these things automatically anyway?

See what I’m getting at?

When you know what happens next, you tend to choose the better option if given the choice – even it it’s in hindsight.

So we will grab that Holy Avenger, secret door be damned.

We know stepping through that corridor will spring a trap that will probably kill more than half of our wounded characters, so we won’t go down that corridor. And no-one can make me.

We know that killing that evil warlord instead of redeeming him will deprive us of a great resource to use later on in the story, so we pretend that he didn’t die after our barbarian chopped his head off with prejudice spare his life instead and try to turn him to the worship of Lathander.

So to deal with this, I present to you a little house rule of my own called Actions in Hindsight.

How it Works

In a nutshell, this is designed to make it so that if you want to perform an action/take an option that is more attractive than the one you probably would have taken had you not known about the more favourable actions/options, the Actions in Hindsight rule will make performing that action a little harder than usual.

Each scenario will be different, but in general it might consist of:

  1. Ability checks made with disadvantage.
  2. Penalties to a die/dice roll.
  3. Increased DCs for ability checks.
  4. Additional ability checks.
  5. And so on.

Here’s an example:

Wizard’s laboratory

The defeated iron golem crashes to the ground. You hope the noise has not attracted any unwanted attention.

You may now decide what to do in this room – click on the grey spoiler box below once you’ve decided.

What will you do next?

1. Search the room for secret doors

If you succeed on a DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check (you must actually be examining the wall) or a DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check (if you search generally), you discover a secret door to a small room.

There is no limit to the number of checks you can make (your characters could be spending longer than normal searching this room, for example).

In this room, there is a trapped chest containing an exquisitely crafted longsword.

The sword is obviously magical, since the blade bursts into flames as soon as you hold it aloft.

This weapon would be helpful in the ongoing battle against the trolls.

Should you cast identify on this weapon, you can learn what the capabilities of the weapon are by clicking here.

Trapped chest:

Fusillade of Darts trap: DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check to find; DC 15 Intelligence (Thieves Tools) check to disarm.

Actions in hindsight: if you did not make an effort to search your surroundings, observant characters could still pick up subtle clues that indicate signs of a hidden entrance, such as an audible draft of wind coming from the underside of the secret door.

The secret door can only be detected by characters who are not actively searching for the secret door with a successful DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check made with disadvantage or the party’s highest passive (Perception) score, whichever is higher.

This check may only be made once per character.

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Occasionally, performing an Action in Hindsight will be impossible. For example, if your barbarian really did chop the warlord’s head off, no amount of ability checks made with disadvantage will bring him back to life to negotiate an alliance with you 🙂 .

Watch This Space…

The first article in this series will be released very soon and the article will be written for the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver.

(Your search check has revealed a red affiliate link above! Clicking on it and making a purchase might go towards an ale at the local tavern, but not a +3 longsword – Please read the affiliate disclaimer.)

I feel this is a great place to begin because since Dungeons & Dragons 5e is still new, most of us are still learning the game in one way or another.

I have played through the adventure myself and it is a great way to introduce new players to the game. It streamlines the rules, leaving out the nonessential bits out and the adventure itself guides you on how to adjudicate scenarios in the game.

Not only that, but a few nice extras are included such as polyhedral dice and since no D&D game is complete without dice, it will save you from having to buy the dice separately.

In the meantime, let me know what you think of the concepts in this article.

Would you be interested in a series of guides like this?

Do you think it will work?

If not, why not?

Maybe you think it would work, but there are ways you can think of to improve it?

Let me know in the comments box below.

After all, if you don’t speak, you won’t be heard 😉 .

 

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14 comments

  • Joel

    Awesome – this is exactly what I was looking for! I’ve looked around for gaming groups briefly locally but problem is time and finding the right group. I may still look for a group at some point but I’ve really wanted to play the classic 1st edition games. I remember playing Keep On The Borderlands in 80’s like probably most. We had a good campaign for a couple weeks and it was fun but I’m not sure that anyone would want to do that today. I just bought the 5th Ed Player’s Handbook and will def pick up the Starter Set.

    Joel

    • Ken Wai Lau

      Hello Joel and thanks for commenting.

      I’m glad that this idea appeals to you and this website was certainly set up for players who have trouble finding the time or the right group to play with. I can identify as I was never able to find anyone interested in D&D when I was young.

      Speaking of first edition D&D, I’ve managed to find a couple of OSR/Basic D20 adventures that appear to be solo adventures. I’ll post a review of these items at a later date as well as a resource page with a list of what I’ve managed to find…

      Let me know how you get on with the ‘Play It Solo’ series – particularly if you play the Starter Set as a single PC. The game was ultimately designed for gaming groups, so balancing issues may be present (though the Dungeon Master’s Basic Rules gives a few guidelines on how to balance the game for groups as small as 1 or 2…).

      Happy New Year!

      Ken.

      P.S. I remember playing The Keep On The Borderlands, but only as a Neverwinter Nights module.

  • CJ

    This is a great concept and very well presented. Just this week, after years of kicking the idea around to convert existing modules to solo, I finally decided to make the attempt. I purchased three Dark Sun 2nd edition modules to convert. I chose these modules due to the format in which they were published, the players receive a spiral bound booklet to walk them through the adventure page by page, with the DM advising when to move forward in the booklet. The DM receives a similar booklet that leads the adventure events and details. One nice feature of these is that they are made as flip books that standup while in use. My goal is twofold. First to convert them to solo RPGs and second to use them as campaign scenarios for Dungeon Command warbands, utilizing the Dungeon Command rules. I will keep an eye out for updates to your excellent site, and thank you for providing this!

    • Ken Wai Lau

      Happy New Year, CJ.

      Not a problem and glad you liked it.

      Hopefully, I’ll have my email list set up some time during January, so you can hop on and have the updates delivered to your inbox automatically for free.

      So you’re going to convert some Dark Sun adventures to solo? That sounds interesting.

      I’ve never played Dark Sun and my only exposure to it is that brief scene in the computer game, Baldur’s Gate II, with those cannibal halflings in the Planar Sphere and playable demos of those 90s PC RPGs from the company SSI (who were quite prolific in releasing AD&D 2e related games, I remember).

      Please keep me updated – maybe we can bounce a few ideas off each other 🙂 .

  • CJ

    Happy New Year! There is an great overview of the module series I want to adapt on dndclassics.com.

    Below is quoting from the site’s description of the Dark Sun module “Freedom” which explains why I believe it would be good to start with.
    “The spiral-bound books of “Freedom” are called flip-books because of the formatting of the actual adventure in the Dungeon Master’s Book. It’s divided into carefully formatted encounters, each of which includes standardized sections providing notes on “Role-playing”, “Reactions”, “Statistics”, “Outcome”, and more. Each encounter also ends with a “Next” section: a choose-your-own-adventure-like mechanic that takes players to the next encounter based on what they did. Shorter scenes sometimes interweave with these major encounters. The result is an excellent use of plotted adventures that simultaneously avoids many of the problems with railroading.”
    I look forward to hearing any ideas or suggestions.
    CJ

    • Ken Wai Lau

      You could modify/add to the player’s book (or write a separate book or article) with as much DM information/narrative as needed from “Role-playing” and/or “Reactions” – enough to advance the plot, but not give away information that might spoil the game.

      Your article should list the various options/roleplaying responses for each scenario. When an option is picked, the player might be referred to an index page that describes what happens and/or prompts the player to read the “Statistics” and “Outcome” sections of the DM book for creature stats/consequences.

      One problem is how are you going to balance the game for single PCs and for each character class? What might be a trivial encounter for a wizard could be a totally different challenge for a rogue, for example.

      You might also find it useful to read through a choose-your-own-adventure book and mine it for ideas on how you can present the adventure as a solo experience. There are a few that I know of, including a few Pathfinder solo adventures – I’ll publish a resource page with a list of them, as well as reviews of each individual product in due course, so watch this space.

  • Arjen Rode

    Good morning,

    I was delighted to happen upon your page yesterday! I have been very interested in playing modules solo as an interesting tactical story game. I’m anxious to give your approach a try using the Starter Set adventure this afternoon and take it through its paces.

    Have you used the Mythic Game Master Emulator tool kit before? It’s a very interesting way to play an rpg solo and already my mind is running seeing if elements of it could be used to play a module without the need to convert the adventure in the same detail you are using? I greatly appreciate what you are doing but then have the feeling that you personally are missing out on the adventure of the module because you need to make the conversion. Perhaps there will be a way to combine the two approaches?

    Regardless, this will be a fun experiment!

    Regards,

    -Arjen

    • Ken Wai Lau

      Hello Arjen,

      Thanks for commenting and welcome to my website.

      Let me know how you get on with the Starter Set adventure, particularly if you have any suggestions for improvement. Any feedback I get can only mean a better ‘Play It Solo’ going forward.

      I haven’t used the tool kit you mentioned, but it sounds interesting so I might give it a whirl.

      As for missing out on the adventure, there’s also a flipside: the feedback I’ve received for this idea (Play It Solo) has been positive and nothing is more encouraging than throwing out content like this and people reacting well to it.

  • Mike

    I cant wait to try this.. It really does remind me of those old ”choose your adventure books” I used to read as a kid. Ill be sure to shae feedback after I dig into Lost mines a little.

  • Ben Rhoads

    Ken,

    I just found your page. Great job on the solo concept. I have been trying to come up with something similar and I really like what you have done here. Keep it up. I am sure many people will come to appreciate what you have done once they discover it. Thanks.

    Ben

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