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  • Writer's pictureJames Kerr

What Solo TTRPGs Could Have Meant

Updated: Mar 6

How One Player TTRPGs Show the True Future of the Hobby, and My Past

Before anything else, let's get out of the way that my new one player ttrpg, Solo Martial Blues, is on Kickstarter. It will be funding for the next...goodness...50 days? That was a mistake. Anyway, here we are.

It's a solo game, let's talk about solo games. I have a personal story and some industry analysis.

When I was a kid there were the Fighting Fantasy books, technically, but in the little rural town I lived they may as well have been etched from cocaine they were so inaccessible. There just wasn't a solo play TTRPG experience to be bought for love or money, if you could even find anybody who knew about such a thing. I certainly didn't know such a thing existed, or only kind of existed.

What did exist were comic books. My dad would pick them up used in big stacks at auctions. They'd be about five or ten years out of date even then. I'd spend lonely nights lost in reading and re-reading every page, every panel. Entire worlds were imagined out of those pages.

There were TTRPG advertisements in those comic books though, some of which I remember quite vividly, but I also remember they would baffle me. I was confused whether they depicted a board game, or a comic themselves, or quite what they were. They kept saying things like "Enter the world of..." but I never knew how to do that. If only I knew! The ads of robots smashing each other were pretty cool though.

The point I'm trying to make is: If I could have understood it, if I could have had access to it, and (more or less) if they existed at the time, I would have been obsessed with solo play TTRPG books. They would have been perfect for me, and at the time, very meaningful. My imagination was already taking flight from just a cover-ripped Green Lantern, I'm sure my mind would have been blown to pieces by the opportunity to interact with the text the way solo play TTRPG books do. Add to that, I was a lonely kid, so, yeah...I would have been all over that.

Solo TTRPGs are big right now, and I get it. The Internet, the great communication technology bringing the whole world together into a Global Village, is ironically isolating. The industry has adapted to that isolation with solo TTRPGs, in a way. The last 10 years has seen an explosion in solo TTRPG books, all of them from the indie TTRPG space. This sub-genre of TTRPGs has even cultivated a few masterworks, like The Thousand Year Old Vampire and Ironsword, which will no doubt be played for years to come.

While writing Solo Martial Blues I came to realise how vast the untouched playing field is for the mechanics of solo TTRPGs. While you can trace some seeds going back to the 70s and 80s, most of the design territory is new. The way the industry is approaching solo TTRPGs is, on the whole, new and fecund. We're still exploring conventions that may take root and guide the next 10 years of mechanical trends. I got the opportunity with Solo Martial Blues to explore a diceless, promptless mechanical approach that is assuredly NOT a story-generating engine—a very different take on solo play mechanics as they stand today. It's fun to break new ground. I'm lucky to be able to do that now, before other developers have gotten there first. The point is, exciting things are happening right now in TTRPGs. New things are happening right now. I wanted to be a part of that, so I hitched my wagon to that star and jumped into solo TTRPGs with Solo Martial Blues.

To that end, I launched a Crowdfundr (not a Kickstarter) to fund it. The damn thing didn't fund. Two months of prep and promotion—not to mention writing and laying out the book itself—and I'm back to nothing. Less than nothing, because any crowdfunding campaign involves a marketing budget and to shell out for art assets beforehand. What a knockout blow.

One day after the Crowdfundr closes, I accidently launched it (I meant to just make the pre-launch page live) funds in the first 30 hours. Round 2, victory. And still...50 days to go.

In celebration I have come back to re-wrote this article from what it was before. Before it was just about how excited I was that new things are happening, so obviously happening, in the TTRPG design space, but I realise now that Solo Martial Blues is about more than that. I am chasing the experience I had as a kid pouring over every word in a comic book, trying to be a part of that world. Not for myself, really. I just know the person I was, this would have been for me. It would have been the coolest thing I'd ever seen—especially given the subject matter.

I want to put that experience out in the world, and maybe somebody like me, when I was a kid, might find it.

So, here's to you, me.

James Kerr

Radio James Games

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