Four Resources for Solo Roleplaying

06 May 2023
Words by Geek Gamer

If you search for solo RPG supplements, you can find numerous booklets, rules, charts, and systems that provide content to support solo play. The choices can be overwhelming, and often the product is tailored to a specific rule set, thus limiting its utility. Yet there is a different approach, one that will enable you to solo any RPG rule set with ease... without having to spend the time and money to buy rules-specific solo support.

In this article I’ll be discussing for general types of resources – many of which you probably already have – that you can use to support your solo RPG sessions, regardless of the rule set you are using. They are versatile and designed to drive your narrative forward. As general storytelling support and narrative building blocks, you’ll find that sessions incorporating these components flow naturally.

There is no recipe for the ‘perfect’ RPG session, and the list below isn’t a set of ingredients. Yet, they are components of that magical mix which yields exciting stories: these resources provide scaffolding for building your session to the success level where you want to know “what happens next?” and where your gameplay feels natural.

Generative resources

A generative resource is something completely open-ended designed to spark you to generate ideas. It is a resource that gives multiple choices from which you can pick and choose. Generative resources require no context or explanation. They can be used for macro ideas (such as what factions exist in this world) or micro ideas (such as what does this dungeon room look like).

The most obvious example of a generative resource is a list of random things. If the list is numbered you can roll on it with a die to get something that you’ll use as a random prompt.

Some common examples of generative resources are: books of random tables, websites with random lists, any thematic list.

Uncommon generative resources are non-gaming books and novels. Open up a novel to a random page and start reading... use the random passages you find as the starting point for a session, or backstory for a PC or NPC, or an event in your evolving story. Incorporating non-gaming materials like this is a bit more involved than turning to random lists designed for RPG, so it’s something you might want to try only after you’re already comfortable with solo RPG.

I use Tome of Adventure Design (2009-2011) by Matthew J. Finch a great deal. This massive book of random tables, covering everything from adventure design to monsters to dungeons to cities and settlements and NPCs and more, is 300+ densely packed pages of system-neutral random tables. (A revised edition is currently on Kickstarter.) And if you’re focusing on a dungeon crawl, you may find inspiration from Kent David Kelly’s Classic Dungeon Design Guide, which offers random tables for everything from dungeon sounds and smells to themes, room types, and architecture.

Content continues after advertisements

Suggestive resources

Suggestive resources are more direction-oriented than generative ones and provide concrete information for you to use as a jumping off point. The easiest-to-incorporate suggestive resources are ones where someone else has already done the thinking about how they can be used in game play. Luckily, these are also ones you’re likely to have lying around your house: components from board games.

That’s right, anything from board games will work. Some of the best board game items to appropriate for solo RPG are: maps, item cards, treasure cards or tokens, minis. Once you free a game component from the rules of the game, it can be used to develop a totally different story. Repurposing your game collection for solo RPG is one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to get started.

It’s hard to recommend any single board game as a suggestive resource because literally almost any board game with thematic components will do. Common family games such as Carcassonne or Settlers of Catan have modular terrain tiles that can be great suggestive resources for solo RPG. Small World, another very popular family game, has components that could be used to create NPCs and a game world. Just remember that theme is king when turning to a board game for RPG support. Find a game that “feels” like what you want to play as an RPG and you can’t go wrong.


Once you’re armed with some random lists and enticing board game components, you’re going to want to have some kind of system for putting the elements together. I call this a “rubric.” Now, rubric is not just a fancy way of saying “rules.” Rubrics are sets of rules, yes, but the full meaning has to do with being a set of guidelines, customs, or established procedures. In teaching circles, rubric is used to promote learning objectives.

I like to use this word when thinking about rule sets because it reminds me that RPG rule sets are meant to recommend direction, and not mandate it. Improvisation is at the heart of role playing and flexibility and adaptation are central to being a good GM. This is especially true for solo RPG. As Gary Gygax wrote in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979), “It is the spirit of the game, not the letter of the rules, which is important. [...] You are creator and final arbiter.” Thinking about “rules” as a “rubric” is a great reminder of this important point.


Restrictive Resources

Lastly, you’ll need something restrictive – that is, something which will create the structure against which you will develop your story. This can be as simple as a chart which tells you that on a d6 roll of 1-3 the answer to a question is “yes” and 4-6 is “no” (or 1-3 means “turn left” and 4-6 means “turn right”, etc.). It can be as complicated as an entire oracle system with complicated charts that provide external structure modelling stress or threat or some other variable that is going to impact answers to questions such as “is there an enemy here?” or whatever.

I consider these resources “restrictive” in two senses of the word: first, they are meant to take a broad range of possibilities--what can happen now? Anything can happen now – and limit, or restrict, them to only certain outcomes. But they are also restrictive in that they can easily end in dead ends and as such represent one of the dangers of solo RPG. If you find yourself relying on restrictive resources too much, you may end up with a story that goes nowhere because in and of themselves, a restrictive resource does not generate narrative. Advice for avoiding the “yes/no dead end” is beyond the scope of this article but here’s one tip: if you find yourself consulting a restrictive resource more than two times in a row for an answer to a question, don’t roll on it a third time. Find another way to come up with the answer you seek. 

Though there are many systems that purport to offer the “best” or “most complete” oracle system, I prefer to keep things simple. The percentile table to the right is my go-to restrictive resource and I believe it alone is all you really need to provide this sort of direction for your game play. That it is relatively open-ended will encourage your own narrative interpretation, and the more you are creating your own story, the more satisfying your sessions will be. Cut it out and glue it to a piece of cardboard and you’ll have a handy tool for numerous sessions to come.



Looking for more?

The front cover of Tabletop Gaming Magazine

Find reviews, news, and features in Tabletop Gaming Magazine, which is home to all of the latest and greatest tabletop goodness. Whether you're a board gamer, card gamer, wargamer, RPG player or all of the above, find your copy here.

Get your magazine here

Read More... 

The range of Fighting Fantasy Books spread out so multiple covers show

A game that hooked a thousand gamers, it's 40 years of Fighting Fantasy! We take a look back at some of the titles and that changed a generation of gaming, and how it became the behemoth it remains.

40 Years of Fighting Fantasy


Sign up to be in the know

A pink banner with white text which says "sign up to our Newsletter!", which is in front of a mixture of dice types of multiple colours

Be the first to hear about the things we're excited about, whether that's new games and launches, our own magazine, gaming news and interviews or a few surprises, you'll be the first we tell if you sign up to our newsletter.

Sign up here

Treat Yourself! 

Games Store, written in white with a pink background, over the top of a number of games laid out

Have you visited our game store? We have everything from mystery boxes, to games and accessories, so you're bound to find your newest favourite. Head over there now to claim it for yourself!

Visit the Game Store


Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products


No comments