One Person Show – My Silly Solo TTRPG Thoughts

Since I went into COVID self-isolation at home back in March 2020 I have played a bunch of solo TTRPGs. I mean, just a whole big batch of them. It’s a whole branch of TTRPG design that I wish was more prevalent back when I was a young gamer, sometimes isolated by winter weather or illness. Not that solo games didn’t exist back in the Eighties, they certainly did. But they never trickled as far north as I was living.

For those not familiar with Solo TTRPGs, a very brief primer. Solo games have no GM, obviously, and you are the only player. Often they are journaling games in which you will write down what your character is doing as you progress. That journaling can be on paper, or by recording audio or video. The games have a randomized prompt system, usually cards or dice, as well as win/lose conditions so you don’t end up playing in an infinite loop. I covered several Solo TTRPGs in my #IndieGamesDecember videos on YouTube, if you want to get a better idea of the selection available. 

But they have certainly been a boon over the last few years, no question. Another boon, of course, has been the proliferation of actual plays, whether live-streamed or pre-recorded. Both have served to keep me invested and interested in the hobby, during a period where it would be oh so easy to become detached from it. Taking in what I can only describe as a metric butt tonne of both solo TTRPGs and APs, it got me to thinking about how the two might connect. But before I get to that, let me digress one more time to add some context.

My educational, and for several decades also my employment background, was in theatre. One person shows are not a strictly Canadian thing by any means. But for various reasons, owing to how we fund our arts and our extensive theatre festival scene, Canadian theatre provides a plethora of one person shows every theatre season. And that hasn’t slowed down with COVID; actors have used their isolation to create some truly stunning one person shows.

So all of that got me wondering, could it be time for some actual play studios out there to launch Solo TTRPG actual plays? Obviously I’m biased by my viewpoint, but I can’t help but think it would be at least reasonably popular. My initial thought tends toward pre-recorded shows. Either the performer does the card pulls or dice throws needed to set their path before recording, and then scripts it all, records everything, and posts the entirety of the session at once. Or, and probably the easier method, they pull, script, record, and release the session serially.

At a glance I can see several benefits to pre-recorded Solo TTRPG shows. There’s very little initial investment of time and resources, compared to organizing a GM and a table of players, scheduling them, setting up and running tech, and so on. A pre-recorded Solo TTRPG actual play needs a player/actor and a tech person, and those could be (and I imagine often are) the same person. Pre-recording allows for the inclusion of music, sound, and visual effects, which can definitely enhance the viewer’s experience. On the viewer side, they can get an excellent actual play experience without the often two to four hour investment of time required for group games. The length of episodes can obviously vary depending on which specific TTRPG is played. But if an “episode” represents one step along the game’s path, I wouldn’t anticipate an episode being longer that thirty minutes at the most. In fact, I think most could be a well-crafted ten to fifteen minutes and deliver a satisfying experience.

While pre-recorded is the first thing that comes to mind, I am sure a way could be found to play a Solo TTRPG live in front of a streaming audience. With so many of the players in streams having an improv theatre background, it could be quite entertaining to watch a player responding to the game’s prompts live. And while it may require some ingenuity on the tech side, there must be a way to allow chat participation so they viewers can help influence the direction of the game. This would have the added bonus for the studio or streamer of being able to monetize that process, because pay your performers, that’s why!

But for me, and why I brought up one person shows and live theatre, is the possibility we might see Solo TTRPG sessions performed live at conventions, when conventions are a thing again. This goes furthest out on the limb and I admit it may be a “just Brent wants this” idea. But I would sit in the audience and watch a really well staged Solo TTRPG session, especially if there was the possibility of the audience affecting the path of the story. These wouldn’t even have to be one person shows, though that’s how I first saw it in my head. Obviously the character in a Solo TTRPG encounters other people, so that opens it up to a cast of improvisers helping to tell the story. But I also know hoe effectively stories can be told in monologue by a single performer and I would be excited to watch that happen live on stage.

Now, I realize I am not likely to be the first person to think about Solo TTRPGs in this way. I also realize that, because I am not deeply hooked into the actual play streaming community and also because algorithms often obscure things from me, there may already be a group or groups doing this exact thing. If so, please let me know because I am excited t check them out! And those folks who produce actual plays or pre-recorded games may be able to produce (heh) several reasons why none of what I said will work, how dare I! But I honestly think that the resource investment needed for a Solo TTRPG AP is so low, why not at least give it a try?

And frankly, any idea that gets more eyes on Indie TTRPGs is a good idea in my books. Again, I might be biased.

But what about you? Are my ideas ridiculous or are you too busy planning your first Solo TTRPG production to reply? What Solo TTRPGs are you playing? Drop me a comment so we can chat.