Recently, I decided to have another go at running a solo RPG. Ever since I discovered this aspect of the hobby, I’ve found it to be a particularly relaxing way to experience roleplaying. Unlike the frenetic, improvisational madness of running games every week (which, I should point out, I absolutely bloody love) the solo game is a much more introspective form of play. I particularly enjoy going into it with zero expectations for the story, and just having the tale unfold in my head.
Anyway, armed with my Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy Referee’s and Player’s tomes, I set about creating some characters, and then let the Mythic GM emulator deck take me on my way. It should be noted, that in a solo RPG you can play with virtually any system, but my system of choice for just kicking back and watching the world unfold is always OSE. OSR B/X is simple, easy to track and, as this article will prove, suitably brutal for short solo sessions.
Oh, and I should also give a shout out to the excellent D12 Monthly produced by YUM DM – issue 7 of his zine contains some absolutely indispensable rules for wilderness treks if that’s what you’re doing (which is what I was).
A few draws from the GM emulator deck later, and my party are off on a mission to deal with a nasty warband who occasionally descend from the east to lay waste to the little settlement my brave adventurers are currently chilling in. What follows is a lot of fun hex crawling (aided by the wonderful HexKit utility for making pretty maps) and after several days travel (and the sensible decision to avoid some giant snapping turtle that had decided to make its home in a lake near the bad guy’s HQ) the party arrived, ready to do battle with the evil bandits.
They descended into the caves that the baddies called home, and found the place curiously empty. Maybe they were too late and the bandits were off raiding? Eventually they find one maddened evil doer who blindly attacks them whilst frothing at the mouth. Dispatching him, the party continue to explore the cave, before finding a large chamber that seems to be the bandits’ treasure hold.
They’re about to barge in and help themselves, when their dwarf ranger shouts a warning. Hanging from the ceiling are a collection of wonderful old school D&D monsters – piercers.
I think these are still around in 5e D&D, but they always strike me as one of those creations that came about in a late night brainstorming session in the early days, as TSR were struggling to fill the Monster Manual. A piercer is essentially a nasty little carnivorous beastie that looks like a stalactite. I say “little” but these buggers can come in all shapes and sizes.
Alerted by the dwarf (who handily dispatches one of the piercers with a swing of his sword) the party flee the chamber as a load of the nasties start to rain from the ceiling. That’s one thing that makes games like OSE such a fun challenge – and why the decision to retreat should always be considered – the “number encountered” that is part of a monster’s stat block. In this case, 3D6…
Rushing into the corridor the party stop to catch their breathe…only to immediately be put on guard again as they notice a sea of red eyes before them and a high pitched chittering in the air.
Yes, they failed a wandering monster check, and thankfully OSE has some great wandering monster charts for every occasion. So what is it they’re encountering? Rats?
They wish it was rats.
No, the fell beasts that my party has stumbled upon are….drumroll please…giant shrews.
If you’re laughing, it’s because you’ve never encountered one in a game before…
Let’s take a look at these territorial little buggers, shall we?
Armour Class of 15 (as I’m using ascending armour class), one hit die, and no bonus to hit. So far, so “level 1 monster fare”. Then you notice that they have two attacks – each of which does D6 damage. In modern terms that’s not too bad, but when the strongest character in your party has 9 hit points and the weakest has 2, that’s pretty scary.
Then you get to the special rules.
They automatically win initiative on the first round of combat.
They get +1 to initiative on the second round.
They have something called “ferocity” which basically means they go for the face, and if you’ve got less than 3HD and they hit you you’re making a save vs death or fleeing.
Also, number encountered?
And guess which number I rolled…
TPK in two rounds – the party didn’t even get a chance to flee!
So what am I going to do with that lovely map I generated and all the world building that went into this game? Well, obviously the village are going to have to hire another crew of brave adventurers to go and find out what happened to the first one.
This crew are probably in turn going to hire a boatload of henchmen.
What? You didn’t think I’d been scared off by the shrews, did you?