RPG Overview Pt. 1

Because I got so little tabletop skirmish gaming done in 2023, in place of my usual solo tabletop skirmish games overview, I thought I’d give a brief overview of the solo RPGs I got into in 2022 and 2023.

Blades in the Dark

This RPG is all about being in a gang of crooks and thieves (think Ocean’s 11) and running your own heists. You can play several character classes (to use a more familiar term) and the game play is different compared to more traditional games like the RPG everyone’s heard about (D&D) which is also the standard when it comes to RPGs and for good reason.

The game is set in a world of perpetual darkness or near darkness because the sun has shattered and ghosts are trapped between the living and the dead. The city of Duskvol is powered by the magic blood of leviathans that are hunted every year by the fleets.

In this city, you plan you heists, surrounded by opulence and poverty, trapped between rival factions, competing gangs and those in power. You are a gang trying to survive. And just because you’re involved in the criminal side of things doesn’t mean you have to be out and out villains (although you CAN play that way if you want to). 

The game immediately drops you into the action. In media res as the term goes. You are facing an immediate problem, and you describe what you want to do. Your initial Engagement roll will set your initial Position: 

- Controlled (the best outcome, you face some thugs who are your friends)

- Risky (normal you face some thugs who are suspicious of you and want to know what you’re doing in their turf)

- Desperate (you’re facing some thugs armed with weapons who want to beat you up)

Then you decide what ACTION you want to take (based on your skill set and you hope you have a relevant skill) and then bargain with the GM for the outcome IF you pass your roll using standard d6’s.

- Limited (You succeed but with complications)

- Standard (You succeed, barely accomplishing what you set out to do)

- Great (You succeed beyond your wildest expectations)

Another innovation is the game introduced the usage of CLOCKS to induce events happening. They can be long term (happen in between scores, in the background of event happening in the city) or short term (you made some noise entering the bank and now a clock is ticking down before the guards come to investigate). It really richest up the tension (short term) and also gives you warning enough to either plan ahead or just barely forward hoping to finish quickly before time is up.

The great thing is, you as the player know immediately what is the outcome if you succeed or fail your roll. Then you decide if you want to proceed with that ACTION… or choose something else. OR you could request for help from your crew members by asking them to take on STRESS. Or you could better your outcome by taking on STRESS. Or you could have a flashback that showed you prepared for this encounter (you actually know one of the gang members) by taking on STRESS. Or you could ask for a DEVIL’S BARGAIN (get +1d6 but you will also get a complication irrespective if you succeed or fail). The tension is there, and you have to think on the fly, by the seat of your pants etc. Same goes for the GM. 

As noticed, STRESS is what does you in. Too much STRESS and you gain a TRAUMA that’s permanent. You can remove STRESS by indulging in your VICE (gambling, food, drugs, sex, the occult or whatever) but you can accidentally indulge too much and become ADDICTED.

You can also take HARM (physical) that requires you to spend time healing and you could go into the next core only partially healed.

TL; DR: The system is great and even though the game isn’t made specifically for solo play, more and more gamers have tried and have given some really great tips and methods for playing solo that makes me want to play this game again, this time with more understanding of what I’m doing. It doesn’t require lots of prep but it does require lots of imagination. I like it!

If the game system sounds intriguing to you but you don’t like the setting or premise, fear not! The game system (known as Forged in the Dark) has become popular enough that several games based on the system are easily available from SF, to Cyberpunk to Grimdark Fantasy (think Glen Cook’s The Black Company) to … well, just do a search on Drive Thru RPG for a more complete list.

Darkness of the Demimonde

I got this on Kickstarter in mid-2023 and finally decided to play the game. It’s about Victorian Horror (think Ripper Street, Penny Dreadful) and it’s a rules light system where you play a group of protagonist PCs eradicating the occult stuff that’s the underbelly of Victorian London.

This game plays more traditionally, with set skills and a pool of points that you allocate to what you want your character to be. (warrior, mage, sage, healer, shaman etc. to use more familiar archetypes). 

Then you play out the game in a more familiar way as you face challenges that call for a roll and you hope you can pass using standard d6’s. 

I’ve borrowed some mechanics from Blades in the Dark (clocks, position, effect) to play this and so far it’s working well.

The thing about the game is it’s more an investigation, searching for clues as to what eerie stuff is happening and who or what is responsible. The game is very generous about giving the players info so the scenario or mission can proceed and it gives me a lot of leeway to explore ways to get the relevant info.

So far, I’ve set up 3 PCs for my group of investigators and started my first beginner adventure. I’ve entered the locale where the weird stuff is happening and started investigations and got some info, so… To Be Continued.

TL;DR: I wanted to actually get The Between to fill this gap of Victorian Horror but thought it was a bit more involved rules wise, so I opted for this instead. So far, it’s working well, and using some standard ways to play solo (Fortune Rolls from BitD), oracles (yes or no) and more rolls to determine effects and outcomes it’s been working well for me because it so rules light. It’s a fairly new system and there’s not much material out for it. However, it’s simple enough that you can probably retrofit some adventures from other RPG systems into the game OR use the Vaesen Solo rules (that I just bought) to start a truly open adventure where you investigate, gain some clues and have a final showdown, rolling some NPCs along the way.

Dark Streets and Dark Secrets

This fills the niche of Urban Fantasy Horror for me. The closest in tone would be the Sandman/John Constantine comics from DC (back when comics were good, in the era of Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore et al). 

In this game you’re modern urban investigators with the normal archetypes re-skinned to the modern day and you have access to modern occult gear, spells and equipment or you can go the fully armed Punisher method. (Not recommended as some occult knowledge will always be needed).

The game has all the usual stats but the gameplay is a bit more unique as you roll a d20 against the appropriate Attribute. Success happens when the result is equal to or lower than the Attribute score, but higher than the Difficulty. Say your Magic skill is 13 and the difficulty of the spell is 3. So you need a roll higher than 3 but equal to or lower than 13. Spells are great as there’s no spell level like in D&D. You set the effect you’re after, and that gives you the difficulty. So you can either hold an inimical low level entity in stasis for 3 turns (giving you a difficulty of 3) OR you can go higher, with a higher risk of spell failure. The TN for other actions is also determined this way, either via combat where the enemy has a TN you need to better, but the roll also needs to be equal to or under you Attribute to succeed.

Besides that, the game provides you with tons of tables to provide you with a living, breathing city as people, factions, gangs and other antagonists go about their plans around you. Character creator is really fast, and as with all new games has you rolling for complications (whether internal to you, or external) that affect your PC personally. You could either have an addiction to alcohol or some other vice… or you could have an obligation that you HAVE to fulfil no matter the cost to you, or the adventure you’re currently engaged in.

TL; DR: this is also a rules light system that makes it easy to play and you can either try some of the adventures for it or make up your own from a wealth of Urban Fantasy Horror fiction now available, if the genre is to your liking.