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Flow charts as a source of story for a solo RPG

PostPosted: Tue Nov 06, 2018 7:55 am
by Rob Lang
Do excuse me, I'd like to think out loud...

I've not played a lot of solo RPGs, but I've read a few (loads if you include play-once Fighting Fantasy). One of the issues that I have is that the game becomes predictable with each play through. The story itself ends up being a series of encounters that don't have a bearing on the game. You play them in any order but the story itself is too generic to hold my interest.

I've seen some ways to reduce this; the best was that the NPCs motivations are rolled separately each game. You might end up with a librarian who wants to kill you. Those sorts of motivations are great but they are difficult to chain together.

That's where a flowchart comes in. Not a nice simple looking thing that you can analyse from a distance but a mass of boxes, lines and letters where you get a sense of where you are but it's very hard to see your way to the end without following it through. The contents of the boxes would have little codes that would represent drawing NPCs from a stack and each arrow would have die roll numbers (or be a straight choice). This way, you could build chains of events together in a flow. New adventures would be new flow charts.

The main benefit of a system like this is that the flow chart is made by a human and therefore can be crafted to have story arcs, high points, low points and so on.

What do you think? Feel free to do it out loud. :)

Re: Flow charts as a source of story for a solo RPG

PostPosted: Tue Nov 06, 2018 10:42 am
by Onix
Fighting Fantasy or any book of that ilk are essentially flow chartable with the chart obscured. I don't see a reason it couldn't work. I think the question is, is the flow chart the adventure? Is it the core loop of a game and each node is replaceable with something else?

I think the flow chart being the adventure is the more traditional approach. It's probably easier to implement.

What if you had a game where you used a wiki as the nodes of your flow chart? It would be difficult to know the structure of the chart. You could also allow members to expand the adventure by offering new branches and expanding stubs. You might end up with wildly different writing styles and themes that way though.

Let me offer a few thoughts on solo games in general that might dove tail into these thoughts. One of the big things that moves a solo game from feeling like a board game to feeling like a proper RPG is having some kind of record of it. It could be writing down a log of what happens and trying to describe what has been presented. It could be something similar but more ephemeral like lining up a series of cards that chronicle the action so at the end of the game, you can view the progression of a story. There's probably other ways to conceive recording a session, you could live stream your game or maybe just record the game on a voice recorder with the goal that a listener could follow what happened in the game. It reduces the feeling that you're just flipping pages and rolling dice. There really needs to be some language inserted to feel like something more than a board game.

Another thought I have is that it would seem like it's easier to create one shot modules like the Fighting Fantasy books, the module acting like a GM and the player just reacting. It's not a bad option either and fairly intuitive. Essentially that's what I did with The Lost. The random tables are finite and after three or four go throughs get a little repetitive but it's not intended for infinite replay. The story starts and finishes for good or bad.

There are a lot of GM emulators out there. I have one open on my desktop right now that I mean to read through. The randomness of them is a little off putting. There has to be a structure that gives you a through line that everything links to. I use a lot of randomized data when I GM but I know when it's okay to throw it in. Other times you just continue with the current action. Something I've been playing with for making interesting games is having exactly what the players are expecting happen next but add something unexpected, something that violates conventions modify it.

Time is a different animal for solo play. You're not waiting on someone else to do something so play can be slow and methodical. You just don't want it to be hard to hold in your head since you can't ask for help from anyone else to remember something.