Saturday, July 30, 2011

Summer slowdown - solo gaming

I'm in the midst of summer vacations, and gaming is now happening less than usual. A few years back I remember a friend saying that soon it would be summer and then there would be more opportunities for games. I've found that instead it means even less. Everyone is gone, to summer houses and trips abroad for those who can afford. But, not wanting to give up I've tried to do some solo gaming.

For many years I saw T&T as that game which was all about solos. I even considered it an odd choice of a game, since I had a gaming group and didn't need such a game. Poor fool I was. Actually, the first contact I had with adventure gaming was through that marvellous little book The Warlock of Firetop Mountain with those fantastic Russ Nicholson illustrations. God knows why I then developed that attitude towards T&T.

Having a pile of T&T solos I grabbed a small volume by Andy Holmes, being one highly regarded solo writer. I have played some of his solos before, but this one Wytches, was new to me. This time it felt there was a story to it, with some quite decent pieces of exposition setting the mood. I started to play it and explored the small village. Walking around talking to people getting to know the story of the solo was a nice change from the kind of solos where you walk from fight to fight. Naturally I finally found myself in a fight, and was squashed like a bug. I had +5 combat adds and had to go up against a monster of +30 or something like that. Might as well have said, "you die" that paragraph. Holmes seem to be very fond of that kind of solo writing where you encounter a monster which is a total TPK waiting to happen. It's not just Holmes doing that, though.

It has been said that "balanced" encounters is a true sign of the decadence of modern editions of the world's most popular rpg. When it leads to players feeling entitled to "challenges" scaled to their level, and treasures as their due I feel it has gone very wrong. That being said, I think monsters which are way out there should at least be very uncommon or possible to avoid. In a solo the possibilities for evasive maneuvers are often not that common, so I prefer those to be random encounters and/or things which the solo writers include an "escape clause" for. Victories won by the skin of your teeth are valued the most, but it's a fine line. I think maybe the subtle queues gained by a GM from her players is needed to gauge when it's time to let the big stomper in on the stage and when the players will just feel harassed by it.

Naturally, I had to bring a Fighting Fantasy book on my vacation as well. That's where it all started after all. City of Thieves, the den of inequity, is where my brave adventurer headed. Once again we have a solo where the main task in not to fight, but to enter a hostile environment to find a person and then having found him scout for the the items of power needed for the main task. The city almost felt like a real place, with a mood of its own when you carefully approach proprietors of different kinds of stores illustrated by the classic look and feel of Fightiong Fantasy artists. I don't think I really appreciated before how much of my imagination of the fantastic have been shaped by these artists.

Once again I run into the limitations of the solo format. Dead ends can, and will, happen when you take one of the paths through the numbers not tested and tried by the authors. To their defence I should say that in a solo of 400 paragraphs that is juist to be expected. You would need a computerized testing suite to find all those possible dead ends. Ian Livingstone have at least prepared for it, writing the paragraph I ended on so that coming there you had to check if you had the needed components before travelling further, a small checkpoint if you like.

It is amazing how this hobby is to its very nature a creative one. Having played these two solos I now find myself wanting to beat them at their game, and write my own! I did it once and that was a mini solo of less than 40 pages, I think. Was it even 20? It was a lot of work. Maybe, just maybe, the summer with its lack of gaming opportunities will be the fount of something after all.

2 comments:

  1. Mm, you made an interesting point about "balanced encounters".
    In my opinion, the right concept on which any solo should be based would rather be "fair encounters".
    Let's take the example of your character (ADDS +5) facing a monster with a MR of 50 (6 + 25).
    Clearly, it's an unbalanced encounter... but that does not mean it has to be unfair.
    Your character could be given a chance to escape or to try some unusual combat tactics (some players do it even if it's not specified in the text), based on one or several SRs.
    It's not new. Ken did it in Arena of Khazan (take the giant, for example).

    Grrraall

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  2. Well put! There are indeed an important difference between unbalanced and unfair.

    I even think unbalanced encounters should occur, but they should be (to use your terminology) fair.

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