Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Solitaire Adventures

I've mentioned before that I used to have an unthinking prejudice against Tunnels & Trolls (I'm over it -- more on that later). One of the reasons I did so, aside from the spells names, which still bug me -- but I digress -- were the large number of solitaire adventures available for the game. Indeed, it seemed to me back then that there were way more solitaire adventures available for T&T than there were "regular" adventures. I took this as evidence that very few people actually played the game. As I reasoned, if lots of people did play T&T, why would there be a need for solitaire adventures? Why not just go and find a group of people to play with like "normal" gamers?

You have to remember that, when I felt this way, I was young and it was at the height of roleplaying's never-to-be-repeated faddish popularity. Back then, it really was easy to find a gaming group for just about any game you wanted to play. Between the pick-up games in game stores, the game days in public libraries, and RPG clubs in schools, it was amazingly easy to find other gamers who shared your particular tastes, whatever they might have been. Goodness knows I was introduced to a lot of games in those days through these avenues, so why couldn't "those T&T weirdos" find some others to play with?

As I discovered, Tunnels & Trolls wasn't the only game to have solitaire adventures. RuneQuest had them too and I had seen RQ players with my own eyes, so I knew they existed in large enough numbers to support campaigns, whereas I never met a T&T player in the flesh until years later. Granted, I thought RQ players were weirdos too -- like I said, I was young -- but RuneQuest always struck me as having a fairly large following. So, what was the appeal of all these solitaire adventures?

You have to remember that, although I did read them, I was never a huge fan of Choose Your Own Adventure-style books. I owned a few of the Fighting Fantasy books, of course, but they always seemed somehow "deficient" to me -- a poor substitute for actually sitting around a table with my friends and roleplaying "properly." On some level, I still feel that way, which is why I've similarly been unenthused about computer roleplaying games, even when they're really well done, like Planescape: Torment or Knights of the Old Republic. Obviously, not everyone feels this way -- nor did they back in the day -- but I have to admit to continued bafflement at the appeal of it all.

I do own several T&T solitaires, which I recently bought as part of my researches into that venerable game. I plan on playing them soon, since I've been meaning to do so for some time. Once I have, I'll be sure to make a post or two about the experience, since this is largely terra incognita for me and some may find my thoughts as I explore this area of gaming interesting (or at least amusing).

36 comments:

  1. D&D in 1st ed had a lot of solo adventures as well- that's how I got introduced to gaming in the first place.

    Although there are a lot of non-solitaire T&T games. Clans of the Cave Bear is one of them, and there are even a few adventures written by non other than Micheal Stackpole himself.

    My game place didn't have much of these. I had to order them through a Chessex catalog. But, at the time I started gamers were very rare. I barely knew anyone in my home town that did it. So I played T&T with a handful of friends, using a book borrowed from my uncle.

    Five years later, Vampire hit the scene and my small home town was filled with gamers.

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  2. 1e had lots of solo adventures? I must have missed those, because I can't recall a single one.

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  3. @James: Judges Guild produced at least one for D&D in the late 70s...I remember owning it. It even had a cardstock cover.

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  4. Herb,

    You recall the title? I'm really curious now.

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  5. I recall "Midnight in Dagger Alley" which was a solitaire thief module that employed cutting-edge "magic eye technology" (a strip of red transparent film).

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  6. JG had a solitaire module for AD&D named "Dragon's Hall." Maybe that's the one Herb is ref'ing.


    I have that one (snagged it pretty recently) but have yet to run it. Hoping to do that soon. It should be fun!

    Here's a pic of the cover, grabbed from this cool site.

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  7. I believe TSR made atleast half a dozen solitaire modules. The Back in '81 blog has a post about some: http://tinyurl.com/l9sksy

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  8. Hey, thanks for the press, ze bulette.

    Oh and according to the blurb posted on that JG site (and elsewhere - must be JG's product description for it) "The Book of Ruins" also has some solitaire potential.

    JG's "Survival of the Fittest" was a pretty popular solitaire romp (IIRC), but it is specified for use with D&D (errr ... OD&D...hehe), not AD&D.

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  10. I was too busy working my way through college to look for a gaming group, hence I read them all - Choose your own adventure books, fighting fntasy, Lone Wolf, magic series. T&T solo adventures were too expensive by comparison. Choose your own adventure was the first series and it was free at the pubic library. I also had the misfortune of playing in a juvenile group where the biggest fighters were guys with Napoleon complexes who were getting beat up in high school and who got off beating up other plyers in the game. Coming out of this disappointment ( I was seeing the game as a cover illustration from the Keep of the Borderlands) let me tell you, while CRPGs and Choose your own adventure books CAN NOT HOLD A CANDLE to a good well prepared DM, however, Baldur's Gate and Planescape Torment were a GODSENT, when compared with sessions played with mediocre DMs and neurotic players doing self therapy via role playing. I remember the amazement at the way the magic worked and was balanced in Balsur's gate and it was counterbalance to the mediocre comments such as this: DM (irritaded nasal whine): I don't know what it looks like! It's a +1 sword!

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  11. If you haven't already, head on over to www.trollhalla.com to visit with Ken St. Andre and the most active group of international T&T enthusiasts you'll ever meet.

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  12. I am playing through Planescape: Torment right now for the first time and thoroughly enjoying it. Of course, it cannot compete with the dynamic of a real live group, but it still allows for meaningful decisions and roleplaying. I particularly like how your alignment is determined by your actions and your dialogue options are influenced by your intelligence and charisma. My pitifully weak, very smart and charismatic Nameless One is a badass! It has gotten me seriously thinking about starting up a planescape game with the Labyrinth Lord rules.

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  13. Back in the day, I would run players through solo modules also, which opened the games up to options not explicitly listed in the paragraphs.

    In your research of T&T solos, get ready for some very uneven adventuring!

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  14. It's true there were more Solo's than GM adventures. I think that's because the rules encourage each GM to make his own dungeon, complete with an in game alter ego running things.

    Our group had all of the solos between us the GM adventures. We'd get together for group play and use the solos when we couldn't (like school nights, we were ten when we started). Solos were handy becuase they allowed you to never be without a T&T fix. :D

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  15. One Thanksgiving I didn't go home and printed a copy of XS2 “Thunderdelve Mountain” back when you could get PDFs. I killed all three of my characters very quickly, then I gave up and watched football. This was not an easy dungeon crawl and I refused to cheat. As a kid I had a copy of Midnight in Dagger Alley and played it a lot. It was the sandbox of solo modules as I remember it. Basically a big blurry map of a city block that you needed the magic viewer to see and a book with the descriptions of the buildings you could enter. It had three different quest for the three different pre-gens. I vaguely remember them being a scavenger hunts for the thief and a list of people to kill for the assassin. Not sure. I think the third pregen was a monk but can’t remember the quest.

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  16. "In your research of T&T solos, get ready for some very uneven adventuring!"

    I can validate this, as I own most of the T&T solos and have played through almost all of them. The quality is very uneven, with Buffalo Castle, the very first, catching much deserved flak. In case anyone cares, my favorites are Arena of Khazan, Dark Temple, and Overkill. My least favorite are Deathrap Equalizer, Sea of Mystery, and Buffalo Castle. Individual tastes vary, of course. Everyone else's favorite of all time is City of Terrors, but I could never get a character powerful enough to get close to the recommended number of Personal Combat Adds, so I've never actually played it.

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  17. In general , the earlier T&T solos are not as good as the later ones; there's an unfortunate tendency toward silliness, and they're a bit random (in some cases, literally so: you roll dice to see what scenario you're transported to). I like some later ones very much, as they get more inventive. Amulet of the Salkti, Captif D'Ivoire, and Beyond the Wall of Tears are some of my favorites. And then there's the infamous Abyss, which one plays with characters who have died; if they pass through successfully, they are resurrected.

    V-word: Shnedron (which sounds like someone you might meet in one of these adventures).

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  18. There's a short solo adventure in the Red Box D&D rulebook, as I recall.

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  19. There's a short solo adventure in the Red Box D&D rulebook, as I recall.

    The Mentzer one, yes, but I never owned that one.

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  20. The first D&D sole module I remember is CM5 Mystery of the Snow Pearls

    http://www.pen-paper.net/rpgdb.php?op=showbook&bookid=2538

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  21. I remember owning 2 solo adventures for B/X D&D back in the day. One of them was "Lathan's Gold". Vaguely remember it now - I think there was a pregen elf you played and the adventure included a lot of sailing from location to location.

    The other solo module I had was called Blizzard Pass. It was a rather odd module that made use of an invisible ink marker to gradually reveal the storyline and dungeon map. Your character started imprisoned by goblins, and most of the adventure was the escape attempt. It was quite a bit of fun - but it sure was a bitch when you left the cap of the marker allowing it to run dry.

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  22. James said:
    "You have to remember that, although I did read them, I was never a huge fan of Choose Your Own Adventure-style books. I owned a few of the Fighting Fantasy books, of course, but they always seemed somehow "deficient" to me -- a poor substitute for actually sitting around a table with my friends and roleplaying "properly." On some level, I still feel that way, which is why I've similarly been unenthused about computer roleplaying games, even when they're really well done, like Planescape: Torment or Knights of the Old Republic. Obviously, not everyone feels this way -- nor did they back in the day -- but I have to admit to continued bafflement at the appeal of it all."

    Speaking as someone who played many choose-your-own-adventure books and console RPGs before discovering pen and paper, I don't think it's accurate to compare the three as points on a single spectrum, with one being a "poor man's" version of some superior other. I did not play "Secret of Mana" on my Super Nintendo because local GMs sucked or something but because it was a legitimately interesting passtime in its own right. I did not play D&D with my friends to emulate video games but to achieve a totally different but equally valid result.

    Don't think of Planescape: Torment as the dessicated astronaut food version of a tabletop RPG but as a beautiful Rubic's Cube. Do you resent the Rubic's Cube's lack of sandboxy freedom? Of course not, you enjoy the challenging of playing on its own terms and unravelling its mysteries.

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  23. Marion: Mystery of the Snow Pearls is an excellent adventure... easily one of my favorite OD&D adventures (solo or otherwise).

    As a child who spent the early '80s in single-digit age territory (and one who grew up in south Florida, where the median age was 187 and my nearest friend was a 20-minute drive), the solo adventures were a godsend. None of the various options were a substitute for "real" gaming (although I would argue that, in some cases, they were better substitutes than the noodling of 10-to-12-year-olds that we passed off as gaming), but they were -- to me -- excellent "tastes" of the full gaming experience... one that prepped me well for when I went to college and had time and friend-access to "real" RPGs for practically the first time in my life.

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  24. In general , the earlier T&T solos are not as good as the later ones

    That pretty much matches my experiences, as well.

    Word verification: fecked (presented without comment)

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  25. There were two T&T ones I loved; Naked Doom, and Mirrow World, that I incorporated into the main city of my regular world to use for group games. I based a lot of fun, harrowing city dungeon adventures on those (especially ND, where you start running naked into the entrance with archers shooting at you). They are still there, and when I need a quick basic dungeon for short whimsy city adventures I go to those. Especially suited for randomization or "winging it".

    My favorite all timer was for T&T or D&D, and I cannot for the life of me remember it. I mainly remember just a few things: walking down a paved road in a jungle; some city ruins way off in the distance that you could not go to (I think), and monkeys in the trees. At some point you have to fight a black knight to pass. It had great atmosphere.

    Can anyone remember the name of that one???

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  26. I'll offer some unsolicited advice when playing through a T&T solo:

    * Remember all of the rules of T&T apply, even to solos, unless they state otherwise. In other words, if facing a big bad monster, you may still set an SR for dodging the creature to get in close, even if it isn't explicitly stated in the paragraph. If your character's SR is successful you may get in close and deliver an un-countered hit. This is covered in Combat Section 2.37.

    Best,

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  27. Tunnels & Trolls was the first RPG I ever played at the ripe old age of 6.

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  28. Judges Guild survival of the fittest
    for OD&D.

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  29. Demian's Gamebook Webpage (http://www.gamebooks.org/) is a fairly exhaustive on-line source for info about gamebooks. According to the site, TSR released an 18-book AD&D series between 1985 and 1988. It included "The Ghost Tower," a gamebook adaptation of "The Ghost Tower of Inverness." There's also a series of D&D "Solitaire Adventures" listed there.

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  30. I have a copy of the magazine "Imagine," issue #12, March 1984, published by TSR UK Ltd. It contains a solitaire by Mike Brunton, called "The Tombs of the Kings." It's a solo meant to introduce people to RPGs. It can be played by any of three different rules sets: A special rules set written specifically for the game, Basic D&D, or T&T. It's 195 paragraphs, but it's effectively shorter than that, because some paragraphs are not applicable for all three of the allowed rules sets. I still find it interesting that TSR (even if it was in the UK) published a T&T solo game (even if it wasn't strictly only T&T).

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  31. Tekumel's Gardasiyal system had a good series of solo adventures. Try those out if you get a chance!

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  32. Don't think of Planescape: Torment as the dessicated astronaut food version of a tabletop RPG but as a beautiful Rubic's Cube. Do you resent the Rubic's Cube's lack of sandboxy freedom? Of course not, you enjoy the challenging of playing on its own terms and unravelling its mysteries.

    The thing is that a Rubik's Cube doesn't claim to be a roleplaying game, whereas Planescape: Torment does. Granted, it's a computer roleplaying game and perhaps that additional term should clue me in to its inherent limitations, but the fact remains that there's an entire genre of computer games that claims affinity with tabletop RPGs. Finding these games lacking in comparison doesn't seem unfair to me.

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  33. James said:
    "The thing is that a Rubik's Cube doesn't claim to be a roleplaying game, whereas Planescape: Torment does... there's an entire genre of computer games that claims affinity with tabletop RPGs. Finding these games lacking in comparison doesn't seem unfair to me."

    So in essence what's ultimately bothering you is what you perceive to be innacurate/false advertising? Would you have enjoyed Planescape: Torment on its own terms if it had been clearly labelled from the get go as a "strategy-puzzle-story game" instead of a "role playing game"?

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  34. It's kind of interesting that once I thought just like James when seeing those T&T solos. 'Why not just go and find a group of people to play with like "normal" gamers?' was just what I was thinking!

    Now, many years later I've found that it's not always easy to find gamers, and that the rules of T&T have just that free wheeling style I would have loved already back then.

    Buffalo Castle might not be conforming to very sound "dungeon ecology", but I don't give a damn! It's an exploration into weird worlds of fantasy, and it's funny.

    Watch out for anything written by Andy Holmes, though. Very well done, but deadly even compared to the T&T mainline!!

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  35. I'm not really ready to share yet, but it's topical...

    I have been designing a new fantasy RPG specifically designed for solo adventures, to play with my wife.

    If anyone is searching for more solo RPG material, enjoy! (and please pardon the under-construction status)

    http://davidvs.net/rpg/

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  36. There are some really good solitaire RPG adventures, but it seems the bad ones tend to be very bad. I think the (IMHO) good ones really are just “Choose Your Own Adventure” books under the auspices of an RPG.

    A good solitaire adventure, however, can also be a good introduction to a game. It’s a mix of a CYOA book with mechanic tutorials. Personally, I think I find this more effective that just straight examples of applying mechanics. It makes me do the example rather than just read it. It tends to make me care about the outcome more than just an example. Perhaps best of all, though, is that it tends to provide more context—at what point in play is this mechanic likely to come up—that examples.

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