Translate this page:

Translate this page:

Translate this page

Monday, January 6, 2014

“Challenging the player” in a solo game. Is it possible?



I’ve often read the concept of “challenging the player; not the character” in some OSR blogs. Makes total sense, and I think it’s usually an aspect of RPGs that I enjoyed in the past. So, stupid question, outside of adventures crafted for solo play, like the Tunnels & Trolls or Fighting Fantasy kind, can one truly “challenge the player” when you’re playing solo? The answer would seem to be ‘NO’ in most cases as you would run into the so-called Czege Principle (http://random-average.com/TheoryTopics/CzegePrinciple). This being the case, it’s probably safe to say that during solo sessions most of the challenges will be of the “challenge your character” type, which would mean most of your enjoyment would probably come from watching the outcome of putting your character through such challenges; a little bit like playing God with your character perhaps.

However, there is a little solo game called Beloved, which shows that it is indeed possible to challenge yourself as a player: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gnPx8AlhF1TMarQ165Y1vGM382c6epUvCu1-HkXvICI/edit?hl=en&authkey=CJDYi58F&pli=1# The trick here seems to be in coming up with seemingly impossible to solve challenges (in the case of that game, an invincible monster), and then as a player, trying to figure out how the challenge is not actually impossible after all by looking for holes that you may not have been aware of before setting up the challenge.

6 comments:

  1. Very interesting post. When playing a solo RPG with a tool like Mythic, I think there are player challenges. For instance, interpreting the outcomes of a random event in the context of the game narrative. However, it is not a problem-solving challenge, which would be a "player challenge" in old-school games.
    I would say that the Beloved game you mentioned attempts to promote a problem-solving challenge by adding constraints to what you can narrate. This makes me think of how to extend this to other situations.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yup! You totally get what I'm trying to describe.

    You might be interested in this response by the author of Beloved:

    http://story-games.com/forums/discussion/comment/426682#Comment_426682

    He says that the technique works by pitting "past-you" as the GM, against "present-you" as the player. I'm going to buy the new version of the game, to see what improvements he has made.

    As for how to extend the technique, I can only think of physical challenges at the moment. Instead of an undefeatable monster, it could be an impenetrable fortress, an impossible to climb cliff, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the link, that thread was a great read. I guess I should visit the story-games forum more often. That suggestion about a solo game based on character optimization was also something to think about. It could be a variant on Beloved, adding constraints to how you solve the problem -- you start with a legend like the Sleeping Beauty, with several obstacles on the way and you have to make a character that can survive and rescue her...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I love that site. It has a lot of regulars who are also game designers, so I'm always trying to mine it for ideas that might be applicable to solo gaming.

    I forgot about the Charop challenges. Those could be fun, and you could even hang some sort of story on them.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Good question and great post. I've thought about this a lot, especially in regards to Mythic as well. The biggest challenge with Mythic (and probably its biggest criticism) is you can always manipulate the system to your advantage by asking question in such a way that serves you.

    However when I use Mythic, I am aware of when I cheat or when I fudge things a bit. Yes, of course there is no one to call me out. But I think if you follow the impulse not to cheat and adhere as strictly as you to your own sense of logic, challenges and obstacles that you face as a player can be totally legit if you let them be. To overcome the obstacles you have to use your own sense of truth and logic to come to up with realistic solutions. This is compelling when you specifically try to face impossible to beat problems.

    I think this is a whole area of games that could actually fall in a new genre that I probably would call something like "solo game therapy". We watch movies to see characters overcome formidable odds where the stakes are high. What if we intentionally played games in such a way alone that required us to realistically and creatively think of solutions to very difficult problems. What if these challenges reflected problems from our own lives? Under the mask of a character, we are forced to confront and find solutions to problems that we would rather ignore. I kind of want to write a game that does this using my card system of randomized future events detailed in this post:

    http://solodungeoneer.blogspot.com/2012/01/random-thoughts-about-gm-less-play.html

    Maybe translated to an alternate world or dream world where a theme or issue in the players life is explored. The player is character who is infiltrating there own dream world/consciousness like in "The Cell".

    Good post, it's got me thinking. Games usually are an escape but what if that was flipped around?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Good question and great post. I've thought about this a lot, especially in regards to Mythic as well. The biggest challenge with Mythic (and probably its biggest criticism) is you can always manipulate the system to your advantage by asking question in such a way that serves you.

    However when I use Mythic, I am aware of when I cheat or when I fudge things a bit. Yes, of course there is no one to call me out. But I think if you follow the impulse not to cheat and adhere as strictly as you to your own sense of logic, challenges and obstacles that you face as a player can be totally legit if you let them be. To overcome the obstacles you have to use your own sense of truth and logic to come to up with realistic solutions. This is compelling when you specifically try to face impossible to beat problems.


    Yes! I’ve sort of made mention of how much power the framing of a question has. I wasn’t really thinking of that in this post, but thanks for bringing it up as it’s relevant. I can see how it might be that through being disciplined, challenges will eventually show up as you follow your logic. I guess my tendency has been, however, to frame up those challenges as things that can be solved with a roll against some stat.

    I think this is a whole area of games that could actually fall in a new genre that I probably would call something like "solo game therapy". We watch movies to see characters overcome formidable odds where the stakes are high. What if we intentionally played games in such a way alone that required us to realistically and creatively think of solutions to very difficult problems. What if these challenges reflected problems from our own lives? Under the mask of a character, we are forced to confront and find solutions to problems that we would rather ignore. I kind of want to write a game that does this using my card system of randomized future events detailed in this post:

    http://solodungeoneer.blogspot.com/2012/01/random-thoughts-about-gm-less-play.html

    Maybe translated to an alternate world or dream world where a theme or issue in the players life is explored. The player is character who is infiltrating there own dream world/consciousness like in "The Cell".

    Good post, it's got me thinking. Games usually are an escape but what if that was flipped around?


    Ah, that’s a really intriguing thought. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to check out the thread at Storygames. Emily Care posted about some games from the solitaire challenge, and one of them seems to be very close to this idea you mention. The game is called “Map of House”, by Jackson tegu, and it sounds pretty intense from reading the instructions. Check it out here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/12HNkVrHLN-bCIvU2z6IDpfonffL9WRoFf4o_74j1GKQ/edit?hl=en&authkey=CLXxnY8F

    ReplyDelete

Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions, ideas.