Tina Alberino

AKA Alin Walker

What is a solo RPG or journaling game?

This post is going to cost you so. much. money.

Solo games are a bit of a niche within a niche, with a small (but growing!) community. If you’re new to the hobby, you might be asking at least one of the following questions, so I’ve provided some answers and linked a ton of games I have tested and approve of.

What is a solo RPG?

Unlike a traditional, multiplayer RPG (like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder), solo RPGs are designed to be played by one player. Typically, the game book serves as the DM, providing text passages that establish scenarios and art that sets the scene and illustrates game elements. Solo RPGs, like Four Against Darkness (a dungeon-delving game sometimes abbreviated as 4AD) or Dead Belt, tend to include combat and have characters and items with stats.

What is a solo journaling game?

Solo journaling games are incredibly diverse, but their unifying elements are prompts and recording/documenting. Many solo journaling games allow the player to determine their journaling method. Some strongly recommend a specific method for thematic purposes (like voice recordings for Call Your Exes), but for the most part, players may use a journal, voice or video recordings, or even just their imagination to play.

Solo journaling games don’t require many materials and tend to be rules-lite. It’s rare for players to have to track stats or worry about combat. For most games (especially those that are built or adapted from the Wretched & Alone SRD, a ruleset based on the game The Wretched by Chris Bissette), players will only require their preferred journaling tool, a deck of tarot or standard playing cards, a tumbling block tower (which is almost always optional), and maybe a few dice.

Regardless of the rule complexity, players will respond to prompts the game provides. These prompts may require players to describe items, delve into their character’s past (To Keep Ghosts Alive), become a con artist (Fake Guru, Real Vice), explore a physical space (an imaginary one, like in You Can’t Go Home, or a real one, like in Roller Rink Redux), or find a home (Village Witch). You can even tend a lighthouse (Lighthouse at the Edge of the World).

Smaller games tend to contain roll tables instead of prompts. These games are often referred to as “one-pagers.” Sometimes, they come in pamphlet form. Because of the small format, designers lean heavy on tables with broad prompts or activities that are open enough to facilitate replayability. Find conspiracies in a Where’s Waldo book (This Person Should Not Exist), fight your best friend in a battle to the death in a snowy clearing in the woods (Red Snow), or save Goncharov (Saving Goncharov). (If you don’t know who/what Goncharov is, here’s a reference.)

The very best solo games (in my opinion) require players to make something. Solo games that incorporate mapmaking (Delve) or any similar artistic element tend to rank among my favorite experiences. A Mending by Shing Yin Khor resulted in one of the most fulfilling solo journeys I’ve ever taken and allowed me to embroider a beautiful keepsake, which I have framed and hung up in my office.

Where do I find solo RPGs and solo journaling games?

Start at itch.io. Do some exploring on Kickstarter, too. (DriveThruRPG is great also, and has a really robust community, but I personally prefer itch.io.)

Who should I follow for solo gaming news and reviews?

Follow Liz Davidson at Beyond Solitaire immediately. Liz has been my favorite for years. Seeing Beyond Solitaire grow brings me a ton of joy. The Soloist on Substack is also great!

It’s rare to find outlets dedicated exclusively to solo gaming, so Beyond Solitaire and The Soloist are both truly special things. Thankfully, solo gaming is having a bit of an extended moment. (I hesitate to call it a Renaissance for fear of jinxing it.) Popular board gaming sites, like Shut Up & Sit Down and DiceBreaker, are now routinely covering notable solo games, so follow them also…just be prepared for your wishlists to expand exponentially.

If you’d like to see a list of my favorite solos, you can find that on my itch.io profile, along with an ever-expanding list of what I’m planning to play next.

Related Posts

Game Design
Tina Alberino

Devlog 7: Crafting

I spent the last month catching up on home renovation projects, trying to keep my kids entertained, finalizing the last issue of The Dread Machine, and failing at making dice.

Read More »