For people new to solo roleplaying, I have been advocating an approach that I have not particularly formalized - that the best way to start is with the smallest possible framework and a clear idea of your character(s) and setting. After that you should build your ruleset up organically through play. It is an approach proposed in Word Mill Games’ Mythic Dynamic Roleplaying book but it obscured behind the example system that is presented alongside.
Recently Brad Murray of VSCA Games put out his own version of this concept, called Scaffold, in the form of game, a thinkpiece? statement? whatever it is… on VSCA’s itch.io page. Scaffold pitches a couple core questions at you and gives you a single dice mechanic to hit when you need to challenge those concepts. At first glance, if you are not in the right mindset, it might seem like a joke (or a “shitpost” as the kids like to say these days) but it is honestly asking you to think long & hard about what your game is doing before you start layering in mechanisms to interact with. In effect Scaffold wants you to first explain why you are using stats, skills, or hit points in the first place - what purpose do they serve and why are we dealing with them in this way? You should not only “play to find out” what happens in your game world but also what mechanics/systems you need.
One roleplaying game book I happen to love is the Fudge 10th Anniversary Edition because it is a masterclass in explaining game design decisions. It is also an incredibly dense book with multiple methods of modeling different game concepts presented side-by-side and the reader is left to determine which one might serve them best. I thought it might be interesting to just start a solo “scaffolding” game with four questions and a variant of the Fudge Ladder. My questions are a little different than Brad’s but are inspiried by his original text:
- Who are you?
Tell the game about your character. If you aren’t sure what format to use, you can do it tidily in just three words: Adjective, Species, Class/Profession/Role.
Ex. “Daring Human Smuggler”
- What are you good at?
You’ve already broadly sketched some ideas around this topic but maybe list one to three things you excel at.
Ex. “Being charming, fixing technical things, and piloting spaceships.”
- Why are you here?
Ok, we know your outline and a few highlights but why are you in this particular setting… why is the camera following you?
Ex. “I’m in debt up to my ears and people are trying to collect on it by capturing me dead or alive.”
- How do you stay alive?
This questions is a new one, I have created it just now through character creation and is not one addressed in Brad’s game because it is one of those “it is only relevant in certain settings” questions. If my character is in debt and people are after them… how will I know if they are still alive at the end of a scene if a conflict becomes violent? I want some way of tracking this but I’m not sure what the answer is yet. This is an open question I’d like to answer through play.
How do we do things in this game?
We’ll roll four Fudge dice - these are funky six-sided dice, two sides has + (plus) symbols, two sides are blank, and two sides have - (minus) symbols. Numerically a + is worth +1, a blank 0, and - -1 point. Thus a roll of
++-- is worth 0 while a roll of
+ -+ is worth +1. Now this roll produces a range of results from -4 to +4 but how can we determine a plain-English result of a roll? In Fudge the idea is that you compare your result to a “ladder.” Mine will look like this:
- +4 Legendary
- +3 Superb
- +2 Great
- +1 Good
- 0 Fair
- -1 Mediocre
- -2 Poor
- -3 Terrible
- -4 Abysmal
Typically in Fudge, your best “trait” (an attribute, skill, word/phrase that represents some part of your character) is given the rating of “Superb” while things that maybe everyone could some of the time are ranked at “Fair.” When you roll the dice, you start at your level, Superb perhaps, and read the result of your roll. If your roll’s numerical result was a “-2” then you move down the “ladder” - your Superb effort became just a “Good” effort. The result gives us a level of effort so we get more than just success or failure, we get a gradual range of an action’s impact on the game world. This is how you resolve your actions in the world.
Now Fudge has all kinds of bells and whistles for defining your character and taking actions but we don’t need any of those to just start playing. We can look at who our character is, what they are exceptionally good at, and why they are motivated to act and resolve actions by setting a rank and making a roll of the dice when necessary. There is no need to worry about “balancing different character types” at this stage because I don’t even know if it is an interesting question yet.
To answer my 4th questions, “are we even alive still?” I think we can simply set our character’s “alive” status to a rank on the ladder - Superb seems like a good place to start. If, through the result of play, this rank drops below Fair then our character has been taken out of the scene in some fashion. Maybe death, maybe captured. Who knows.
This is more than enough to start play.