Solo play: everyone’s talking about it. Well, perhaps not everyone, but it’s been on my mind recently. Several people have written to me during the pandemic to say they’ve used the tables in the Vaarn zines to run solo campaigns, and the idea appealed to me. Really, who needs players? The true GM can challenge themselves with genius content they created, freed from the burden of explaining things to other people or acknowledging their point of view. A veritable ouroboros of gaming.
The other impetus is that I recently created an automated Vaarn PC generator, and was quite keen on some of the characters it was spitting out, along with some of the new rules I’ve been working up for wilderness travel and exploration. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to make a quick and dirty solo play dice oracle, based on Chris McDowall’s version, and see where the winds of fate took me.
First we need a cast, so let’s roll the dice:
I like this already. Fflaa seems like they’ve bankrupted themselves to pay for all that folded-carbide jewellery. The image of a hulking sapient gorilla wearing a jester mask appeals to me as well on some primal level. Is there a connection between the fool mask and the severed fool’s head? There has to be. Anyway, let’s see who’s next up for our party:
Again, superb. A mute, hulking, falcon-shaped mining drone who believes Vaarn is a simulation. Seeks-the-Path is absolutely welcome in our adventuring party. I think they have a lot to offer. Their mystic gift, Blossoming Chaos, really interests me as well. So who else are we meeting today? Third time’s the charm:
Intriguing. We’ve got two mutes in a row. I guess Fflaa will be doing all our negotiating. Xhiva’s exotica seems like something they ought to keep very well hidden from Seeks-the-Path. I think I’m going to cap our party size at three for the moment, as that seems like a nice manageable group of rogues.
So how do these three know each other? I decided to ask my oracle, and received the following answer: our symbol is The Lion (courage, royalty), and its position is Caged. This seems like it’s related to Xhiva somehow, as the fungus being was born from the corpse of a king. Is this correct? The dice oracle says YES. I feel like Fflaa and StP are servants of Xhiva, or sworn to the royal line the mycomorph is descended from? The dice oracle says NO, BUT. Interesting. I’m going to say they’re responsible for resurrecting the king using mycomorphic spores. For what purpose? They’re vault raiders, so I guess they want Xhiva to lead them to some forgotten ruin. I’m going to ask the oracle to elaborate on that a bit. We get The Warrior (honor, violence) Falling. I’m going to say they’re looking for a long-lost weapon or weapons silo, in the hope of deposing a living tyrant. More details on that as we play.
I’ve decided to start them out on foot, and we’re going to play through some days from my Vaarnish travel generator. It’s a bit rough at the moment but it cuts down on some of the dice rolling for me. I’ll be using some of my private weather generators and suchlike to spice things up as well.
DAY ONE – The three travellers walk across the barren blue landscape of Vaarn all morning, encountering nothing. The weather is breezy but calm enough. The afternoon is likewise uneventful. The party decide to camp out in the open, lacking alternatives. Fflaa and Xhiva consume a ration of water and food each; Seeks-the-Path doesn’t need to. The synth takes watch. Unfortunately, the ex-mining synth fails their PSY save to detect the three cacogen pseudo-giants who have silently snuck up on them in the darkness. The mutants attack!
Fflaa and Xhiva are wakened from their sleep by guttural roars as hulking, armless cacogen try to stamp on them with their horrible club-like feet. Fflaa and StP are actually unharmed by the surprise round, Xhiva suffers some minor injuries. The three leap to their feet and lose initiative; the cacogen attack ferociously, inflicting a critical hit and a Major Fracture upon Seeks-the-Path and knocking Xhiva’s HP down to 0. This is unquestionably the time to flee.
The three vault-raiders bolt heedlessly through the midnight sands, pursued by the panting, bellowing pseudo-giants. Unfortunately their CON saves are bad, and they barely make it a hundred feet before the cacogen catch up to them, dealing further bludgeoning damage to Seeks-the-Path, who has now lost one of their visual sensors, and Xhiva, who is dealt a Crippling Blow. The trio continue running, and after a nail-biting pursuit, manage to escape the hungry cacogen.
DAY TWO – Dawn finds the party shaken and badly injured. Seeks-the-Path and Xhiva both need somewhere to rest and recover. Fflaa is unharmed, thanks to their better quality armour and some lucky rolls. I ask the oracle if they can find somewhere hidden to stay, and the answer, thankfully, is YES. I imagine they discover an ancient shepherd’s hut, built from rough clay bricks, and take shelter inside. They spend the entire day and night recovering, using up two more rations. Seeks-the-Path’s wounds are too serious to be repaired through rest and shelter; the party will need to find a synth surgeon to fix their leg and eye.
DAY THREE – the day dawns inauspiciously; the sky is filled with swirling clouds that have come from Golgotha, the grave of the Titans. Purple lightning flickers eerily in the storm-mass, but no rain falls. There’s a question in my mind of whether the party should travel or not. They only have another night’s worth of rations available, but the storm doesn’t look good either. My oracle says of their mindset: CRONE (wisdom, endings) ROOTED. I interpret this to mean that the three adventurers decide it would be wise to stay in the hut for another night. They consume another set of rations; Xhiva’s Crippling Wound heals. Fflaa takes watch, and during the night the new-gorilla hears the susurration of an enormous and sinuous creature making its way across the sands, but fortunately their hut is beneath its notice.
DAY FOUR – we really need some food and water, so the trio set out again across the wastes. The day is windy and there’s some dust being picked up from the badlands; visibility is bad. In the haze they walk past the crumbling shrine of a nameless god, long since abandoned, and they find a cask of ale half-buried in the sands, which Fflaa picks up. It’s not fresh water but it’ll do.
In the afternoon the party come upon a party of 20-odd Faa nomads. They are travelling on foot, alongside their healthy feastbeasts. Their mood is ‘overconfident’. They have excess axes and want beer. This seems like a very lucky break, so Fflaa hails the nomads. The newbeast doesn’t speak the Faa tongue, but the nomads know some Vaarnish words and they’re able to negotiate a trade deal for eight day’s worth of food and water, in exchange for the cask of ale and Fflaa’s bottle of strong liquor. The nomads carve chunks off one of their feastbeasts right there in the sands, and give the meat to Fflaa on the spot. A job well done.
The party break camp for the night in a sheltered hollow. Xhiva takes watch, but nothing approaches the campsite.
DAY FIVE – A sandstorm! The Urth has been obscured by a raging cloud of blue sand. Our trio huddle in their hollow, hoping the storm will abate, but the wind howls all day and long into the night. Something large moves out in the storm somewhere, but they escape notice.
DAY SIX – The day dawns clear enough, although dust-clouds can be seen on the horizon. During the morning’s travel, the party encounter a dying leopard worm, a smaller predatory relative of Vaarn’s giant sandworms. Fflaa and Xhiva butcher the creature for meat; they gain six day’s worth of rations from the ailing 6HD predator. That night they hunker down beneath the stars, chewing some seared worm-meat, and contemplating the vast distance still to travel.
THOUGHTS: I’m going to leave it there for now, but this was a lot of fun, I can absolutely see the appeal. If I play again I’ll probably give some more thoughts on where exactly they’re going, and use the oracle to develop more detail on the actual plot, but the wandering was pretty fun. We really need to find a synth surgeon for Seeks-the-Path; that initial combat where we got ambushed by three pseudo-giants was absolutely brutal for a first level party. I’m pretty happy with the chase mechanic; it’s not too complex, but my heart was in my mouth rolling to get away from those waddling torso monsters, as I didn’t want to lose my synth PC on the first night. Some of the tools I’m using here will be put into Vaults of Vaarn #3, whenever that comes out.