I appreciate that the title sounds a bit essayish but today we’re talking about ancient artefacts and monster sex so, y’know, its not all that dry.
Quick note: all the images in this article lead to their respective game’s itch.io page. Some are free so check them out.
What are Solo RPGs?
For anyone unfamiliar with the premise. A solo RPG is a game in which you take on a role (a thief, an abandoned sword, someone with a fetish for slime monsters) and play through a story of your own creation with helpful prompts to keep you on track.
Earlier this year I wrote about the excellent The Artefact which puts you in the role of a magical item that passes from wielder to wielder over the course of centuries or millenia. You decide what the story is with the use of helpful prompts and information like who your new wielder is and what mechanically happens to you after a long time alone. In my favourite run through of it I played an axe that learned the power of runes and over the course of centuries carved the runes necessary to create a golem body and rescue its beloved wielder who was trapped in ice.
It was powerful stuff and I genuinely found myself in desperate need of a hug afterwards. Even if it was all my own creation.
Roll For Emotions
Solo RPGS take on many different forms but the one I’ve come across most often is the “journal” format. In journal games you write down what happened, how you felt, etc in relation to various event prompts and try to illicit that same level of unrestrained honesty you would have in a real journal. No-one else has to see what you write so you can be as emotional as you like. Which is amazing for exploring emotions that you might not get to experience safely. Abandonment, betrayal, or even an insight into the less explored parts of your sexuality.
And this is where solo RPGS get really interesting to me.
In traditional RPGS, you have a group that (normally) have your best interests at heart. You have a person running the game that is constantly being reminded by rulebooks and forums to make sure nothing terrible happens and to help fix it if it does. If you get horribly betrayed in a fantasy adventure, you have friends to grieve with. After the session has ended you can discuss it and separate yourself from your character.
In solo RPGS however, you’re encouraged to get fully invested. To feel those feelings as if they were happening to you and write about them. And as someone whose dove right into these games, I can attest, you draw upon parts of you didn’t know existed. One game, The Beast, prompts you to come up with some darkly sexual reason for lusting after a monster and suddenly the subconcious is digging out strange fetishes from some unseen hole. All like, “aww yeah we like em slimy”.
“…it is an intentionally solitary, somewhat melancholy experience, and as such it may not be the best thing to play if you are struggling with feelings of loneliness. ”The Artefact – Preparing To Play
Mousehole Press, the creators of The Artefact, included a disclaimer at the start of their game that said “roleplay responsibly”. Which, after playing, I’m extremely grateful they did. At the time I got it for review, my partner was away on safari for two weeks and I was in a city I didn’t know. Playing a game about loneliness and abandonment in that mindset wouldn’t have just been unpleasant it would have been downright reckless. The Beast likewise warns you that it is an “unsettling and erotic game”. Which means both require a conscious preparation to play. If you’re going into The Artefact you’ll want to have some aftercare available afterwards. And yes, I do mean that in a very similar way to BDSM. Phone a friend, watch something upbeat, whatever you need to come out of that headspace and return comfortably to normality.
There are loads of solo RPGs on itch.io that run the entire emotional spectrum. Some help you to explore loneliness and acceptance of death like Adrift. Others encourage you to tell cozy stories in fantasy worlds like Sandwich County. Some explore romance and sexuality like The Beast or HUNGER. And I am clearly revealing my own tastes by only highlighting monster romance games…. While others focus on gamifying meditiation with through music or journalling.
It can be scary to open ourselves up and explore deep emotions but the results are wonderfully therapeutic. I encourage everyone who reads this to go, find a game that speaks to you and give it a try.
Solo RPGs might not be for everyone, but I hope you find something that allows you to explore, learn something new, or remember something good you’ve forgotten about yourself.
Oh, and check back in a couple of days for my review of The Beast!