Archive for March 11, 2013

The Devil’s Riddle: The Anatomy Lesson

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on March 11, 2013 by Carl

JF from the Solo Nexus website has asked for a bit more information about the anatomy of my solo campaign sessions. Happy to oblige, JF.

Every session begins with a trip to the GM Emulator to ask a series of questions. These questions and answers dictate what happens to my characters in the scene; sometimes I’ll write narrative as I get the answers, sometimes I’ll ask a series of questions before starting to turn the results into story. Sometimes I’ll eve juggle the order of the questions once I have them all answered if that makes more narrative sense.

My rules of decision-making are as follows;

  • I roleplay my PCs (unless I’m genuinely unsure how they would react, in which case I ask the Emulator.).
  • If my PCs interact with the outside world I’ll tend to use a skill check to determine if they succeed.
  • For everything else, for example story questions, environment issues, NPC actions etc I ask the Emulator.

The GM Emulator






Emulator questions come in two flavours; Yes/No questions (the majority of my questions) and Detail Questions.

Yes/ No Questions are the most commonly asked in this campaign. It’s important to ask questions that steer the story, and not to fish too much for the answers you want. That said each question is assigned a probability based on what I think the likely outcome is which steers things to some extent. If I’m unsure it’s 50/50. There are four possible answers here; Yes, No, Exceptional Yes and Exceptional No. Those last two cause some of the unpredictable story twists that make this campaign such fun to play.

Detail Questions are used far more rarely. These are the “what, why, how, where, who” questions, and interpreting them, whilst often causing bit of head-scratching, can lead to some interesting new story directions. These need to be used sparingly or things can end up a bit too random.

Every now and again the Emulator throws me a curveball, with a Random Event tied to one of the questions that can set the story off in new, unexpected directions.

Other Tools

Microlite20 (Stefan Edition): This light d20 RPG, customised by Stefan, is sufficiently simple to keep play moving along quickly, whilst having enough versatility to handle pretty much anything I throw at it.

D30 DM Companion: If my story takes me into a new unknown location I’ll tend to use this document to roll up an interesting random location. I also use it to populate dungeon encounters. If the GM Emulator determines that the location is occupied with hostiles, traps or both the D30 document randomises those too.

Roll20: I’ve been trialing this tool for dungeon-crawling, and I’ve been pretty happy with it so far. I can use any map I find as my battlemat, my character sheets are all held in one place, and the macros and HP/ mana point trackers speed up combat enormously.

To illustrate the use of the tools mentioned above I’ll annotate the next session post I write.