After talking to Jon from the Tale of The Manticore podcast, and playing a short improvised game with him, I am feeling inspired to try my hand at a longer-form solo play. This is something that has generally alluded me throughout the years and thus presents a significant challenge.
Before we begin, here’s my methodological starting point: The Mythic GM Emulator Deck, the Fantasy GM Apprentice Deck, and I are going to play a fantasy adventure game using HARP with a religiously motivated character. For the longest time, I have wanted to play in a game wherein religious belief was taken more seriously and where themes around belief are more prominent.
The character was created previously to my session using the HARP Fantasy core rulebook plus play through a streamlined version of the “Guided Character Creation” rules found in the Imagine Roleplaying supplement, “Legends of The Unknown”. This mini-game generates some random events from the early life of the character and I determined their decisions about a mix of moral dilemmas to add some backstory.
The religion of the community was generated using the random tables in the HARP supplement, “Beyond The Veil”. Here I discovered some useful ideas and hooks in fleshing out my character as a ‘Cleric’ within the system. I’m going to drop information about the religious practices and beliefs of the character into play rather than subject you to lengthy exposition.
Finally, in terms of my write-ups of the play, the intention is to blend the game play outcomes with a narrative presentation. This will be a first-draft of the story and I aim to include dialogue as a tool to deepen my own sense of Otherworld-immersion while playing solo. To this end, going forward, I aim to reduce and minimise the presentation of mechanisms of play.
The Learning Session
Session 1 is generally a learning session in my solo experience. When I am using a new set of game rules, I need to figure out how to use them and build some confidence in my ability to adjudicate them alongside the GM Emulator. Because the most basic game structure is the Combat game, a feature of almost all fantasy roleplaying games, I am going to begin with a simple fight.
As an exercise in learning, I am also going to begin with more of the mechanisms forward in the presentation of my notes with the intent of helping me to memorise them. My hope is that this will also help readers new to HARP and solo play generally get a grasp of my methodology when interacting with a game designed for group play. If you prefer to ignore the mechanisms of play, allow your eyes to skip over text in italics.
We begin in the forest, about a mile from the community wherein our character grew up, and it’s all about to get very dangerous.
Ragan and the Goblin
It was perhaps an hour past dusk and Ragan was sitting beneath his beloved Moon Goddess bathing in the rays of her light. Nights of the full moon were always the best times for prayer and his goddess’ power was always strongest for those three nights. “Leilani, the Moon Queen, Lady of the Dreamwalkers, I bring my focus and my heart to you once more. Bless me, Lady of the Night, and bring me to your doorway of consciousness.”
Ragan was breathing deeply, in through his nose while he pictured his belly filling from the lowest depths steadily up to the top of his chest. As he reached the top of the breath he was exhaling out through his mouth, slightly forcing the air back out as his belly emptied fully and much more slowly than it filled. This form of breathing built focus and calmed the young man as he prepared for the meditation.
Mythic sets up the game with a Chaos Factor of 5. This factor modifies the odds of a Yes result when we ask Fate Questions of the deck. Factor 5 means no modifiers, lower makes Yes less likely, higher makes Yes more likely.
All of this was interrupted by the distant sound of shouts, cries filled with alarm, and the whomp of something impacting the ground. Opening his eyes quickly, Ragan glanced northward towards the sounds. He knew in an instant that the village was under attack for he could already see the flickering glow of fire and the shouts were beginning to turn to panicked cries.
Exhaling slowly, Ragan decided to rise and investigate. Although he was attached to the people of his village, he was also mindful of the wisdom of Lailani: ‘Foolish it is to rush into matters of life or death. The wise seek to observe and act from the cool light of the Moon.’
Ragan rose and picked up his longbow, shouldering the quiver, and walked calmly towards his camp, trying to remain focused for each of the twenty-eight paces back to the fire pit. Putting down the bow and quiver again, Ragan began the long process of rolling up his bedroll, stowing his gear, and poured earth over the fire in the round stone pit he had used many dozens of times. Lifting his backpack onto his back, shouldering the quiver once more, and picking up both the bow and his spear, Ragan turned purposefully towards the north.
Because Ragan is cautious, I am going to test his Stalking & Hiding skill to set up the difficulty for anyone he encounters to spot him as he moves through the forest. Ragan is used to these woods so I think this will mean he is at ease, giving him a Medium difficulty (+0) challenge. Rolling d100, with high results being favourable, this will be a Resistance Roll: the result will set up the difficulty for any observer to beat. Ragan has +29 Stalking & Hiding and rolls… 82. The total is 111 and looking on the Maneuver Table we see that the result is 130. Thus, observers would need 130 or more to notice Ragan approaching through the woods.
Ragan felt good as he jogged lightly towards the sounds of battle and the glow of fire in the forest ahead. As he closed, perhaps 200 yards from the edge of the village, Ragan slowed and crouched. Moving carefully and deliberately, the young acolyte found a spot behind a large bush from which to watch.
I need to ask some questions to set up the scene. We already know the village is being attacked. Are the attackers Goblins? Seems very likely to me so I draw three Mythic cards and any Yes will do. The first card is a Yes, so I stop drawing. Because I want to have a quick fight to learn the rules, I decide that there are some nearby Goblins that Ragan could engage. Do they notice him? Their Perception is +35 and I decide to draw their result from the GM Apprentice Deck using the d% result on the card… which is 90. This gives the Goblins a 125 which is not quite enough to beat Ragan’s target number of 130 with his Stalking & Hiding. No, the Goblins don’t notice him.
The village was in chaos. Small humanoid creatures with roundish heads, stub noses and wide tooth-filled mouths were running around. Some of the creatures were fighting the human defenders while others were shooting from afar using short bows. Ragan had seen Goblins before and he knew of their cruelty. Most likely, he reasoned, a tribe was moving through the forest seeking slaves to trade with their Hobgoblin masters. It had been many years, however, not since Ragan was very young, that he had seen Goblins this deep in the forest.
Ragan placed his spear horizontally on the ground, slipped his backpack off onto the ground, and drew an arrow slowly from his quiver. Nocking the arrow, he sighted along the shaft and began looking for a target. There, out on the periphery of the village, were watchers – Goblin sentries whose role was to warn their raiding brethren should rescuers emerge from the trees to counterattack. Slowing his breath and holding it, Ragan aimed at his target.
Time to learn how to make a ranged attack. HARP Combat runs in 2-second rounds. The first step is to roll Initiative where each combatant rolls 1d10 plus their Quickness and Insight bonuses. Modifiers for the situation also apply. High is good. Ragan has +15 Initiative bonus from Quickness and Insight but is using a two-handed weapon for a -5 penalty. Having removed his backpack, he is thankfully unencumbered and takes no penalty from the extra weight. He rolls… 5 plus 10 = 15. The Goblin is surprised (-20) and has a +15 Initiative bonus. Does it have a bow? Seems 50/50 either way, draws… Yes. The Goblin’s short bow gives it a further -5 to the roll. Draw d10 from the Apprentice Deck… 6 minus 10 = -4. Ragan will act first.
Ragan loosed the arrow, watching as the creature noticed too late the incoming projectile.
We make Ragan’s d100 open-ended Attack Roll… scores 04. Adding his +36 Offensive Bonus is not looking too good = 40. That said, the Goblin is unaware so he gains another +20 = 60. The Goblin has a Defensive Bonus of 30 which is subtracted from the attack’s total = 30. This is a hit – phew! Ragan’s bow is a medium sized weapon which adds nothing to the total when we check the Puncture Critical Table: “You neatly skewer his weapon arm. 8 hits.”
The arrow struck true, thudding into the creature’s right arm and eliciting a sharp yelp of pain. Ragan smiled as he saw the confused Goblin glance down at the long shaft of the arrow sticking out of him.
From here, I am going to switch to narrative mode and begin de-emphasising the rules mechanisms.
The Goblin shouted in pain and crouched, bending to inspect the arrow’s wound.
Do other Goblins respond? Seems likely = No. Nice!
The Goblins began to glance around furtively. Ragan drew a new arrow and nocked it. With a yank, the Goblin pulled the arrow from its arm and tried to spot its attacker.
I give the Goblin a +20 to Perception here. It draws 70 + 20 + 35 = 125. Still not seeing Ragan. I also take a moment to establish the range in case we need to track movement. Given than Ragan is shooting with no penalties or bonuses, I decide it’s at 80 feet. By the way, reloading a bow take 2 rounds.
Ragan drew the bow and took aim at the Goblin once more. The creature was looking worried as it glanced furtively about, looking for its enemy. All around behind it the battle swirled and the village was lit by the yellow light of burning wood.
Ragan held his breath once more and loosed the arrow. The shaft flew across the 80 feet of open ground and buried itself in the Goblin’s side. The pain visibility stunned the creature as it glanced downward to stare at the feathers barely visible beneath its ribs on the right side. The Goblin rocked slowly as blood spread underneath its soft leather jerkin.
Ragan drew another arrow, nocked it, and aimed once more. The seconds ticked by without much activity from his quarry. The question of whether he would kill it crossed his mind but he dismissed it with disdain: these foul raiders needed to die for all the cruelty they had unleashed upon his home. The loosed the arrow and watched as it buried itself between the eyes of the Goblin. It took two seconds for the creature to die and slump sideways in a pool of darkly spreading blood from its side wound.
OK, so now we have run some combat I feel ready to take the story forward. The scene went well, so I reduce the Mythic Chaos Factor to 4. What will Ragan do next?