Gaming Stag: Playing D&D without a party
Gaming with others is great, but sometimes, you just gotta do it yourself. In Gaming Stag, we tackle solo adventuring in RPGs, board games and more.
Sometimes you just want to roll dice and adventure. But getting the crew together to do so isn’t always an option. So, that’s when solo play comes in. You may want to consider games for NFTs as an alternative, but when it comes to RPGs, solo play isn’t typically the intent of the rules.
RPGs are social affairs. A game to be shared with friends. But back in 2006, Wizards of the Coast released The Player’s Toolkit boxed set for the 3.5 Dungeons & Dragons rules. Within the box was a short, eight-page solo adventure “designed to let a single player take a 1st-level character on a practice adventure.”
Perfect. I am hungry for adventure so I decided to take it for a spin … after updating it to 5th Edition rules.
In order to update it though, I had to become familiar with it. So, the mini-module and each encounter within it would be no surprise and the direct path to completing the adventure could easily be exploited. I’ll get into handling that a little later.
There are times when the character will test their skills, and those needed little tweaks. For example, spot and listen checks are now simply perception in 5e. Any skills no longer in the game can easily be switched or based off the ability they were derived from.
The majority of skill checks are all at medium difficulty, so I left those as is.
But what about the monsters? It only took a few minutes to compare the stats from the mini-module to current versions from the Monster Manual to see that each was a pretty safe swap. There was one concern, though. One of the encounters has the character face multiple enemies at once. In the 5th edition rules, this is a death trap. But I’m interested in putting the rules to the test, so again, I decided to leave the encounter as is.
Alright. Enough talk! Let’s get to it.
I decided to use a pre-generated character found on the Wizards of the Coast website. Since the ranger class is a favorite of mine, that left me with a wood elf ranger. The adventure setup sets you up as a fledgling hero whose mentor sets out one last task to test you before sending you out into the world to join an adventuring party.
There is a monster preying upon the countryside, and it’s your job to root it out.
First choice given is to question some townsfolk, head out into the wood directly or decide the quest isn’t worth your time. Well I’m not about to close the book; I came for adventure, so let’s go see what we can learn from folks.
There is a merchant, hunter and farmer you could talk to. Since I’m a ranger, I seek out the hunter first. Kindred spirits and all. I find the hunter at the Sleepy Orc inn. He is drinking by himself. I don’t have diplomacy, so I attempt a straight charisma check. Things do not go as I anticipated. My low roll results in the hunter sending me away. “I’ve got nothing to say to you,” he says.
He must not like elves.
Next, let’s approach the merchant. You can intimidate her, but I don’t have that skill either. Again, I take the second option, which is a straight charisma check.
With a successful roll I learn the monster attacked her caravan, stole a pack of goods and that the creature smelled horrible.
Fair enough. Seeking even more info, I locate the farmer, but it seems I’ve come at a bad time. The farmer has lost livestock and broken his plough. There are three ways to assist the farmer and get info out of him at the same time. Using either strength, intelligence or dexterity will do the trick. Dexterity being my best score, I choose to use it and successfully roll high enough to help him fix the plough.
He thanks me for the help and tells me the creature walked upright but looked like a lizard. It attacked him and his sheep in a wooded clearing and ran off with one of his sheep in tow. He tells me where to find the clearing, and I head out into the wood.
The farther I get from the village, the denser and darker the woods become. Pushing through a tangle of cobwebs, I notice it’s gotten usually quiet. Stopping to take in the surroundings calls for a listen or spot check. With a high perception check roll, I notice a spider dropping out of the branches above me…
My elf beats the spider, and he quickly draws his short sword. With a single swipe the spider is dispatched.
There were a couple options when choosing 5e stats for the small spider. After comparing the spider and giant wolf spider stats to the one in the solo adventure, the spider entry was closer to what was originally presented. It also made more sense when you think of the possible encounters through the course of the adventure when faced by a single character.
Now, deeper into the woods my elf goes.
My elf finds the path leading to the clearing, but since I know from reading the adventure where it leads, decide to leave the decision whether to go there up to fate. I roll the dice to make the choice for me, the left to the clearing or the right-hand trail.
The right-hand trail it is.
Curious to know what was up the other trail? We’ll come back to it.
The right-hand trail leads up to a large cave in the side of a hill. There are noises coming out of the cave and a few things of interest scattered about the entrance. With a failed perception check, my elf can hear what may be grunts and growls but can’t make sense of them. Now that I’m close, I can make out the objects near the entrance better. A large, closed pack and the carcass of a sheep.
Checking the pack reveals that it bears the marking of the merchant from town. Inside it are papers detailing sales and business dealings as well as some gold and a potion of cure light wounds. In 5e, it translates to a potion of healing. I make sure to snag that and leave the rest of the pack be.
As my elf moves to look over the sheep carcass, I make a perception check. I successfully discover it conceals a crude dart trap and decide to leave it the hell alone. I ready my longbow and enter the cave.
Inside the cave, my elf navigates twisting tunnels illuminated by a dim glow coming off mold growing on the cavern walls. The elf’s natural darkvision makes it easy to see in these conditions.
Following the sounds leads to a large open chamber. In the center, nearly 30 feet away is a tall, reptilian humanoid feasting on the remains of a sheep.
It notices my presence, and hissing a challenge drops the sheep and advances.
Again my elf is swifter and fires an arrow at the charging creature. It strikes true but doesn’t halt the trog’s advance. The creature attacks, all claws and snapping teeth. Yet none of the three attacks pierce my elf’s defenses.
But now, with the creature upon me, the scent of the creature assaults my elven senses. I must succeed on a constitution saving throw in order to be immune to the stench.
It’s too overpowering and my elf is poisoned by the smell of it. This means I must roll with disadvantage on my attacks.
My elf drops his longbow and draws his short sword to attack. Wouldn’t you know it, the first toss is a natural 20. But now I must roll again and take the lower result due to the poisoning.
ANOTHER 20! Critical hit, what luck!
With that strike, the troglodyte is defeated. The creature now dead, I grab the merchant’s pack and return to the village. She is so thankful she rewards me with its contents and my mentor congratulates me. “You are ready now,” he says.
Time to find another adventure! The end …
But wait! What about that clearing? Feeling cocksure, my elf heads into the wood yet again.
This is where the conversion of this mini adventure gets dicey. The following encounter involves multiple enemies. Using the 5e encounter building rules changes the amount of enemies and in fact, all things point to not doing this encounter as originally designed.
But I want to put the encounter building rules to test and see how they play out. Let’s run the encounter then get into the rules of it.
The path leads to a clearing surrounded by trees on all sides and open to the sky. The grass appears trampled and dark stains can be seen about the clearing. Two small, scaly humanoids are busy at work cutting up the carcass of a sheep that appears to have been killed by the troglodyte.
The creatures notice my elf and call out, “No! This is ours! Find your own!”
At this point there are three options: Identify the creatures, talk to them or straight-out attack them. I make a nature check to identify the creatures. My elf knows exactly what they are. Kobolds. With the knowledge that they are lawful evil humanoids, I make the decision to remove them from existence.
My elf proves the quicker and sends an arrow flying at the little buggers. That’s one less kobold.
The remaining kobold loads his sling and flings a rock in my direction before attempting an escape into the woods. It misses. I draw and shoot hoping to catch the creature before it’s lost in the trees.
THWIP! It drops dead in the dirt.
In the original text of the solo adventure there were three kobolds. But using the 5E encounter design rules, a single 1st level character shouldn’t face more than two of them.
I actually ran the encounter a second time with three and although the elf did dispatch one of their number, the remaining kobolds overwhelmed him with their pack tactics ability.
The encounter building rules of 5e are a little frustrating to me, and I’ve turned to alternate versions to create encounters.
I’ve been using the rules posted on the Sly Flourish website for my home game (there is a PDF you can download for your DM binder).
But for adapting this adventure I decided to use only rules provided by Wizards of the Coast. They’ve offered alternate rules in an Unearthed Arcana web article and PDF, and I really prefer those to the rules presented in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Both of these optional sets of rules use a creature vs. character model. It’s far simpler to build encounters off these rules than the excessive math of those in the DMG. They’re also quicker and handier when you have to adjust encounters on the fly, like in the case of one less player showing up to the session you’ve spent hours preparing.
As for the various skill and ability checks made throughout there was no reason to adjust any of the numbers, as I’ve stated earlier.
The only point where I had to do any real work is in the check to identify the kobolds. Unlike past editions of the game there is no set skill with which to make knowledge checks against creature type. Personally, I am a fan of those types of checks.
In the mini module it called for a knowledge (history) check. Again, there is no history skill check in 5e. A quick Google search will lead to ways past editions handled these types of knowledge checks and there are even 5e compatible options found on the Dungeon Masters Guild site. I’ve found some there that I really like and plan to use in my home games. But I still converted this using what’s available in the core books.
Thus my solo adventure comes to an end.
But fear not, more solo adventuring is out there!
In future installments of Gaming Stag, I will be playing board games, card games, game books as well as both current and past editions of RPGs.
Hopefully my first trek into solo gaming was enjoyable, enlightening, and possibly inspiring. Gaming with others is great, but sometimes, you just gotta do it yourself.
Thank you so much for your article. I really enjoyed reading the play by play of you solo run. Thanks for sharing and I see that I am not the only one who has tried solo adventuring.
I have also found that finding players can be difficult at times. Video games don’t have the same feel as pathfinder or D&D. When I was in school a zillion years ago there was not alot of girls who played so I played alot of solo adventures. The random dungeon generator in the back of the first edition DMs guide was useful. Now when I have the need to play I use the mythic game master emulator for as a guide for decisions and combat is run per game system rules. I have had some fun trying out scenarios before GMing my next game. Seeing how different monsters do things in combat. This has helped in flushing out some fun combat our group.