Solo RPGs as creative writing practice

Overcoming my inhibitions

July 30, 2023 (updated February 8, 2024) · Felipe Vogel ·

Today, a very different topic: solo tabletop role-playing games (a.k.a. TTRPGs). Normally I write about programming here, but recently with the arrival of my first baby, this blog is suddenly unfocused diverse and fun. But seriously, I wanted to write about solo RPGs because they’re helping me become more creative and less paralyzed by perfectionism.

How I discovered solo TTRPGs

I enjoy reading fiction, but I feel like I’m terrible at making it. And since making up silly stories on the fly is a handy skill for a parent, I thought it was a perfect time to confront my creative inhibitions.

But how should I start, if it’s those very inhibitions that make any kind of practice routine impossible? It only takes a minute of staring at a blank page (or, worse, the beginning of a story I’ve written) for me to lose my enthusiasm and run to a more familiar pastime, by which I mean coding.

And yet… once you’ve realized your #1 hobby is the same thing that you do all day at work, and you contemplate the fact that your kid might not end up sharing that interest (at least in the next, let’s say, ten years), you become highly motivated to put your eggs in more baskets.

So, how to make creative writing more approachable? I wondered if making it into a game might help.

I recalled the handful of Dungeons & Dragons sessions that I played a few years ago. That was a story-making game, sort of. There was too much standing around trading blows with trolls for my taste, but I enjoyed other moments when I was working together with my friends to tell a story within a game.

Questions flooded into my brain:

As it turns out, yes and yes and probably not!

After an epic journey of discovery, which started at /r/Solo_Roleplaying, I now present to you my findings on solo TTRPGs.

Note that the titles I mention here are not the most popular TTRPGs, just the ones that I myself find most interesting. A few minutes perusing the subreddit will show you which ones are most popular. (Or I could just tell you that it’s Ironsworn.)

And if you want a high-level overview, watch “A Beginner’s Guide to Solo Role Playing (solo RPGs)”.

My favorite TTRPG

My favorite find is ALONe with The GameMaster’s Apprentice (GMA) (online or physical cards) and GMA Adventure Guide Pack.

I like ALONe for several reasons:

Other narrative-focused TTRPGs that I found interesting are Freeform Universal (especially the 2nd edition beta), and Risus plus the Risusverse.

But neither of these is designed for solo play, so you’d have to supplement them with solo resources (more on that below). For me, ALONe wins because it’s a complete and elegant package.

Honorable mentions

Here are some other TTRPGs that I’m exploring:

Solo role-playing tools

Like I said above, ALONe provides everything needed for solo play and that’s why it’s my favorite so far, but later on I may want to branch out and explore these other tools.


These are what help move the story along in solo play, in the absence of a GM (game master).

These are more minimalist:

Playing TTRPGs on the computer

I may avoid these in favor of a more portable setup, but here they are just in case.

Random content generation

Story inspiration

Mapmaking guides and tools

Did it work? We shall see…

I’ll add an update here or write a sequel post in the future, when I’ve had a chance to see whether solo TTRPGs really do help me in my quest for creative freedom. The worst-case scenario is that they’ll become yet another form of practice that didn’t stick, but at least I’ll have given it a try. And who knows? Maybe you, dear reader, will be inspired to give it a try too.

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