I’ve been giving some thought to the idea of a truly single-player tabletop roleplaying game. If such a thing were possible, it wouldn’t just be good for entertainment, it could be a platform for developing stories for publication.

Not that such a thing isn’t already possible — there are plenty of D&D and other RPG novels out there — just that an effective single-player game would prove a fertile ground for developing stories before putting them to the page.

I had an idea to combine several game mechanics to create what I hope will be complex enough to be unpredictable (necessary for roleplaying reactions), but meaningful, and simple enough to be manageable by a single player.

The subject line of this post, “Losing is fun,” is taken from Dwarf Fortress, a massive game that requires most of its players to lose over and over again before being able to manage its many facets — and here refers to a concept for narrative progression — an assumption that whatever the player does, they will lose.

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive at first but it occurred to me that a lot of the drama of classic heroic fantasy tales comes from the hero failing — or at least risking failure — many times before achieving some measure of success.

A hero succeeding at everything doesn’t make for a very exciting story.

That led me to the idea then, that a game should assume for the hero’s failure, and make every little victory a struggle for the player to achieve.

Borrowing from 13th Age for a moment, consider an adventure with X number of movers-and-shakers. Let’s say three for the sake of simplicity. Each has a plan with five steps, each step representing an encounter the player might have.

Each encounter is difficult-to-impossible, and the player has the choice of meeting the encounter with little chance of success. If the player flees, the Mover’s plan goes forward without a hitch. If the player achieves some measurable amount of success, the Mover experiences a setback however temporary.

If the player tries and fails “terminally,” then one of the other two Movers steps in and “saves” the player, albeit at the cost of another Mover advancing their plan.

This has the effect of three parallel Doom Tracks, a la Arkham Horror.

If the player flees or simply fails, only one Doom Track advances. If they fail spectacularly, two Doom Tracks advance — but there’s an excuse for their continued survival — again, however temporary.

Success affords the player little but a temporary cessation of encroaching doom, ensuring they will have more to contend with soon enough — victories are hard-won, but all the sweeter for the effort spent to win them.

If one of the Doom Tracks advances to the end first, as is inevitable, then you simply play out the ending of the associated Mover’s plan. It need not be world domination, or anything so permanent — merely an adventure for another time.