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Closely related to Choose Your Own Adventure games played through books and graphics, Solo tabletop RPG is what it says on the tin:

The best-known examples of solo tabletop currently on the internet are Alone Among the Stars by Takuma Okada, a meditative work which arguably codified the norms of the genre for those who follow, and which has many imitators, and Thousand Year Old Vampire by Tim Hutchings, which is widely considered the most highly polished and popular example of solo tabletop, even featuring its own elaborately illustrated and calligraphed hardcover user manual. Yoon Ha Lee, author of the science fiction novel Ninefox Gambit, has also written several solo tabletop games and offers them for free to anyone interested in playing.

Many examples of solo tabletop can be found on the "physical games" category of itch.io, which won some internet fame in 2020 during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when several thousand game designers - hundreds of solo tabletop RPG authors among them - released multiple game "bundles" for free and at steep discounts as a way to encourage better morale during quarantine, and then did so again during the first wave of the Black Lives Matter movement at a nominal low donation for the entire bundle, donating the proceeds to charitable organisations relating to the movement.

Solo tabletop is often characterised by one of several qualities which verge on subgenres:

  • The ominous and doomed, often set on a space station, but not necessarily true horror due to the single player's limited capacity for suspense in a self-driven game - The Wretched by Chris Bissette is a stellar example of this. It uses a set of Jenga blocks as an additional factor to inject tension into the game: when the blocks fall down, the space station breaks apart, and the game is over. The writing itself is incredibly dark and foreboding, and the threats described for the player to encounter are horrific, but they are also completely managed by the player's level of control over their experience.
  • Romantic and social bonding scenarios which allow the game to be adapted to include a second or third player, but still encourage solitary play
  • "Meta" (which is to say, aggressively postmodernist) games which question the entire structure and definition of roleplaying games, and are not necessarily highly playable; these are often formatted as "zines" featuring long format written articles alongside the actual rules of play.
  • "Mock" games which use absurd methods of selecting actions, such as using the behaviour of a nearby real-world cat as a "random number generator"
  • Highly meditative, cerebral, dreamlike, or emotionally rich games, such as Okada's work and other writers' derivations on it, which encourage the player to use the game to seek psychological closure for their feelings, or to investigate what they are feeling
  • Dungeon crawl games emulating Dungeons & Dragons, while dodging the expectation of it being a multiplayer game
  • Dark academia games emulating Call of Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian horror games, and including Hutchings' work
Iron Noder 2020, 30/30

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