This year, I’ve run 40 episodes of the Arioniad using a mashup of Savage Worlds, Mongoose Traveller 2, and Zozer Games’ Solo. Here, I’ll focus on how Solo works as a game engine, and what else I’ve learned from the experiment.
As a solitaire game engine, Solo works very well. Although designed to support Traveller, it doesn’t ask for much from those rules; give it a starport class and a law level for each world you visit, and it’s happy. As far as characters go, Solo asks only that you know whether a given PC is an asset or a hindrance for your latest cunning plan, and abstracts physical, social and mental combat into a couple of dice rolls. I especially like the way it’s possible to fail in a lucky way, or succeed at a cost.
The central mechanic, the Plan, is completely portable to any solitaire RPG, although the situations it exists to resolve are driven by Solo’s encounter and event tables, and those are tied to space opera, so for fantasy or horror you’d need to modify them.
At this point it’s taking me about half an hour to run through each episode, making it ideal to slot into lunch breaks at work or those odd slots while dinner is cooking or I’m waiting for the shower water to heat up. No more than five minutes of that is dice rolling and looking up tables; most of it is figuring out what narrative ties the dice rolls together. This suits me very well.
Sticking to a rigid weekly schedule of posts, with one game week per real week, did bring home just how big space is, but meant that sometimes I’ve ignored things that looked interesting, or written a post about a situation I wasn’t really inspired by, just to keep things moving at a self-imposed pace. In a group game, having a regular ‘drumbeat’ keeps things fresh in the players’ minds and simplifies scheduling the next session; but these are not required for a solitaire game, so it would be better to discard this constraint, and let the dice take me where they will, at their own pace.
In a year of wandering, Arion has visited 13 systems out of the 52 on the map, and of those 13, maybe 6 have the potential for further adventures. Even as their creator, I must admit that very few of these systems are going to interest me long-term, and a lot of gaming time is expended travelling across multiple uninteresting systems to the next scenario. The Savage Worlds approach, where every world is one jump away from every other world, makes a lot of sense from that perspective; otherwise, it’s better to press Fast Forward occasionally and zip the PCs across the map to the next obvious plot point, like Indiana Jones.
Having an overarching metaplot, in this case the Aslan Border Wars, is neither necessary nor desirable. It generates more work without any real benefits, and this is especially true for the solitaire player. All I actually needed to know was that Arion is based on a rich trade hub world in the no-man’s-land between two rival states.
I think Arion needs to lie fallow for a while now, as I feel a little burned out. He will return, no doubt, as he and his little band are my favourite characters, and I generally prefer science fiction to fantasy. There are a number of options.
As far as rules go, the Savage Worlds/Traveller mashup works very well, since each game has rules I can use to replace areas I dislike in the other; I prefer Savage Worlds for characters and combat, Traveller for ships and worlds. Stars Without Number has superior rules to both in a number of areas, notably world generation, but doesn’t mash up easily with either of them. Solo needs only minor tweaks to work with any of them. Fringe Space is another option; it doesn’t mash up well with anything, but being completely self-contained, it doesn’t need to.
Turning to settings, while one can always create homebrew settings, they’re a lot of work for very little reward. This means Traveller and Fringe Space have an edge; Traveller luxuriates in richly-detailed published settings, and Fringe Space has an emergent setting which is created organically during play. Stars Without Number has no published setting to speak of, and I struggle to get my head around SW’s Last Parsec.
So, it’s most likely that when Arion returns, it will be a Savage Worlds/Solo/Traveller mashup again, somewhere in or around the Third Imperium. Fringe Space is the second most likely, with Stars Without Number in third place.