How to Play Dungeons & Dragons Solo - Part 10 - Adventure Backgrounds, a Solo DnD Tutorial
I have some very functional procedures for generating coastlines, rivers, lakes, wilderness and dungeons, as well as interesting features, such as ruins, monuments, strange dwellings that exist off the beaten track, settlements both large and small and strongholds of different shapes and sizes. All this content along with the solo mechanics I have developed, make for a fairly satisfactory solo experience so far, but as I stated in the previous article: "the work is never done". There is still plenty to cover and plenty more things to be developed further. In particular, to create a deeper sense of immersion I want to look into methods for creating rich, immersive descriptions and backstory to help solidify my solo DnD game world so it can be brought to life. One important bit of backstory to be included is a background story to describe the adventure at hand, what is actually going on? What is the motivation for my character or party, why are they going on an adventure? An adventure background is required.
In order to achieve my goal of generating an adventure background, I'm travelling back to October 2017, when I started working on a solo DnD ruleset prior to this one. I put a fair amount of work into this solo DnD ruleset, to help me play solitaire 5th Edition DnD. The work was incomplete but I synthesised a lot of great ideas, which can be purged and incorporated into my current BECMI solo rules.
This solo DnD ruleset had a different focus than the one I am working on in this series of articles, as it was more concerned with rich descriptive narrative than the more mechanical procedures I have developed so far. I think if I combine the two things then this will really take my current solo DnD rules to the next level.
The 5E solo ruleset contains a series of steps to be followed in a particular order to generate a solo experience on the fly. The aim of these steps is to create rich descriptions as though spoken directly to the player by a Dungeon Master, to pull the solo roleplayer into the adventure's world, which is generated on the fly. The rules introduce the concept of conflict and an antagonist and a protagonist into the campaign world.
I'm going to follow these steps as they are presented, to show you how it works. These rules presume that a character or party has already been rolled up, so I will once again use Taeral (a character I rolled in a previous article).
Generating the Adventure Background
As the Player Character (PC) I will need to have a background description from my Dungeon Master (DM) in order to draw me into the adventure, explain the world at hand and provide me with a meaningful context from where my journey begins. Up until now my solo ruleset has not had a mechanism like this, so this will really help me get things going, so rather than starting with a random hex crawl, I will be able to start with a narrative which motivates me and brings my character or party into a story.
The first step asks me to roll on a table to determine my starting point for a new adventure, and it includes the following table, which I created in 2017.
- Area of Interest
- Patron, Allies and Villains
The idea behind this table is to determine at random a starting point for a description, which introduces a new adventure to the solo roleplayer. Once the starting point is determined I will visit each entry on the table, continuing from my starting point and then cycling back to the beginning.
I'll give it a go so you can see how it works. I will roll a d8. I roll a 6, which means conflict, so next I will roll on the conflict table.
The conflict table asks me to generate a conflict that is currently occurring in the area of interest using a d12. This conflict is what pulls my character or party into the adventure and moves the plot forward. It even includes an example of how a roll on the table could be interpreted in descriptive narrative:
“Today is the day you will take part in the Great Trial. A custom that the Anba Tower has kept for centuries.”
- Characters pitted against each other
- Antagonist tries to keep protagonist reaching a goal
- Protagonist must overcome a force of nature
- Protagonist is socially ridiculed
- Protagonist must convince others they are right
- Protagonist must overcome their own nature
- Protagonist must overcome technology
- Roll twice
I roll a 1 on my d12, which indicates "Characters pitted against each other".
I will interpret this as: Taeral begins his adventure pitted against another character. I have not generated this other character yet and this will need to be done in order to interpret the result of this rule fully. I will be able to take care of this now as the next step following Conflict is Patrons, Allies & Villains.
Patrons, Allies & Villains
I have another table to roll on now (three times in fact) to generate a patron, ally and villain for my solo DnD campaign. Here is the table:
- Religious ally
- Monster or disguised monster
- Family member
- Romantic interest
I will make three rolls on this table to generate a patron, ally and villain for my solo DnD campaign.
I roll a 6, 5 and 7, which means Taeral has a patron who is a ruler, an ally who is a monster or disguised monster (interesting) and the villain is a soldier. I will note all this down on a piece of scrap paper.
The details being generated are very loose at the moment, but as I work my way down the list, the gaps will be filled one step at a time.
Next I will generate a specific goal to solidify exactly what my character is setting out to achieve. I roll a d6 on the Goals Table.
- Retrieve a stolen artefact
- Destroy a magical threat
- Clear out an abandoned area
- Treasure hunt
- Acquire information
- Discover the origin of a supernatural occurrence
I roll a 3, which means Taeral's goal is to clear out an abandoned area.
I will return to the first step in the adventure background generation process now. I will generate a random hour of the day to determine when the adventure begins with 2d12. This assumes a 24 hour system, but if the solo DnD campaign uses a different system then the dice can be altered accordingly.
I roll 9 in total. So my adventure will begin at 9 O' Clock in the morning.
Next I will use 1d12 to generate the season. This roll assumes the use of 12 seasons, and as above this roll can be altered accordingly. Originally, these rules were written for the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, but I also included an alternative example using an ancient Celtic calendar. I will use this one for my example. You may want to use the Calendar of the Known World associated with the default BECMI campaign setting, this also has 12 seasons. Here is the 12 seasons in my Celtic Calendar:
- Samonios (Seed Fall)
- Dummanios (Darkest Depths)
- Riuros (Cold Time)
- Anagantios (Stay-home Time)
- Ogronios (Time of Ice)
- Cutios (Time of Winds)
- Giamonios (Shoots-show)
- Simivisonios (Time of Brightness)
- Equos (Horse Time)
- Elembiuos (Claim Time)
- Edrinios (Arbitration Time)
- Cantlos (Song Time)
I roll an 8, which means it is Simivisonios (Time of Brightness). This is the equivalent of July to August.
I also roll 3d10 to determine which day of the month it is. I get a 23.
Next I need to generate a random environment for the adventure to start in. This will provide me with a broad description of my surroundings. I already have a table in the Solo Dungeon Crawler Wilderness Generator (link at bottom of blogpost and in video description). I am going to slightly alter this table to include an entry for 'Sea', so an adventure can start out to sea. The table now looks like this:
- 1 to 3 = Arctic
- 4 to 6 = Subarctic
- 7 to 13 = Temperate
- 14 to 16 = Subtropical
- 17 to 19 = Tropical
- 20 = Sea
If sea is indicated, I propose drawing in the rivers and coastlines as usual, and then roll a dice to determine whether the adventure starts north, south, east or west of the land. Not all directions may be possible so alter the die used as necessary. For example, use a d4 if north, south, east and west is possible, or a d6 with the result halved if only three compass directions are possible.
I roll a 2, which means the adventure starts in an arctic climate.
I will also need to determine the starting terrain type, and will use the Solo Dungeon Crawler Wilderness Generator (link at bottom of blogpost and in video description) as normal for this.
I rolled a d20 and got a result of 'Tundra' for the initial terrain type. The Wilderness Generator assumes the campaign begins on a road leading from a settlement, so I will generate these elements as well.
According to my results on the Solo Dungeon Crawler Settlement Generator, (link at bottom of blogpost and in video description) firstly the kingdom is governed by democracy. Therefore I now know that the ruler who is also Taeral's patron, is a democratic ruler and the settlement is a large town with a population of 5,340, which exists on the edge of a large lake. Race relations in the town are harmonious, but the leadership of the town is contested with open fighting. One of the town's notable traits is a massive statue, situated in the town, and the town is well known for its education. It would seem appropriate that the statue is related to this somehow. Perhaps it's a statue of a well known scholar? The current calamity in the settlement is marauding monsters. The settlement exists on a cross roads leading north, east, south and west. I note all this down on a piece of scrap paper. I also draw everything up nicely on some hex paper.
Areas of Interest
With the immediate environment determined it's now time to generate an area of interest. I will roll on the following table.
- Inn or tavern
- Hamlet or village
- Town or city
- Castle or Stronghold
- Church or temple
I roll a 5, indicating 'sewers' as the area of interest for my adventure background.
Finally, I will generate a random reason for Taeral's presence in the area of interest. Interpret the results in a way that makes sense in the context of the adventure.
I roll a 12 for 'warned'. Perhaps Taeral has been warned to stay away from the sewers, and now feels compelled to investigate.
I now need to put all the information I have copied onto my piece of scrap paper into perspective. Here is my attempt to put it all together into a concise adventure background to start off a DnD solo campaign.
Taeral has been warned many times by his daughter, Xanithra not to enter the abandoned sewers beneath Anian. Something bad must be taking place down there, something Xanithra must be keeping from him, but Taeral has now been tasked by, Bethiena the democratic ruler of Anian, to clear out the sewers, which have been infested with oil beetles!
This sudden infestation is believed to be the work of Taeral's brother, the respected soldier named Thamedral, according to Bethiena. Thamedral used to lead the local militia on behalf of Bethiena, but they had their differences and Bethiena chose to strip Thamedral of his role, and they are now in open contest for leadership of Anian.
Little does Bethiena know, Taeral's daughter Xanithra, is a supporter of her uncle Thamedral, so Taerals decision to descend into the sewers, is pitting Taeral against his own daughter as well as his brother, but his affection for Bethiena is great.
When Taeral prepares to descend into the sewers beneath Anian, it is mid-morning in the month of Simivisonios, also known as the Time of Brightness, but here the land in the kingdom of Eios is a frozen arctic and the town of Anian, sits on the arctic tundra near a large frozen lake. It is the 23rd day of the month.
The town itself is a large town with a population of around 5,340 peoples of different races, and relations in the town are harmonious. A massive statue is situated in the centre of the town. The statue depicts, Dagnathi the famous scholar, to signify the town is well known for its great Dagnathi university. Anian exists on a cross roads leading north, east, south and west and the Dagnathi Statue sits at the very centre of these cross roads. The statue has a reflective aqua finish which gleams from afar.
Although a beautiful town, a gem amongst the frozen tundra, Anian is not without it's dangers, it is constantly attacked by marauding goblins, and Thamedral believes strongly that Bethiena cannot protect Anian from these constant invasions, Thamedral thinks he is the more appropriate leader and Xanithra agrees, but Taeral is in love with Bethiena and it's the kind that is unrequited, but his determination to prove himself has led him to the sewers to clear the infestation of oil beetles, which Bethiena believes to have been manufactured by her rival, Thamedral.