Monday 14 December 2020

Ask the Stars - A Minimal Solo RPG

So I'm going through a real phase of just chopping existing games to bits and seeing if the remains still twitch. Maybe that's all I've ever really done.

Next in line was Ironsworn by Shawn Tomkin. 

There's lots to like in here, especially if you like a game with lots of moving parts and PBTA-style moves. The solo/coop stuff is what's really notable here, and there are loads of videos and written reports of the fun people have had using this game in that way.

Me, Myself and Die is a particularly polished example

So obviously my dream is to be able to tap into those useful solo/coop tools but see how many of the systems I can jettison in the process without the entire thing falling apart.

I also dipped back into some of my experiments with Intergalactic Bastionland, which continues to warp and morph in my head. The thing that I've been most happy with is the use of 2d12 rolls as a sort of oracle to discover truths about the world.

As I pressed on, I reached a point in the design that I always enjoy. A point where I looked at the document and thought "wait... there isn't really any Ironsworn left in here".

So we have a new thing! But I think it's fun to share the origin of these experiments. 


Download all the free stuff for Ironsworn or buy it in print. Read through it and absorb its guidance for running a solo/coop game. It's really good, and I'm not going to regurgitate it word-for-word here, and as it's free I feel like anybody interested in trying solo games should go and give them a read. 

Done? Okay, onto how to play this game.

ASK THE STARS - A Minimal Solo RPG

Most of the game comes down to two things:

  1. Asking the Stars
  2. Your Notes

Getting Inspiration: Roll 2d12 and consult the Symbols and Position columns. Inspiration could be symbolic or literal. The Cage might represent Protection or Obligation or just a physical cage. 
Use this to create characters and give them descriptive Strengths and Weaknesses until they feel interesting. This method also generates locations, events, and anything else you need.

Yes/No Questions: Ask and roll d12 and consult the Answer column. If more/less likely to be true, roll 2d12 and discard the lower/higher respectively. Consult your Notes to decide whether an action is likely/unlikely in this way. 

What Else: For anything else you need, Ask the Stars in one of the two ways above.

Wait what about: Yes, just ask the Stars.


Your notes are a record of what's real in the game. Things you narrate out loud or in your head are real to a degree, but writing them down sort of locks them in. The goal is to make them interesting.

I'd recommend boxing off a few different sections for your notes, or maybe a page for each if you're settling in.

Character: Note down some details about your character. Give them a Strength and a Weakness that are both relatively broad. Add to and modify these as the story progresses.

Assets: These are beneficial things your character acquires to help in their journey. They might make you more likely to succeed in certain actions, or open up new actions that were not previously possible.

Debilities: When you would take direct harm to your character, note a specific Debility that occurs as a result. They might make you less likely to succeed in certain actions, or prevent actions that were previously possible.

In general taking a third Debility of the same type (ie a physical wound) should have permanent consequences.

Challenges: Note down the challenge and keep a list of steps you’ve made towards completing it. Not everything is a Challenge, and it's mainly for significant multi-stage tasks. 

As a general rule, Challenges require three steps to complete and may require a final roll if the outcome is still uncertain. 

World: Use this section to keep any other notes you think will be useful, especially characters and locations. Here maps are especially useful. Before play, try to sum up the core of your setting in three bullet points and make an instigating situation that throws your character into making tough choices. 


Yep, that's all you're getting. 

Now when I was talking about Risus I mentioned that I preferred games to come with some flavour of their own, but here you've got the Stars to assist you in creating that flavour for yourself. So let's say I sit down not even knowing what sort of setting I want to run in. I know nothing.

Stars, hit me with some straight-up inspiration for a setting.

I roll 2d12 and get 11/5, so that's the Council, Rooted.

I could take this very literally. The setting features a council that's literally rooted in place. Do they live in a tree? Have they been turned to stone? Are they buried in a warren of tunnels? Each of those could be the spark of a setting, but they'd need work.

Or we could do with the less literal approach. We've got Opposition/Cycles and Stability/Plenty. 

Opposition and Stability could pair up to represent some sort of uprising. A world in the midst of a revolution against the status quo. Cycles/Plenty makes me think of harvest. Maybe the harvest is ruined this year, which triggers the aforementioned revolution.

Let's augment all this with some Yes/No questions asked to the stars.

Is this a pseudo-medieval setting?
I feel like this is likely, given some of the things we've touched on (agriculture, being turned to stone) so we roll 2d12 and keep the highest.

Roll is 5/5: No.

Even taking the highest die we're not in that era. Is is drawing from further back in history?

Roll is 8: Yes.

Okay. So I'm going to make a call here and say we're drawing on pre-medieval themes, more like late-classical, fall of Rome. I could keep asking yes/no questions to narrow things down, but you've also got to leap into inspiration when you feel it.

Are there many supernatural elements in this setting?

I'm going to say this is likely, based on my gut feeling. 

Roll is 1/4: No. 

Again the dice surprise us. This is what I like about this process. As it wasn't a hard no, I'm going to say there are hints of supernatural, but nothing openly fantastical. Right at the bottom end of low-fantasy.

Are the Council the holders of what little supernatural power there is?

Roll is 3: Hard No.

So perhaps the Council have worked to supress a supernatural element in this setting.

Maybe we can draw on all those ideas and do a classic three-bullet setting, or at least enough to start running a game. 

The World
  • The harvest has failed for the first time in a century, the once thriving Empire is burning in the flames of rebellion.
  • The Council has descended into the warren of tunnels and caves beneath the capital, cowering while their city burns.
  • Without the Council holding them back, whispers tell of things emerging from the shadows, preying on the desperate and hungry citizens.
Gives us enough to get started! Let's use the same system to generate a character.

2d12 gives us The Mask (Persuasion/Shame), Bowed (Submission/Mercy).

Let's ask some more questions to hone in on this.

Do we work for the Council?

1: Hard No.

Sounds like we oppose the council. Maybe we're part of this rebellion that's been brewing for years.

Let's use Persuasion/Bowed to make our character a sort of sleeper agent. Maybe we're within the Council, but have been working against them all along. Now, in their moment of weakness, we need to aid the rebellion from within while also keeping our identity secret. 

Now we need a Strength and a Weakness.

4/2 gives us the Hand (Creation/Misdirection) Entombed (Memory/Death).

Being a spy, Misdirection would be sort of obvious as a Strength, so let's go away from that. We'll use Creation/Death to make ourselves an Engineer, used by the council to create weapons. 

That leaves us with Misdirection and Memory to determine our weakness. Or we could take a more literal approach with the Hand Entombed. Maybe in the uprising we got caught in a  skirmish and lost our hand. That's why we were dragged underground by the other Council members. We wanted to slink away, but they were trying to protect us, unknowing that we were working against them.

And for a name we'll just warp one of the words we didn't use. Memory becomes Morie. Feel like we need one more little physical or behavioural detail so let's do a final roll. 

8/4: The Traveller (wandering/chance), Waning (hunger/decay). 

I like chance + hunger to make us a a keen gambler, perhaps compulsive. 


Morie - Rebellion Sleeper Agent
  • Engineer, specialising in weapons.
  • Recently maimed from scuffle with the Rebellion.
  • Compulsive gambler, always carries a set of dice.

Have fun, and let me know if you try this out for yourself.


  1. Looks good. This could effectively serve as a 12-card oracle deck (each card showing an answer, symbol and position, with the player picking whatever it is they wanted) In a sense, Ironsworn expanded on such things as the Mythic Game Master Emulator, where you further simplified it. Looking forward to giving this a shot.

  2. I have never really understood the flow of solo RPGs, although I have been curious to try Ironsworn. So thanks for the example!

  3. Looks like an ultimate spark table! :)