Saturday 15 June 2024

Blueholme & The Stygian Library, solo preparation

I've recently been playing Gangs of Titan City as a solo game, but you may have noticed various other RPG luminaries engaged in this dark practice. Indeed, it was friend-of the blog JFUR who first inspired my return to the labyrinth alone with her Into the Odd solo campaign. While ludic onanism has long been a staple of the frustrated forever GM, seeing Skullboy aka Better Legends transform his own game into an entire comic book, Delvers felt like something of a shift in the sands. Why, even friend-of-my-idealised-higher-self Semiurge has been at it—as this write-up of Grant Howitt's Big Gay Orcs (CW: butts touching one another) can testify.

Where's this suspiciously professional introduction headed? Into the Stygian Library, that's where: because when I'm not already writing about playing RPGs by myself or reading RPG books (all by myself) I like to play RPGs about books. By myself. And then write about it.

A crop of just about the first illustration in the book, by Alec Sorenson

I bought Emily F Allen's  Gardens of Ynn and Stygian Library from DTRPG around 2019. They're probably my favourite OSR things (and she, by default, my favourite OSR writer)... ever... so when Soul Muppet announced they were Kickstarting a remaster of Stygian Library I was in straight away, especially when I saw Alec Sorenson was illustrating. That was a few years ago, but with Stygian's precursor The Gardens of Ynn receiving similar treatment from Soul Muppet, I've found myself more than once flicking eagerly through the pages of the Stygian Library. I can barely wait to have Gardens of Ynn in my hands... but wait I must, and while I wait, I think about the three adventurers above...

Why solo? Don't you have any friends?

As I feel obliged to explain so often it's almost painful: due to family and work commitments, I tend to get very short snippets of time to myself in which to do things like pretending to be an Elizabethan necromancer or commanding imaginary armies to conquer entire planes of existence. Generally, these narrow windows aren't wide enough to align with the schedules of other people—friend or otherwise—who might be up for a game. 

Besides, it's fun: it scratches that RPG itch while simultaneously allowing me to explore worlds and game systems that I might not otherwise be able to experience.

But Why Stygian Library?

Quite apart from the reasons alluded to in the paragraphs above, Stygian Library also presents an alluring prospect to a solo gamer for a number of mechanical/structural reasons. Principal among these features is that is an exploration game that procedurally generates the game environment. This means no two expeditions into the library are ever quite the same: though I am familiar with the material (having run the "module" multiple times), it never ceases to surprise me. Conversely, the game isn't just meaningless randomised room generation, as I am still able to make meaningful decisions about how the party navigate the library.

Don't take my word for it: have a look at these three session write-ups by Technoskald:

But you're already playing Gangs of Titan City solo: are you just shilling for Soul Muppet?

First response [to this weirdly adversarial imaginary interviewer I have inexplicably inserted into my own blog post] would be: so what? They're a good publisher operated by good people putting out good books! I'm proud to shill for them!

Second of all: I've been using this particular adventure since before it was published by Zach and friends, but I've never experienced it from the player side, and I really want to do that.

Third: I'm running this with Blueholme, a retroclone written by Michael Thomas of Dreamscape

I like this particular blue

Glad you brought that up: why Blueholme?

This is a bit trickier to answer. Blueholme is a retroclone of the very first  D&D basic set, written by Eric J Holmes M.D. Holmes' basic is an odd beast. While it kickstarted the basic line it is referenced far less frequently than the successor tome(s) written by Moldvay (now referred to as B/X), and has an odd relationship with them. Originally intended as an introduction to the original ("0th" edition of) Dungeons & Dragons, the brief was shaken up somewhat when Gygax decided it should act as an introduction to his imminent AD&D game. Indeed, anecdotes abound of many an AD&D campaign beginning with this as the core rulebook, as the AD&D monster manual was released in the same year as Holmes, but the DMG not for another two years. 

I also very much appreciate this blue

(Sidebar re: rpg history/historiography—I'm fully aware that my brief and atrophied overview, informed only by random internet chatter and wikipedia entries may be presenting a not entirely accurate portrait, but I like to think I've nailed the broad strokes)

But I haven't answered the question: I've explained the what but not the why. Truth is, I think it just comes down to the proximity of this game to B/X (the first version of D&D I played) but also it's distance. It feels familiar and weird at the same time, and so for this reason I going to run it as written. I've also played every other version of D&D (except 4e, now that I think about it), so it's fun to give this one a test drive, even if its differences are marginal.

If I'm stuck at any point I'm going to use the Rules Cyclopedia as a back up to any rulings. You can buy Blueholme here:

Other elements & principals

As with the Gangs of Titan City game, the focus is going to be on experiencing the game in analogue form, with pencils, paper and dice. Write-ups occur after the event.

Initially, I am going to rely on Stygian procedural generation and reaction/morale rolls to keep things interesting: as with Gangs of Titan City, I'm relying on the games' mechanics and the fiction itself to move the game forward, rather than introducing other oracles or randomisers. This may change.

Next time, I'm going to generate some characters, using the portraits at the top of this post as inspiration: who knows, we may get a first glimpse into the library...


This post was edited for greater clarity and fewer "sofinho-isms" on 17.06.24


My solo Gangs of Titan City game:

JFUR's latest solo game

Technoskald's solo Stygian game:

No comments:

Post a Comment