Last weekend, I started writing an article about building a soloist’s toolkit, when it occurred to me that I hadn’t decided if I was going to pursue this hobby on pen and paper, digitally, or a combination of both.
Traditionally, a TTRPG is played out as a pen-and-paper game with dice, assorted reference material, and other accoutrement aimed at aiding the passage of play or immersion into the world and characters.
In a modern lifestyle dominated by smart devices, playing on paper is oddly appealing to me. There is a tangible sense of pleasure I get from hefting a gel pen and making chicken scratches in a journal, and rolling real dice into a tray instead of mashing buttons in an app.
On the other hand, digital is the ultimate in efficiency. Flicking through pages and pages of material to find a rule or a random table isn’t much fun. Searching through digital assets is much faster — especially if like me, you’ve acquired thousands of PDFs, tables, and datasets thanks to DriveThruRPG, open-source libraries, and the wealth of material created and shared by DMs around the world.
Journaling a game digitally likewise reaps the benefits of convenience. Digital text is much easier to create, store, retrieve and reuse. If I journal a solo campaign in a text file, I’m far more inclined to turn a session into a blog post — for what that’s worth.
As a developer, going digital allows me to automate some aspects of my game, which helps as I’m quite time pressed these days. For example, I can roll up a character or NPC and inject it into my writing app instantly, thanks to a Python script triggered by an open-source text expansion utility I run on my Mac. I’ve also created an oracle to return Yes/No/But answers using a similar process, and will expand it further when I can be arsed.
Another thing I’ve created is a simple web-based digital card shuffler for all the generative card decks I’ve bought from DriveThruRPG (the shipping to Australia is typically horrendous, so I buy the PDFs and VTT assets instead of physical decks). It’s a convenient little tool that actually makes me more likely to use what I’ve bought, and if I commit to the digital route, I’ll certainly expand it in other directions.
So, playing a solo TTRPG digitally certainly has its advantages, and yet it adds enough levels of abstraction that it feels like I’m missing the point. Oddly though, I don’t feel conflicted in this manner when I write, and wouldn’t dream of penning a novel longhand in a journal, so I’m not quite sure why I hesitate.
The answer then, for me at least, lies in the middle ground, taking elements from both the physical and digital world where practicality and preference intersect. I like rolling dice and using tokens on a gridded mat. I like using print-and-play terrain, and using index cards as props and prompts. A laptop feels like work and intrusive on a table. However, an iPad with its page-like form-factor feels far more like a notepad or drawing canvas, while also being an excellent repository for digital assets, and a platform for the tools I’ve created.
The key is to be flexible and use a process and toolkit that adapts to one’s needs, abilities and time constraints. After all, the idea behind solo play is to get to the table and pick up the threads of a game — I certainly don’t want to limit myself striving for some idealised version of a perfect session.
Well, that was me working through me process, so now I can start gathering my tools and materials and banging them into some semblance of order, which I’ll hopefully blog about in coming days and weeks. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts on digital vs pen-and-paper gaming, so sign up for free, and comment below!