The Best of the Dungeon Masters Guild

Party of one? We seek out the best tools and scenarios to play D&D solo.


While most of us would rather be sitting around a table (virtual or otherwise) enjoying a game of D&D with our friends, Dungeons & Dragons can be played by just one or a couple of players. This issue we look at some of the best solo options available on the DMs Guild and talk to a creator who’s a master of the genre. And with the latest D&D storyline announced, we also check out the wilderness experiences you could enjoy (if that’s the right word!?) on your way to meet the Frostmaiden. Read on to find out more!

SOLO/DUO ADVENTURING

Video conferencing has allowed many of us to get together during these times of social distancing. Yet there are still moments when you could sneak in a few extra sessions of play if you were able to wear the DM’s hat and act as a player, without any involvement from other people. Here’s what the DMs Guild community has on offer to help you play even when you’re the only adventurer in the room.


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D&D Solo Adventure: The Death Knight’s Squire, by 5E Solo Gamebooks

Price: $9.99 (PDF), $25.99 (Softcover)

The Death Knight’s Squire is a solo module designed for players eager to play fifth edition D&D whether they can find a group with a Dungeon Master or not. An “Adventure Booklet” contains named entries that form the narrative basis of the adventure, while a “Maps Booklet” includes grid-like sections that can be played through using character and monster tokens. Featuring combat, movement, searching for traps, investigation, and healing—it’s a great replacement for D&D night. Check out our interview with creator Paul Bimler below.

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Dark Sorceries—A 5E Solo Adventure, by Abel T. Trotter

Price: $9.99 (PDF)

Inspired by The Death Knight’s Squire, the first solo adventure for the Heroes of Faerûn: Shadowborne campaign is designed for a 2nd-level character. Abel T. Trotter’s story sees players fight monsters, create allies, and come face to face with creatures birthed from dark magic. The PDF version of the adventure includes links that can be clicked to take you directly to your character’s choices as you progress through the story.

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SOLO EPA 01: Eight Petals Argent, by Wraith Wright Productions

Price: $11.99 (PDF)

An excellent piece of fiction kicks off the narrative for this daring solo play adventure. Eight Petals Argent uses character sheets and dice to resolve various challenges and player choices, as well as simple combat maps that a player can use with miniatures or tokens. The story sees the player heading to Waterdeep for the annual Day of Wonders celebration, where a wealthy faction of academics offers bounties for rare trinkets hidden around the City of Splendors.

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First Blush, by Jonathan and Beth Ball

Price: $2.00 (PDF)

This module designed for one DM and one player is a gentle introduction for new D&D devotees. It allows a player to practice roleplaying with a couple of key NPCs and experience a simulated dungeon and combat scenario before heading off to a real dungeon to discover the secret within. The creature and NPC appendix also includes optional stats in case a PC decides to bring an ally along. Credits for First Blush include “Mistress of Maps” Deven Rue, who created maps for Critical Role’s Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.

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DESIGN THOUGHT: SIMPLICITY IS IMMERSIVE

Roleplaying games only seem complicated until you break them down into their core actions. At its most basic level an RPG involves a DM describing the scene to a player, followed by the player describing their actions in response to that scene. This very simple exchange repeats until the situation is resolved.

Extra rules are usually added when there could be multiple outcomes of an action, and that’s when dice rolling and character skills come into play. In a solo-play adventure it’s best to keep these as simple as possible. Adding too many options or forcing a player to consult a lot of tables as they make their way through a fantasy landscape can break the suspension of disbelief.

There are lots of tricks a creator can use to help further immerse the player in the environment. When creating a solo-play adventure, a writer should be as descriptive as possible to help set the scene. Adding easily printable maps and tokens (not everyone already has a collection of figures) can also help evoke a real sense of place. The story needs to be as compelling to the player as if it was being described by a DM and requiring the player to focus too heavily on the mechanics may disrupt that.

For the best results, suggest in your prologue that a player sits away from distractions as they take on your quest. Appropriate music can help create the right mood, while other accessories (such as convincing a player to log their progress in a fancier notebook that suits their character) can also be used to further enhance the illusion.


CREATOR Q&A: 5E SOLO GAMEBOOKS

Dungeons & Dragons has embraced solo play since its earliest editions, allowing dungeon doors to be kicked open even when there’s no-one else around to play. Dragon+ chatted with DMs Guild creator Paul Bimler of 5E Solo Gamebooks to find out what makes a good solo module.

Have you always been a fan of Endless Quest-style adventures?

I’m a massive fan of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy game books. They were a big inspiration for me. There are plenty of other series too and there’s been a bit of a renaissance recently. There are four Destiny Quest stories that are these huge, thick books. Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series has been reissued recently and a friend of mine, Richard Sampson, has been doing all the art for those. Dave Sharrock’s Malice from the Middle Vale is a beautifully written and illustrated book. I’ve got the whole set of Fabled Lands. And there are a few more recent ones, such as Rider of the Black Sun. I’ve got just about every game of this type that you can think of. Did you know that you can play Skyrim solo on Alexa? You can play through the whole thing like an old-school text adventure.

What’s the draw of solo gaming?

It’s not a replacement for group play, but rather a really enjoyable accompaniment to group adventures. Many people will get together with their D&D group once every week or every two weeks. Some will think, ‘I need more D&D than that!’ That’s where this sort of system comes in. It allows people to play D&D whenever they feel like it.

Are players aware of solo gaming as an option for Dungeons & Dragons?

It’s not really in the public consciousness. On social media people often ask how they would go about playing a solo adventure. And the response they often get is, ‘You mean a video game?’ Or people will point out that at its heart D&D is a social game. But solo adventures have actually been around forever. Gary Gygax introduced solo rules in first edition D&D when he put out a supplement to enable players to randomly generate dungeons. And when the Red Box Basic Set came out in 1983 the Player’s Handbook included a solo adventure. Everyone who played through it has fond memories of that little dungeon.

When did you create your first D&D solo adventure?

I played D&D through the ’80s and until the early ’90s but had taken a long hiatus for various family and work reasons. I came back to it during fourth edition and was an occasional DM and player. One day I was keen to play a D&D solo adventure and thought I’d go and track one down. When I went onto the DMs Guild there weren’t any for fifth edition so I thought I better write one. My first adventure is called The Death Knight’s Squire and it’s part of a series I’ve started that I hope will take characters all the way up to 20th level.

What has the response been like?

The response has been fantastic! I run a Facebook group called Dungeons & Dragons Solo Adventures and we have 3,600 members. I started it because other creators on the DMs Guild suggested I needed a way to keep in touch with the fan base. I thought a Facebook group was a good way of grouping my target audience together. There are a few other solo adventure writers on there as well, including Randall Wright who’s written an awesome adventure called Eight Petals Argent and another creator who publishes under the name Blaise Wigglesworth. Great name! He’s got a two-part adventure called Shipwrecked. I think the lockdown situation has really brought solo adventures to the fore and a few more people are trying their hand at them.

How long does it take to write a solo adventure?

They take a while to write as you can imagine, with all the branching options. The most recent one took just under a year to write and then I had to playtest it. I was getting distracted by a lot of other side projects at the same time so hopefully I can write the next one a little faster.

What’s the secret to a really great solo adventure?

Player agency is crucial. I think that’s the secret to any good adventure. Multiplayer adventures can read as if they are railroading a party by not giving them a lot of options because it’s up to the DM to provide those branching options. With a solo adventure there’s no DM so you have to write in all of that detail and provide lots of ways the story could go.

It’s also important to include a lot of non-combat elements. It’s not just about moving from one encounter to another, you have to craft situations where a player needs to use persuasion skills or figure out the meaning of runes hidden inside a book using an Intelligence check. I like giving characters the keys to things, such as items that help them solve a particular situation when they encounter it later on down the track. If they didn’t pick up that item, you need to provide other options to solve the situation.

Can your adventures be played by more than one player?

There’s an art to balancing a solo adventure properly. You have to be careful not to overpower encounters and make them deadly or underpower encounters and make them boring. All the guidance you need is on page 82-83 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide and a lot of that is honed through extensive playtesting. Quite often I’ve found that two players will play through my modules. In my most recent books I’ve included a table at the back which enables each encounter to be converted for up to four players so they can get together without a DM and run the adventure.

Are there different types of solo adventuring?

If you play one of my game books such as The Death Knight’s Squire, while there is dice rolling involved, they have a limited amount of choices. I take care to provide several paths through the books and numerous options down each of those paths, but they are not limitless in the ways you can go, like a DM-led adventure. However, there is another type of solo adventuring which is more like playing in a sandbox campaign. This involves using tables to randomly generate every aspect of the adventure, and the player builds the adventure as they move through it. I’ve also written a comprehensive guide to this style of solo adventuring, entitled The Solo Adventurer’s Toolbox, which has been released on the Dungeon Master’s Guild.

Can these guides take the place of a DM?

With a little creativity, absolutely. Mythic Game Master Emulator is a way of roleplaying without a DM. It works like an ‘Oracle’ and you ask it ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions and resolve those with dice rolls. For example, your character is a six-foot warforgedbarbarian and you’re entering a gnome village. You might ask the Oracle, could I potentially disguise myself as a gnome? The modifiers range from Impossible, No Way, Very Unlikely, Unlikely, Fifty/Fifty, Somewhat Likely, Likely, and Very Likely. Each of those modify the dice roll. The only way to achieve something Impossible is by rolling a crit on a d100. And if that happens, you add more detail. How did the barbarian manage to disguise himself? Perhaps the gnomes of the village have been drugged in some way. I’ve taken that general idea and simplified it for fifth edition in the Solo Adventurer’s Toolbox.

Can this system also generate adventures?

The Solo Adventurer’s Toolbox includes a plethora of tables to help you generate freeform solo adventures. Imagine that you arrive at a settlement and want to visit a blacksmith. You can roll on a table to determine what type of settlement it is and figure out if it’s big enough to include a blacksmith or another particular type of merchant. My system even allows you to randomly generate terrain as you move. You can then also bring in other tools such as the section in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for randomly generating dungeons.

Can these guides turn any module into a single-player version of that storyline?

Where the Solo Adventurer’s Toolbox creates freeform, self-generating adventures, The Dungeon Oracle allows players to run any published adventure as a solo experience. A lot of people are into that because it allows them to take advantage of the excellent published adventures from Wizards of the Coast and other writers on DMs Guild.

What’s up next for you?

The next thing I’m working on is called Solo Skirmish, which is a more combat-based, faster style of solo adventure. It’s a little bit boardgamey, but without a board, as a lot of it is theater of the mind—although it does use a battle map during combat. It revolves around a system of phases: a location phase, a hero phase, an encounter phase, and a threat phase. As you move through those you roll on tables for encounters. There are plot points in Solo Skirmish but it’s quite linear as it’s designed to be a good way to run an hour-long adventure whenever you feel like it. The book will include five quests, written into a campaign. I’m hoping to have that ready before the end of June. After that, I’m writing the Solo Adventurer’s Toolbox Part Two, which will include a bunch of extra supplemental material. I’ll also be starting the next game book for 6th level characters soon after that. And I want to write more Solo Skirmish material as well!

Find more fifth edition content from Paul Bimler and 5E Solo Gamebooks on the DMs Guild

SUPPORT RED NOSE DAY!

Wizards of the Coast has released a new fifth edition D&D adventure—available only on DMs Guild! All proceeds go to Red Nose Day, a non-profit organization fighting to end child poverty. Return to the Glory is designed for four-to-six orc characters from 6th to 8th level. Your people once dominated everything south of the mountains; you had the greatest, most advanced underground stronghold ever known to orc-kind. Then the cataclysm happened. Centuries have passed, and only a few tribes have survived. Now assembled under the banner of one cause, can you reclaim what was once yours!


WILDERNESS TRAVELS

At D&D Live 2020: Roll w/ Advantage we learned that a trip to Icewind Dale is in our immediate future. As the Dungeon Master’s Guide says, sometimes the journey deserves as much time and attention as the destination. The DMs Guild has plenty of resources to make that trek across the wilderness toward the twinkling lights of Ten-Towns as memorable as possible.

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Fulvano’s Guide to the Wilds, by Sam Sorensen

Price: Pay What You Want, suggested price $5 (PDF)

“Beyond the city walls, the wilderness calls…” That poetic line from the cover of this PDF captures the feel of this guide, which is written by the humble yet esteemed explorer, cartographer, and adventurer, Fulvano Rodolfini il Cerceranze. With advice on everything from travel pace and navigation to unclean water and modifying equipment, this guide expands the existing rules found in the Player’s Handbook, DMG and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

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Wild Wilderness Vol. 1: 50 Encounters, by A. Hagen and Peter Hagen

Price: $3.99 (PDF)

Helpfully indexed by terrain and character level, these fifty encounters provide short plot hooks that can be dropped into any campaign. They’re perfect for creating both minor and potentially major experiences while travelling—joining a centaur’s drinking game or finding a pool in a glade might have far-reaching impacts well beyond that encounter.

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The Explorer’s Guide to the Wilderness, by The Arcane Athenaeum

Price: Pay What You Want (PDF)

The wilds are dangerous and unpredictable, and simply getting where you want to go can be an adventure itself. This short guide treats environmental regions like monsters, using statistics such as Navigation, Resource, and Encounter to chart their difficulty.

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Encounters in the Savage Wilderness, by Jeff C. Stevens, Christopher Walz, Remley Farr, Luciella Elisabeth Scarlett, Tony Petrecca, Karl Resch, Florian Emmerich, J.V.C. Parry, Jean A. Headley, Courtney Hilbig, Lilah Isaacs, Ken Carcas, Jesse Peterson, Alex Clippinger, and Al Spader

Price: $14.95 (PDF)

Encounters in the Wilderness is the fourth installment in the Savage Encounters series of supplements and brings together the work of a pool of writers, artists and cartographers. The range of encounters is diverse thanks to those multiple inputs and although each experience comes with suggestions of where to place it in an Eberron campaign, they easily adapt to any world.

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Download Legendary Beginnings—A Feast of Flavor for free!

This ENnie-nominated 1st to 2nd-level adventure is suitable for all ages! A vital pass through the mountains on the wild borderlands between the Kingdom of Threll and the Faerie Realms has been closed by unknown forces. The citizens of Bakewell Tart are frightened and angry, unable to trade their marvelous goods with the fey beyond. This is a job for heroes with the strength, wit, and heart to try almost anything to bring peace and prosperity back to the frontier.

As social distancing is still a factor (please Stay at Home. Play at Home.), we’re giving you the chance to download the PDF version, as well as offering a Fantasy Grounds version for remote play. These versions will be free for the life of this issue.

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GET IT FREE FOR USE ON FANTASY GROUNDS