Monday, May 13, 2013

The Mini Manor: Faces Without Screams : Review for Solo Gamers

Tim Shorts, of Gothridge Manor, very kindly sent me a printed copy of The Mini Manor, a mini-zine/adventure he created for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day. The module is entitled Faces Without Screams, which, as you might guess, is full of awesomely demented and disturbed encounters (i.e. not for the faint of heart).

The adventure runs for nine 1/4 size pages, plus you also get a new race, spell and five new magic items. The map is inside the cardstock cover.

Although it was written for Swords & Wizardry, I'm not terribly familiar with that system. I do, however, know Labyrinth Lord well, and so I opted to use those rules instead. Other than some questions about Saving Throws that occurred, the conversion took no effort other than saying "I'm using Labyrinth Lord." I suspect the same is true of other similar systems. Tim even includes both ascending and descending AC, which saves time during an encounter.

In his intro to the adventure, Tim notes that a character should be at least 5th level to have a chance of surviving. He's not kidding either - you start with half of your HP, no armor and no weapons. A low level PC will have the life span of a house-fly if you cut their HP in half! As I have no characters in my Ever Expanding Dungeon that are higher than 3rd level, I opted to just roll one up for the purpose of playing - no way was I going to wait!

Normally, the problem with playing modules is that depending on the layout, it can be difficult to avoid accidentally learning something as a player that, in a GM run game, I would not otherwise know. Although as a dedicated solo player, I'm used to finding ways around this, the less I have to do on this front, the faster I can get into the experience of playing.

Tim has not yet set out to present a module for solitaire play, however, his previous adventures in The Manor, particularly "The Salt Pit", in The Manor #1, have been unintentionally solitaire-friendly. In "The Salt Pit", the PCs had some in-game foreknowledge of the layout of the salt pit, thanks to the NPC, plus Tim highlighted the GM portion, so it was easy to avoid reading it until necessary. In "Faces Without Screams", he takes a different approach.

"Faces Without Screams" is written in the second person, thus giving it the feel of a paragraph solitaire, like those for Tunnels & Trolls. Even better, from a solo perspective, there is little GM information that would impact a player's choices in an encounter. 

The major exception to this is room 5,which is a role-play heavy room and a trick/trap that requires a player to figure out the solution. As written, it is difficult to work out a method of solo-play. I finally decided to use Rory's Story Cubes to supply the responses of 1d4 words. I built a case for my PC discovering the correct answer, but then, to make it official, I asked Mythic GME if I had done enough, and was fortunate with my dice roll. Although i still was reduced to a Wisdom of 4 before I made it out of the room - a Pyrrhic success if ever there was one.

Maps are always a problem with modules, and in this one, the PC has no foreknowledge of the layout. but the player has the map staring at them. What to do?

I turned to a suggestion I learned on SoloNexus and treated the map as an in-game object that my PC acquired in the first encounter, with the possibility it wasn't accurate. Adding it to the first encounter fits pretty well without any deus ex machina feel, and it really doesn't impact the set up in any way - you're still up a creek without a paddle.

At intersections and when I came upon a door/room, I asked Mythic GME whether or not it was as shown on the map. If not, I could switch in one of the other rooms (determined by a die roll), move a corridor a few squares further ahead, etc.

The result of Tim's twisted imaginings and the solitaire mechanisms was a tense and surprising game in which, beat up and with significantly less Wisdom,  I made it to the "big boss" encounter and . . .  I'll save that for a full session write-up next post! I'll also show in more detail how I handled room 5.

In the meantime, go and download Faces Without Screams for free from RPGNow, get your dice, roll up a character and play it! 


  1. Glad you're having fun with this.

  2. AnonymousMay 17, 2013

    Nice post. I like how you run your solo adventures.

    1. Hi Ken,

      Thanks for the comment!

      I only wish I had figured this stuff out when I was a kid and couldn't find people to game with.