Thursday, February 6, 2014

Black Streams : Solo Heroes : A Review

Scarlet Heroes RPG by Kevin Crawford seems to be the darling Kickstarter of the OSR at the moment. And with good reason, I think: it addresses an issue that is not at all uncommon, 1 player with 1 GM.

At least, it's not all that uncommon for me; most of my RPG-life I have GM'd for one or two players. Indeed, in March, I will be running a game for one PC, and my most recent home game was just two PCs.

Now, I haven't pledged my support yet, but I've checked out Black Streams : Solo Heroes, a freebie from Mr. Crawford, and, as I understand it the concepts from it appear in Scarlet Heroes. And what concepts they are!

As promised in the copy, no change is needed to the character sheet, no change of the basic mechanics of your favorite rules set. What he changes is how you use the numbers and how damage is delivered to PCs vs how it is delivered to NPCs/Monsters - and the result is staying power for your 1st level PC even when outnumbered or the victim of poor dungeon delving skills that result in setting off traps.

I can see how this would be useful for using pre-published adventures, where adjusting the size or strength of the encounter would weaken its impact (as opposed to a GM-created adventure that takes the lone PC into account from the very beginning). It also allows for the creation of a different kind of low-level adventure.

If you are committed to the idea that the game is one of nobodies struggling and dying on their way to fame, fortune and hero status, Solo Heroes might cause you some shock.


Because, now, your 1st level PC can take on 4 skeletons at once and make a good showing of it. The PC isn't a nobody in armor, but an individual better suited to the adventuring life than that. They are a hero of sorts at the outset, in the sense that they are able to withstand blows that would kill another quite easily. For some, this is blasphemy of the highest order.

But, in a one PC game, I'm not sure this is all bad.

While I don't particularly care if a PC I'm playing bites it, character frailty at low-levels does make extended campaign play with a single PC difficult. It also makes playing a Conan or other solitary hero almost impossible. And I know that not everyone is so flippant about their character's survival.

The real benefit to using Solo Heroes, is that it doesn't increase the class abilities of the PC in any way as a side-effect of increasing PC longevity.

Your 1st level Magic-User STILL has just one first-level spell to work with that adventuring day and no more than 7 HP (in the unlikely event they get the  +3 CON bonus). Your 1st level thief is still barely more competent than the average street urchin. Your 1st level cleric has no spells (assuming you're playing B/X as written).

So, you still have the fun of leveling up and gaining power but your risk of dying before you ever see any kind of growth is mitigated. Compare that to the experience you might have if you start your PC at 4th level in order to ensure their survival in a low-level dungeon.

From a solitaire player's perspective, it allows the player to run/identify with a single character instead of having to play an entire party. In essence, it increases the opportunity for deeper role-play in a solitaire game , if that's something you desire.

So, yes, I'll be backing the Kickstarter. If you're unsure it's for you, I highly recommend downloading Solo Heroes though - it's free and usable right away.


  1. Thanks for the review. It convinced me to back the Kickstarter as well. My first one in fact.

    1. 91Bravo, thanks for the comment! This looks like a sound one to support since you get the PDF of the text up front. Plus he delivered Spears of the Dawn early, which makes him something of an anomaly for RPG kickstarters! - John