Justice Playthrough #147: Solipstry

This game didn’t actively annoy me, so I’ll try not to tee-off on it too hard — particularly given that I haven’t actually, you know, played it. But just reading the rules gives me the impression it doesn’t actually achieve the goals it’s setting for itself. I seriously don’t know why I’d play this instead of D&D.

Page 58, Game 14: Solipstry by alrine

Solipstry is a TTRPG based on what the authors thought were the best bits of D&D 3.5 and D&D 4, but with the classes and levels stripped away. However, it aspires to more. From the very first paragraph of the introduction:

Solipstry is a set of tools used to create a world. Not just any world. You don’t need tools to create a world. That’s as easy as saying “What if the Wild West had dinosaurs?” But to make a world that’s lively enough, colorful enough, and well-defined enough to tell a story? That’s where you need a tool set.

Okay, fair enough, a world-agnostic RPG sounds like a pretty worthwhile endeavor. But those already exist. GURPS and Hero System have been around since the 80’s; hell, “GURPS” is an acronym for “Generic Universal Roleplaying System.” Those old dogs are severely rules-heavy, though. In more recent years, “Apocalypse World” has proven to be a very versatile mid-weight ruleset that gets tweaked to new settings all the time. “Fate” is a thing that exists, too. If I’m in the mood for a light-ish ruleset that gives me immense worldbuilding flexibility, you’re honestly going to have a hell of a time convincing me NOT to use Fate.

True to its name, Solipstry does not seem to be aware those other rulesets exist. I’m sure the developers are aware of games that exist outside the D&D lineage, but they don’t seem interested in acknowledging any. And for all its talk about being setting-agnostic, the rules as presented are very clearly geared towards high fantasy.

But, whatever. The game considers D&D its peer, so what’s it doing that you couldn’t accomplish by a suitably ambitious DM tweaking D&D?

I’m sincerely coming up empty.

There’s something off-puttingly ignorant about the game’s stated goals. From later in the Introduction:

While many roleplaying systems require complex math and a careful examination of the rules before gameplay can begin, Solipstry was designed with simplicity in mind. And it isn’t just flexible when it comes to rules. Customizable settings are where Solipstry truly shines. While most games provide you with everything you need to know—rules, settings, vast histories of the land, tomes depicting all of the wars and conflicts over the years, along with descriptions of the important political figures, charts with magic items, diagrams explaining what creatures live where and how they behave in and out of combat—Solipstry leaves world creation to you.

This excerpt is wall-to-wall “Huh?”

First off: this is not a simple ruleset. It’s not the fiddliest I’ve ever seen; like I said, I’ve played GURPS and Hero System, and don’t get me started on Rolemaster. But it’s absolutely comparable to D&D. If anything, nuking classes and levels makes it MORE complex than D&D by making what constitutes a good choice less obvious.

I truly have no idea what the authors are referring to when they talk about other games being heavy on setting. They’re certainly not talking about D&D; if you want “vast histories of the land, tomes depicting all of the wars and conflicts over the years,” etc., etc., you can buy supplements that will happily provide all that stuff for you, but you’re not getting it in the core ruleset.

But when the authors say “Solipstry leaves the world creation to you,” that is actually very true. Solipstry leaves it ENTIRELY to you.

In a 95-page ruleset, Solipstry doesn’t get around to campaign settings — ostensibly its entire reason for existing — until page 75.

Everything before that is character creation and gameplay rules. Several sections are just D&D with the serial numbers filed off; “Feats” are now “Talents,” “Spells” are now “Abilities.” A truly “simple” game does not need 75 pages of character creation and rules. A game that claims to give you the tools you need to create unique settings needs to step the hell up and actually give you those tools.

The truly unique parts of Solipstry aren’t appealing. As one would expect from a game where levels have been done away with, the game goes into a lot more detail developing individual skills and how they’re used. But they way they’re implemented often makes a character’s base attributes (Strength, Intelligence, etc — just D&D but with Luck and Speed lobbed into the mix) largely irrelevant. From a mechanical standpoint, they’re frequently little more than fluff text.

In D&D, two characters with a Strength of 18 and 8 will have profoundly different feels and have very different capabilities. In Solipstry, two characters with a Strength of 30 and 10 are basically the same. The only real difference is that one is more vulnerable than the other to attacks that target Strength. Mechanically, when it comes to using strength-based skills, the stronger character has effectively two tenths of a +1 that they’ll be able to add to the relevant skill check.

This game sets some worthwhile goals, but I don’t feel like it actually achieves any of them. Solipstry isn’t any better suited to crafting interesting RPG settings than baseline D&D. Stripping class and levels from D&D is interesting in theory, but the way the game does it doesn’t make me interested in actually playing it.

Not recommended. I’ve been saying that I’d be willing to try most of these TTRPGs if the right players were enticing me, but getting me into a Solipstry campaign would be an uphill climb.

Will this next game achieve the goals it sets for itself?

Page 58, Game 1: A Light Long Gone by muddasheep

“Interactive music album release.”

Interactive music album? I have no idea what to expect. Color me intrigued.