Recently, I was playing a solo game of Delta Green, and I ended up disappointed because I was more concerned with the dice than having fun. I forgot an important tool for solo gaming: if you don’t like the outcome, you don’t have to stick to it.

Here’s what happened. Everything was going great, I was investigating this author who had been writing about increasingly occult topics. I was playing an Army colonel stationed at a nearby base, and his skillset wasn’t helping me come up with many ideas for getting eyes on this guy. The case officer didn’t have the address, so I consulted the dice to help me figure it out. Was it publicly listed? No. That’s fine, I already knew this guy was secretive. Anything useful on social media? No. Okay, that’s alright, this guy is a bit older and may be a bit old-fashioned. At least an email address on his website? No. I ended up calling the publishing company, pretending to be a journalist, but at this point, it was a little annoying coming up with plans for roll results to shoot them down.

I got to the address and drove by to get a quick look. My character has Craft (Mechanic) and I thought that perhaps I could sabotage this guy’s car in some way so he would have to go get it checked out. So I rolled the dice and… no car. Okay, well, maybe I could intercept his mail to get an idea of what’s going on with him. Is there mail in the mailbox? No. Okay, he might be good about checking it. Alright, at this point, I want to get a camera and set it up across the street so I can at least figure out when he leaves the house.

Two things happened. One, I failed my Accounting roll for the camera, which was a standard expense. Two, the dice told me that I couldn’t find a suitable place for it across the street. At this point, I started to get frustrated, as the dice were getting in the way of my plans constantly. I ended up abandoning the game, and I may come back to it at some point, but there’s a point to be illustrated here. The dice were getting in the way of my fun.

Going with the cool plan ≠ Cheating

There’s a whole lot of discourse about what constitutes cheating in a solo game and there are some strong feelings about it. I don’t believe that cheating can really exist in a solo game, though, as there’s nobody to cheat. The whole point is to enjoy yourself, and if you need to bend and break the rules of the system or the oracle to do it, nothing is stopping you. I don’t even mind that my character had to jump through hoops to find the address, but I think my ultimate situation could have been avoided by doing one of two things.

If I hadn’t rolled yet, I could have just gone with the plan to sabotage the guy’s car. Instead of asking the oracle, “Does he have a car?” I could have asked, “What kind of car does he drive?”

If I had already rolled and got “no car” as an answer, as I did, I could have said, “No, you know, I think this guy has a car.”

Why? Because I had a plan that could have worked and it would have been a fun application of my character’s skills. I like moments like that, where it just so happens that I have the right man for the job. But no, instead, the dice were stopping me at every turn and I was letting them. I didn’t actually even roll to convince the publisher I was a journalist, by the way. The only time I got to progress was when I stopped listening to the dice.

I am not saying dice are useless

I’m not saying, “Don’t roll dice to see what happens.” I am also not saying that oracles are useless or that you shouldn’t use them to help guide you in your game. What I am saying is that I fell into the same trap every solo gamer likely does at some point: you don’t need to roll the dice for everything, and their word is not final. You can make decisions about the environment without them.

Deciding what is and isn’t relevant to roll for is a skill that you learn as you gain more experience as a solo player, and it’s something I’m still learning. I think, however, it’s best to err on the side of populating the environment. Say that I’m inside someone’s bedroom. Rather than roll to see whether there’s a nightstand at all, I ought to roll to see if there’s anything interesting inside. It’s reasonable to assume there should be one in here, especially since I feel the need to address it. If there doesn’t happen to be anything of note in there, that’s okay, I’m glad it’s still there because it helps shape the environment.

If you’re standing there unsure whether there should be a nightstand in this room, ask yourself which is more interesting. On the one hand, there could be something neat in there. On the other, how much furniture is actually in this house - does someone really live here? That’s up to you. I like to use my environment to my advantage though, so that when a ninja sneaks up behind me, I can bonk him with the nightstand drawer or the lamp sitting on top.

If I go back to that game, I’ll probably just rewind back to getting to the house initially and say that he has a car in view. Maybe the question is whether it’s parked on the street or in the driveway, I don’t know. But the best thing I think I, and anyone else, should do before rolling to see what’s there is to first think about whether there’s an answer I’m hoping for. Because if it’d be cool, interesting, or even just convenient for something to be there, it’s well within a solo player’s right to accept that it is.