When talking about a role playing game, it's a bit problematic to think about playing one alone. With war games it is commonly done, not rp. How can one play a role if there is no one else there to witness and respond to it in kind? Role playing, per se, is about embodiment of character which can be embarrassing to do alone.
But playing a role is not impossible alone. And it is not the only element of role playing games. There are many other things which make up this kind of fictional play, that are equally as integral and pleasurable. Games have been written that fulfill these desires in a way that one person could do them alone. The games written for this contest need only have one of these (or some other we've forgot) as an aim to fit the bill as an rpg. Though having some or all is most possible and welcome.
Examples and descriptions follow. Feedback and play from a game that hits a bit of all of them, The Plant, can be found here.
World is the building blocks of setting and terrain in which the role playing game takes place. It can be the natural landscape of the world: rivers, dells, mountains, fens; or the people and places that drive a game: armies and kings, syndicates and dons, fortresses, and monster's lairs. World building is an activity ideally suited to working alone.
An example of a game that allows you to create world alone is How to Host a Dungeon. Using dice, tracing paper and counters you create a world of ancient realms, hidden treasures and forbidding menace. The game is meant to be a springboard for dungeon delving adventure games like D&D, but stands alone as a single player experience.
As the story unfolds, obstacles are encountered, new friends are made, changes happen from within and without. Events make up a history of the world, or create the flow of character development. Facing adversity, exploring wondrous worlds, finding allies. Events may be the most challenging element to incorporate into solo play. Creating compelling events alone can be daunting. Interactions between characters when played alone can feel awkward. How to automate or facilitate these coming about?
The Dr Who Solitaire Story Game is a complex mix of choose your own adventure with random encounters that take the Doctor and companions through space and time, finding enemies and friends. The extensive references you pick your way through provide surprises for the player. This game shows one approach to incorporating events into a solo game.
Sweet Agatha is another modern remix of the choose-your-own-adventure. This asks the player to deconstruct the game itself, creating clues and a mystery that one investigates alone. The final resolution of the mystery is done by the first player in concert with another. But the investigator creates a narrative thread that then is communicated to the other, in order for them to solve it together.
The people of the game. They are the most basic element of role playing,and much of their creation is handled alone in standard games. Rolling up characters, writing back-story, creating family, friends, kin. Playing alone gives an opportunity to delve more deeply into each of them. As a writer does, thinking about what makes a person tick, the player can spend time charting the fault lines of a character's personality. Or work with a group, feeling out the relationships, tugs and attractions among them. Solo play and character seem to go hand in hand.
Fool's Walk is a set of poems based on the tarot. Looking at each of the Major Arcana as a character study. Tarot is a great tool for solo story telling. Full of imagery, connected thematically, and with larger cultural references to draw upon, and iconic characters and images.
Another example is Story to a Chair, an improvisation game where you address characters in an empty chair, then take on the roles yourself. It is an exercise in creating a distinct character from small details.
Experience deals with the feelings and emotions of the player. This can be the thrill of victory or overcoming a puzzle, or strong experience of an in-character loss, love or liberation. Live action play often strengthens emotional experience, though it can happen in any game. Challenge and victory could be challenging in solo play, and may rely on real puzzles to be solved, or props and tools to provide resistance. Experience presents unique challenges to solo play, since there is no one else to respond. But it could also provide an opportunity for the individual to be free of self-consciousness, allowing deeper commitment of emotion.
An example of playing a role alone was shared by Elizabeth Sampat: An old acting exercise--stand in front of a mirror, apologize to someone you've wronged and never apologized to. Another game, meant to give an in-depth emotional experience while playing alone is SOLITAIRE SOLDIER where music and third-person narrative to both enhance your emotional experience and retain a distance that keeps the story flowing.
Other example games could easily be adapted for one are Invocation, an improvisation game where you choose an object to address with increasing depth, finally invoking it, as one might a god. And Snow, an intense and intimate role playing poem about friendship and growing old.