Solo: The Hero’s Journey (Part 3)

After generating all the names for the main people in Toby’s life, I came up with a bunch of background – all of this just came to me as I typed it into an IM to Matt. I think having the location and other basics already decided made all this detail very easy to come up with.

[aidan] I’ve decided my character grew up in Grand Rapids.
[aidan] So he’s a Michigan boy.
[aidan] but the other side of Michigan.
[aidan] And that’s where his folks still live.
[aidan] His sister lives in Chicago, and works in advertising.
[aidan] Toby works in the bookstore because he can have flexible enough hours to pick up his daughter after school, although he has to usually do one day in a weekend, which he hates.
[aidan] Toby and Joanna have been married 8 years, and have a relatively affordable mortgage on a 3-bed house in Ann Arbor.
[aidan] Toby drives an old blue Chevy Camaro that is half transport, half restoration project. In the winter, he drives an old Ford truck. He likes old cars. Joanna has a Prius.
[aidan] He is in reasonable shape – not superfit, but not overweight. Plays basketball once a week with the guys from work, and leads a fairly active life with his daugther: park trips, bike rides, etc.
[aidan] He has short dark curly hair with smatterings of grey, and is clean shaven.
[aidan] Joanna’s hair is medium brown and straight. She has green eyes, Toby’s are grey-blue.
[aidan] Katie looks like her mom πŸ™‚
[aidan] He’s pretty smart, but his wife is smarter (and Katie’s smarter than both of them). He reads a lot, particularly history, politics, philosophy, American literature and the odd thriller.
[aidan] They both like to drink wine.
[aidan] They are both members of the Democrats, and the whole family will help out at political rallies, campaigns, etc.
[mj] Other important people. His boss. Other assistant managers?
[mj] lol, for later

[aidan] Heh, yeah. I’ll add more in.

Part of the reason we’re blogging all of this is to show how we are generating this character in a narrative way, how the story starts without any real role-playing, and to give everyone a feel for the main characters so that it becomes easy to follow along with the story once it starts.

I know Matt is busy working on story – I can see he has protected some pages on our internal wiki and filled them full of notes – so I expect once I’ve finished with rounding off this character, we’ll be underway.

Solo: What’s in a name?

I’ve seen a bunch of name generators, especially around generating random fantasy names, or names that look Tolkien-esque. However, this random name generator is for normal first and last names, as might be found in the USA. I can set an obscurity factor (from 1 to 100) and select a gender. It uses US census data as the source for the names.

The names

My character is going to be from the Midwest, so I want a reasonably common name – I’ve set the obscurity factor to 40 (to rule out names like Modesto and Britt). Here’s what I got:

  1. Toby Sandvik
  2. Darrin Ruta
  3. Dominick Purdon
  4. Emmett Krane
  5. Toby Rayne
  6. Cary Montpas
  7. Santos Gettle
  8. Winston Citrano
  9. Darnell Laskowitz
  10. Van Arnaud

I’ve opted for Toby Rayne. It’s nice and short and has a good ring to it, and I’ve been watching a lot of The West Wing lately. I also like the name Winston Citrano, so I’ll use that for his best buddy. I figure Toby’s middle name will be the same as his dad’s first name, so let’s find out who Dad is, using the name generator but ignoring the surname. I’ll run through Dad, Mom, Wife, Big Sister and Daughter:

  • Dad – Charles (Charlie)
  • Mom – Rebecca
  • Wife – Joanna
  • Sister – Erica
  • Daughter – Catherine (Katie)

Given the names that have come up, I’ve decided that Mom is part-Jewish, but that the family are loosely Christian (i.e. church at Christmas). I also decided that Dad ran his own auto repair shop.

The updated R-map now looks like this:

Solo: The Hero’s Journey (Part 1)

[09:15:14] So, have you thought about where you want to set Solo?
[09:16:11] Nope. ? A lot of that is up to you. Want to be a yank?
[09:18:07] It makes things easier to visualise in some regards, because we’re so brainwashed by Hollywood. However, it’s also very clichΓ©d as a result. I’ve no desire to roleplay someone from N.I. though.
[09:22:50] I’ve zero desire to set a game here. For me it would be started either in some city in the US or a major city in the UK
[09:27:03] *nod* Let’s go with the US. It’s easier for other people to read too.
[09:29:01] which city rings and sings for you?
[09:34:13] One with a bit of character. Pick from Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle.
[09:36:04] Instinct says to pick Philadelphia but let’s go with Ann Arbor
[09:36:27] OK πŸ™‚
[09:45:34] I can be from Michigan.

[09:48:44] you can be whatever you want to be
[09:54:52] Aye, but that’s a good starting point.
[09:55:26] Somewhere in Middle America works for me. I’m just reading the Wikipedia article.
[09:57:11] I looked at Ann Arbor as a possible living place, during one of my many interviews last year.
[09:59:24] 114K people. So not far from the size of Lisburn.
[10:00:37] Right. But close to Detroit. Population 6m.
[10:01:13] Though it has UMich so….BIG DIFFERENCE
[10:01:32] Yeah.
[10:01:57] Which is tough because I’m a Buckeye fan.

[10:01:51] What’s Buckeye?
[10:02:12] Ohio State
[10:04:33] So pick somewhere in Ohio?
[10:05:55] No, Ann Arbor is great.
[10:07:23] I’ve never been there πŸ™‚
[10:07:45] Columbus works
[10:08:57] I love Columbus. It’s a beautiful city.
[10:09:16] But I’d rather it be Ann Arbor.
[10:10:11] Okay. As of December 2006, Democrats hold the mayorship and all council seats. It’s a hot-bed for left wing politics.
[10:17:28] pot is decriminalised…
[10:29:35] “Ann Arbor is also home to the headquarters of Google’s AdWords program” Borders Books *started* in Ann Arbor. Domino’s Pizza is HQ’d there too.
[10:30:05] OK, cool.
[10:30:15] I’ve got stuff to think about now.
[10:48:29] OK, I have a character concept.
[10:48:37] Something near and dear to my heart πŸ™‚
[10:49:19] He’s one of the assistant managers at the Ann Arbor Border’s branch.
[10:49:34] Mid-30s, married, 1 child.
[10:49:59] Child is 5, and his wife works as a lecturer at UMich.

[13:20:21] Wikipedia says: “With tongue-in-cheek reference to the city’s liberal political leanings, some occasionally refer to Ann Arbor as The People’s Republic of Ann Arbor or 25 square miles surrounded by reality,”
[13:24:36] Yeah, I had in mind someone who was reasonably politically active.
[13:25:07] He’s not from Ann Arbor originally, but his wife works at the university, which is why he stayed.

First iteration of Hero’s R-map


I’ve only run Solo-play (one player, one GM) once. It was 23 years ago, I hadn’t been gaming long and this was my first attempt at GMing. I’d bought the Games Workshop boxed edition of Middle Earth Role Play (MERP) and then tried to run it without really paying much attention to the rules. What I ‘ran’ didn’t last long and also bore little resemblance to the MERP rulesystem as I recall. It was the first and it was also the last time I ran a solo game.

The problems I have considered with Solo games is that, much like my liking for computer games, the fascination is all about the interactions with others. I like video-game racing or combat with friends and strangers, I like roleplaying with other humans too. This is why the Fighting Fantasy books didn’t hold my interest much and though I admired the technical excellence of NeverWinter Nights, I never could be bothered doing it all by myself. Online MUSH games resolved some of this because it was a pure role-playing experience, involved a lot of imagination (it’s text-based so, much like a novel, most of the imagery comes from your own imagination.) With Solo play, you’ve only got one person to deal with, one person to bounce ideas off and as a result the interactivity is limited. Plus, if one person fails to show, your entire game is SOL.

One of the advantages of a Solo game is that you only need to schedule with one person (which is only marginally harder than scheduling only for yourself). Scheduling with four other people can be a real pain (especially now we are adults with wives*, family** and social lives***).

So, endeavouring to start a Solo game with Aidan (who inconsiderately can’t stay in one country for any length of time) seems like a good idea for me (and him) to get the gaming fix. The game we’re choosing is Wild Talents. And the premise is simple, it’s the real world, but now, at game start, there is a single superhero (the player). The Powers are going to be rolled randomly but it’s up to Aidan to provide the background and personality for the character. The campaign, fittingly, will be called Solo – respresenting a solo player and a solo superbeing.

*yes, this tells you that we geeks have something that interests a woman (and also that my gaming group are all male)
**this tells you that we geeks, however awkward, have had sex. Yes, hard to believe.
***again, breaking the stereotype, we find it hard to find time to game because we’re busy with our social lives.

The Philosophy of the Superhero

“There are men, wrote Aristotle, so godlike, so exceptional, that they naturally, by right of their extraordinary gifts, transcend all moral judgment or constitutional control: ‘There is no law which embraces men of that caliber: they are themselves law.'”Superhero, Wikipedia

“A temperamental consciousness of material force brought Hugo Danner into being. The frustration of my own muscles by things, and the alarming superiority of machinery started the notion of a man who would be invincible. I gave him a name and planned random deeds for him. I let him tear down Brooklyn Bridge and lift a locomotive. Then I began to speculate about his future and it seemed to me that a human being thus equipped would be foredoomed to vulgar fame or to a life of fruitless destruction. He would share the isolation of geniuses and with them would learn the inflexibility of man’s slow evolution. To that extent Hugo became symbolic and Gladiator a satire. The rest was adventure and perhaps more of the book derives from the unliterary excitement of imagining such a life than from a studious juxtaposition of incidents to a theme” – Philip Wylie