Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Micro Chapbook RPG: Deluxe Core Rulebook [DriveThruRPG, Amazon] by Noah Patterson, part of the Micro Chapbook RPG series. Be aware that there is apparently a separate Micro Chapbook RPG: Deluxe Core Rulebook Updated Edition [DriveThruRPG, Bookshop, Amazon].
The jacket copy and front matter of this little booklet implore the reader not to buy it, at least not until after downloading it from the DrivethruRPG.com website. I did not follow this advice, since I knew basically what sort of thing this book was, and that I would not want to bother with printing my own copy or reading and referencing it from a digital device. The material quality of the booklet is in fact just fine. It’s apparently print-on-demand, but it is a nice glue-bound publication. The cover art is good, although some of the many clip-art style interior illustrations leave a bit to be desired. The book includes three significant pieces: The Micro Chapbook rule set, a “dungeon” scenario, and an “adventure” scenario.
The rules outline character generation, basic play, combat, and level advancement for a streamlined solo roleplaying game, set in a largely unspecified fantasy world that the cover characterizes as “grimdark.” I am impressed with how minimalist these rules manage to be. Conventional six-sided dice are the only randomizers required, and characters are defined by four base statistics and two derivative ones. There are only four character classes, each oriented to proficiency in one of the base statistics. (Wizards surprisingly have no spells, merely proficiency in Wits.) Section 5.0 prescribes that seven points be allotted among the four base stats when creating a character (10), but my initial play demonstrated that such characters were vexingly weak. Looking at another iteration of these same rules in a different publication, I found the option to use nine points for a starting character, and I have found that to be more reasonable–still leaving plenty of challenge.
The dungeon scenario is “The Tomb of the Necro Lord.” In this game, dungeons are created algorithmically via dice rolls while exploring. A scenario supplies tables of room types, door attributes, and monsters for this purpose, with a boss monster to crown the achievement and signal the completion of the dungeon. The “Necro Lord” dungeon is full of rats and undead. Despite multiple attempts, I never managed to get to the boss, and I only “cleared” a handful of rooms each time. It is a durable sample of its genre, not just a tutorial.
I was able to make much better progress in the adventure scenario “The Haunting of Gilroy Tavern.” While the dice-driven dungeon sometimes feels too chaotic, the programmed adventure format has a tendency to feel like it is “on rails.” In either case, I wished there was a little more opportunity for meaningful choices. In this respect, I felt that the system was less satisfying than the comparable “Four Against” series. (Four Against Darkness is a popular solo dungeon crawl, and I have experienced its rules engine through the Four Against the Great Old Ones yog-sothothery game.) Still, I tend to prefer the Micro Chapbook approach of “true solo” for solitaire RPG to the team-management centered by “Four Against.”
It’s only in the last few months that I have started to investigate the genre of solitaire pencil-and-paper RPGs. Designer Noah Patterson has put out an impressive amount of supplementary rules, scenarios, and campaigns for his system, which has evidently been propagated online for quite a few years now. I’m sufficiently encouraged by this first sample that I will continue to try other Micro Chapbook content.