I recently picked up Fernewelt ("distant world" according to Google Translate), a free, 9-page story-oriented RPG system. It is a very compact and simple set of rules to describe characters and resolve actions. The rules nicely tie greater risks to greater rewards, which makes me think it is best fit for fantasy or epic stories.
There are also some tools intended to help playing without a game master: first, a creativity tool in which you generate three random letters and interpret them in the context of your game. This is a welcome addition to the solo RPG toolbox, along with Mythic tables, Universal NPC generator etc. Then there are random lists for motivation, crime, plot twists, behavior and a number of other things.
The text is generally clear and to the point. The only doubt I had was how to judge a character's competence in order to determine their chance of success. I have assumed it is evaluated based on the character's profession and nature (and thus, depends on the players and narrative, rather than stats.) That said, I can imagine players could write down important skill ratings, e.g. "average strength" or "bad driving skills", for their characters. As with other story-driven RPGs, it seems that the author assumes all players are interested in taking part in a story and use common sense, so there are no concerns about "exploits" or players trying to create an invincible character.
To try the system, I played a very quick game, in which a goblin attempts to steal a relic from the church of a village.
The story of Speedy
"Speedy" is a goblin that left his tribe to join a band of greenskin bandits. To prove his worth, he must steal a golden relic from the human settlement of Discipline. It is a small village with a temple at its center and a small garrison of empire troops. Speedy's profession is "trickster": he is undisciplined, sometimes even careless, but also very adept at hiding and misplacing things. He has a mental nature, being very quick to notice and react. His usual equipment is a dirty cloak and a knife.
Speedy reaches the outskirts of the village as the sun is setting. Keeping behind bushes, he observes the villagers and guards. He decides to wait until later to start his mission. [I rolled for a small chance for him to be detected while waiting. It did not happen.]
Carefully, Speedy sneaks through the village, avoiding the attention of the guards. At one point, a dog starts barking but he manages to hide behind a wall, undetected. Finally, he reaches the temple. [In my judgement, sneaking across the village at night was a "normal move" for the goblin, as he was alone and unencumbered. I also judged his sneaking ability at a "trained" level. These corresponded to a "possible" chance of success, corresponding to a difficulty rating of 4 (on a six-sided die.) I decided that the consequence of failure would be a wound, not to end his adventure right away. Since I rolled a 4, I decided to add the barking dog -- although the rules do not discuss degrees of success.]
Speedy peeks into the temple and sees nobody. On a table by the far wall rests the relic that he must steal [I rolled to see if there would be anyone inside, with a 50/50 chance.] He sneaks in, then crawls up to the table. The goblin unties his cloak and uses it to wrap the relic, and crawls back to the entrance. At this moment, a dog starts barking again -- but it is on a leash held by a guard on patrol. He releases the dog and shouts, calling for other guards. Speedy starts to run, grabbing the relic. He gets out of sight of the guard but the dog catches up with him and a gruesome fight happens. When Speedy's knife stabs finally kill the creature, his face and arms are torn and his leg is deeply wounded. [Given Speedy's story, I decided he would also have a 50/50 chance of taking the artifact and sneaking out of the temple unnoticed. Since this was his main goal, I decided he would need a reward of "find an artifact". This implied a risk of being disabled. Unfortunately I failed.]
Weak from the fight and the wounds, Speedy tries to crawl out of the village but guards find his trail, and then his twitching body. They recover the relic, and in the following weeks, increase their patrols in and around the village. [Due to the circumstance, I decided that escaping the village was a special move at average ability (thus reflecting the goblin's wounds.) The consequence of failure would be death. I needed to roll a 1, and instead rolled a 2.]
I found that the action resolution system worked well when used to resolve the outcome of a scene in a story. It is interesting to note that the consequence of an action (wounded, disabled) can be physical, mental or social. So, for instance, I might have opted to make Speedy socially disabled when he failed to sneak out of the temple: he might drop the relic and flee, and then be kicked out of the bandit gang and mocked so much that he gets a local reputation of being a coward. It is a matter of choosing what works better in the story.
I think that interpreting degrees of success and failure may be helpful to add details to the action resolution rolls. It may also reduce the problem with using only a six-sided die, which causes large steps in the chance of success between difficulty ratings. For instance, since I failed the last roll by 1, maybe Speedy could have escaped but become permanently scarred, rather than die.
In any case, Fernewelt was a welcome surprise and should be checked out by anyone interested in solo RPGs. The various generators may also come handy for miniature gamers playing campaigns or other story-driven games.