Old school games are great, but also brutal. Going into one with a party at less than full size can be so difficult, it takes the fun out of the game. So if you want to play an OSR with just one or two other people, what can you do? Well, the GM could spend a lot of time cutting down enemies to a more reasonable size and removing hazards that can’t be handled by a missing character class — or you could just play Scarlet Heroes.
Scarlet Heroes (Kevin Crawford, Sine Nomine Publishing) is a unique, high-powered take on the OSR genre for three participants or fewer (four at a stretch). It shines in one-on-one play, with mechanics like Fray damage and Defy Death making a single character as dangerous and versatile as a full adventuring party. Originally featured in the OSR +2 offer at the Bundle of Holding, you can now get Scarlet Heroes at DriveThruRPG.
In addition to regular actions in combat, every round characters do Fray damage, or incidental damage to weak enemies. Fray damage beefs up characters of all classes, so a single player won’t have a problem taking out a small army of mooks. Characters can also Defy Death, risking their own hit points to get out of a seemingly impossible situation. With Defy Death as an option, a failed save throw won’t botch an entire adventure. It’s also useful when a character’s specialties don’t line up exactly with the challenge at hand.
Scarlet Heroes also comes with an option for truly solo play — that is, one person, no GM. Standing in for GM creativity is a wealth of charts and tables, which the player rolls to generate an adventure piece by piece. Players can explore wilderness, delve dungeons, and fight urban foes in a race against dwindling time, resources, and hit points.
Although Scarlet Heroes was envisioned as ruleset for playing any classic setting with one or two characters, it also provides its own setting, and that’s no half-baked affair. Scarlet Heroes takes place on the Sunset Isles, the last refuge of mortals against the evils of the Red Tide. Numerous cultures and races are detailed, including most fantasy staples, but their origins are re-imagined for the Sunset Isles. It’s classic Western fantasy with some Eastern flavors thrown in for balance. And it’s comprehensive, containing a history of the world and its peoples, maps, spell lists, and pages upon pages of encounters, enemies, and treasures.
Character creation is a breeze. Stats are rolled randomly, class is chosen between the four catch-all categories of Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User and Thief, and lastly, there’s Traits. Traits are where you get to hone your character concept and add distinctive qualities like “former city watchman” or “fleet-footed.” Mechanically, they provide a bonus when checking or saving in a relevant situation.
Scarlet Heroes definitely has that old school feel, but with modern influences in the mix. The result? A smooth-playing affair optimized for very small groups. Play with just your best friend, introduce a new gamer to OSRs, or keep it in your back pocket for nights when you’re a few players short. Get it at DriveThruRPG.