I recently purchased the Bundle for Ukraine on Itch.io, which included a number of video games, but also contained an unexpected number of tabletop RPGs and other things. One of those things is called A Visit to San Sibilia.
A Visit to San Sibilia describes itself as
a solo journaling game in which you roleplay a character chronicling their visit to the city of San Sibilia. It is a city not found on any maps—San Sibilia is both part of and distinct from our world. The city manifests itself differently to every visitor.
I wouldn’t exactly call it a solo TTRPG. It’s more like a semi-randomized writing prompt. The game starts with a description of the city. Which continent is it on? What is the time period? It is tantalizingly vague. The city is a mystery, and you are left to answer those questions for yourself.
The randomness is primarily provided by a shuffled deck of cards. You start by drawing two cards and consulting a simple chart to determine an adjective and a noun. Together, these describe your character. You might be a lonely missionary, an intrepid journalist, or a blasphemous scholar. (If you’ve played Fallen London, this naming scheme will feel very familiar.)
With your character in hand, you begin your journal. The game provides some questions to get you started. How did you get here? Where are you staying? And so on.
For each new entry in your character’s journal, you roll a six-sided die to determine how much time has passed. Then you draw two more cards. The suit of the first card provides an adjective, and the second card provides a location or event. You might have a serendipitous incident at the bookstore, read some sinister news in the broadsheets, or make a mysterious find in the antique store.
Finally, if your two cards had the same suit or the same value, the city changes. As the game describes, “It might be an expected change in season or politics, but it might also be a shift in reality.” Once you have experienced four of these changes, your time in San Sibilia comes to an end. You get one final entry to describe the circumstances of your departure.
I’ve played San Sibilia once so far, over a long weekend. Depending on how loquacious you are, how strictly you follow the rules, and your luck, it could range from one hour to perhaps three or four. I spent about two hours across two days.
The initial description of the city, my character, and the starting questions were a great jumping-off point that immediately sucked me in. As I wrote my journal entries, I did choose to skip a single event and draw new cards at one point, but the random elements did pull my story in unexpected directions. I felt that the “same suit or value” mechanic for changing the city could result in some odd pacing, and I decided to force a change at one point when it was a very long time coming.
The game is simple enough that it’s easy to adjust it to your own tastes. The prompts worked well, and I never really had a hard time figuring out what to write next. The writing process was fun, and now that I’ve gone back and re-read it, I like the story that came out of it.
San Sibilia avoids a lot of the challenges that other TTRPGs have in telling a good, structured story by only having one player, having almost no mechanics, and limiting randomness. The one aspect where the game can fall down a little bit is the random number of journal entries between changes to the city. Even that can be easily dealt with by setting a hard minimum and maximum number of entries in each of these “acts.”
Where to Get It
A Visit to San Sibilia is available on Itch.io and Drive Thru RPG for $5.00. It’s also licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 4.0), which means you can share it and remix it, as long as you provide proper attribution.
4 thoughts on “San Sibilia”
I’m not a gamer, but I can see the appeal of this game.
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It’s really a kind of randomized writing prompt. I imagine there are a variety of scenarios that could plug into the same framework. With a few tweaks, you could replace San Sibilia with a real city in a particular time period, or a cyberpunk metropolis, or a creepy coastal town in Maine that’s full of dark secrets, etc., etc…
Damn, now I kind of want to try all of those.
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