Solo World Building

Tod mentioned Barbarians of Lemuria and the setting neutral Everywhen yesterday. This had me thinking about solo world building.

I was world building this week using simple yes/no questions.

In the image on the right, any double [11,22,33…] is a critical, which you can read as yes and.. or no, and…

This turned into an Omega Man/I am legend game, where my character believed he was the last living human.

Using this method of solo world building is ultra quick, as long as you are using a game with fast character creation. There is no point in spending 3 minutes to create a world and then 5hrs to make a character.

If the game was a front loaded game, Rolemaster, Champions and GURPS all fall into this camp in my opinion, I would rather build the world around the character. When you start buying skills it just makes sense to build a world driven character/character driven world, where they cannot really be seperated.

What this means is that if you were building a solo GURPS character, you may as well redline every skill that no longer exists. Redline kit and gear that just isn’t going to be available. As you narrow down the character’s options and opportunities you shape the character creation. But in a solo game, you are shaping your world to the character you want to play. If I want to be Will Smith/Robert Neville I am going to shape a world that lets me play that character.

World Lore

Just having 10 yes/no questions does not really flesh out a world. I like to create post-it notes, potted thoughts that sum up one aspect of a setting. If you don’t know my fascination with post-it notes you can start reading here. The post-it note methodology would let me detail pinpoint details in the setting. This could be specific locations. I don’t know New York, but Times Square would be somewhere I would use, the Brooklyn Bridge, that big funfair by the sea and Staten Island are all locations that I would want to roll into any game set in New York.

I love set piece locations and encounters. Something in the subway would be good, and that Grand Central Station. These make great cat and mouse chase locations. Not knowing much about New York, I can put all my favourite places near each other, just a couple of rounds/turns sprinting between them.

The actual plot I am happy to come out during play, but vignettes or set scenes can bring a setting to life.

I can happily create a few post-it notes to invoke a soundscape, what does a zombified New York sound like? Imagine broken windows in high rise buildings setting up a near-constant whining and moaning, all day and night. I can imagine that the whine is punctuated by the crack and shattering of glass. As buildings flex and very slowly lose their integrity, I think they will lose their glass faces pane by pane.

What does it smell like? Not to bad is my guess. Carrion eaters will have eaten all the dead bodies or rotting food. But the with no people to generate mess, no feed deliveries to go bad, no pollution, I can imagine the city smelling of fresh sea air, at least my version does.


Every little inspiration point will be on a post-it note. I will then construct a ‘mood board’ for a scene, this imagery, these smells, these sounds, this location. Bringing in all the elements to bring that scene setting alive.

As I learn things, I will record them on more notes and add them to my board of options. Reusing notes, will mean that the setting remains consistent between sessions.

World building for solo games can be really fast, or highly detailed. Your world, your game, do what makes you happy.

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