I was recently reading someone's ideas for a specifically singleplayer roleplaying experience and it reminded me a lot of various half-finished Notepad documents scattered around my hard drive. For myself, nothing is more random or boring than my day-to-day life. That lovely paradox literally oozes story potential. I have children so, yes, "literally oozing" is an accurate description of many days around Casa de BW. Is there a way to tap into Real Life and use it as inspiration for storytelling? I've heard rumors to the effect that that's exactly what people who write books do but to ordinary Bwoggers like us, it often seems like Magical Magic From Magicland. I mean, sometimes we just want to roll dice and pretend to stab orcs in the face - we shouldn't need a night class to teach us that... right?
Aside from that probably being the easiest credit in your university career, I think I can distill some themes from the my myriad digital ramblings and, with actual inspirations like [games you've already checked out because you're a regular visitor to the Bwogosphere]. I guess this might count as something more along the lines of a generator itself, but that's okay because it's the kind that doesn't use fossil fuels and you can setup on your rooftop with ease. Or maybe your sheep field, where you grow your... sheep? Sure. That's how farming works, I think.
So I think there are a few key pieces here, and I'm going to use language that leans less on the 'gaming' and more on the 'story-crafting' side, since that's usually how I tend to think of my solo sessions:
The Setting: Where does your story take place? What's the lore? Do you want to have a complete lore before you being or just build as you go?
The Hero(es): Who are your main characters? Secondary characters? Are you generating them with a system or just writing up a bio?
The Metric(s): What is your primary standard for meeting or failing to meet progress towards a goal?
The Goal(s): What is your character or party trying to accomplish? What are they working towards?
The Random Stuff: What are some things that might happen in pursuit of your metric(s) that you could use as indicators of plot twists in your story?
I think that's probably a good start. Answers to those five questions will go a long way into laying the groundwork for some cool storytelling. I wouldn't rely on a system too much for mechanics but character creation is usually my favorite part of a game and there are some systems that do that really well. To use a recent conversation about a possible play-by-post game, let's see how this might actually work in practice. The relevant backstory is that I love learning new systems, even if I don't end up liking them, and I'm always wondering about solo application. I'm currently learning the Vampire: the Masquerade (V20) system, and I have always loved the Deluge setting (available for pay-what-you-want at the link). I was wondering aloud if there was a way to combine playing vampires (which, in my mind, is an excellent survival/horror genre when I place emphasis on survival over crazy blood mysticism or cut-throat politics) in a setting where it's been raining non-stop for a century. The answer, spoiler alert, is 'duh', but let's see how we do anyway:
The Setting: Deluge - planet Earth after it's been raining non-stop for a hundred years. Post-apocalyptic but very wet, dreary, and full of odd combinations of high-technology and improvisation. I don't want much more than our current day technology, I'd say the story will take place in roughly 2100AD, with it having starting raining heavy and the rapid rising water levels didn't allow for much advancement beyond 2015-level tech. Some, but not much. Settlement generation, when needed, will use the system in Deluge, which is very quick and easy and lovely. We'll center around Maple Hill, a previously generated settlement I've had for a few years but never did anything with. A population over 100k, with a population delta of "exodus" and both having and needing people as resources - I'm going to say this means something dark is going on in Maple Hill. I want to have vampires, so maybe it's that the city pays for blood, organs, and limbs. In a post-apocalyse setting, that's gruesome enough reason to say a city needs people, has people, and that no one stays long. Add in that the city might be run by vampires and you're good to go.
The Hero: I don't quite know yet. There are elements of V20 I like and many I don't. I may just mix up my own version, using the system as inspiration. This may mean I set up my own homebrew mini-system for vampirism, but for now let's just say our character is named Wally and he's just woke up alone, confused, and soaked to the bone. His clothes are drenched in more than just rainwater and mud - there's bloodstains all over the front of his shirt, and there are rivulets of bloodied water running away from his location into the lush jungle undergrowth. It's dark - Wally knows it's not just overcast but nighttime - and, somehow, he can see everything like normal. Well, sort of normal but... different. We'll use all this to discover and define the vampirism as we go.
The Metric: There are a few things that I know I do, or need to do, daily and yet that I don't always succeed at. One thing is eating refined sugar, or just healthy eating in general. Another is getting outside for a walk (as opposed to driving or sitting on the porch). We homeschool and I (try) to organize and get that done on weekdays. I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to decide how often I meet any two of those goals daily.
The Goal(s): As a vampire, Wally will need to feed. What this means, I'm not sure yet. Does he need to drink human blood or does animal blood count? What happens if he skips a night? Can he leech bio-energy instead or actually drinking blood? Whatever it looks like, one defining component of Wally's vampirism will be that he needs to sustain himself daily (optimally). That's an easy goal. Another goal might be personal safety - Deluge is wonderfully harsh for the unprepared. Immortality doesn't go for much if you're buried in a mudslide or attacked by humanoid bears. Finding, building, invading, or otherwise obtaining some sort of personal dwelling will be another goal. Note that while the first goal is likely to be something Wally has to face every day the second goal will, in theory, reach completion. Those are two goals that seem good to start with, and let's just add in that Wally is a little amnesiatic from the experience - that'll be for the random bit later on. Let's assign the goal of "healthy eating" to "Wally needs to feed daily", with the added piece of "avoiding refined sugar for the day" meaning something particularly significant happens surrounding the feeding - he gains a new trait, learns something about how to feed, finds an alternate food source, etc. I like my sweets, okay? Stop judging! Alright, so let's have the goal of "taking a walk outside" tie to the "establishing a safe-house" piece, which makes sense because I won't be taking walks in December - it's a temporary goal on both points. Finally, let's tie that "successfully educated the Bwoglings" to "uncovering the truth about Maple Hill". That looks good for now.
The Random Stuff: Let's say that Wally has a hard time remembering things, probably because of the trauma of becoming a vampire. Whenever I wash a full load of dishes during my day, we'll let Wally remember something cool. I'm making a running change to our goals because I know myself - we'll move that goal about sweets here, because it fits better under this category, and because I like chocolate. So sue me. Whenever I have a day where I don't consume refined sugar or heavily processed foods, I'll add a new trait or ability to Wally in some fashion. A final one will be that whenever it rains in real life, measured by my actually seeing precipitation falling from the sky, I'll have what I call a Major Event happen. I'll make a list of what these could be and then just roll on it when needed (at least one should probably have Maple Hill somehow).
Review: So we now have a character, Wally, who has just awoken to vampirism in a rain-soaked post-apocalyptic Earth. We have a few metrics in place to keep the story moving with plenty of room for the unexpected. We have a particular location in the setting, Maple Hill, that is ripe with potential as a setpiece tailored to Wally's story, for good or ill.
Already, there are all kinds of vampire lore bits that need to be answered - sleeping during the day, sleeping in a coffin, etc. We'll discover those as we go. The same goes for the setting, as we're establishing it from the perspective of a single character, but I think it's more fun that way. I won't promise to continue Wally's story but if you happen to stumble across a great story of your own and want to share, feel free to comment about it!
With Brightest of (lush tropical overgrown urban ruin sprawl) Greens,
**Special thanks to Friends of BW - S.B. and the Lone Wolf Roleplayers, and Lucia Sweet. Ya'll rock!**