Spooky action at a distance

Worldbuilding After

This is a simple checklist tool I use when prepping sessions or writing worlds. In this post I will take you through all the steps and make a little scenario along the way. You can use this in combination with my crafting adventures with screenwriting post for greater effect.

AFTER stands for Ambience, Factions, Troupe, Encounters, Rooms.

While AFTER is meant to be done sequentially, it can be useful to shuffle around the steps in certain situations. For example, for a Mausritter setting I’m writing, I have first sketched an overall map of the location, and only then have decided on the factions and encounters.


Think in major terms about the setting/place you want the players to explore. Determine the scale you will be operating on. Is it a tiny cave? A derelict space station? An overgrown skyscraper? This is also when you would decide on the theme of your piece. Some classic starter themes for OSR are: decay, ruin, death, rebirth, secrets, chaos, despair, anomaly.

Look for inspirations in your favourite media, make a moodboard, note down gameable elements.

Themes: secrets, skeletons, rebirth, debt.

Scale: small town/village.

Inspo: Night in the Woods (2017), The Descent (2005), Kentucky Route Zero (2013)


Figure out the competing factions in your setting. Establish what they are competing for. Is it a unique place? A rare resource? How do the actions of one faction hinder another? How can the PCs build relationships with the factions?

For each faction, define:

  • their relationship to other factions: hostile, friendly, vassal etc.
  • their faction goals.

*Note that I’ve used a single entity as a faction. Normally this would go under the Troupe section, but writing the god as a faction shows the greater scale that they have control over. If you want to do this in your scenario, reserve it only for the most powerful of characters.

Secret society of skeletons that want to reawaken their god. The skeletons are the miners of the past who have died here, bringing back the god will free them of their debt. The mines are a concealing their excavation project from the villagers. They worship their Skeleton God and are cautious of the villagers whom they kidnap and recruit through local taverns.

The Skeleton God* who is now dormant. Wants to keep the cultist in debt. When awoken, it will only find more clueless villagers to bring into its mines.

Local Villagers who were minding their business until the miners came. They are suspicious of the new miners in town (the cultists) and have heard stories of a Fallen Skeleton God.


Cast the NPCs for your scenario. They have some sort of relationship with each faction, being part of one, against another etc. You may also include a personal goal for each NPC that may differ from their faction goals.

Tie these characters into your world with a few key facts. Why them? Why now?

The Whisper You Heard Last Night. Skeleton cult leader. Desperate to release the God after one thousand years in debt to it. If betrayed by it, will rally other cultists to destroy it. The Whisper doesn’t know it, but that is the true way to their freedom.

Donna Tarr. Village mayor. She doesn’t trust the miners, but needs their gold and ore to sustain the growth and prosperity of the village. If asked about the miners, she will describe an eerie sense of deja vu. She has met them before, in her youth, when her father was taken away.


Note down the dangers the characters will encounter. If you are making a non-violent/social adventure, it can be something that affects the character’s status or available resources.

Skeletons on horseback. Guard the path and entrance to the mines.

Skeleton cultists. They appear hooded, in rusty mining equipment. Armed with pickaxes.

Falling rocks. The caves are highly unstable and will collapse on or behind the party.


Find/draw a map and populate its rooms. Think about how the danger escalates as the players progress through your location. A changing environment can help the players navigate, as well as keeping them engaged.

For quick maps I recommend maps by Dyson Logos or the randomly generated dungeons and villages by Watabou.

Small village as the starting point and a safe spot to rest. A path leads to the mines in the mountain.

The mine entrance with signs stating keep out!” and danger!”. As the party goes deeper, the walls become smoother and start to resemble palace. This is the cultist lair.

At the centre of it all, a giant digging site/altar with the bones of the Skeleton God peaking out.

Further Reading

  1. All Dead Generations - Dungeon Keying: an in depth walkthrough of keying dungeon rooms.
  2. False Machine - Sticky Goblins: thoughts on encounter design.
  3. Paper and Pencils - d100 Themes: a random table to kickstart your writing.
  4. Throne of Salt - Adventure Writing Tips: more advice on how to get started.

Published on February 22, 2022.

Tagged: worldbuilding   setting  


Spooky action at a distance is a blog run by emmy verte, to muse on sci-fi, fantasy location exploration and short fiction. You can donate to support Ukraine here.