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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Condensed Random Wilderness Rules

While I mull over specific changes to the random hexless wilderness process, I thouught I’d post some quick notes.

First, I’m renaming the Climate and Terrain Table to the Territory Table, to shorten the name. This also ties into spiltting terrain units into two kinds of geography: territory and locale. Your sandbox is a territory, and the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style entries are locales. Thinking in these terms means we can simplify the process: your sandbox territory is rolled up one way, and all locales are rolled up another way.

This is important because I was thinking about a condensed set of rules that could be combined with the three tables into a one-page reference sheet. When playing solo or running no-prep mapless wilderness exploration, you wouldn’t want to flip back and forth between pages of rules: you’d want everything you need to be instantly available. You might still need to read through a longer version of the rules to pick up all the nuances and possible interpretations, but the reference sheet would be all you need to jog your memory during play.

Here’s a stab at condensed rules that you could use with random hexless wilderness tables as a reference sheet.
A territory is a broad geographical area. A locale is a specific geographical feature with a landmark of some kind. Territories have four “edges”, North, South, East, and West. Locales have four “routes” in the same direction. Your homebase is your first locale and always includes a settlement of some kind.
  1. Roll for Elevation (1d10) and Climate/Biome (1d10) of a territory, then roll for Elevation and Biome of each edge, using the Territory Table.
  2. Roll for Terrain (1d10) and Landmark (1d10) in a locale using the Locale Table. If a settlement is involved, roll on the Settlement Table.
  3. For your first locale (Homebase,) add another settlement (1d6) on the Settlement Table, then roll 1d6/2 for population.
  4. For each route, create another locale as in Step 2, then roll 2d6 for the distance (in days) to that locale. Mountains and canyons/cliffs can block some routes.
  5. Optional features (river, dungeon): 5+ (1d6) means it exists. Roll 1d6 for how many boulders, towers, etc. in a landmark, or 1d6-2 ifor extras or inhabitants.
When rolling 2d6 for distance to a locale, a 2 means the population density on the Settlement Table shifts down (towards Wilderness,) while a 12 means it shifts up (towards Urban.) Elevation and Biome mostly stays the same, but some Terrain results on the Locale Table will shift Elevation or Biome or both up or down on the Territory Table.
Note that I changed a couple things. Climate, Biome and Elevation are rolled with a d10, even though I think a d6 is better, because that makes the territory roll parallel the locale roll, making things easier to remember. The quantity roll for things like population, statues in the rubble, and other “extras” relating to a landmark, is changed to 1d6-2 for pure aesthetic reasons: there’s now a 1 in 3 chance that a village is abandoned or there are no statues in ruins, exactly as there is a 1 in 3 chance (5+ on 1d6) that there is a river at the bottom of a canyon or a dungeon at the end of a tunnel. When I get around to publishing a random wilderness document, it will spell out a lot of possibilities, and the rolls to make, but you will basically be able to wing it with just the reference sheet. Any question that can be phrased as:
“How many of these things are here?”
Will be answered one of four ways:
  • Exactly one.
  • Zero or one (5+ on 1d6)
  • 1 to 6
  • (1 to 6) - 2
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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Example of Hexless Wilderness Creation

To help explain the previous hexless terrain generation post, I’m going to walk through the process of making a hexless setting.

Homebase Format

It’s sort of like an Infocom Interactive Adventure game. In fact, Telecanter suggests numbering the locations, like in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. I suggest using three- or four-letter mnemonics for each locale.
An electronic document on a tablet or laptop works great; just add new locations at the end of the list. Start each locale with a hashtag: Camelot would start with #Cam , and Rivendell with #Riv. This makes it easy to search.

In a traditional GM notebook, give each locale its own page: Name and Mnemonic at the top, one-or-two-line summary description below, followed by a list of compass directions and where they lead. This lets you insert more info later.

Page One and Page Two is basic information you need to start with. The rest of the world can be put off until when needed.

Page One

This is the general setting information: name of the region and name of any kingdoms in the region, perhaps with one-sentence summaries, like “Chaotic lich-worshippers”.

General geography goes here, too. I suggested rolling a single d6 and referencing an entire line on the Climate and Terrain Table, but two rolls are better: one for Climate and (linked) Biome, one for Elevation.
  • I roll a 4 and a 2. Our climate zone is Temperate, prairie or grasslands, and the elevation is Low.
Optionally, roll all three separately, or use a d10 for one or more, to create really varied geography.

Next is the “distant geography“, the “edges” of the local world. Climate stays the same, but the terrain can be very different, so roll a d10 for each compass direction.
  • I roll a 0 for North; it’s a sea with a coastal jungle
  • I roll a 3 for East; it’s 500-foot high wooded hills
  • I roll a 3 for South; more wooded hills
  • I roll a 5 for West; it’s 2,500-foot highlands with thin vegetation or scrub
Optionally, again, you could roll separately for elevation and biome, for more variety.
The Land is almost a bowl, with hills and light woods along the east and south, a mountain range to the west, and the land generally slanted north to the sea.
Distances to the “edge” can be skipped for now, or roll 2d6 for the number of weeks or months of travel it would take to get there.

Page Two

I’m calling miy first real location Homebase, mnemonic “Home”, hashtag #Home. Roll 2d10 on the Locale Table to get what’s different about the local terrain and any landmark.
  • I roll 0 and 6, so my Homebase is located on rocky ground, and there’s a (second) settlement less than a day’s travel away.
Roll 1d6 on the Settlement Table for the size of any settlement. If there are two settlements at the same locale, one will be one size smaller. If the larger settlement is abandoned, the smaller one is our homebase.
  • I roll 5 for settlement size; it’s a village, population x100.
  • I roll 1d6-3 for population and get a 1; population is 0, the village is abandoned.
  • Second settlement, our real homebase, is automatically a hamlet (one size lower than village,) population x10.
  • I roll 1d6/2 for population and get a 2: ten or so people in the hamlet.
  • We could roll 1d6 for every 10 people in the hamlet for the number of buildings, or we could roll 1d6 for the number of people living in the first building, and keep rolling until we have a total of 10 or more inhabitants.
The main village could have been abandoned because of a poisoned water source, a plague, or some kind of curse, but the old standby of “a dungeon did it” will probably be your preferred answer, since the players will be looking for dungeons anyways.

Compass Directions

The simple way to handle what’s nearby is just to roll for each major compass direction, much as you did to fill in the distant geography. However, you use the Locale Table instead of the Climate and Terrain Table, and you roll 2d10, one die for the terrain feature, one for the landmark. You also roll 2d6 for the number of days of travel it would take to get to that landmark.
  • I roll a 7 and a 5 for the first direction and a total of 9 on the 2d6 roll. Nine days north of here is a small mountain and a lone hut.
  • For the number of people living in the hut, I roll 1d6-3 and get a 2. It’s empty, although no one knows this.
Who would live alone in a hut near (or on) a mountain? Probably some hermit. We’ll call the localed “The Mountain Hermit’s Hut (mnemonic MHerm)” On Page Two, we record the direction, distance, and details.
North 9 days to The Mountain Hermit’s Hut (MHerm)
Page Three will have the details. Or, in a digital file, we’d scroll down and add #MHerm to add the details there.
  • I roll a 1 and 4 for the next direction, and a total of 6 on 2d6. Six days east of here is a cliff or chasm with a face/mural feature.
Cliff/Chasm” is supposed to represent a short, sharp difference in elevation. I opt to change it to a canyon, which means there’s a chance there’s a river or stream in the bottom.

Face/Mural” is meant to be a single large feature, such as a natural cliff-face that looks like a human face, or rock paintings. If we go with the latter, we have The Painted Canyon, with one wall of the canyon decorated with a long depiction of a mighty battle. Our notes would read:
East 6 days to The Painted Canyon (PCan)
And we would scroll down or add a Page Four for #PCan.

(Since we added a river through the canyon, we could extend it this direction and place the hamlet on one side of the river, the abandoned village on the other side. Optionally, instead of arbitrarily adding the river, we could roll a d10; if the roll is equal or greater than the scale number for the current biome on the Climate and Terrain Table, there’s a river or other water source. Thus, drier locales are less likely to have rivers or springs.)

Exploring Routes

Each compass direction is a route to a new locale, which will also have four routes: one leading back to #Home, and three leading to new locales. Repeat the instructions for Compass Directions for each new locale when needed.

If you need to know the next town in a given direction, but the landmark result isn’t “Settlement”, it’s a waypoint, the first in a chain of landmarks on the way to the town. Just keep rolling for locales in the chain, recording the distance to each in a locale entry, until you get to a settlement.

Optionally, roll 2d6 for distance to the nearest town, and if that roll is less than or equal to the distance to the first landmark in that direction, the distance to the town is in weeks instead of days. This lets you answer the question quickly without needing to roll repeatedly. Example: The Painted Canyon is six days east of Homebase. I want to know how far it is to Easton, the nearest town to the east.
  • I roll 2d6 for the distance to Easton and get 5. That is less than 6, so Easton is 5 weeks journey east.
If you are looking for dungeons, every single landmark on the table has the possibility of a dungeon concealed in it, under it, or behind it. You can use a simple 5+ on 1d6 roll to determine if there is a dungeon. This is in addition to any “wilderness encounter” roll specified in your preferred rules.

Some routes run into barriers. If you are heading East, for example, and reach a mountain, you can’t continue East, you must go around the mountain. If you reach a cliff or canyon, a 5+ on 1d6 means you are at the top and can’t cross without climbing; otherwise, you are at the bottom and can only go forward or back, unless you climb.

Terrain Changes While Exploring

In general, don’t roll again on the Climate and Terrain Table. Instead, use it as a reference; the current Elevation shifts up or down when you roll Higher or Lower Ground for a locale, and the current Biome shifts down when you roll Wetter or Thicker Vegetation, with Wetter also adds a spring, stream or pond. If there is a river or stream in the bottom of a canyon, that also shifts the Biome down one, thickening the vegetation in the bottom of the canyon.

When the Elevation rises to the treeline, shift the Biome up to Thin or higher. When Elevation drops, don’t shift Biome back down. Optionally, there’s a chance the Biome will change any time the Elevation changes, based on the scale number of the Biome on the Climate and Terrain Table; roll a d10 and shift the Biome in the same direction as the Elevation change if the result is equal or higher than the scale.
  • When heading to Higher Ground from Low Prairie, I roll a 6 on 1d10, which is higher than 4 (for Prairie;) the elevation is now 500 feet and the vegetation is Thin (scrub.)
  • When heading from the scrublands down to the lowlands again, I roll a 5, which is equal to the rating for Thin; the vegetation becomes Prairie again.
I have some further ideas on this for a future post, but the next topic will probably be about using this specifically for solo games.
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Friday, November 21, 2014

Random Hexless Terrain Tables

A post at the Hill Cantons blog raises the question “are there any random terrain generation methods useful for visually-impaired GMs who are not using hexes, or possibly even a map?” It’s not just of interest to the visually-impaired. What if you want to run a game in a situation where maps would be inconvenient, such as while on the road, or walking?

You could do it with a list of locations connected by routes – roads, rivers, or whatever. The problem is: there are few tools available for random terrain generation without hexes. They are all hex-focused. And most of those make no attempt at sensible geography: no gradual transitions from low swamps to arid highlands.

I’ve been thrashing around for a couple days, designing and re-designing a system for this, but it keeps getting too comlex. It should probably be reserved for a PDF, but in the meantime, I’ll split what I have into a couple posts and try to keep it simple.

It all starts with a re-design of some tables I’ve done before.

Climate and Terrain Table

Scale Climate Elevation Biome
7-9 Arctic Treeline V. Arid
6 Subarctic 5k feet Arid
5 Cool 2.5k ft Thin
4 Temperate 1.2k ft Prairie
3 Warm 500 feet Woodsy
2 Subtropic Low Forest
0-1 Tropic Sealevel Jungle

The first column is Latitude/10 and is also used for die rolls for the last two columns, which can be read together or used to cross-reference changes. Wetness tends to increase as you move downhill. Above the treeline, vegetation will be in the Very Arid to Thin range, never thicker.

Locale Table

d10 Terrain Type Landmark Type
0 Rocky Rubble
1 Cliff/Chasm Boulders
2 Wetter Dome
3 Thicker Plants Tunnel
4 Flat Face/Mural
5 Lower Ground Lone Hut
6 Sandy Settlement
7 Mountain Pit
8 Higher Ground Keep
9 Rolling Hills Graveyard
  • Higher/Lower Ground shifts elevation up or down on the Climate and Terrain Table
  • Wetter shifts biome one row down and adds a spring, stream, or pond
  • Thicker Vegetation also shifts biome one row down, but water source is ground water/rain
  • Mountain adds a small mountain, d6 x 1000 feet. Terrain at base remains the same.
Landmarks are mostly self-explanatory, but:
  • roll a d6 for the number of boulders or pits,
  • roll 1d6-3 each for statues and pillars in rubble (zero or less means that item is not present,)
  • roll 1d6-3 for the occupants of a hut, or inhabitants for a settlement (zero or less means abandoned.)

Settlement Table

1d6 Roll Settlement Pop. Modifier
0 or less Outpost double
1-3 Hamlet x10
4-5 Village x100
6-7 Town x1000
8+ City x5000
  • Subtract 1 from the roll for Sparse populations, 2 for Wilderness.
  • Add 1 to the roll for Dense populations, 2 for Very Dense.
(Edit: I changed the numbers to make hamlets more common than villages. A;so made the population density agjustments clearer.)

For the starting location only, if the settlement population indicates an abandoned settlement, there is an additional settlement one size smaller with d6/2 x the population modifier for inhabitants. The first, abandoned settlement will likely have some kind of curse or monster keeping it from being re-occupied.


  1. Roll 1d6 and read result off Climate and Terrain Table. Use entire line, don’t roll individual columns. This is your Homebase.
  2. You can roll 1d6 on the Settlement Table for the size of your Homebase, or just pick what you want.
  3. You can also roll 1d10 for each column on the Locale Table, if desired, to further describe Homebase.
  4. Roll 1d10 on the Climate and Terrain Table for distant terrain in each of the four major compass directions. Only use the last two columns, but read them together. This is the land features that are very far away (“The sea is to the east, and there’s a mountain range that way.”) You don’t need to set distances unless needed.
  5. Any time players ask what is nearby in a given compass direction, roll 1d10 for each column on the Locale Table to find out what’s there, then roll 2d6 for the number of days travel to reach it.
  6. Population density starts as Normal. When you roll 2d6 for the distance to a settlement, population density decreases to Sparse or Wilderness on a 2, increases to Dense or Very Dense on a 12.
There will be a second post about optional details.
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