Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Have We Here...?

So I took a look at Kevin Crawford's free Stars Without Number pdf* with an eye on the planet creation rules. They're very nice. As James Mal points out in his review they work by randomly generating planet profiles according to an array of expected planet descriptors (temperature, atmosphere, etc.) (like a lotta games) and then--the kicker--one set of "tags", which is a list of "What's interesting about this place?" type descriptors (mutants, domed cities, etc.).

I immediately tried adapting the rules to a D&D hexcrawl-type situation. (I hope Kevin doesn't mind--these tables give you way less information than his do. I do recommend everybody check out the pdf if they want some tools that seem like they could be adapted to a hell of a lot of different sci-fi situations--from WH40K to Star Trek--easily.)

Here's what I got. Roll for each unexplored area surrounding the PCs' current location... (these tables are specific to the area around Vornheim--snow and ruins everywhere--but they're pretty easy to change.)

(And yes, I have finally broke the camel's back using the word "weird". It's just so goddamn useful.)

I wouldn't say they had to be strictly "hexes" in this case. These are just "the next place in that direction where something happens". ADDENDUM: If you're rolling for each hex individually, you'd want to either adjust the odds so cities were less likely, or only roll for scattered hexes that might be cities, then adjust the hexes around them by hand to match the results.)

Landscape: d6

1 Swamp
2 Doom Forest
3 Ruins
4 Mountainous
5 Weird
6 Roll twice

Civilization level:
1-5 None
6-7 Lonely settlement
8 Damaged city
9-10 City

Nonhumans: d8
1 None
2 Ordinary animals
3 Weird animals
4 Weird plants
5 Monsters
6 Intelligent monsters
7 Intelligent monsters with their own city/settlement
8 Roll twice

Weather upon arrival: d6
1 Storm
2 Snowstorm
3 Light rain
4 Mild weather
5 Fog
6 Weird weather--rain falling up, sentient ice, etc.

Human Inhabitants: d6
1 Friendly
2 Mildly xenophobic
3 Want something from the PCs
4 Weird customs
5-6 None or (if inhabited) ordinary mix

Government: d10 (if there's no civilization here this indicates who has nominal claim, if asked)
1 Standard local lord/monarch
2 Weird lord/monarch
3 Ruling council
4 None
5 Theocracy
6 Weird government that doesn't fit anything else on this chart
7 Humans ruled by teratocracy
8 Humans ruled by small teratocratic cabal or individual
9 Crazy wizardocracy
10 Warring factions

Tags: d100
1. Something immediately obviously old and magical
2. Remnant of dead inhuman civilization
3. Wild magic or mutation zone (eerily quiet)
4. Fortified against party
5. Boschean freakscape
6. Magically fortified/protected
7. Interfactional warfare
8. Spying, secret infiltration
9. Desperately limited resources
10. Intelligent inhabitants have cuh-razy ideas involving how to treat outsiders
11. Relatively cosmopolitan trading post
12. Locals suffer attacks/raids by nonintelligent beast(s)
13. Exotic architecture
14. Corrupt magic/religion
15. Friendly monsters
16. Bizarre but naturally-occurring landscape features--lifeforms and civilizations are adapted to it
17. Something weird having to do with the weather (control of it, patterns, etc.)
18. Something obviously immediately unbelievably valuable
19. Locals want PCs to kill someone for them
20. Locals want PCs to kill something for them
21. Extensive Tower-Of-Babel-esque building project
22. Locals know about and somehow exploit local dungeon entrance
23. Mostly carnivorous (or something else PCs have -vorous) nonintelligent beasts
24. Landscape itself is the biggest danger
25. Unique export
26. Unique form of magic (available if...)
27. Mad inventor
28. Quarantined or isolated
29. Gender/class/race etc. phobes
30. Clues to interesting stuff elsewhere on the map
31. Undead plague has overtaken this area
32. Lonely outpost
33. Agents of foreign power
34. Site of well-known historical or religious significance
35. Enslaved populace
36. Library/archive, etc.
37. Magophobic
38. Worship PCs as gods
39. Wizards. Plural. Possibly a school.
40. White elves
41. Dwarves
42. Major bigwig visiting this area when PCs arrive
43. Laws against ordinary activities
44. Unique local lifeform
45 Trapped menace--"Don't go in there"
46 Secret rulers
47 Natural disaster or aftemath thereof. Possibly monster-derived.
48 Dungeon creatures/traps intermingled with surface ruins/city, etc.
49 Outpost of important nonstate organization/guild, etc.
50 Preposterously decadent aristocrats
51 Puzzleplace
52 Wartorn
53 Monsters and humans have mutually beneficial relationship
54 Soulless humans
55 Humans from the Exotic East visiting
56 Animals or monsters were experimented on by a crazy alchemist and then went wild and have been breeding for a while
57 Something having to do with a PC's background
58 Marauding or influential demon
59 Insanity
60 Asylum (functioning or decaying)
61 Prison (functioning or decaying)
62 Medically or alchemically useful plants
63 Caravan
64 Goblins
65 Some kind of time problem (city in stasis, etc.)
66 God of something important and/or basic is antipathetic to area or locals
67 Swarms
68 Sophisticated visitors stuck here (travelling theater, etc.)
69 Corpses/carcasses all over
70 Slowing/stalling/resource wasting environment
71 Abandoned fortress or palace
72 Full of other travellers all having the same problem you are
73 Wise hermit/monastery
74-100 Quiet around here

*Also, SWN has a faction system, I just now read it. When the Vornheim book comes out you'll notice it has a (much less intricate) one, too. I'm gonna note for the record that I wrote it before I read SWN.


  1. A good and helpful table, but hexes shoul be fairly big I think. About 125 miles I guess.

  2. @snarls

    I wouldn't say they had to be strictly "hexes" in this case. These are just "the next place in that direction where something happens"

  3. >>*Also, SWN has a faction system, I just now read it. When the Vornheim book comes out you'll notice it has a (much less intricate) one, too. I'm gonna note for the record that I wrote it before I read SWN.

    And I made a sorta similar set of Settlement charts for the Grindhouse edition before seeing this blog post or reading the Vornheim manuscript (and I haven't yet read SWN either).

    Just something going around I guess.

  4. I think these tables look quite nifty. When I wrote Stars Without Number's tag system, it was with half an eye toward future expansion to more hexcrawly purposes. It can be tough to produce a constant stream of interesting features for a group of adventurers, and most GMs can use all the help they can get.

    I'm not at all surprised that a lot of people are turning attention toward defining domain-level activities for characters, and I think it's a natural development given the current state of the OSR. Half the reason I wrote the SWN faction rules in the first place was because people were constantly mentioning how few OSR products really paid much attention to it.

  5. I like the idea of "tags" a whole lot.

    Sidebar; you mention "human" inhabitants, which makes me ask-- what role do demihumans & monstrous humanoids play in your Vornheim campaign? Are they integrated? Are they only in specific locations like Nornrik/Lothlorien? Are there far off continents/gigaplexs where dwarves hold sway? Are they more supernatural? Or do you just pepper them in when you feel like it?

  6. @Zak S:
    Cool, I did a few of these in the wayback, they can be as fun as maps, especially when you're waiting around in an office without a book or something.

    125 miles across? Really? *Looks at maps of Known World in Moldvay/Cook/Marsh Expert Set and the Isle of Dread* Great Goddammit Christmas!

    On Factions:
    I'm always playing fast and loose with PC/NPC hordes, myself. But interesting, nonetheless.

  7. @Sine Nomine
    Thanks! The tables pretty much worked how they were supposed to--after a few rolls i had ideas for everything on the map. And here i thought i was too sick to get any prep done so long as i had this cold.

    goblins have an empire, barbaric white elves rule the north, and everybody else is as-yet-undefined. a certain mix of demihumans into human settlements was adapted by default since my PCs keep choosing to play them.

  8. Thanks for talking about this. I am totally new to pen and paper RPGs, which always seemed lame to me when I was at the age for picking up stuff, but am learning by reading your blog that they can actually be good ways of engaging the imagination without recourse to writing poetry or other such ultimately one-dimensional activities. This is the first actual RPG book I've been able to get my hands on, as well. Should be fun to go through.