Sunday, March 20, 2011

How I Want To Hear About Your Setting

Ever since I started the-thing-I-wrote-which-I-have-talked-about-at-length-but-which-I-have-no-special-desire-to-plug-here people have called it a "setting". Which is true, that's what it is, but I guess I never thought of it as a "setting", it's just "the place where I put my D&D ideas so Kimberly can decapitate them".

Anyway, I am looking forward to Sir Larkins upcoming rundown of the Forgotten Realms because everything he writes is readable and I can never get through setting books on my own. (Ok, not "never"--I got through Carcosa and I got through some Palladium stuff when I was 12 or whatever because I had nothing better to do.) Anyway, I have Literacy (English) at like 98%--so what's the problem?

The problem is most setting books are packed with extensive descriptions, in prose, of an RPG world. The world is either:

A) explicitly based on an existing literary, cinematic, televisual, etc. one, or
B) a technically original one.

If A, then that world is better described elsewhere. In the book or movie it came out of. I may not know how many miles Lankhmar is from Quarmaal, but most of what is in a Newhon sourcebook I already got in a much more entertaining form from the Newhon stories that I apparently liked so much that I bought an RPG based on them.

If B, then we have a different problem:

The world must be described. However: the RPG writer who writes about a world (no matter how awesome the setting itself is) is, almost by definition, worse at that than a writer who just writes stories for a living. Or at least writes things for a living that I wanna read.

I want to read maybe 0.001% of all genre fiction ever written by professional fiction writers with reputations in the field. Even assuming I likewise want to read 0.001% of genre fiction ever written in the form of a setting book by an RPG writer, that still probably adds up to maybe 2.1 people in the history of the medium, ever.

In other words: the setting book is full of original writing in a form that is not really the RPG writer's strong suit.

And if you're reading--as leisure--something you'd rather not read, you're not going to remember it. So if, as a GM, I actually need to remember that Squealhalla is the capital of Gullgorgica, I'm screwed.

A related problem is that the world is almost always full of concrete setting details which are basically re-skinned and re-arranged versions of things in pre-existing fact or fiction. Like the Holy Grail becomes the Sorcerer's Sphere and there's a faux-England and a faux-Germany and a Tolkienian forest, etc. These things are on purpose and done for reasons I can basically get behind, but the writers then have to waste a lot of wind talking about Great Cataclysms and fuel shortages instead of going, basically "Ok, you saw Mad Max, right? Mutants Down Under is like that, only with mutant kangaroos carrying uzis, ok?" or telling you the comparative population densities of Ilthbone vs. Harnmarr or that the war between the Skorks and the Guelves lasted 1300 years.

This is when I start to nod off. Yes, I'm sure Oerth is a fantastic place, but it's not because the great marsh gives rise to Mikar River east of the Grandwood Forest or because the Lorridges are found at the northern end of the Lortmil Mountains--it's because it has beholders in it.

So how should it go? I think if you want to give the world a setting, don't tell us, show us. RPG writers are good at writing rules--rules that simulate genres--so give us the setting in the form of rules (and monsters and items and all that) and nothing else.

Rather than describe how the Clanward Barrens are different than the Skarrblown Marches, just do this:

Random Encounter table:

Clanward Barrens

1-2 Wild dogs
3-4 Stone ghosts
5-6 Claw merchant
7-8 Monk
9-10 Pilgrim

Skarrblown Marches

1-3 Wild dogs (hungry, 1/2 hp)
5 Abandoned Claw Merchant Cart
6 No encounter
7 Eerie rustling sound
8 Bone vulture
9 Pilgrim
10 Dead wild dog

Want history? Want flavor? Nothing in all of World of Greyhawk beats this sentence:

Relic: Eye of Vecna
Seldom is the name of Vecna spoken except in hushed voice, and never within hearing of strangers, for legends say that the phantom of this once supreme lich still roams the earth...(and now some rules about the Eye).

i.e. Build the fiction out of the tools you give us to run it, rather than worrying about describing each place and then telling us the rules that re-iterate what you already told us in encyclopedia-entry form.

That's how Carcosa does it--character classes, new items, spells, monsters--no big blocks of background info. The closest thing to a traditional travel guide is short hex-by-hex descriptions of points of interest--but even these are done in the form of usable game info. You have to piece it together--yet you could never say that setting wasn't described.

During a game, a GM puts his or her art into the ideas and into making the rules compliment and expand those ideas, not into prose descriptions of interchangeable mundanities. Why not have the setting description do the same thing?

All anybody wants to know about your setting is:

-How is it different from every other setting in the genre? and
-What rules did you come up with to make that happen?

If you are writing a commercial product then, ok, you can write an introduction--for the newbies. Otherwise: Give us a map, give us a picture or two, and give us the rest of the setting in the rules. Trust us, we will read the rules, that's why we bought the book.

Let's try it...

We can see how well this works in the comments. I put a table, you fill it in with data matching the last place the PCs were in your game. Let's see if we can tell these settings apart..

What's Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)


Zak Sabbath said...

1. Wolf
2. Maggot
3. Street urchin
4. Sentient maggot
5. Dog
6. Duchess

Al said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)
1. A zombie in a white hazmat suit and black rubber gloves.
2. A yellow lizard with tentacles for eyes that babbles like a baby.
3. A group of unsavory traders from the Citadel of Klesz.
4. A calot.
5. A mobile machine with a brain in a jar on top of it.
6. The player that failed his character's save vs. mentalism last round.

mordicai said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass Table For Aubade City...(roll d6)
1. White lab rat with six legs & single horn.
2. Zoanthope (feral human)
3. Clockwork machine of modern design.
4. Clockwork machine of ancient design.
5. Lion, sacred to the Trump Strength.
6. Hemophage.

thekelvingreen said...

The last two games I ran were in published settings, and the one before that was Call of Cthulhu. Can't play.

CaptPoco said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)

1. Grey-skinned emaciated alien
2. Elven Raiders in Bedouin desert robes
3. Acid-spewing burrowing giant insect
4. Dried out old zombie
5. Lapsed Hermit sworn to Lady Iesha
6. Horse-sized sandworm

Superhero Necromancer said...

What's Chewing on that Carcass Table for the Tower Cliffs, in the Rainy City (roll d6)

1. cat (2 of 6, wizard's familiar)
2. imp (2 of 3, wizard's familiar)
3. skeleton
4. rats
5. escaped larvae (1d4)
6. ochre jelly

Zak Sabbath said...

you sure as fuck -can- play. those published settings had things in them, didn't they? don't worry, we won't call anyone's lawyer.

John said...

1. Flesh Eating Ghouls
2. Ghoul Hound
3. Ghoul, Crawling
4. Orcish servants of the Mountain Witch
5. The Mountain Witch's Troll
6. The Mountain Witch herself

Zak Sabbath said...


are you playing Mountain Witch?

BlUsKrEEm said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass Table For Allele...(roll d6)
1. City Antibodies
2. Cockroach based Drone Swarm
3. City Cleaner drone
4. Impoverished citizen (Maggot Phenotype)
5. City roots
6. Escaped Abomination

John Evans said...

You make a good point. However, there are some of us who read RPG books for the pleasure of it. I'm just sayin'.

Have you seen the Year of the Dungeon blog? This post reminded me of it.

Gregor Vuga said...

1. a swarm of insects
2. a large predatory cat
3. crazy ass cannibals
4. a robot (well, not as much chewing as repeatedly stabbing)
5. lobstrosities
6. a Thing

Zak Sabbath said...

I read random tables for the pleasure of it. I can't for the life of me figure why I'd read pseudogeographies of Tolkien variants.

Zak Sabbath said...

and, yes, i;ve seen yotd

Mathias said...

1. Drunk party guest
2. Sober party guest
3. Defective skeleton waiter
4. That creepy music man with the thigh bone flute
5. One of the six Magic-Users
6. One of the Council of Seven

trollsmyth said...

1. feral goblin children
2. dog
3. Jester, Grandmother's cat
4. some other cat who's not Jester but you thought was when you first got a glimpse of it out of the corner of your eye
5. rats
6. more rats

thekelvingreen said...


1: Gnomish scholar accompanied by hobgoblin scouts.
2: Kobold bandits.
3-4: Gnomish rangers.
5: Emerald Claw crossbowmen.
6: Baricos the Manticore.

Chris Kutalik said...

It's funny that no one is commenting on your polemic--which I think is so right on it should be broadcast as a Public Service Announcement through our hobby.

I not only learned more about Tekumel from the snippets arranged around charts and rules in the original Empire of the Petal Throne than the various canonical pronouncements since, I enjoyed the setting better because of it.

Yeah, yeah shut up and play.

1. a witty, yet ultimately-foiled Deodand
2. a less-witty, but successful Pelgrane
3. a rhizomatic plant-beastie called a Guatari Deluge
4. a horde of vegepygmies
5. the much-feared Froghemoth
6. Charlie Sheen

Adam Dickstein said...

OK, I'll bite (not the carcass of course...well you know what I mean). This is based on the last time I ran my D&D-But-Not campaign setting. The PCs are in a Northern Woodland region resembling central to northwestern Canada. Also, I don't really use random encounter table but...whatever.

What's Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)
1. Wolf
2. Lynx
3. Bear
4. Wolverine
5. Human lost in the wilderness*
6. Wendigo

*If carcass is Human roll 5 is likely to become roll 6 before long.

Zak Sabbath said...


Philosophical question:

Is the reason that you populated your random encounter table largely with typical woodland fauna that I am assuming probably wouldn't make your PCs break a sweat plus one "doozy" perhaps related to the reason you would not use such a table to begin with?

The Rubberduck said...

The current location is creepy exactly because there are no carcasses. But the location before that:

1. Stray dog
2. Gulls
3. Sewer Rats (25% chance for Giant Rats)
4. Were Rat Rogue hiding from the Thieves Guild
5. Street Urchin
6. Unemployed Orcish Mercenary

Zak Sabbath said...


...which now makes me glad I -didn't- go with my original impulse and add "*What if your setting has no gnawed carcasses? Then I'm sure it sucks and I don't want to hear about it"

taichara said...

1. (really twitchy) green rat people
2. a deathcluck
3. giant fire ferrets
4. brass jackal
5. rabid watermelons
6. Pac-Man

huth said...

This is the closest

What's Taking That Carcass? Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)
1-3. Task ape disposal team.
4. Phasic ghoul.
5. The "Doctor."
6. British scavenging party.

oliof said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)

1) Goblins addicted to the blood of leather soaked into the adventurer's armor.
2) Elfs trying to incorpotate the Elf's memories into their own being
3) Ammenite slaves trying to enchant their blood for the wishes of their masters wishing for immortality.
4) Peasants thinking the dead is a ambassador of the unconquered sun.
5) Khalean bards honoring the dead of the campaign at hand.
6) roll twice, both parties are fighting over the honor of devouring the carcass.

huth said...

...Depending on how literal 'dungeon' is.

Anonymous said...

What's Standing over the Dead/Unconscious Body Table For Hammersmith (roll d6)
1. Alien (Viral infected human). 50% chance it killed or infected the body.
2. Alien (Kirbean) with device powered by human lifeforce.
3. Escaped Spirit from Pandora's Box about to possess the body.
4. Hunter with Godstorm Artifact hunting escaped Pandorans.
5. Gang-banger trying to impress the Mob
6. Mob enforcer acting in the line of duty.

Obviously super-hero based. One thing that comes to mind is building a world via a series of adventures similar to how the early D&D modules built out the D&D Known World. No need to describe the world in detail, let the players discover it bit by bit.

Roger G-S said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
crowking said...


If you haven't already, you may want to take a look at Chaosium's Dreamland. It gives a good overall layout of the realm and giving the reader just enough "food for thought" to springboard their own ideas. I'm also a bit partial to Hargrave's Deathheart. Even though it's incredibility bare bones and full of holes, I think it was a good attempt of making a module basic, yet still fun to read. Plus it has cool artifact and monster cards.

satyre said...

1. ghoul
2. 1d2 mad ones (as berserker but no armour and armed with dagger)
3. 1d4 wild dogs
4. 1d6 rats
5. 1d8 crows
6. Carcass is possessed by an evil spirit and gnawing on itself!

Anonymous said...

I'm really sorry for this one, but sometimes you have to follow your stupid ideas through:

1 Zak S.
2 James Raggi the IV.
3 Joe Bloch
4 Dyson Logos
5 Jeff Rients
6 Telecanter no particular order and I could make that a D100 table without trouble.

thekelvingreen said...

For what it's worth, I didn't use a random encounter table in the above game, but if I had that's what it might have looked like.

Pulp Herb said...

1. Children left orphaned by a slaver's raid.
2. A slaver (negative image drow) group.
3. A large bear.
4. Charioteers from the Pharaoh Worlds
5. Horse warriors from the hinder lands.
6. A group of lost members of the First Crusade.

The Cramp said...

1.Massive Riding Bat.
2.Starving Invisible Tifling Illusionist.
3.A sentient Dire Rat (level 2: Barbarian 1/Rogue 1)
4.The cook's fucking three legged cat again.
5.Many of the aforementioned Rats.
6.The carcass is being gnawed on by a dead god, who is a very live wolf the size of a buffalo.

Adam Dickstein said...

Zak said,

"Philosophical question:

Is the reason that you populated your random encounter table largely with typical woodland fauna that I am assuming probably wouldn't make your PCs break a sweat plus one "doozy" perhaps related to the reason you would not use such a table to begin with?"

The answer is yes but I can't quite formulate what that relation is into an easily explained sentence.

Basically my fantasy world(s) follows a few simple guidelines

1) Players know for sure its magical just like the British and French knew for a fact there were faeries.

2) You randomly encounter normal creatures as often as you'd randomly encounter them in real life. Special creatures are special encounters.

3) The ecology of the average D&D monster is, IMHO, that if it existed in an ecology the ecology would be over. So I assume monsters are a foreign thing to most environments, a weirdness that isn't supposed to be there. But it is. There must be a reason. If there is a reason, it's not random.

Seth S. said...

1- Dream monk (75% chance they are in a chance, if not they are gnawing for some other reason)

2- giant turtle

3- reflector beast

4- a puppet of some sort

5- a puppet master

6- Nova avatar
(roll d8 for color 1-red 2-blue 3-green 4-orange 5-indigo 6-violet 7-yellow 8-reroll)

Unknown said...

1. Carrion crows
2. Dogs
3. Maggots
4. Goblins
5. The rising tide pulled it back into the marshes.
6. Something settled in where the soul used to be. The carcass attacks!

crowking said...

Forgot this...


1) a trio of large red centipedes

2) a baby Manticore( parents near by?)

3) a fat ghoul who was philosopher in it's previous life.

4) a very big charnal worm( 65% of it's body is still burrowed in the ground)

crowking said...

5) Hungry Ghost( looks like a patch of glowing mist)

6) a group of adventures who have all turned into zombies( the Romero/Fulci kind)

Kolb said...

Don't know if i count, since i do comics, but settings are settings.

What's Chewing:

1) Cardboard mask people
2) Rat Girl
3) Manticore
4) Muscle Men
5) Dwarf
6) Carrot Guy

mordicai said...

Oh, I should mention that yes, I like RPG manuals for themselves, complete with expanded universe stuff & even-- you'll all laugh-- short fiction. Well, not always, but I don't mind giving it a chance. Sure, there are bad examples, but I want a RPG book to be interesting enough to entertain me during my morning bathroom interlude.

Natalie said...

1. Damp rat smelling suspiciously like lemonade
2. Perfectly normal rat
3. Stray dogs
4. Deranged, homeless shifter
5. Something awful escaped from the sewers
6. An artificer's homunculus

Zak Sabbath said...


it was really more of a snicker

Jarrah said...

Encounters in the Fungal Jungle:

1- juvenile fungus ent
2- dark elf's riding lizard. The elf is nearby, enjoying a fungus pie.
3- wandering dwarf (carcass is, one would hope, a rat, and has been properly fried first)
4- Goblins
5- full-grown fungus ent (the carcass is either very large, or will be finished very quickly)
6- roll again on table of 30 weird monsters.

Anonymous said...

Not so much "chewing on" the body as "fiddling about with":

1. Ugor funerary guild preparing it for reverent mulching one planet over
2. Fondorian merchants haggling over purchase of extractable biochemicals
3. Freelance coroner investigating cause of death for open data contract
4. Cloning chamber maintenance droid hauling failed unit off for disposal
5. Squibb street urchin rifling hastily through pockets before authorities called
6. Enforcement officers checking identity against black market assassination postings

Anonymous said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass in The Jungle?
1. Ghourillas
2. Giant Daddy Longlegs
3. Lost Soldier
4. Hippie
5. Mountain Man
6. Punji Plant

Adam Thornton said...

What's Chewing on That Carcass in Vega$ ?

1. Spidergoats
2. Feral Street Urchins
3. Down-and-out Elvis Impersonator
4. Prostitute -- roll on Wandering Harlot Table
5. Broke, naked gambler wearing barrel
6. Vomit Flies

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Carcass Fiddlers in the City of Bells:

1. Escaped Raviien slaves. Not so much "chewing" as "searching for a key to unlock the wing-hobbles", but still...

2. d4 Bellkeepers trying to hide whatever weird effects have happened to it. Roll on the Table of Bells to determine which. If the Peeling Bell, roll twice, and whatever is left will be messing with the scraps of flesh. Also, a trail will be left behind them.

3. Carcass Fiddlers trying to decide if they can make it into a new instrument.

4. 2d6 Exploding Cats. If the corpse is that of one or more of such animals, they will simply be littering the streets in small chunks. (See link)

5. A Daeling . It is preparing to take the form of the body, at which time the corpse will be dissolved.

6. The "corpse" is actually a starving zombie. It is eating itself.

Von said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)
1. Troll.
2. Metal snake made of gears.
3. Flock of undead crows.
4. Barbarian werewolf thing.
5. Human (ish) necromancer.
6. Pair of scary fae-like things.

anarchist said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass? Teleleli.

1. A Hollow Mockery is laughing at it.
2. Giant cockroaches (50% chance of locals trying to get rid of them)
3. Ghouls (50% chance of locals trying to get rid of them)
4. Crows.
5. A group of intelligent, normal-sized mice are cutting meat from it.
6. A priest or priests of the sea god is checking it to see if it drowned. They will take the corpse if it has.

anarchist said...

I liked this post, even though it tells me I'm doing my blog wrong. In my defence, I'm actually better at writing than at making rules.

richard said...

Yes, what you said about setting notes.
Except: often the metaphor on which a rule is based won't be obvious to me. Maybe I haven't done the background reading, maybe I have some other association with the terms used that prevents my understanding how it's supposed to work. And if I don't get the metaphor I generally won't like the rule. So I do like some rationale text.
Prime examples: Vancian magic is frustrating if you haven't read Vance (why are these wizards so crap?); Monk abilities (I can fall down holes 60' deep and bounce as long as I'm within a bus-length of a wall. Awesome? Avoid Roadrunner type overhangs?).

1. Goblins stealing its fillings.
2. Goblins hoping to use it as a shield.
3. Disappointed troll.
4. Humans, the evil corpse-looting scum!
5. Rat-goblins or goblin-rats
6. Debt collectors.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

I've made an expanded version of the list here.

DukeofOrange said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The Quarantine Zone of Suzail (roll d6)
1. Gibbering Mouther
2. Tainted Raver (depraved beyond sanity; spawns Gibbering mouther when killed)
3. Mob of Tainted Minions (corrupted to undeath)
4. Starving street urchin
5. Taint Elemental (probably huge)
6. One of the PCs (whoever didn't show up today)

mordicai said...

There is a piece of short fic in a Wraith book where the evil ghost of Cleitus the Black is whining about how come Alexander the Great didn't love him-- I have fond memories. & I always buy those pieces of apocrypha, the "in game" book. I know they are flawed, but I don't mind.

Still, the core premise-- a world is best described with rules-- is a good point. Having-- for instance-- a regional feat that says dudes from Boomerangistan have a bonus to using boomerangs is as good a way as anything. Though me, I like the nerdy explanation of the underlying anthropological reason as to why, too.

Simon Forster said...

What's chewing on [my dead character's] carcass?

1. A T-Rex (swallowed and digested my PC)
2. Monkey-Lizards
3. Lizardfolk
4. A giant scorpion
5. A magic-user from the Brotherhood of the Maze
6. That pesky fairy who never liked me anyway.

Daniel Dean said...

1- Carnivorous kudzu
2-3- Yellow kappa
4- Slime mold
5- Crustacean swarm
6- Oozing pool

Chris said...

Random Corpse Connoisseurs of the Spongmires:

1. Swamp goblins
2. Hydra spawn
3. Giant leeches
4. Fang-mouthed tree fish
5. Fen trolls
6. Giant sundew

Unknown said...

1. Dalek mutant, out of its tank-shell.
2. Borg with rabies.
3. Clone of the character it is eating.
4. Jawas
5. Sentient, talking ravens
6. Game designer/writer/artist of your choice

Zak, if you have time, please listen to my podcast on Wednesday and comment. It is on a similar subject.

Miranda said...

What's Chewing on the Corpse: The Purple Hills
1 -- Starving Peasants
2 -- Ghourii (Lovecraft-style Ghouls)
3 -- Rat-Lizards
4 -- Spitting Lizards
5 -- an enraged Dero
6 -- a Giant Scorpion

Mark said...

1. tortoise eater
2. Stonescribe robot
3. river siren
4. ensorcelled villager
5. pack lizard gone feral
6. priestess of the Carrion Queen

Zak Sabbath said...


No, I think you're doing it right: you describe discreet gameable things (monsters, places) that are new to your setting (even if there are no rules) and how they are DIFFERENT from each other rather than spending lots of time telling us mundane details like comparing the climate of the Sunken City to the Isle of the Fat Kings.

Plus you are good at writing.

I am not against explanations. I never said that: the Monster Manual is just about perfect and is full of explanations. I am against mundane explanations of mundane, familiar phenomena that we assume are already like that (some fucking river created some fucking valley) because that's how it works in the real world.

@richard: see above.

Zak Sabbath said...

@the grumpy celt

i will if i remember, but wednesday is 2 whole days away which is like 2 months in hollywood time. i'll definitely do it if you remind me.

Anonymous said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)
1. A huge rat with almost human-seeming hands
2. A stray dog, its patchy fur caked with filth and crawling with vermin
3. Dozens of fat, sickly white worms the size of a baby's arm
4. Two children with shark-like eyes.
5. A morbidly obese man in clown make-up, who cries out in anguish after each bite he takes.
6. A huge patch of bubbling, fluorescent mold.

Feystar said...

Sounds like a good excuse to dig out my campaign from the cupboard and see what was happening, I'll take a stab at it.

What's Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The open plains...(roll d6)
1. A swarm of 1d10 + 10 Prairie ticks.
2. 1d6 Jackelopes.
3. 3 Desiccated dead.
4. 1 Dust devil
5. 1d6 Tumblebleeds
6. 1 Utah rattler

John said...

1. Spider Priests going about their righteous business
2. Underpaid City Constables putting in time
3. Vigilante "Welcoming Committee"
4. Employees of the Happy Lady Bath House prospecting
5. The dispossessed King Verbosh XXXI peddling paper money
6. Goblins skulking in teh alley

mordicai said...

Fair enough; for instance I have nothing but an urge to put my head through a plate glass window when reading Forgotten Realms books. I don't care about a year by year breakdown, folks, a couple of broadstrokes would do it.

I wonder if I should start making random tables.

Also, I'm impressed by how many of these tables make me think "hey, that game sounds neat."

Zzarchov said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)

1. A giant stone turtle, on whose back the dwarven mountains rest.

2. The ruins of Castle Ragnarok, deep in the werewolf infested cedar forest.

3. The demonic fungus shrine of Mi-Go, deep in the roots of Ygdrassil.

4. The Teutonic Encampment, An expeditionary force of Knights bringing the Church of Spartacus to the northlands.

5. The pine barrens, rocky windswept lands inhabitted by the feral remnants of the ghoul empire, protected by a deadly blood golem.

6. The cave of the bear king. Deep in the frost, the king of the grizzlies holds court.

Tom said...


My D&D world now officially has an Isle of Fat Kings- fucking brilliant!

1. Tax collector
2. Acolyte of the Sisterhood of √-1
3. Feral child w/sling (and depleted uranium bullets)
4. Librarian
5. Hockey fanatic
6. Gorgon head in a jar

Jasper Gein said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass Table for the Tchaval Desert(roll d6)
1. 1d4 human-sized hornets
2. 1d3 ghouls
3. Were-jackal (in jackal form)
4. Horse-sized earthworm
5. 1d3 water elementals(less gnawing and more absorbing its bodily fluids to aviod drying up)
6. 1d4 nomads who have run out of food

Unknown said...

What's Chewing on That Carcass for [unnamed setting #2]

1. A cunning goblin that can talk to spiders

2. An intelligent dire boar

3. A crying Knight

4. A crossroads witch

5. an Elven Lord and Human Baron both hunting a White Hart

6. A middlin' competent fighter who has sold his soul to a devil for the power to detect evil and cast teleport both at 3x per day

Ragnorakk said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)
1. Two Gargoyles protecting a breeding statue
2. A lump at the bottom of a dry pit
3. A party of NPCs just as confused by their surroundings as the PCs
4. The last survivor of three "greys" trapped by a hydra (with a ray gun!)
5. The yes/no homonculus
6. A three-eyed ogre

Greg Johnston said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)

1. Dwarven lumberjacks
2. croakings of distant Bullywugs
3. Giant Spider ambush
4. Spider Goblin raiding party
5. Ettercaps
6. pack of wolves led by a Dire Wolf.

Unknown said...

I'm assuming we're talking about a human carcass here, by the way...

1. Out of work harem
2. Raggoth (the party's charmed redcap companion)
3. Olaf, the Slavemaster's second eldest son
4. Baron Wisthiemer, having it unknowingly served to him on a golden platter next to a slide of bread and hunk of cheese
5. A pack of dog-sized sewer rats
6. Priests of Oin, in a healing ritual

Uncle Matt said...

1) Rust monster's large carnivorous sister
2) R2 unit with serious programming flaw
3) Something that skitters away into the wreckage on too many legs
4) One of the Ugarths (see Ugarth subtable)
5) Something tentacular that I improvise on the spot
6) That foppish guy with the white cloak

1-3) Ugarth the Unclean
4) Ugarth the Unconquered
5) Ugarth the Unkillable
6) Ugarth the Ultimate

jgbrowning said...

Zak, my thoughts are too long for a comment, so I made a blog post about it.

richard said...

Zzarchov wins. I've never considered that places could chew on carcasses before, but of course they do.

Samwise7 said...

Hey Zak. I really must hand it to you. This post really cracked me upside the head (in a good way).

I did a YouTube video response to it on my RPG channel:

Thanks for this (and other) posts on this blog, as well as the I Hit It With My Axe video actual play. Have a good one man.

Zak Sabbath said...

the video makes it clear you really took it to heart. Sometimes when I'm writing i think "Oh, everybody already knows this, why bother?", so it;s nice to hear the idea i was trying to get across had an impact.

though: i wouldn't say stop putting effort into your gameworld, i'd just say there's ways to organize that information so that it has power when it's revealed.

Samwise7 said...

@Zak I'm sure I'll keep working on my various settings, but I think every time I do, the ideas you presented above will stick with me.

I sometimes think my blathering is kind of pointless, or like you said, it's stuff everyone already knows, but the feedback says differently. Thanks.

Carter Soles said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The Last Non-Dungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)

1: Yeti
2: Hobgoblin Patrol
3: Throghrin Commandoes
4: Prince Arkus' Troops
5: Natural Disaster (Landslide)
6: Hobart's Ghost

Digital Orc said...

Repost: Why hide? Gamers and teachers alike hide objectives for largely either egotistic or reasons of affect. They cloak them deceptively for different reasons, but the effect is often the same; confusion, obfuscation, and ambiguity. Zak and others following his meme have recently discussed the matter of simplicity and general straightforwardness, tables, and description in rpg’s. World creators have a clear image in their heads of what it is their world is (or maybe they don’t, and they’re just spitting in the creative wind to see what splats them in the face). Just listen to all of the covers of Bob Dylan songs and you see, however, that each individual interprets on their own… heavily. The more obscure, the more your message is lost. If you want an ambiguous and open-ended message, fine. If not, you’d better get a little more specific. That is, unless you’re Mary Evans. Prose isn’t bad, but can easily defeat readers before they get to your thesis. And isn’t that what we’re here for? Not really. We’re here to spit in the wind.

(In no way does this point account for the probability inherent in role-playing games. I would love to hear your response on that topic.)

Zak Sabbath said...


Do you realize how stoned you were when you wrote that?

Digital Orc said...

Everybody must.

mordicai said...

Oh man am I glad & checked back in with this comment thread.

Erin Smale said...

Zak - just wanted to thank you for this piece. As always, you seem to post the precise pearl of wisdom exactly when I need it. Much obliged.


hat's Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The Last Non-Dungeon Place Your PCs Were...(roll d6)

1. Elf
2. Wolf
3. The Beast (a fantasical raptor)
4. Peasents
5. Giant Snake
6. Strugs (balls of fungus that act like the tazmanian devil/piranah)

Unknown said...

1. Yao guai
2. Mr. Handy (malfunctioning)
3. Tribal cannibal
4. Radroach
5. feral ghoul
6. Super mutant

Sean Fallon said...

What's Chewing on that there Carcass?

1. d8 Eye-Stealing Dolls
2. a plane-shifting Drug & Poison Dealer
3. d4 Manticores
4. d8 x 10 starving Refugee Gnomes
5. d6 Lacanthrops
6. das Unheim Lich : most dread Lich of them All !

Tim said...

Since Seven just responded, I might as well also.

From my just started campaign

1 Feral Halflings. 1d10 in number. Can spread disease of choice through bite
2. Man Bat- will attempt to capture and and fly away with smallest PC in party.
3. Feral undead halflings 5d6- apply undead template.
4. Vampire Hunter- convinced you're one of them/ their servants
5. Vampire Spawn- Knows you're coming. Shifts its appearance to look just like one of you.
6. Vampire. Is hungry/ Wants to turn the party into his thralls.

Very low level investigative campaign right now. Most of these they haven't even encountered yet.

My longer running campaign would have more interesting options, but half of them might be social rather than combatative encounters.
My players are interesting at times.

Jason kielbasa said...

Agree with what you have to say about settings. I don't think anyone has an interest in reading the alt-history 1930 fan fic my setting is but a list of charts that they can use in 1930ish America would be applicable for other early modern games like CoC.

1. Goatmen
2. Nocturnal guard goats
3. Cops
4. Squonk
5. Porto-Manteau
6. Deer Women

Patrick Mallah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Murk said...

1. 1-6 myconid-infested umber hulk husks
2. Myconid druid riding an infested delver
3. 2-4 ghasts dressed in ragged finery, lording over 7-12 ghouls wearing animal masks
4. 5-12 Shadow Mastiffs
5. Mixed group of 3-6 amnesiac humanoids, all wearing white robes
6. Gang of 3-6 doppelgangers, either dressed in red robes with blank white face masks, or disguised as white-robed amnesiac humanoids (50% chance of each)

Bruno said...

O.k, haven't read all of them so sorry if I repeat something already written...

1. A previously dead PC. (If there are none in the campaign yet, use a previously dead NPC. If none, reroll.

2. Nothing visible.

3. A detached hand with a mouth in its palm, using its fingers for mobility and to pull the meat to its mouth.

4. A PC's love interest. (If none, reroll)

5. Someone who seems to be an older version of one of the PCs.

6. The carcass is gnawing itself.

Kuseru Satsujin said...

1. Commie Mutant Traitor
2. Bouncy Bubbly Beverage vending machine
3. Ooga-Booga mutant
4. R&D Tech
5. High Programmer
6. That's above your security clearance citizen

Cross Planes said...

What's Chewing On That Carcass Table For Jarlsburg...(roll d6)
1. 1-3 Black Eyed Children.
2. An Initiate to the Blessed Circle of Blackimus Prime.
3. A cast member in Essex College's performance of "The King in Yellow".
4. 2-7 eladrin from the Brotherhood of Bones and Teeth.
5. A tiefling who is a wineskin filled with Unicorn urine.
6. A citizen who's mind was shattered by the Witengamot.

Unknown said...

1. Krenshar (mated pair)
2. Gnome Miners
3. Gnome Corpses
4. Kobold Coprses
5. Giant Weasel
6. Kobold Zombies.

Or my current favorite:

1. Barbarians
2. Nobleman w/hunting party
3. Lady with killer butterflies
4. Blood Demon
5. Human Wizard w/Giant Bee
6. Zombie

Evey Lockhart said...

Long time past OP, but I just couldn't not generate this encounter chart.

1. Wild Dog
2. Monkey-Goblin
3. Beggar
4. Raven
5. Strange, Toothy Snake
6. Nightmarish Bear Creature

Patrick Mallah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mmroger said...

1. Wiggeric the Bone-Charm salesman
2. 2d6 rats
3. Sep the Stray Dog
4. 1d4 Slack Priests of Mor
5. An alchemist's escaped experiment
6. A Magic-User