Digital / Analog Procedural Sandbox Region Witchcraft – part 4

So for my Ouija-board-esque method of sandbox mapping, I had made a hex-grid of my chosen region and I applied the nebulous hues of the terrain with a kid’s watercolor kit. I now needed to provide more details for adventuring like roads, rivers, villages, mountains, hills etc. The first step was to go straight to my Judges Guild encounters that I rolled up using my junky little python script. It gave me a final printout with about 150 different villages, castles, ruins, and layers listed by hex coordinates that I could place right away without looking at the underlying terrain colors. I did not have details of all the encounters. The lairs and ruins could be rolled up later, but the castles and villages were really important in that they had an alignment and a race associated with each listed encounter.

I printed up my freshly hexed map on my inkjet printer (photo matte paper is great) and then clipped a piece of clear transparency to it, like the clear plastic you get for overhead projectors. With the transparency I could write and sketch in the details with a permanent marker and then I could scan it in again for whatever reason. I went down the hex columns on the map and looked for the proper coordinates for each of the encounters on the programmed list and marked a V, C, L, or R in a fine point marker. Any encounter that landed in the water would become an Idyllic Isle, but the rest pretty much stayed where the “fell”. (You could also place the letters on the hexes with the image layers of GIMP, but I felt like using my hands for my mapping and locating.)

Evil castles or villages would get a red circle and good villages and castles would get a green circle. Right away, I had clumps of good settlements and clumps of evil settlements that could suggest some type of politics or borders in my small local region. I could start putting in dotted lines to connect the villages and castles with roads and start wondering about how the encounter placement worked in a narrative sense. Why would an evil hobgoblin settlement be right next to a lawful-good human settlement? Maybe there is a siege going on, maybe the Hobgoblins are a large mercenary camp that defends the larger human village. Why are there evil dwarves occupying this castle? This sandbox style of planning is all about divining some type of meaning from what the random results provide. There is always the ability to fudge, but the whole point of the method is to provide a springboard to your interpretations.

So I had a rough idea about what encounters goes where on the region map, and I could continue to flesh out the whole area, naming all the villages, placing all the roads, and placing the definite terrain and rivers all within a hundred or so miles of the characters. But then again, do I really need 150 encounters and surrounding terrain detailed to begin play? I didn’t think so. And besides, one of the key tenets of sandbox play is to structure details around what the players start to provide. We needed to leave room for the screwed up village that one of the PCs originates from.

With this in mind, I decided to zoom in even more, and save the fiddling for a tighter focus map, something I would imagine as being a good “home-base” area like The Keep On The Borderlands or something of that nature. It was time to start drawing in map symbols and naming stuff in a small locality…

Continued to part 5…

6 Responses to “Digital / Analog Procedural Sandbox Region Witchcraft – part 4”

  1. 1 Adam
    December 17, 2010 at 4:50 am

    I’m really enjoying this sequence of posts. I wanted to ask a couple questions to clarify how you’re doing things, and then make a comment.

    I gather that you’re generating the type of locations based on a Judges Guild table. Does that include the full range of details? In particular, does that mean that each V on the map represents not just a village with a rough alignment, but a village of X population of Y species with Z special features? I’m curious because that means that for example the evil clusters and the good clusters might be on the one hand a mix of orc, goblin, kobold, and lizardpeople villages and a mix of gnome, halfling, elf, and human villages on the other hand, with any clustering of people random. I wonder if you’ve thought about using other forms of randomization that include some of the “if the next town over is human, this one is more likely to be human.” I could imagine using an approach where you start in one corner and work out; for any settlement, you check percentiles, with 1-50 (or 1-75) meaning same principal race as the closest existing settlement, and 51+ meaning roll fresh on the table or whatever.

    Also, I gather that you’re not inputing the terrain into the random generation of locations, except for substituting islands for all other terrain types in the ocean. Is that right?

    I also have a question about symbols. What do stars represent? I see V, C, R, L, and I, which I thought accounted for all of the random encounter types, so what are the stars which appear on this map and in the original close-up?

    Finally, I’m curious if you thought about thinning out the islands some. It seems to me that open water would have rather less interesting locations per hex than land. I’m curious about your decisions about that.

    Thanks again for posting this thread–this is a really interesting series of posts.

  2. 2 Greengoat
    December 17, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks Adam, you point to some modifications of the process that could lead to some more “logical” breakdowns in placement.

    Beyond my own simple table roll that I made to determine the type of encounter and the totally random placement on the hex map, I am using the straight tables from the Judges Guild books for things like the demographic distribution that you mention. My programmed roller supplied me with the race, population, and alignment for all the village entries but I skipped on entering the lengthy name and building generator. (I could do this “by hand” on the home-base region as I will show next week.)

    But you are correct in that it wouldn’t be that hard to add some modifiers to the alignment and race tables to form more likely clumps of like-minded cultures. And for that matter, to have the islands form in more likely spots on the geography. I could probably figure out some encounter die roll modifier based on the color of the watercolor splot I am rolling on to have the system follow the terrain a bit more. (Get out your Pantone swatches.)

    But otherwise I wanted to see how far it could get and how wonky it would become to just roll things straight. Not too bad it seems.

    The star in the middle of the map was my one narrative vanity. Since the cat is out of the bag for this potential campaign, it is the site of my potential mega-dungeon of the land. Although I have some reservations about playing in mega-dungeons, it was to be based on one that I generated through Tony Dowler’s “How to Host A Dungeon Game” that you can see here and here:

  3. December 17, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    First, cool.

    Second, as someone less familiar with the JG products – where exactly are your tables coming from for this region generation?


  4. 4 Greengoat
    December 17, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Okay here is the skinny for the tables that I used:

    The old Ready Ref Sheets Vol 1 has the best assortment of great tables to use but the key stuff for generating Lurid Lairs and Ravaged Ruins can also be found in the original Wilderlands of High Fantasy booklet along with the encounter listings that I was trying to emulate.

    The Village Book has the complete tables for creating and naming villages except for determining the race of the inhabitants. The WOHF villages seemed to use the “Leader Type” from the Castles Book to determine the inhabitant races.

    The Castle Book of course has the tables for castles and the Islands Book has the tables for the islands.

    So, the only actual old-school Judges Guild stuff I used was:
    Ready Ref
    Villages Book
    Castles Book
    Islands Book
    and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy Book to use as reference.

    None of the tables are linked in the clear(?)way I am presenting this method of mapping but it only took a little pondering to figure out how they could all work together.

    The Caves and Lairs map book is also nice but it’s cave generation system is pretty convoluted.

    Note that all the “Book”s are mainly collection of un-keyed hexmaps for the DM to use on the fly.

    I think you can get all the PDFs here:

  5. December 21, 2010 at 12:18 am

    I think I have some of these already. I’m going to look at them in greater depth. Thank you.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

December 2010

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