Posts Tagged ‘procedural


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…


Digital / Analog Procedural Sandbox Region Witchcraft – part 3

Now that I had a big rough continent map made with my cheap watercolor and pencil techniques I was ready to begin adding some type of form to the elemental crayola chaos. I didn’t want the players to be flying across continents on the backs of eagles quite yet, so I needed to bring my focus down to a smaller region of the map to begin to pick details.

I knew that the area covered by the Wilderlands Of High Fantasy maps in the Judges Guild publications could roughly fit the surface area of New York state (275 x 167 miles in hexes). This helped me to zoom in and pick a spot on the coastline of my rough map that looked nice. The spot had a lot of green, a coastline, and some splots of gray for mountains. A nice variety of land to travel but nothing too crazy on the map, I would save my red leaf tree forests for later.

So I moved into the digital realm and scanned my painted map with my desktop scanner at a high resolution. I set it at 600 dpi because I knew I would be zooming in and I would rather the map details be the tooth and texture of my paper rather than the resulting pixels of a low end scan. I then opened the image file in GIMP and prepared to select my region map. To do this properly I needed to have my region map overlay so I could pick just the right rectangular box of my painted map that would fit my hexes. I needed to find some way of making digital hexes.

My quest was resolved when I found the excellent Boardgame Extensions for Inkscape written by Pelle Nilsson. If you did not know, GIMP and Inkscape are two free software packages that are used for editing digital image files. GIMP is for raster graphics and Inkscape is for vector artwork. The Boardgame Extensions in Inkscape allowed me to generate a hex map that was just the right size and with the right numbering sequence. It just needed a little graphical tweaking to make it look like a simulation of a Judges Guild region overlay.

Here is a zip file of the vector and raster hex overlay to use for your own map.

I then selected my now reduced region of the map and used the Layers function in GIMP to place my hex overlay over my painted section. You can adjust the opacity of the images and change the way the layers interact (multiply) to have only the black of the hexes visible. This way you could have as much or as little information on your map as you want. One layer for roads, one for villages, etc.

There, my region was laid out, and I knew what all my travel distances were, but there were no rivers, roads, encounters, definite regions of mountains, forests, etc. I just had vaguely suggestive color blots to maybe suggest changes in terrain. It was time to start finding out the lay of the land…

Continued in part 4


Digital / Analog Procedural Sandbox Region Witchcraft – part 2

If you peruse the excellent Cartographer’s Guild forums, you can see that the preferred method of generating random terrain and landforms is to use a cloud generator or some sort of static filter in a graphics program like photoshop or gimp to build up random shapes and curves that can later become continents, rivers, coastlines, and islands.

Instead of this strictly computer based approach, I decided that I wanted to try out a more analog method of making random shapes. Something like like cartography by way of reading tea leaves or a mash-up between Forgotten Realms and a John Cage composition.

My Analog Continent Generation Method

So I got out my thick paper, a pencil and eraser and my watercolor kit and set them on the table.

The first step is that I did a quick scribble of large shapes in light pencil marks, crisscrossing, and fiddling around on the surface until some definite forms start to appear on the surface. In art classes, they call this gesture drawing because it is intended to quickly capture the “gesture” or movement of a figure or object without focusing on the details. It is also used to find patterns or random shapes in a composition for later development, which is what we are trying to do.

Once I started to see some continents or land forms “raise to the surface” I stopped my scribbling and took the pencil and slowly jittered a dark line around the coast areas with harder pressure. The slow jitter helped to form a jagged coastline around my previously smoothed out scribble shapes.

After the heavy pencil marks were down on the paper, I started using a big eraser to remove the unwanted light lines and left the darker coastline marks to show the outlines of my continents. You can smudge some of the pencil marks, redraw others, or leave scuffed textures for mountains or plains or stormy areas or what-have-you. It is sort of like a tarot card reading where you just try and fiddle and reinforce what the image before you suggests.

This is just like campaign planning.

Once the continents had a good outline I took out my water color kit and mixed up some gray color for the mountains and green color for the forests and proceeded to splatter at the continents. I slowly started to aim my splatters where I thought the mountain ranges should go and avoiding splashing into the ocean too much. You can use the brush that came with the water color kit or, if you really want a nice splatter, you can dip an old toothbrush in the mixed color and then run your thumb across the bristles to create the right spray. I mixed and splattered a couple more colors and just generally played around until I was satisfied. I decided that I wanted to have a big forest of red-leaved trees in one region and so I gave it a japanese-maple color splat.

The next step was to finish applying watercolor to the rest of the map. Green for plains and forest areas, grays for polar regions, browns and yellows for arid regions, and blue for the ocean. Watercolor is great because it builds itself up transparently and all the splatters would come through in the final texture. And its fun to make a mess.

So I had my large continent map, but I needed to focus in and pick one area for my fantastical region map and get hexes on the there…

(Continued in part 3)


Digital / Analog Procedural Sandbox Region Witchcraft

There are various modes of creating terrain and wilderness for your fantasy game adventuring. They range from non-existent and abstractly planned expanses that are resolved as the game narrative dictates to obsessively planned geopolitical ecosystems that bring a whole world’s history into frame before a single player character is generated. (Tolkien has warped our collective brains.)

I came up with a method of map and region generation to fill in a traditional sandbox style of play where the player choices dictate the important details about the campaign world. I wanted a design choice that was both detailed enough to give me confidence in knowing what was ahead of the players but also a process that was “out of my hands” so the game could develop organically. My solution was a procedural method based loosely on the wonderful region atlases for the Wilderlands Of High Fantasy campaign put out by Judges Guild in the early days of RPGs.

Wilderlands Of High Fantasy

I wish you could still get this much fun for $8.50

The Judges Guild maps and atlases are great in that they had these big beautiful B&W maps (about a trimmed Arch E size , 48″x36″) of a large region of countryside mapped out in hexes that are five miles across. A perfect scale for a party traipsing through a couple hexes a day. Accompanying the region map is a brief index booklet listing the vital statistics of of the mapped towns, castles, ruins, and lairs of the depicted region but little else in the way of flavor. The result is that the players are free to march and explore as much as they want and the DM has a loose idea about the lay of the land without having to stop play and constantly consult a litany of tables. It has important details like the nature of the occupants of the castle up ahead, but the brevity of the descriptions leads itself to good improvisation. The atlases listed the encounters thusly:

  • Villages
  • Citadels & Castles
  • Ruins & Relics
  • Idyllic Isles
  • Lurid Lairs

Oh my god that is awesome. I wonder how Idyllic all those islands really are? Let’s check the Judges Guild Island Book from 1978 that contains the Non-Potable Water table listing. Hmm… Dysentery and Yellow fever are quite possible.

The Island Book is also an example of Judges Guild conveniently publishing the randomized tables that it used to populate its own maps. Everything from the name of a town, to the nature of ruins could be rolled up in the many tables that are spread through the Judges Guild Books. With a little head scratching I found its was really quite easy to make your own random region using the same method. It took a bit of study to look through their collection of maps for the Wilderlands campaign and work out the rough chances of the various encounters across the map size. Each hex had roughly a one in six or a one in eight chance of listing an important feature. A DM with a lot of time on their hands could roll a die for each of their 1842 hexes on the region map but I wrote a half-assed computer script that spat out the randomly determined hex coordinates and the nature of the encounter, adjusting more towards ruins for the wilds and more towards villages on a more civilized map.

So I had the nitty-gritty to populate a hex map with encounters, but I needed to provide the rough terrain that would become the mountains, forests, deserts, and coastlines of my fantastical region.
That is when I pulled out my Crayola watercolors…

(Continued in part 2)

Past Adventures of the Mule

December 2021

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