B/X D&D D&D Labyrinth Lord Old school Tabletop RPGs

B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord dungeon doors

After comparing dungeon stocking in B/X D&D and Labyrinth Lord, I went hunting for a detailed list of differences between the two games. I couldn’t find one (still looking!), but I did come across a post about stuck dungeon doors by Peregrin on noting that there might be a difference there. There is one, and it’s fascinating.

Why do stuck dungeon doors matter? It sounds like such a little thing, but it’s surprisingly significant. The nature of dungeon doors plays a big role in defining the character of the dungeon.

To get there, we first have to walk back the cat a little bit — specifically, all the way back to OD&D (paid link).

OD&D dungeon doors

Here’s what Book III says about doors:

Generally, doors will not open by turning the handle or by a push. Doors must be forced open by strength, a roll of a 1 or 2 indicating the door opens, although smaller and lighter characters may be required to roll a 1 to open doors. There can be up to three characters attempting to force open a door, but this will disallow them rapid reaction to anything awaiting them on the other side. Most doors will automatically close, despite the difficulty in opening them. Doors will automatically open for monsters, unless they are held shut against them by characters.

There are three cool things in that excerpt:

  1. Most dungeon doors are stuck
  2. PCs have to force them open, but monsters don’t
  3. Most doors automatically close behind the PCs

My favorite interpretation of why that might be comes from D&D blogger Philotomy, whose site has vanished from the web. Fortunately, “Philotomy’s Musings” have been preserved (in several formats). Hit that link and scroll down to “The Dungeon as a Mythic Underworld,” and you’ll find this theory:

Similarly, characters must force their way through doors and have difficulty keeping them open; however, these same doors automatically open for monsters. This is a clear example of how the normal rules do not apply to the underworld, and how the underworld, itself, works against the characters exploring it.

I love that! The dungeon itself is working against intruders. It’s a fun theory on its face, it explains a lot, and it highlights something compelling and quirky about OD&D.

Even if you don’t buy the “mythic underworld” concept, though, dungeons in OD&D do work differently for monsters than they do for PCs. With that in mind, let’s peek at the B/X D&D Basic Set (paid link).

B/X D&D dungeon doors

Here’s the B/X version:

Doors in a dungeon are usually closed, and are often stuck or locked. A lock must usually be picked by a thief. An unlocked door must be forced open to pass through it. To force open a door, roll Id6; a result of 1 or 2 (on Id6) means that the door is forced open. The roll should be adjusted by a character’s Strength score adjustment. The number needed to open a door can never be less than 1 nor greater than 1-5.

Once a door is opened, it will usually swing shut when released unless it is spiked or wedged open. Doors will usually open automatically for monsters, unless the door is held, spiked, or closed with magical spells.

The mechanics are a bit different, but it’s not the mechanics I’m interested in — it’s the “active dungeon” element. Most doors are stuck (or locked), stuck doors aren’t stuck for monsters, and they close automatically behind PCs. Like dungeons in OD&D, dungeons in B/X work against the PCs.

Ready for LL’s take?

Labyrinth Lord dungeon doors

Labyrinth Lord on dungeon doors:

Labyrinths often have many doors, some secret and others obvious. Many are locked, and a thief will need to attempt to pick locks. However, characters can attempt to break a door down. In this case, the player rolls 1d6. A result of 2 or less means the door has been broken down. Strength adjustments apply, but no matter what the adjustment there must always be a chance of success or failure. Bonuses cannot take the success range above 5 or below 1 on 1d6. For example, if a character has a STR of 15 he receives a +1 to open doors. He would instead need to roll 3 or less on 1d6 to succeed. A character with STR 5 has -2 to open doors, but since the odds cannot go below 1, if the player rolls a 1 on 1d6, he succeeds in breaking down the door.

Setting side the die rolls, which aren’t my focus, that’s quite different!

Stuck doors aren’t mentioned at all, and locked doors can only be broken down (rather than forced open). Also absent are doors that close automatically behind PCs, but not monsters — doors are just doors, and they work the same way for everyone.


Many small differences between B/X and Labyrinth Lord can be chalked up to maintaining a certain amount of “legal distance” from D&D, or to limitations based on what’s available in the SRD, or both. I’m not sure if this difference falls into that category, but I thought that looking at Swords & Wizardry (which emulates OD&D) might help.

S&W notes that “Stuck doors (and many doors in an ancient dungeon may be stuck closed) require a die roll on a d6 to force open.” That’s part of what OD&D says about stuck doors, but not all of it. It seems odd to me that the rest of OD&D’s rules for stuck doors would be off-limits legally, but I guess it’s not out of the question.

But whatever the reason, Labyrinth Lord dungeons don’t work against the PCs in the same way that B/X (and OD&D) dungeons do. A by-the-book Labyrinth Lord dungeon will have a different character than a B/X or OD&D dungeon, and it will play by the same rules for monsters and PCs.

The differences between B/X and LL dungeon stocking were pretty minor, the most notable being a slightly upped chance of a room being special/unique in LL. That gives LL dungeons a subtly different flavor than their B/X counterparts. The dungeon door difference feels more significant, and it surprised me.

Whether that’s a good, bad, or neutral thing comes down to personal preference, of course — and if you like the B/X approach, it’s just a house rule away.

D&D Old school Tabletop RPGs

Patrick Wetmore on keying megadungeon rooms

I love megadungeons. I’ve often thought it’d be fun to design one, but balked because I’m not sure I have the chops and because of the sheer size of the undertaking. The solution to the first part of that problem is to just try it, but what about the second, the fact that it’s a big project?

Cue Patrick Wetmore, who designed one of my all-time favorite megadungeons, Anomalous Subsurface Environment, on keying the first level of ASE:

So I’ve got 100 rooms to key for the dungeon. Following the distribution in the back of the Moldvay Basic rules, that breaks out as follows:

1/6 monster w/ treasure = 16-17 rooms
1/6 monster, no treasure = 16-17 rooms
1/18 trap with treasure = 5-6 rooms
1/9 trap, no treasure = 11 rooms
1/6 special = 16-17 rooms
1/18 unguarded treasure = 5-6 rooms
5/18 empty = 28 rooms

That’s 17 traps, and 17 specials. That’s where all the real work lies. Sticking a bunch of monsters in a room is easy, it’s the creative bits with traps and specials that’s hard.

And bam, just like that I realized I could design a megadungeon. I read that post yesterday, and I started designing one last night.

It’s that last part, about focusing on just a third of the rooms — the special, weird rooms — that clicked for me. Seeing the whole chart from the B/X Expert Set (paid link; my favorite version of D&D) broken out into rooms in need of keying helped, too. It’s a classic “eating the whole elephant” situation, and I’d never thought of it that way.

DCC RPG Old school Tabletop RPGs Zines

Zine roundup: The Gongfarmer’s Almanac, issues 1-6

The Gongfarmer’s Almanac is a free, community-created DCC RPG Fanzine — that link leads to the full run in PDF.

If you don’t want to print it out yourself, see this G+ post from Jon Hershberger for other options. I ordered the complete run from him for about $7 — yes, $7 total. (They came stapled but unfolded, and my folding job leaves a lot to be desired!)

I confess that I’m sometimes wary when RPG stuff is free, particularly stuff that’s available in print. On the flipside, I’ve written hundreds of free articles, I make free tools, etc. — free is good! I’m a big believer in free.

In the case of GFA, free is awesome. The Gongfarmer’s Almanac is excellent, made with love by folks who know their DCC, and it’s absolutely worth adding to your collection.

So what’s in there? All sorts of stuff! As I’ve done in past zine roundups, here’s my favorite piece from each issue of GFA:

  • Issue #1: This issue is a strong start to the run, but I have to go with “Gold and Glory Beyond the Grave,” which is all about playing undead PCs (by way of species-as-classes). It’s fucking metal. Want to be a ghost? You can manifest a phlogiston weapon, possess people, and become incorporeal. How about a skeleton warrior? You get a save whenever damage would kill you, and if you succeed you return to life with a few HP. Awesome.
  • Issue #2: Ghrelin, the Demon Lord of Hunger and Starvation, is one hell of a creepy patron. Invocations can ravage the earth or summon wasteland zombies, taint starves the caster and surrounds her with rot, and spellburn can result in gobbets of the caster’s flesh being torn away. Ghrelin would be right at home in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s Old World.
  • Issue #3: Peter Mullen both wrote and illustrated a dungeon in this issue, “The Marvelous Myriad Myconid Caverns,” and it’s a delight. It includes trolls who communicate in Morse code by tapping on the walls, slime that causes earthquakes, a giant spider named Edgar, and a sword, Gorgosaurus, which bites opponents and demands to be fed.
  • Issue #4: I love tables, and Tim Callahan’s “The Crawling Castle of Crumblethorn and Other Architectural Horrors” is a little toolkit for generating weird places using d7 rolls. (It reminds me of The Tome of Adventure Design.) Rolling 5, 2, 4 got me the Hovering Keep of Crystalgrim; a 3 tells me that the place will contact one PC and ask to be “fed” undead; and a final roll, a 2, turned up a covered painting that, if uncovered, can do all sorts of weird things to the PCs. I’d buy a whole book of these.
  • Issue #5: When I started reading OSR zines, one of the first things I thought was, “I wish there was an index for all this great stuff!” Thanks to issue #5, there is, at least for nine (!) DCC zines published through July 2015. It’s really a collection of indexes, one each for the categories you’d expect: monsters, adventures, etc. So useful!
  • Issue #6: Need to make higher-level DCC characters, but don’t want to sacrifice the flavor and joy of the funnel completely? Enter “The Virtual Funnel.” Not only is the funnel part great (make four 0-levels, roll on a harrowing table), but the article also includes a separate 2d5 table for the events that shaped the funnel survivor’s later levels.

Every issue of GFA has the same (awesome!) Doug Kovacs cover, so I want to take a moment to share some of the interior art. Here are several pieces that grabbed me:

Boom, the splash page for issue 1, illustrated by Marc Radle!

(Craig Brasco, I think)

(Michael Bukowski)

(Peter Mullen)

(Mez Toons)

Here’s the download link again: The Gongfarmer’s Almanac. If you prefer print to PDF, print it out or bug Jon and see if he’ll do it for you. I highly recommend this zine!

B/X D&D D&D Labyrinth Lord Old school Tabletop RPGs

B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord dungeon stocking

Wayne Rossi wrote an excellent post, Clones and Rules, Inside and Out, about the apparently subtle differences between some retroclones and their sources which, in fact, produce non-subtle differences in play. Here’s an excerpt, from his comparison of OD&D (paid link) dungeon stocking to Swords & Wizardry dungeon stocking:

An OD&D dungeon designed according to its guidelines is going to have “unguarded” treasure. According to the book it should be hidden and/or trapped. But a S&W dungeon isn’t going to have that, if the referee follows the guidelines in the S&W rule books. Over time the game is going to play differently, since the OD&D group is going to be looking for hidden treasure while the S&W group would be justified in looking for combat.

Wayne is one sharp dude, and he has a knack for noticing stuff, prying it apart, and being able to succinctly share what makes it tick. (His OD&D Setting PDF, which I blogged about here on Yore, is a marvelous example of this — and a great read.)

His comparison of S&W to OD&D got me thinking about my favorite flavor of D&D, Moldvay/Cook (B/X) (paid link), and its closest OSR analog, Labyrinth Lord. I wondered whether or not they differed in the area of dungeon stocking, and I realized I wasn’t sure — I’d just assumed they were pretty much identical.

But what if they weren’t? What if B/X and LL diverged in the same way as OD&D and S&W, or in a different subtle-but-significant way? Let’s take a peek.

Dungeon stocking

Both B/X and LL sum up dungeon stocking in one chart (plus a bit of explanatory text nearby), making them easy to compare. Here’s page X53’s chart from the Expert Set above page 124’s chart from LL.

They both use the same four categories: monster, trap, special (which LL calls “unique”), and empty. They also both employ two die rolls: d6 followed by d6 in B/X, and d% followed by d% in LL. LL’s chart is a bit cleaner, both because it uses percentages (which I find more intuitive to assess than fractions) and because of its layout.

Room contents

Broadly speaking, the percentages for room contents are about the same — except in one case:

  • Monster: 33.33% chance in B/X, 30% chance in LL
  • Trap: 16.67% in B/X, 15% in LL
  • Special/Unique: 16.67% in B/X, 25% in LL
  • Empty: 33.33% in B/X, 30% in LL

The chance of a room being empty or having a monster in it are close enough to identical to call them the same — about 30%. Ditto the chance of a trap, about 15%.

What’s different is the chance of a special/unique room, 1 in 6 for B/X vs. 1 in 4 for LL. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s a difference.

What about the chance of treasure?


Here are the percentages for the chance of treasure being present in each system:

  • Monster: 50% chance in B/X, 50% chance in LL
  • Trap: 33.33% in B/X, 30% in LL
  • Special/Unique: Undefined in B/X, “Variable” in LL — essentially the same thing
  • Empty: 16.67% in B/X, 15% in LL

For all practical purposes, those percentages are identical.


B/X D&D and Labyrinth Lord are essentially the same game with respect to dungeon stocking, the chance for a given room to be empty or otherwise, and the chance for there to be treasure in the room.

The only meaningful difference is that you’re somewhat more likely to encounter a special/unique room in LL than you are in B/X (and, consequently, slightly less likely to have the other possible contents come up).

To me, this is evidence of a shared design goal: Give the players a meaningful choice when it comes to seeking out treasure. Which makes sense, because both systems share the same XP methodology: 1 XP for 1 GP, plus XP for monsters, with the bulk of your XP coming from gold.

Dungeon rooms with monsters in them are more likely to have treasure than any other types of room, but you have to deal with the monster (which is itself worth XP). Empty rooms have the lowest chance of yielding treasure, which makes searching them — and expending resources in the form of time, torches, and wandering monster checks — risky in and of itself, but if you’re lucky you find unguarded treasure.

LL incentivizes the same style of play as B/X, which is a testament to its clarity of purpose as a B/X retroclone.

I also like that the one real difference, special rooms, would give an LL-designed dungeon its own flavor when compared to a B/X-designed dungeon. The party would run into a couple more special rooms, and special rooms are neat. There’s a philosophical difference there, albeit a subtle one.

Old school Zines

Matt Jackson’s guide to making zines

This step-by-step guide to printing, folding, and trimming zines by Matt Jackson is full of hard-won tips from the trenches. Things like adding “stops” to your long stapler with rubber bands to save time, and using a bone folder to fold the pages; I’d never heard of a bone folder before reading Matt’s post.

The Bone Folder. It sounds stupid but you MUST have one of these. Initially I refused to pay a couple of bucks for a simple piece of plastic, but boy was that stupid. I tried a few other things that appeared to be similar that I found around the house but there is some sort of voodoo magic used in the making of these things.

Tips like this one seem like things that could save wasted time, ink, and paper:

When folding especially thick paper or a thick book I break up the pages into small batches. As many pieces of paper fold, they don’t always line up correctly and you end up with terrible edges. Folding them in smaller groups makes the lines much better.

He even uses a corner rounder, which I don’t think I’ve seen on a zine before. I’ve seen rounded corners on little non-zine booklets, but I assumed that was a print shop sort of thing.

It’s hard for me to write about zines without wanting to try my hand at them, and Matt’s post makes it all sound pretty doable. I like zines, I like making stuff, I like quirky gaming supplements — zines live right at the intersection of All That Ave. and But You Don’t Need Another Project St. But it’s tempting! And Matt’s guide looks like an excellent starting point.

Old school

You too can ooh-ess-arr

After seeing the killer glam/KISS OSR logo that Stuart Robertson designed, I thought it’d be fun to make a variant with an umlaut (because metal, and because changing the pronunciation is funny), in purple (because I love purple).

Stuart shared the link for the font, Die Nasty (which is free for most uses, but do check the license), so I knocked this together.

If you’d like to use this logo, just conform to the terms of the Die Nasty font license and you’re all set. (If you want to attribute the logo to me, with a link here, that’d be awesome — but it’s not required.)

It resizes pretty cleanly, but if you’d prefer to recreate it and fiddle with stuff, just install the font and you’re off and running. (I adjusted the kerning in Word, and then a bit more in MS Paint, in order to get the “S” centered.)

Old school Tabletop RPGs Zines

Zine roundup: Wormskin #1

Is it a “roundup” if there’s only one issue? I don’t know, but I want to blog about Wormskin anyway! I’m still feeling out my approach to zine posts; this one turned into more of a full-blown review.

Wormskin is a brand-new OSR zine by Greg Gorgonmilk and Gavin Norman, available on DriveThruRPG (paid link) in both print and PDF.

The blurb on the back cover gives you a good idea of what Wormskin is all about:

WORMSKIN explores the mythic forest called Dolmenwood, a setting for use with BX campaigns or similar tabletop systems. Each issue will look at various elements of this eldritch realm situated on the leafy verges of Faerie, where austere Drunes rub elbows with weird elf-lords and talking beasts, where witches wander skyclad and armed with sinister magicks to bind the spirits of hapless adventurers. Be wary.

The first issue of Wormskin both teases and delivers. It teases because I’m left wanting to know much more about Dolmenwood and its inhabitants. There’s also a great little hex map absolutely covered in teasers: Manse of Lord Malbleat, Fort Vulgar, Prigwort — I want to know more!

I’ve never done much with Faerie, or related realms, in my D&D games, and Dolmenwood begs to be dropped into a game as a tone-changing surprise. I’m excited for future issues.

But it also delivers, because what’s on offer is excellent:

  • The moss dwarf species/class is just superb. It’s weird and funny and spooky and a little bit nuts, and it makes a great emissary for Dolmenwood. They’re plant-like, with associated traits: patches of lichen growing on their bodies, chest hair made of parsley, that sort of thing. They also get randomly determined knacks, my favorite of which is “nose wise” — at 7th level, the dwarf can smell subterfuge.
  • Mushrooms! I’ve always loved fungi in D&D, and the d30 fungus table is awash in splendid examples. Like cuckoo puke, which looks like a blob of slime, drab grey in color; smells sour; tastes like fish; and is psychoactive, anthropomorphising everything around you while its effects linger. The rest of the table is just as good.
  • Grimalkins are another species/class, cat-folk who are one part Cheshire Cat and one part folklore. They don’t grab me quite as much as moss dwarfs, but based on what this issue reveals about Dolmenwood they feel right at home there.
  • Closing out this issue is a monster, the root thing. Root things are “humanoid root vegetables which emerge from the soil in autumn to hunt hapless humans and demi-humans. Eyeless and mouthless, root things [hunt] by scent alone and drag their victims beneath the earth to be digested over the winter months, entwined in roots.” If the movie Labyrinth dropped acid, the root thing would be in it.

The moss dwarf article also includes my favorite illustration in issue #1, this piece by Andrew Walter:

There’s a unity of vision and purpose to Wormskin — it’s clear that Greg and Gavin know what’s coming, and are as jazzed about sharing it as I am about reading it. While the look is polished, the overall feel of the issue is rawlished: The creative vision behind Dolmenwood is uniquely quirky, and it feels like something the authors would have written even if no one else was going to read it.

If that sounds like your tub of monkskull[1] jam, pick up a copy of Wormskin #1 (paid link) .

[1] Another mushroom from the fungus article!

DCC RPG Old school Tabletop RPGs Zines

Zine roundup: Crawl!, issues 1-11

Crawl! (also available on DriveThruRPG; paid link) is a DCC RPG fanzine designed and published by Dak Ultimak, with a rotating cast of writers (which often includes Dak). I recently snagged the full run, and this zine is really, really well conceived and executed. It’s rawlished — both raw and polished at the same time, which is a balance I enjoy in zines. And it’s hard to pull off!

Crawl! also pairs well with Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, the subject of my first zine roundup.

The Crawl! blog lists the contents of every issue, so I’m not going to do that. Instead, here’s my favorite thing from each issue (it was often hard to choose just one!):

  • Issue 1: The last article in this issue is a gem: spell conversion rules for non-DCC spells, in just two digest-size pages. Want to port a D&D spell into DCC, or play a D&D character in a DCC campaign? Boom. Spells are covered. (Special mention: the spell “Snafufubar,” new in this issue.)
  • Issue 2: “Be Prepared,” which covers new equipment, is a gem. DCC pricing, and flavor, for everything from lodging to bow drills to lutes to glass eyes (for those inevitable funnel-related manglings) — all in two pages. I’d love to see this folded together with the core book’s equipment list.
  • Issue 3: “Magic Wand,” a multi-page spell that enables the caster to create a kickass wand, is a strong choice, but it’s edged out by “Let’s Get Familiar,” which expands the options for familiars to include floating tesseracts, stained-glass butterflies, and crawling hands.
  • Issue 4: The entirety of issue #4 is an adventure, the highlight of which is its monsters. They include venomous deathwolves, door frame mimics, and living flesh mounds. The latter are particularly gruesome: They have a chance to absorb victims’ limbs on a successful attack.
  • Issue 5: I dropped “Quickie Wandering Monster Tables” straight into my DCC campaign, resisting my inclination to build my own charts by terrain type in favor of doing nothing and using Jeff Rients’ excellent work instead.
  • Issue 6: I’m not big on new classes, and this is the new class issue…but the gnome is great. Gnomes are illusionists, and they get a Trick Die added to their spellcasting that makes it less likely their spells will fail. They can also cast sturdy illusions, which become tangible, and scripted — triggered or time-based — illusions. Neat!
  • Issue 7: Kirin Robinson’s article “Lost in Endless Corridors” takes a hard, sharp look at including mazes in games, why they often suck, and how to make them not suck.
  • Issue 8: This one’s all about guns, and while the gun rules themselves are slick and very DCC, “Invasion!” is awesome. It’s a toolkit for introducing firearms into your game by way of alien invaders. The invaders might be rum-soaked Napoleonic soldiers who came through a wormhole and crave your blood, or they might be demons from across the sea, staves barking fire, who hunt you like game. This is one of my favorite articles out of the entire Crawl! run to date.
  • Issue 9: Like issue #4, this one’s all adventure — the 0-level funnel “The Arwich Grinder.” It starts with weird redneck hillfolk and winds up in madness and giant, invisible babies and cannibalism. It’s fantastic.
  • Issue 10: #11 is classes again, but these grab me more — they’re alternate species-based classes. The dwarven priest is my favorite, managing to feel both very D&D and very DCC, with Mighty Deeds, divine aid, and the ability to smell treasure.
  • Issue 11: “Fantastic Forms of Sea Ship Propulsion and Their Congenital Complications” is a great article, offering up ships powered by moonlight, pulled by giant eels, or with wind-wraiths filling their web-like sails.

I also dig Crawl!’s covers, particularly these three.

(Scott Ackerman)

(Mitchell Hudson)

(Mario T.)

I’d heard nothing but good things about Crawl!, and it doesn’t disappoint. My “blind buy” of the full run (about $3-$5 per issue) was well worth it. Highly recommended!

Old school Tabletop RPGs

Hill Cantons and Building Dynamic Sandboxes

Chris Kutalik has been running his marvelous-sounding Hill Cantons campaign for seven years, and blogging — with clarity and vigor — about his experiences along the way. I love reading about sandbox and hexcrawl games, and Chris knows his stuff. (He’s also published several books, three of which — Slumbering Ursine Dunes [paid link], Fever-Dreaming Marlinko [paid link], and Hill Cantons Compendium II [paid link]– are currently winging their way to me.)

His series on dynamic sandboxes is a fantastic read:

  1. Building Dynamic Sandboxes Part I
  2. Building Dynamic Sandboxes Part II
  3. Building Dynamic Sandboxes Part III

Here’s the core premise, from the first post in the series:

Often providing dynamism is just a matter of thinking through after a session ends how the various pieces of your sandbox (the machinations/reactions of NPCs high and low, what an in-game activity like a massive treasure haul did to change a base settlement, etc) are organically pushed and pulled by players (and other actors), but it helps immensely to develop a range of tools and habits to give it depth and consistent motion.

Also from the first post, this gem is half of Chris’ technique for making wandering encounter tables (already a fantastic piece of worldbuilding tech) more dynamic:

Adding a variable New Developments slot that is basically a place holder for a special encounter tied to either a recent news event or an action that the party takes. A concrete example is that there has been a recent invasion by horse-nomads (kozaks) just to the north. If that slot is hit on the chart the party will hit something that has to do with event, maybe it’s a patrol by the local militia, foraging stragglers from the horde, deserters etc.

If that sounds like your jam, check out the whole series. They’re quick reads, but dense with inspiration and ideas.

Old school Tabletop RPGs

Hexmancer update and extended example

Thanks to a great question from Rogue Prismatic Golem on G+, I’ve updated Hexmancer to version 1.1. This version includes clearer language for the d24 roll, the d20 roll, and the Byways and Waterways section, plus a new logo. (The logo font is Hexatus, by Koczman Bálint.)

I also thought it would be a good idea to share a extended example of Hexmancer in use, so I grabbed the five dice it employs and printed out a sheet of numbered hex paper.

Hexmancer in action

For this example, I made 12 Hexmancer rolls, pausing to draw results on the map between each roll — but first, I seeded the map. I apologize in advance for subjecting you to my “artwork.”

Seed the map of Examplehawk

I added a village to the map, picked a terrain type for that hex (plains), included a trail because I figure the village has to be connected to something, and seeded three rumored dungeons out in the wilderness. (The map appears in Roll 1.)

For purposes of this example, I’m not going to check for random encounters or see if the party gets lost, and I’m not going to create features if any are rolled — I’m just showing you Hexmancer. I’m also actually rolling dice — and not manipulating the results — because rolling dice is fun and I want to use this example as a proof of concept.

Roll 1

The PCs are in the village in hex 1208, which is in a borderlands region of Examplehawk. They decide to check out the rumored dungeon to the south (down). The villagers tell them the trail heads in that direction, so they follow the trail.

  • d30: 6
  • d24: 6
  • d20: 10

Their origin hex is plains, so I look at the Plains column in Hexmancer. A 6 gives me plains as the terrain type for the new hex.

They’re in a borderlands region, and they’re following a trail, so I check the fourth row in the d24 table (the third row is borderlands, the fourth is borderlands while on a byway/waterway). I needed a 1-4 to get a feature, and rolled a 6 — no feature. Because there’s no feature, I ignore the d20 roll.

But I also know the trail continues into the new hex, so I’m going to use Byways and Waterways (Hexmancer, p. 2) to see where it leads. I use option 2 (“Party is following the feature”) and just roll a d5 to see where the trail exits the new hex.

I rolled a 4, so I count 4 hex sides clockwise from the origin side and draw in the trail. It exits into hex 1109, to the southwest.

Here’s the map with my new hex added.

Roll 2

Seeing that the trail seems to be heading in the right direction, the party stays on the trail. (From here on, I won’t show you my rolls, I’ll just list them and show you the map.)

  • d30: 29
  • d24: 10
  • d20: 1

Exiting a plains hex, a 29 gives me mountains. They’re still following the trail and we’re still in the borderlands, so a 10 on the d24 roll doesn’t generate a feature. I ignore the d20 roll again.

Using option 2 in Byways and Waterways, I roll a d5 and get a 2. The trail will exit hex 1109 into hex 1110.

Roll 3

The party presses on, following the trail through the mountains into hex 1110.

  • d30: 29
  • d24: 24
  • d20: 6

Looking at the Mountains column for the d30 roll, a 29 gives me plains. No feature again, so I ignore the d20 roll and move on to the trail. I get a 3 for the trail, so it’s going to exit into hex 1111.

Roll 4

The PCs continues on into hex 1111, still following the trail.

  • d30: 24
  • d24: 5
  • d20: 2

24 on the d30 roll yields hills. 5 on the d24 comes soooo close to generating a feature (needed a 4), but doesn’t. I get a 2 for the trail, so it’ll exit into hex 1112.

Roll 5

(In true “live TV” fashion, starting around this point my phone didn’t actually take a bunch of pictures I thought it had taken. You may notice ghostly terrain in unexplored hexes going forward — that’s me backtracking through the finished map, erasing things so I could retake photos for earlier rolls.)

The party decides to leave the trail and head southwest, straight for the dungeon in hex 1012.

  • d30: 24
  • d24: 7
  • d20: 10

Another 24 on the d30 roll, but since the hex they’re leaving is hills I look at the Hills column: a 24 is plains. No feature, again.

This time they’re not following the trail, though, so I glance at Byways and Waterways again. Option 3 (“Party isn’t following the feature”) notes that I only need to worry about the trail if its origin side connects to the hex they’re entering, which it doesn’t.

The dungeon looted, the party decides to head back to the village, buy supplies, and go for the dungeon in hex 1609, to the east. They follow “known” hexes the whole way, so I don’t need Hexmancer again until they decide to leave hex 1208, the village.

Roll 6

When they leave the village, there’s no trail to follow and they go straight for hex 1308.

  • d30: 15
  • d24: 4
  • d20: 10

Leaving a plains hex, 15 on the Plains column makes the new hex plains as well. A 4 on the d24 roll would have generated a feature on the first four example rolls, but now they’re in borderlands and not following a trail.

Roll 7

They head for hex 1409, to the southeast.

  • d30: 8
  • d24: 8
  • d20: 11

That’s plains, no feature, and ignore the d20 roll.

Roll 8

Not knowing anything else about the map, the absence of a trail leads me to decide that the PCs are now in a wilderness region.

  • d30: 24
  • d24: 7
  • d20: 12

Those rolls give me hills, but no feature.

Roll 9

  • d30: 12
  • d24: 12
  • d20: 17

Hills, no feature (other than the dungeon).

Roll 10

The party makes it out of that dungeon, too, and returns to the village via a known route. The next Hexmancer roll will be made from the village, hex 1208, heading towards the dungeon in hex 0806.

  • d30: 2
  • d24: 14
  • d20: 6

Back to borderlands, no trail, and leaving a plains hex, so that roll gets me a plains hex with no features.

Roll 11

They head into hex 1007.

  • d30: 23
  • d24: 9
  • d20: 15

23 on the Plains column is woods; still no features.

Roll 12

Hex 0906 has a feature! Also, the party is in wilderness again.

  • d30: 25
  • d24: 1
  • d20: 19

The terrain here is swamp, and a 1 on the d24 roll would be a feature in any type of region. I look at the first row on the d24 table (for wilderness, not on a byway/waterway) and see that this gives a -2 modifier to the d20 roll.

With the d20 roll (19) now a 17, instead of a getting a village (the 19 result), I get a castle. I could make one up or pull a pregenerated castle out of any number of books; easy peasy.

At this point I assume the party would decide what to do about the castle (or vice versa!), so I’ll stop the example here.


I rolled up 12 hexes using Hexmancer, including a mix of borderlands, wilderness, on-trail, and off-trail rolls. The average chance of rolling a feature across those four rows on the d24 table in Hexmancer is around 13%, or about 1 hex out of 8. Statistically, my one roll that resulted in a feature is about right.

Is it “right,” though? I’m going to sleep on that, but it seems about right for the style of campaign I had in mind when I designed Hexmancer. There would also have been random encounters, at least a couple checks to see if the party got lost, and the fallout from both of those things.

Features are fun, though, and the balance depends on your specific group and campaign — if you want more features, just change the d24 table. You could also seed the map with more stuff, which I’ll be doing tonight for my DCC campaign, probably to the tune of three or four villages and a similar number of features.

After 12 hexes, I’m also left with some interesting questions — and more importantly, so are the players. For example:

  • Where does the trail to the south go?
  • Why is there a castle next to a dungeon?
  • Why is the castle built in a swamp? (Cue Monty Python reference.)
  • What else is out there?

I also see that the terrain in Examplehawk is pretty diverse, but not unrealistically so (at least, not for the value of realistic that I care about for gaming).

Lastly, I should note that it took me much longer to write about each hex here than it did to generate them. After a few rolls, things like “d30 roll under 16 = same terrain” became second nature, and I didn’t even have to check Hexmancer to know the results.

If you have questions or feedback about Hexmancer, I’d love to hear them!