Categories
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?

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.

Conclusions

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.

Categories
Tabletop RPGs

Where to buy old gaming books and RPG products online

I buy most of my gaming books online, but there’s not much of an art to finding new, in-print stuff. Old, out-of-print books, on the other hand, are fun to hunt down. There are added complications, like condition, rarity, and perceived value, that make things interesting.

I collect gaming books, but I don’t collect for value and I don’t keep my books pristine — I buy them to use. I look for tight bindings and non-crushed boxes, but apart from that I don’t get too fussy about condition — if it’s going to bump around in my backpack, who cares if I need to tape the corners, or if it’s got stuff written in the margins?

I also don’t view collecting old RPG books as a competition, and I hope this post helps you find something awesome! Here’s a rundown on my favorite online haunts for old gaming books, including six options and tips about each of them.

Noble Knight and Wayne’s Books

These are my two go-to stores for OOP gaming stuff. Both Noble Knight Games and Wayne’s Books grade products accurately, ship promptly, pack orders extremely well, and offer great customer service. Shipping rates are reasonable, too.

The condition thing is big, too. I pass up lots of stuff elsewhere that might be perfectly good because the seller doesn’t do a good job telling me about it, and Wayne and NKG absolutely nail condition ratings.

With respect to value, both stores know when they’ve got something that’s worth some money — you’re not going to find a rare book on the cheap. For my personal level of price sensitivity, Noble Knight’s prices for rarer books often feel too high.

Both stores typically offer what I consider good prices on non-rare stuff, and since that’s usually what I’m after that works out nicely. They also both get new stuff in all the time, and I usually make a point of browsing around every month or two. (I hide my wallet when I do this, but it doesn’t seem to help!)

I’ve been happy with 100% of my orders from both stores, and I highly recommend them both.

Ebay and Amazon

In my experience, Ebay and Amazon (paid link) both tend towards either very high or very low prices for old gaming books. Amazon has the further complication of automated price-adjustment bots used by some third-party sellers, which jack up prices based on other sellers’ prices and result in what should be a $10 book getting listed for a thousand bucks.

Both are good options, but I don’t trust either of them as a snapshot of what to think a book should be worth. Searching closed auctions on Ebay is a great way to see what the market is willing to pay, though.

I tend to like Ebay best when I’m willing to wait patiently for a good price. I set up a search to notify me when new matches are listed, and I lurk. I generally ignore auctions, and stick to Buy It Now listings.

With Amazon, OOP stuff is always going to be from a third-party seller. I flat-out won’t buy a book that doesn’t have at least a few specific condition notes in its listing; big charity bookstores are the worst offenders here, using the same description across all their items.

Wayne’s Books also lists on Amazon, and I can usually tell when a listing is his: The write-up is detailed and accurate, and the price is fair. Noble Knight has most of their stock cross-listed on Ebay, too, but I usually just go direct.

Lastly, feedback is king. I only buy from folks with good feedback, and I’ve had very few problems over many, many years of shopping on Ebay and Amazon.

Gator Games and The Hit Pointe

When I can’t find a book at the four sites above, I try Gator Games and The Hit Pointe.

Gator just lists most stuff as “used,” but they’ll happily answer questions and give you a more specific condition rating if you ask. The stuff I’ve bought from them in “used” condition has been just fine, so I don’t ask anymore.

The Hit Pointe has a quirky and clunky website, but they occasionally have stuff I can’t find anywhere else. I always email them to see if something is actually in stock before I order.

Neither store is a go-to, but I’ve been happy with my experiences with both of them.

When in doubt, Google

If I don’t have a good idea what an old book is worth, I Google it. If I want to see if there are stores tucked away in the dark corners of the web who might have something these six sites don’t, I Google it. When I want to know why something is special, I Google it — and more often than not, I wind up reading an old GROGNARDIA post, so I should save some time and remember to just start there!

The Acaeum and Wayne’s Books RPG Reference are both great resources for figuring out if something is supposed to have maps or counters, which printing you want, etc. Googling a book usually pops them up pretty quickly, too.

And that’s it! Six sites and a bit of enjoyable research usually gets the job done for me.

That said, I guarantee I’m missing or overlooking other great options. If you have a favorite haunt or two, or tips to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Categories
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.

Categories
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!

Categories
B/X D&D D&D Dice Tabletop RPGs

How to reduce the value of a Moldvay Basic set by 50% in 7 easy steps

Step 1

Remove box from shelf.

Step 2

Open box.

Step 3

Remove sealed bag of dice from box.

Step 4

Cut open dice bag.

Step 5

Remove dice.

Step 6

Clean dice with soap and water to remove crayon residue.

Step 7

Ink dice with Sharpie.

Bonus step (optional)

Realize your white paint marker hasn’t come in the mail, and save the dark red d12 to ink later because you know black isn’t going to show up well.

Categories
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!

Categories
Dice Tabletop RPGs

Removing crayon from old-school precision-edge dice

I’ve discovered that if I’m careful I can de-ink — de-crayon, really — old precision-edge dice, then ink them anew with a Sharpie. My first real test of this was tonight, using the dice from my Cook Expert set. They’d been nicely crayoned years ago (by someone else), but crayon isn’t really my jam.[1]

Here are my Cook dice, all cleaned up and with the d6 re-inked:

Needle me, baby

I use a sewing needle (the kind with the little plastic ball on the butt end) to pick out the crayon. I start on the end of a number (any end), slip the needle in, and gently push forward while popping it up. Sometimes the whole number will just come right out in one piece; more often, it comes out in little bits after some poking around.

I do one pass, then massage the die under hot water (as hot as my hands can take), then do another pass with the needle, and then finally clean the dice with hand soap and hot water. I dry them off with a paper towel and let them sit for a couple of minutes. The whole process takes several minutes a die, and the smaller the numbers the harder they are to pick clean.

Per Jeff Rients’ excellent post on inking GameScience dice, I use an ultra-fine point Sharpie (paid link), which is a perfect fit for the grooves. So far, it’s fit both some GameScience dice I experimented with and these old TSR dice (which may have also been made by GameScience, I’m not sure).

I’ve found that the crayon doesn’t need to be 100% removed — just get as close to 100% as you can. The Sharpie will push around or cover over little flecks as you run it up and down the grooves.

The results

Here’s how my Cook dice turned out:

These Sharpies also come in a variety of colors (paid link), but not in white. In white, I can only find them as fine-point paint markers (paid link), not ultra-fine.

I’ve tried a few colors on gem dice, and they don’t show up at all. In the past, I’ve also used the white paint markers, and the points are just wide enough to spill over the edges of the grooves. I’m going to fiddle with some of those options as I acquire other precision-edge dice. If my fiddling is productive, I’ll post about it here.

[1] I find that crayon-inked dice look great at first, and I enjoy the actual inking process. But the crayon chips, rubs away, and gets banged up by the other dice in my bag, and over time that just kind of bugs me. I prefer a cleaner, more permanent solution. These won’t be perfect, and all of my favorite dice are all worn and dinged up in any case, but I can’t get past the crayon.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Postmortem

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!

Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs

Hexmancer: Procedural Hex Generation System

I needed a simple system for procedurally generating hexcrawl terrain and features, so I made one: Hexmancer. It’s two pages long, including design notes and acknowledgements, and you get to roll funky dice.

What it does

Hexmancer hexcrawls with your hexes, baby!

Hexmancer is designed to procedurally generate a fantasy borderlands/wilderness region in “fantasy Western Europe,” with occasional wasteland and weirdness, on the fly during play. It assumes that you’re placing dungeons/modules and perhaps a feature or two, but otherwise starting out with the PCs in a village surrounded by a blank hex map.

This 1.0 version has been through multiple drafts and rewrites, but hasn’t yet been tested in play.

(Update: I’ve now written up an extended example using 12 actual Hexmancer rolls, and I took that opportunity to tidy up some of the language and update the PDF.))

Other stuff you’ll need

You’ll need five dice: d5, d6, d20, d24, and d30. (The excellent, and free, Purple Sorcerer dice roller includes funky dice.)

Hexmancer will generate terrain, tell you when features are present, and determine what those features are — but you’ll need to create the actual features.

The recommended resources section used to be more robust, but I edited it in February 2020 after the current owner of Judges Guild turned out to be a massive fucking asshat.

Acknowledgements

Hexmancer is based on the system found in Wilderness Hexplore Revised, which was created by Jedo of the New York Red Box forums. The core “Terrain > Feature? > Feature” mechanic and the broad relationships between terrain types in Hexmancer owe the most to Jedo’s system.

If you use Hexmancer, I’d love to hear how it went!