Monday, September 12, 2011

Hex Mapping Part 15: Getting Random

Embracing the hex-map-as-improvisational-tool, we’ll want to develop other, similar tools as sort of utility-multipliers for it. The most traditional of these is the random table. And the most traditional random table is the wilderness wandering monster table. But there’s no reason to stop there. You can create random tables for all sorts of things, including:

  • unusual land formations.
  • results for hunting, fishing, and foraging.
  • disasters like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hail storms, etc.
  • weather.
  • frequency of and style of the ubiquitous defensive terrain the PCs will always want to camp in.
  • celestial phenomena like auroras, shooting stars, blood-red moons, etc.
  • bizarre animal behavior like birds trying to bury themselves or spontaneous sponge migrations.
  • magical effects, like magic being stronger or weaker, or rivers that steal your memories, or portals to other planes or other spots on the map.

There’s no need to go crazy here; none of these are mentioned in Cook’s Expert book, for instance, and so you can probably get along just fine without them. Still, if there’s any aspect that you consistently find yourself flummoxed on when the players ask about it, go ahead and make a table.

In my Doom & Tea Parties game, the PCs have been very careful to be well-supplied before leaving town, but they’re always asking me about the layout of their camp. A good random table simply helps me not repeat myself too often. Magic is extremely rare (so I don’t bother with a table of wacky magical effects or strange animal behavior, since anything the PCs see along those lines is extremely important and crafted to fit the situation) and the island of Dreng Bdan, like the one we’ve been building for this series of articles, is in the tropics, so the weather is fairly predictable (rain every day during the rainy season, hot the rest of the time).

The key to a good random table is to not put more than you need to inspire you on it. The more detailed the table is, the less flexible it is. Here’s the table I’ve been using to describe defensively-positioned campsites in the jungle:

Roll a d10 1d4 times on the following table.
1: water (stream, river, pond)
2: boulders
3: hollow tree (strangler fig)
4: fallen tree
5: thorn bushes
6: cliff or ledge
7: sink hole
8: quicksand
9: insects
10: tangle of vines.

By rolling on this table, I get a series of barriers that the PCs will use to guard one or more flanks of their camp. Some are potentially as dangerous to the PCs as they are to any attackers (like the insects or the stream if its inhabited by nixies), and I usually describe these features to the PCs to see if they want to accept the site or if they want to keep searching for something a bit safer.

It’s the combination of a random number of randomly generated features that keeps this list from looking like too much of the same thing over and over again. All of these are things you’d expect to find in a jungle, and so a certain amount of repetition is fine, even builds a sense of verisimilitude, but the combos are going to be unique enough to spur my own imagination when necessary. You may find your own imagination needs fewer or more details. As always, season to taste.


noisms said...

How often do you use "in media res" random encounters? For instance, results like "here is a dragon eating a deer", or "here there is a village where a wedding is going on", and things like that?

Ray K. said...

What program do you use for you map? I really like the way it came out but I can never find any decent/simple mapping programs.

trollsmyth said...

noisms: How often do you use "in media res" random encounters?

A lot! The way I run monsters is heavily influenced by Harryhausen movies.

When I get to talking more in-depth about monster encounter tables, I'll be sharing some monster-preoccupation tables I use sometimes to help me come up with what they're doing when the PCs encounter them.

trollsmyth said...

Ray K.: Thanks! I'm using Hexographer. It's very easy to use, which is exactly what I needed.