Sunday, December 7, 2014

Random Adventure Design

Stonehell is currently the centerpiece adventure site in the Ever Expanding Sandbox, or at least the only site 'known' to the party. As I have posted before, I think its non-linear nature fits perfectly with the solo play concept, providing many different adventure paths depending on the whim of the dice. I have also identified a few smaller '1-page' dungeons that I have on standby as drop-ins should they be needed as a result from a random table. They don't necessarily have the size of Stonehell, but they are all non-linear with no set 'story', which I think is the more important characteristic. But one of the main goals of the EES, was to create adventures randomly or organically.

The EES is also known as "The Southern Isles". I'll talk more about it in a later post, but the original idea was to create a sandbox that had different 'themed' regions/areas to explore. But in addition to these distinct regions the map is dotted with many islands of different sizes (hence the name of the sandbox). The islands, along with the 'mainland' at the top of the map, provide the potential location for other adventure sites outside the 'themed' areas, e.g. desert, jungle, broken-land.

So back to the topic of the post, I wanted to develop a random adventure generation methodology which I could use to create dungeons/adventure sites that could be scattered across the various islands. But how to go about it?

I don't know exactly how much I have spent on OSR products in the 4-5 years since I first stumbled across the Grognardia blog, but I would say it is in the range of three grand. I really don't spend a lot of cash on anything else (other than bills, kids, wife's horses, etc), so my conscience is VERY clean when I plunk down some coin for a game-related product. And to be honest, I really like supporting the many creative folks out there in OSR land.

But of all the products which I have purchased, the Tome of Adventure Design (ToAD) is in my top three, if not my favorite purchase. I'm not going to review the product, but just let me say that if you don't already have it, get it!

In the very first pages of the ToAD you can find tables for generating titles for location-based adventures. This is only one of several different approaches for which tables are provided, but it's my favorite and certainly provides some colorful and evocative starting material. The titles use the "The blank blank of the blank blank" format.

So, what I do is to generate 4-5 titles using these d100 tables. An example below:

Roll 1: The Cursed Hut of the Rat Combiner 
Roll 2: The Triangular Outpost of the Dark Slitherer 
Roll 3: The Grey Coliseum of the Poisonous Witch 
Roll 4: The Deadly Cradle of the Elemental Demigod 

Not bad, I almost like 3 and 4 as is. Next I use the awesome Dungeon Words and Wilder Words tables to add further food for thought in coming up with the concept. So five rolls on each table give me the following to consider:

Pristine, Wizard, Settlement, Elemental, Hatch 
Hatch, Vats, Herbs, Sawdust, Guardian, Defiled 

Using these key words I play around with the titles until I get something that causes a spark…..

The Cursed Coliseum of the Combiner Witch 

I'm thinking of an island where an evil witch is doing vile things, a la Dr. Moreau. She creates abominations through black magic and has them fight in her 'coliseum'…. Using some of the key words above, maybe also the island has…

A wizard (outcast) who keeps herbs…good, a help to the party - maybe has a 'pristine' glade?
A settlement of barbarians who battle the witch's abominations….
A sawdust elemental guardian that roams the island - witch (wizard?) has lost control…
A defiled forest where all is corrupt
Hatches down to vats of vileness…

Just ideas, maybe things change as the idea gets fleshed out. To add further random, awesome goodness I think I'll pick 3-4 tables from the Dungeon Dozen which are appropriate to the concept and then roll for a few to stick in….

Some other working titles I have already created for the EES:

 The Ancient Hatchery of the Skeletal Princess (completed) 
The Deadly Crypt of the Sand Assassin (70% completed) 
The Obsidian Caverns of the Ice Ghouls (LOTS of ideas!)

For now I am using the above to create adventure locales/dungeons, fully fleshed out to be placed in the sandbox. But where I would ultimately like to get to is to use the ideas and concepts as generated with the above methodology to create tables for 'themed' random dungeon generation. I purchased Scweig's Themed Dungeon Generator and am playing around with this 'engine' for what I'd like to do. I really like the concept, but would like to flesh out with more tables, covering more details.

To be honest I have very little innate creativity. But let me tell you, I have no problem using, combining, borrowing, stealing, recycling, and reusing all the awesome things produced by the many creative geniuses out there in the OSR blogosphere!

Shoulders of giants and all that…


  1. If you are looking for random tables, Elfmaids & Octopi is definitely worth a look.

  2. Yeah, I'm a big fan of the blog. Lots and lots of tables bookmarked for later use. I've really enjoyed the recent Underdark-themed tables...