Thoughts (#12)

One word: table-mania. More words: I am so tired of writing adventures.

What if it were possible to just roll up an adventure for Tiny d10? What about a campaign? What if everything could be easily done “on the fly”, and sessions could be, in many ways, as much a surprise to the GM as the players?

I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to make using TD10 easier. It seems the bottleneck for most tabletop systems – and this is especially true of lightweight systems – is game mastering, which often demands a significant investment of time and effort from GMs. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that – a lot of GMs enjoy that aspect. But for many of us, dungeon designing – not to mention world-building – can be slow, tedious, and susceptible to “scope creep” (I first became aware of this effect three-pages into a document describing the duplicitous religious mythology of the Blackwater lizardfolk – the instructed path and the secret, often counter, true path. This is arguably the most useless thing I’ve written to-date).

So, the question at hand is this one: how do I enable GMs to build quickly build a world, of any scale, using tools provided by the system, with minimal effort and maximal result? The answer, I believe, is in the question. It lies in the arrangement of data. The solution isn’t so much a functional one as a visual one. The tools are already there – they have been since 1974 – they just need to be assembled and ordered in the right way so as to reveal the proper flow of information.

To that end, I’m developing a workflow for creating crawls, adventures, and campaigns of any scale completely on the fly, and it looks a little something like this:

Step 1: A hex map, defined three hexes at a time. Each hex consists of a brief description of the terrain, a point of interest within it, and hooks and/or rumors. For example:

Hex 001: The Great Plain – A broad expanse of flat grassland that stretches as far as the eye can see, the Great Plain is a lonely and sparsely inhabited frontier. Large swaths of prairie-scrubbed earth are dwarfed by even larger, lapis-blue skies. The undulating golden sea of the endless plain is broken sharply in the north, where jagged black mountains rise abrupt and tall. Some years prior, rumors swirled about gold here, and a small caravan of dwarves struck out to test their mettle against the arid, empty expanse in search of it. They have been neither seen nor heard in nigh ten years, and very few dare now to venture across the Great Plain.

Step 2: Once a hex has been entered by PCs, it is then stocked using a wide array of tables.

Is there a settlement in the Great Plain? None known. But what about hidden settlements? Due to the sheer size of hexes, each hex has a 1-in-2 chance of harboring an undiscovered settlement. Here, should such a settlement exist, it would almost certainly belong to the gold-seeking dwarves. To determine their condition, roll 1d10: if 6 or higher, the caravan managed to find a foothold in the dangerous wilds, and built an uncharted settlement. Use the Settlement Table to randomly generate some details of their living conditions (alignment, appearance, commodities, size, etc).

Likewise, GMs can use the Random Treasure, Random Encounter, and Random Weather tables to generate more details at the hex-level. Each of these tables will contain a wide variety of content, and multiple sub-tables. For instance, the 1d00 Random Encounter Table won’t provide just combat encounters, but NPCs (sub-table), mysterious structures (sub-table), and openings into the earth (cavern/dungeon entry points).

Use of these tables will produce a single hex brimming with interesting, harrowing, and dangerous experiences that will challenge and intrigue the party as they cross the territory – and in just a few minutes, with only a handful of die rolls. And if the adventurers happen to pursue a northerly course, they may encounter that small caravan of dwarves: perhaps now having grown into a secretive society of gold-mad warlords, or having succumbed to the ills of the wild, now little more than bones and crumbling huts.

A similar process to the one described above will apply to spelunking/dungeoneering, enabling GMs to stock maps with monsters, traps, treasures and hooks to run PCs through on the fly.

If none of this sounds original, that’s because it isn’t. This is why tables exist, after all. The news here (table-mania) is that tables are going to play a much bigger part in upcoming adventures, and that their use will follow an informational flow that will optimize them for 1) limited adventure preparation, and 2) unrestricted improvisation.

I’m laying the foundation for this now, and that’s part of the reason for sharing these thoughts: I think best aloud. So, while I don’t have a timeline for the release of a functional workflow (there are a lot of tables in my future), I expect to focus exclusively on this after completing the monster manual (which I would start looking for a month or two from now). In the meantime, any ideas of what you might need to unleash your improvisational creativity as a GM? Let me know what you think – I’d be interested to hear where you’ve encounter pinch points in the system.

Quietly leaving this here (what I’m listening to while recording these thoughts).

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