The sun is shining, so what better excuse than to run a demonstration of the point-crawl procedures I’ve been working on for Vaults of Vaarn #3? Join me on a procedurally generated journey into a thirsty, sun-baked blue desert…
So the first thing we do is drop a bunch of dice onto a page. I’m using the standard array here – d4 through d20 – although you can use any combination of dice you like, with the understanding that only using d6s will limit the results quite a bit. Here’s our starting point:
Having dropped our dice, we proceed to draw circles around them, note down the number on each dice, and join every circle to its neighbours with lines. The circles are locations in the desert; the lines represent the quickest travel routes. Bear in mind this is producing an abstract map of the region, not an exact one. Having done so, our page looks like this:
The next step is to look up what type of location each circle represents. I’m also going to calculate travel distances. Currently this involves rolling d6, 2d6, or 3d6 depending on how far apart the points look to be. This results in (mostly) reasonable on-foot travel times. Finally, I roll d20 a few times to get the general landscape of each part of the map. We get this:
We’ve got a few identifiable sub-regions now. The northern part of the region is riddled with caves, has a salt pan, and is host to a ruin. The middle part of the region is low hills, and has a vault as its most interesting location. The southern lands of this region are garbage-strewn wastelands, but interestingly they contain an oasis (which is where civilisation will be hanging on, probably).
Interesting start. Now it’s time to refer to the random generators for each type of location, and delve a bit deeper into the specifics. We’re going to start with the Ruin. I get a Bat-infested Cube, which was originally a Farm Array, and then served as a Barracks, but is now Deserted. The ruin’s extra feature is that it contains a Wild Animal Nest (something I think we already covered from the bats part).
The Wreck turns out to be an Autarch’s Pleasure Barge, which crashed due to Faulty Mechanisms. It is now Riddled With Holes. Interestingly, it was carrying a cargo of Embryos when it crashed.
Finally, the monster lair in this northern area turns out to be a foul nest of Walking Wombs! I wonder if there’s some connection here with the embryo cargo? There has to be right? I’m guessing these bio-terrors have sprouted from the genetic material that was being carried on the barge (but for what purpose?)
Here’s how the northern map looks now:
Ok, time to do the middle of the map. Here we have a Vault, an underground ruin. This turns out to be a Hidden Reservoir, which you can enter through a Functional Escalator. The entrance-way is Choked with Ancient Corpses, and the vault is home to a Cacklemaw Den! The Cacklemaw turn out to be sworn to Mama Yawningfool, and fight with poisoned spears. They are willing to trade for drugs, however. Interesting location.
We also have another Wreck, which turns out to be a Crashed Satellite. The satellite was carrying a cargo of Holy Relics (??), but it has been looted now. Confusingly it was wrecked because of bandits. How did bandits crash a satellite? I always try to make narratives even from the weirder results, so I think they might have brought it down using a powerful traction beam. I presume they went to all this effort to steal the relics on board the satellite (for what purpose though?). Weird. If I was using this for a campaign seed I might think about making these bandits into their own faction.
Here’s our middle-map now:
Now we have to do the southern garbage wastes. We have an Oasis here. It turns out to be comprised of Algae-choked Waters, surrounded by Looming Rocks and Ruined Buildings. The residents are Faa Nomads, and a Famous Musician. The custom at the oasis is that it is Ruled by Chance.
The Faa nomads have their own sub-table, as their camps can appear as a location on their own. These nomads are led by an Argumentative Couple, have Spare Livestock but really want Meat (a bit weird), and are in a Boastful mood. A roll on their Drama generator gives us Clan Leader’s Spouse, Adultery, and Skilled Tracker. Spicy! Seems like all those arguments are taking a toll on the marriage.
The lair in this region is a den of phthalo-jackals, not a hugely threatening monster to be honest, so I don’t see them affecting the politics of the region much. They might attack a lone traveller but I’d imagine the Faa have them pretty well in hand.
Our southern region looks like this:
Next we need to make an encounter table for the region. I think eight entries is pretty good. Four of them are obvious: we already have the Faa nomads, Cacklemaw, Phthalo-jackals, and Walking Wombs, so they all go onto the table. I’ll fill out the other slots with some of the new monsters from Issue 3’s bestiary. We end up with this:
We’re really close to being done now. I roll to find out where the region’s name originates, and discover that it’s named after a Famous Resident. The only famous person we’ve heard about is the musician at the oasis, so I decide this region is named after them. My Vaarnish name generator gives me Atric, so I decide the oasis, and by extension everything around it, is referred to as Atric’s Rest.
Here’s the full map:
Not bad for about half an hour of rolling dice, I think. We’ve got a few factions, some trouble brewing at the oasis, and a couple of obvious adventure sites (the Cacklemaw’s underground reservoir sounds like a dungeon if I ever heard of one, and the ruined farm array probably has something worth looting as well).
We can also get some story seeds, if we’re really stuck. We find that a Wandering Musician wants to Divorce a Bandit King, and Blackmail will be involved in this narrative. Interesting. Is this musician Atric from the oasis, or someone else? Why are they married to a bandit king? Who is blackmailing who (and what could someone even know that would allow them to blackmail a bandit king?!)
Perhaps the Faa nomads are the bandits? The bandit king could be their leader, having the affair with the skilled tracker? Or is this something to do with the other group, who crashed the satellite full of holy relics? Lots to consider here.
I’m going to leave this here for now. The map we drew up is pretty ugly, but it would let me run the start of a small sandboxy campaign if I spent a little longer teasing out some of the threads. Some people who reviewed the first issue said they thought it needed an experienced GM to make the tables into something playable (a totally fair assessment), so this is my attempt to give users a framework to get something gameable out of all the material.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention that the first two Vaarn zines are back in stock at my Big Cartel store, in case anyone wanted to buy them from me.