... now with 35% more arrogance!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Last-Minute Hexcrawl: Kingdom-Scale Terrain

Step One of the Last-Minute Hexcrawl process set up all the details we don't need to actually draw on a map. In Step Two, we will be drawing on the first of three maps to set up the general lay of the land. The Kingdom Scale map is large enough to represent an entire (small) kingdom and its borderlands; 30-league hexes representing 5 days travel are good for this scale. You will need to know which direction is inland, defined as "away from the large bodies of water off-map" (rolled with 3d8 in Step One.)

In the previous step, we rolled 2d4 to determine the number of terrain features. In theory, you could then roll that many times, once for each feature, on some table... but I thought about this for a while and settled on a way to roll all the features at once. You will need:
2 to 8 d10s (one per feature)
4d4 of one color, 4d4 of another color
Roll these all at once in a large, clear space. Each d10 is the "center" of a terrain blob, as described in the blobs and lines post, and the d6s define the shape and size. The d4s define rivers. The d10 table below (which should probably be merged with the one in Step One) interprets what each terrain blob is.

d10 RollTerrain Type
1Cliff* (sudden change in elevation)
2Wet* (increase in water)
3Thicker Vegetation
5Lower Ground
8Higher Ground
9Gently Rolling*

The default terrain is assumed to be a gradual increase in elevation as you head inland, with very minor dips and mounds. A "Cliff" result means a sudden increase in elevation by up to 100 feet. A "Wet" result is a marsh or swamp when combined with "Flat" or a waterfall when combined with "Cliff" or "Mountain". The "Higher Ground" and "Lower Ground" results indicate significant hills or depressions, except when combined with results marked with an asterisk.
  • Cliffs are either taller than normal (Higher Ground) or drop off into a crater/chasm (Lower Ground).
  • Wet Lower Ground is a lake or other body of water. If a Wet Low terrain blob is near the edge of a map that leads to an off-map body of water, this can be a bay that leads to the sea.
  • Flat Higher or Lower Ground indicates a steep slope that levels off as you move inland.
  • Mountains or Gently Rolling hills are taller when combined with Higher ground; Lower Ground creates a deep valley nestled between mountains or hills.
If two terrain blobs of the same type overlap, the overlapping area is more extreme (higher mountain, deeper chasm, thicker vegetation.)

Each set of d4s defines a river. The mouth of the river is a d4 that lands closes to one of the off-map large bodies of water. The source of the river is either the opposite point inland or the closest mountain/hill to the d4 that lands furthest inland. If any lakes were created by a terrain blob, any river that runs close to the lake will detour through it. Any vegetation close to a river will extend along the side of the river as well. If a river runs through a blob of higher elevation, it cuts a canyon. It will also in general change course when it runs close to terrain of lower elevation, flowing downhill.

Default vegetation is grassy, adjusted up or down on the following scale:

+2 Thick Forest/Jungle
+0Grasslands with Sparse Trees
 -1Semi-Arid (brush or scrub)
 -2Arid (sparse vegetation)
 -3Very Arid (no vegetation)

"Thicker Vegetation"  and "Wet" each shifts non-arctic regions up +1 on the scale. Terrain on the inland side of a mountain, or any High elevation in non-temperate areas, subtracts
  • -1 for sub-arctic/sub-tropical
  • -1 for Sandy or Rocky
  • -1 per mountain range between region and body of water (double if High)
  • -2 for arctic/tropical
You could, of course, simplify this and just make every Sandy area in Sub-Tropical/Sub-Arctic climates into deserts, not bothering with the other variations. Also, if ridges or canyons are more important than rivers, you can use the d4 sets to represent lines of higher or lower elevation, or even add one or two sets of 4d8 to define elevation profiles, using the results on the elevation table from Step One.


  1. I've been playing with this kind of total random creation recently too, but not at the whole realm level like this and not with so many elements. As usual, your approach is a very persuasive one and I actually want to give it a go just for the fun it looks. It has pretty much everything - the sensory pleasure of rolling so many dice, the scope of the unknown, the creative interpretation and the fine mechanical details to ponder.

    The only way I can think I would tinker with it now is to roll the rivers first, have the d10s near the sources default to high ground and have those in close proximity be modified or interpreted based on land and channel form nearby. The results on the d4s could be used for this too, with the size of the number representing the height of the land around and influencing the later blobs, possibly - on, say, a 5+ - with the 1s being the centres of large bodies, i.e. lakes or seas, either by rolling extra blobs or converting the first or nearest blobs to the same.

    I don't comment here much, but I read more or less all of what you post and - for what it's worth - I'm usually very inspired. I think you're doing us a lot of good and moving things into new spaces. You're out there at the limits of the possible while still at the heart of the game.

    1. Thanks! I'm considering a rewrite of Step One and Step Two, but I plan to finish what I started first before revising anything. I wasn't considering changing the order of terrain vs. rivers, but it's something I'll keep in mind.