I’ve enjoyed using Rory’s Story Cubes for all kinds of inspiration for my RPG and storytelling games. Typically, I’ve used them to help me with adventure design and NPCs. I’ve also used them for my solo RPG projects as well. I currently own the Original set as well as Voyages and Actions and they are worth having in your GM toolbox.
I love coming up with ways to randomly generate adventures, NPC’s, locations, etc. This weekend I had the fun idea to use the Story Cubes to randomly generate a fantasy map. I ran a test run just to see if my idea was valid and was thrilled with the results. So, in order to better illustrate how to do this I decided to build a map entirely from scratch and show you how to do it.
First off, you will need to pick up a set of Rory’s Story Cubes. They can be found online and at department stores like Target and Walmart. They are a set of 9 dice with graphical images on them.
Next get a blank sheet of paper which will be your map, a pencil, a good eraser, and a notebook or scrap paper. You might also want some fabric like a towel or maybe do the rolls on a carpeted floor to keep the dice from bouncing too badly. I did the example below on a hardwood coffee table and, as you will see, everything worked out just fine!
The process is simple and relies on your creativity working with the images that come up on the Story Cubes. Take 3 or more Story Cubes and roll them over your blank piece of paper. If you want, you can throw down some initial shorelines or draw the outline of an island before you roll. Don’t add too much though because you want a blank canvas to work from. Wherever the dice happen to land on the paper is where the geographical feature or marker will be placed on your map. If a die goes off the paper don’t worry about it. Use the image with your imagination to let it spark a geographical feature or a village or a dungeon or… whatever. For speed, use the first thing that pops into your mind.
Do this over several rolls and fill in features and details with your pencil each time where the dice land. This will build the map up slowly.
After several rolls you may see areas that are blank and where the dice have not landed. Feel free to grab a few dice and toss them directly into that area to generate something there. You may also start to get a feel for where a river may be or a lake or a woodland. Go ahead and add them in as you go. Keep all your notes and lines on the map light and sketchy. You can go back over with ink later but for now, keep it all flexible.
If a Story Cube lands on a geographical feature you’ve already determined with a previous roll think about adding it as an extra detail or perhaps moving over to one side or another. This can happen quite a bit in the center of the map since this is where you will initially aim the dice. As the layers of the map build, look for connections and ideas as to how it might work out in the world on the map. With about 6 to 8 rolls you should be at a point where you can pause and take a look at your handiwork.
At that point things should be sufficiently laid down for you to begin working on the map. If not, keep rolling and placing. Eventually, things will start to click and you will know when you are finished.
For an extended example, see the link for Part 2 below which is a detailed (and lengthy) write-up of how I used the process through 7 rounds of rolling. You’ll get to see how I went through each roll, worked with the symbols that came up and how my map ended.