There and Back Again

It’s been a little quiet around here lately.  My apologies for that.  My time away was necessitated by a change in my employment.  The transition from old to new office space ended up taking many more “spoons” then I had planned.  Then, the following two months were pretty hectic and tiring in the new job as I had transitioned during the busiest and, some would say, worst time to do so.  However,  they say still waters run deep.  Although things were quiet here they were NOT quiet inside my head and with my thoughts about my goals for what I wanted to have happen here.

The time away gave me chance to think and re-assess a few things.  I managed to begin putting some creative pieces together and those pieces were part of a project which, at one point, had been planned for this space .  I just thought they would be further “down the road.”  Suddenly, I realized that “further down the road” was actually much more possible then I had, at first, realized.  The universe, always conspiring to prove me wrong in my hesitations, saw fit to gift me with some much needed equipment to confirm things.  This sealed the deal and made me more excited, adding fuel to my scheming.

Long story short?  Yes, I’ve been pretty busy over the last few months but I’ll be having an announcement next week.  The blog will be here and I have every intention in moving forward with the random map, the occasional advice/commentary post, etc.   If anything, this space will be getting a nice level up.

I’m excited to introduce the next phase on Tuesday evening, July 16th.  It will be here and on Twitter.  Thanks for coming along with me this far and I’m hoping that you will continue to join me in the next leg of the journey!


Map Creation with Rory Story Cubes – Part 2

Be sure to read Part 1 which covers what you need and the initial idea.

Follow the link above if you’re not sure what I’m talking about here.  The short version?  I’m using Rory Story Cubes to create a fantasy map at random!

Here is a detailed write-up of the process I used to generate a map with 7 rolls. I used all three of my Story Cubes sets and simply grabbed the cubes randomly from the pile. The amount varied on each roll from 8 to 3 Cubes.

I started with a blank piece of watercolor paper. I use the thicker paper for mapping in case I want to lay some watercolors down on a later date. You should use whatever you like or have laying around. (My first test runs were on lined notebook paper!) For this run, I threw in two coastlines on the Eastern and Western sides of the map and then started rolling Cubes!

Round 1

My first round was with 6 Cubes. After the roll, only 4 were still on the paper. I rolled, from left to right, a tower, a city or a temple, a set of scales and a pot of gold.

My eyes first went to the scales sitting right on the shoreline and in the little bay I had randomly sketched out. My first thought was a place of law and order. I went with a large walled city with rules and laws, possibly a bit conservative and strict. Right next to it was the pot of gold out just off the shoreline. That was easy. Obviously a ship wreck or some sort of sunken treasure just off the coast.

Next was the Cube with the towers featuring the Arabic architecture. The first thing that popped into my mind was a temple set in the wilderness. Perhaps a holy area for clerics to go for prayer and reflection or possibly a place for monks to train and study. I simply wrote “Temple” on the map and moved onward.

The tower was incredibly easy and I thought of a ruined tower OR a full tower that was part of a larger set of ruins. It might be in the middle of nowhere or it might be by another city. I would have to wait to see where the other rolls landed.

Round 2
I used 4 cubes and 3 stayed on the map this time. A fountain, a Book, and a treasure map. Perfect!

The fountain made me think of natural springs or geysers so I went with that. I also felt that these, or at least some of these, would be magical. Next to it was the book and I felt it was as good as place as any for a city well known for a large library and scholarly pursuits. Perhaps a magical school was there as well?

Down in the lower left hand corner was the treasure map. Of course, I placed an X there and wrote “Legendary treasure.’ Perfect game adventure fodder and something to think about later.

Round 3

On the third roll I rolled 5 Cubes and 4 managed to stay on the map. In the upper left was a man pushing against something, to the north east landed a goblet and a die symbol and then, in the center, a doorway.

In the northeast, I decided the goblet was the location of a historic magic item. With the die symbol along the shoreline and its location just north of the “lawful city” I had the thought it could represent a “gambling den” or maybe a small port of ill repute. A place where those of a more shadowy nature might go to get away from the stifling rules of the city. It might also serve as a nice spot for smuggling and other illicit activities.

The doorway obviously indicated a dungeon of some sort. That was simple enough.

In the northwestern corner was the man pushing against an obstruction. I thought of some sort of obstacle and decided that a large mountain range would dominate that section of the map. Harsh and nearly impenetrable it would block travel or any civilized activity. After I marked the spot, I took a moment and sketched out the mountain range.

Round 4

The next roll was more bold with 5 Cubes. 4 of them stayed on the map. I picked up an apple, a light bulb, a sheep, and a lightning bolt. This was a bit tougher than the first rounds but I like a good challenge.

For the Sheep I went with pastoral farm lands. Good lands for raising livestock and selling crops. It would be a beautiful place and peaceful. I had no idea if anyone was going to actually be living there or not! The lightning bolt stumped me for a bit. All I could think of was energy so I went with what popped in my mind first, a massive scenic waterfall that would be able to generate incredible power. Later, I added an area of hills marking the pastoral farm land area.

To the north was the light bulb and all I could think of was “big ideas” which later turned into a small settlement of tinkers and/or gnomes who lived near to the scholarly city for supplies and protection. Just to the northeast the apple easily became a forest populated with hardwood and fruit trees.

Round 5

For the next round, I realized that the western side of the map was not getting as many rolls so I used 4 Cubes and tried to land the rolls in that area. 4 Cubes stayed on the map and I got Danger/Poison, An asterisk/flower/star thing, A bigger person looking at a smaller person, and a satchel. This was going to be interesting.

The Danger/Poison was nearly off the map but I could not resist using it. I thought of maybe an area of poisonous gas coming out of the mountains, something toxic. In the end I could not resist the temptation to place a “Here be Monsters” style area.

The Asterisk/Star symbol was perhaps the hardest one of the whole project. All I could see was the symbol used for a sound in comics and that made no sense. So, I enlisted my wife and she immediately said it “was a flower.” With that, the location became known as the “Flower fields.” I pictured a vast prairie at the foot of these inhospitable mountains. Perhaps a small town there as well that either tried to mine some of the foothills or tried to work the soil. My wife was quite pleased and quickly announced that this was “HER Flower Fields” in the world. I’m thinking the place may need a queen?

To the south, at the shoreline, was a fun symbol of a large person looking down at a small person. Though this could mean either an area of halflings OR an area of giants I went with my first inspiration. GIANTS! It was near the ruins rolled earlier and so it seemed to work.

Finally, the satchel. I struggled a bit with this one as well but finally settled on a small village in the middle of nowhere known for their exquisite leather-working, making satchels, saddles and all manner of goods.

Round 6

I went a bit gonzo with this round and rolled 8 Cubes and 5 landed on the map. A whip, A tent, A house, someone counting money, and a footprint. You can see in the picture that things were really starting to take shape.

For the house, I went with a small town and made a note that I thought it might be the location of a large and well-known Inn. The person counting money which landed at the southern edge of the foothills became a rich farming village on it’s way to being a larger town. It ended up being perfectly located to the west of the natural springs and a short way from the epic waterfalls. A little spot of heaven, indeed!

The tent landed on the edge of the woods to the north and I immediately went with an elven encampment of some kind, perhaps even an elven city.

The whip Cube marked trouble in the Flower Fields! A group of bandits and slavers have come into the area and are living in the wilderness north of the giants and just south of Flower Fields.

Sounds like a job for some of the Queen’s soldiers!

Finally, the footprint on the eastern coast made me think of Bigfoot. I know, I know, but I can’t help myself. In keeping with the fantasy theme I decided the area was one with a heavy humanoid population. Perhaps orcs, hobgoblins and gnolls? Perhaps they were organized enough to be a threat (or an ally) to the Lawful City?

Final Round!

I thought I might be done after the previous round but decided to grab three Cubes for the heck of it and give them a throw. They ended up adding some nice little details. I rolled a rain cloud, a vial, and a bird. What I liked about these was where they landed!

For the rainclouds I went with an abundance of moisture and placed a swamp in that area. Obviously, the runoff from the western edge of the hills ran down and formed a marshy, dangerous area as well as a river that ran onward to the western shore. The bird landed very close to the temple area and made me think “Raven Temple” so I simply noted that on the map. Finally, the vial landed directly on the point of the epic waterfall. I decided that with the natural springs nearby (some which might be magical) that something about the waterfalls caused them to be important in alchemical workings. Alchemists and adventurers traveled from the city to the east to gain what they needed there.  It was also relatively close to the temple.  Perhaps only the monks or clerics there knew of it’s powers?

I added the marsh and some other small details in the area.

With that I decided I had enough information for now and I could start working on the map. I added some other small details, roads where they made sense, marked the general boundaries of the bandits, giants and humanoids and cleaned up some of the notes and shorelines. The next step would be starting to put down ink and making things permanent.

Click here for the full size image

In future posts I will show you the progress I am making on the map as well as what details I might have added to it. After that, who knows? I might have to start building an actual game world out of this thing and adding adventures as well.

I hope you enjoyed this and I hope it helped illustrate the process.  This was a great way to spend an hour or so and I think it would be an incredible way to build a game world with your players no matter what their age might be.  Players could take turns rolling and everyone can join in on the fun in a collaborative style.

I also have a few more ideas for the Story Cubes which will be posted soon.

Map Creation with Rory Story Cubes – Part 1

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.

Click here for part 2

Tis The Season! Holidays for your Campaign

Holidays help provide us with important breaks, excuses to party, to meet up with old friends and family as well as offering times of reflection and peace.  More so, the mid-winter season is a special time since it’s the time of year where a host of different holidays combine to create a juggernaut of a holiday season.  I enjoy diving down into the histories, traditions and folklore surrounding it.  From the ancient party of Saturnalia, to the Irish horse skulls of Mari Lwyd to the more modern Kwanzaa, it’s always a fun ride.

This year, it got me thinking about fantasy worldbuilding and the importance of festivals and holidays in a game world for a gamemaster.  In table top roleplaying, holidays can often be treated as throw-away events for a game, typically being used as a backdrop for a one-shot game.  However, I think holidays and festivals  can serve the campaign, and a game’s host, by providing more depth to the game world with not only the build up towards a holiday but the holiday itself.

If, as the game host, you already have a calendar for your world then your set.  If you don’t have a calendar it’s not necessary but it does help to give the players a sense of time.  In the game world, the cycle of annual holidays can help a community or society to understand the flow of the year.  Holidays, festivals and feasts are like sign posts letting communities plan a planting season, a harvest season, special moments of import to be celebrated, etc.

Though I’m mainly going to talk about a fantasy setting this can serve just as well in science fiction as well.  We are going to look at five components to review for inspiration in crafting a holiday for your game; Culture, Survival, Celestial Events, and Themes.  At the end of the post, I’ll present a sample holiday made up with these components.

Continue reading “Tis The Season! Holidays for your Campaign”

The Lost Island Rises!

Like most D&D geeks from the early 80’s, my first campaign was set in the first world released for the game, Greyhawk.   After a few campaigns here and there, imagination called to me.  I was yearning for a new place to build adventures and my next love, Forgotten Realms, had yet to be published.  I think it happens to most gamemasters in time.  I wanted something to call my very own so I  cast off from the shores of Greyhawk and did what any self-respecting, geek gamemaster would do  – I started my own game world.

The concept from my adolescent brain?  A large, sparsely populated island filled with more monsters then civilization.  It was to be a savage place where life was cheap except for small pockets of civilization along the coast.  With so much danger, why would anyone go there?  This was easy enough.  Legends of an ancient civilization buried within the mountainous crags, vast halls of undiscovered wealth, knowledge and magical secrets, of course.

I called the island Ballushiam, the Lost Island

I grabbed a ballpoint pen, some grid paper and got to work. I scribbled rivers and mountains.  I designed where different factions were located with crayon and marker.  I drew out different territories and gave them horrible names. I drew my first compass rose.  I worked on the project for several weeks.

And, of course, this was as far as it got.  Sadly, it never got played.  I hung on to my maps and my notes because I kept telling myself, “One day, monster island… one day…”

Years passed and the island held true to it’s name.  Games came and went until a few years ago I was purging through things, going through boxes of older game material.  I was getting back to only the simple, basic things I wanted to keep.  Amidst the crumpled character sheets, half-drawn maps, odd sketches, old GM notes and brittle graph paper  I came across an old, green school folder.   I recognized it from my high school days.  Forgetting what was placed within I opened it carefully and found, to my joy, Ballushiam, the lost island!  All that was left from the numerous notes and sketches were two gaudy maps with little information.  Yet, looking at them brought back all the memories, all the ideas.

Once again the lost island had been found and I had a decision to make.  I was cleaning things out.  I’d not done anything with it for decades.  Why keep it?  Would I keep it or did it just need to go into the trash after taking a few pictures for keepsakes?

Of course, I kept it.  What kind of gamer would I be if I tossed out the very first horribly drawn world maps I ever created?

So, it went back in the worn green folder and stored with other memorabilia like my first dungeon, my first monster, and some old character sheets.  Once again, the island sank back down under the waves of attention.

But, all was not lost.  Recently, as I went looking for the GenCon XVI booklets I photographed for my previous post,  the lost island rose again.  When I found it, I made an important decision.

If I didn’t use it immediately and do something with it then I would toss it and move on.

Which, of course, means…

It’s time to explore the lost island of Ballushiam!

Be kind.  These were absolutely the first world maps I had ever created in my life.

One of the ideas I had for this blog was to produce, from the ground up, a fantasy game world that could  be free and open for everyone.   This is exactly what I want to do with Ballushiam.  It has, sadly, been unattended for decades but I’m breathing life into it and will be sharing the island with you.  I’ll be doing the heavy lifting, of course, but I’ll be listening to comments and thoughts that come up on future posts.  As things grow, you, as reader, will have chances to effect how aspects change and grow on the island in various ways.  I want it to be a living, breathing island.

First steps will be getting the map done or, at least, part of the map.  I love doing write-ups and background history pieces as well so these will be posted here too.  Most of the pieces will not be to any specific game system but I may give some hints and examples how they might, for instance, into Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, FATE core, etc.   Everything will go under the tag of “Ballushiam” and, if it gets hefty enough, I will give it it’s own page and cross-link everything as needed.

Are you hardy enough to visit the Lost Island?