2020-04-29 Dungeon maps are overrated

Remember the small dungeon generator integrated into the Hex Describe tables written by J. Alan Henning and ktrey parker?

Today I got to use one of them!

Map The map looked very simple. But the dungeon was themed for a dragon. It had big, weed-smoking, story-telling lizard people, it had stinking, small and haggard lizard people (troglodytes), and a sleeping red dragon in a cave at the end with a back entrance and a hidden crack that one of the characters discovered to take a peek at the treasure. The treasure consisted of more than 1000 platinum coins and 80 jewellery, so worth about 90,000 gold pieces!

The first room was described as a natural cavern. The second had a wooden cage. The dragon’s room was some sort of temple. The rest just flowed naturally. There was enough description to get me into the flow and I was able to improvise the ruins of the town, the cave entrance, the hidden chute forming the back entrance, the dynamics of lizard people outside being hungry but harmless (they got killed by the player characters) and the sneaky and mean troglodytes (who nearly killed the player characters).

Thus, even though I was using Just Halberds and not Halberds and Helmets, I found that the mini setting generated by Hex Describe is working exactly as intended and I love 😍 love 😍 love 😍 it.

And there is more than just the dungeon! The setting itself generates villages and towns each in the hand of a name-level character. Halberds and Helmets only goes up to level 10, so these are all rulers with 9 or 10 levels, one or two followers with 3 to 8 levels, spell-books, magic items, and so on.

When the players picked their characters at the beginning, a few of them turned to elemental magic – and as luck would have it, elemental magic users are common in the mini-settings generated by Hex Describe. So they quickly found a village ruled by an aquamancer, a village ruled by a geomancer, a village ruled by a pyromancer, but also an elf that’s into monster hunting, and others. If they want to advance, they just need to learn more spells, and in order to learn more spells, they need to befriend the magic users, go on quests and all that, and I’m basically following the Morrowind playbook: there are many powerful local lords, plus three war parties, three secret societies, ten religious groups, and various monster factions such as orc tribes. It’s easy to befriend them but they all have conflicting goals and therefore, soon you’re trying to learn a spell from the geomancer who’s trying to eliminate a secret society in a village ruled by a pyromancer who’s technically in rebellion against Duke Shire, and on and on. I love 😍 love 😍 love 😍 it. I really do! 😁



Sounds awesome. It is right to immerse the spell casters in the power maelstrom of their crafts. Then let the cards fall where they may - it’s just true that real connections (ones of importance or quality) bring potential allies and enemies.

– doublejig2 2020-04-30 20:19 UTC

Yes! 😁

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-30 20:28 UTC

Just waited to say how much I appreciate your blog. You write from such a practical standpoint about your games, that it always inspires me. The reminder about the dungeon generator came at a perfect time as I’m going to be running a mostly impromptu game of Mausritter this weekend and really needed some kind of little dungeon at hand that I could retheme for the game.

Derik 2020-05-01 12:46 UTC

Thank you so much for the kind words. 😅 I read some entries on your blog and find the tagging of partial entries fascinating. A very cool idea that lends itself to journaling about a day or an event which is going to touch on many things. If such where to happen here, I’d have to tag it “Life” or “Philosophy” (assuming I learned anything, haha) – very broad categories. I haven’t seen such a setup before. Did you write it yourself?

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-01 13:14 UTC

Yes, I ended up coding my own static site generator (to build from markdown files) because all the available options were too confusing or complicated, and then added that category show/hide stuff because I was... new to the idea of not just blogging about one very specific thing (my old blog about comics). It is a bit of pain tagging paragraph by paragraph, though.

Derik 2020-05-01 19:52 UTC

Yeah, probably true. But as a reader, I find it fascinating. Start reading, find that it belongs into another context as well, do you click that other tag, do you care to read more, it’s a more interactive way of reading. There’s always that “tell me more” moment that isn’t as generic as “tell me more about RPG” but “tell me more about this story, what else was there?” Fascinating.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-01 21:23 UTC

I love maps. As Greg Stafford said "What's not to love about any non-linear presentations of information?".

The settings created by Hex Describe are pure gold. They offer plenty of content to play for years. And they do it with succinct information, inspiring without constraining. Emergent play at its best. Brilliant job, Alex.

How do you use the dungeon maps? We tried different methods. The traditional approach (give directions and describe corridors and rooms as the party explores and maps the depths) do not work for us. We preferer letting the referee draw the map as the party advances. When we played the City of the Spider Queen using D&D 3.5 I, as the referee, drew all the maps with penciled colours. The players loved it; it was gorgeous but time-consuming.

We still have to try the dungeon maps produced by Hex Describe. These days I prefer this type of smaller dungeons. We don’t have as much time to play as we had years ago. I’m still unsure of how we will use them: I don’t know if we will explore the dungeons room by room or if we will shift to a more abstract approach.

– Ludos Curator 2020-05-10 10:22 UTC

In this particular case, they killed a dragon hunter and took the map from him. I just handed them the map as-is. In describe rooms and environments, for room 1 on the map: “a big natural cave, low ceiling, alcoves and hard to see in its entirety; in the back there is a gap leading further into the darkness. Who is carrying the torch?”

I often mix relative and cardinal directions, I use qualitative terms like long, short, big, and small instead of feet.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-10 10:35 UTC

Please make sure you contribute only your own work, or work licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Note: in order to facilitate peer review and fight vandalism, we will store your IP number for a number of days. See Privacy Policy for more information. See Info for text formatting rules. You can edit the comment page if you need to fix typos. You can subscribe to new comments by email without leaving a comment.

To save this page you must answer this question:

Just say HELLO