Lazy Worlds & Settings

For May’s Fanzine I needed something to fill the gap between when the previous adventure ended and the adventure featured in that issue started. With the recent posts about Lazy GMing I decided to take the lazy way out but it had some interesting spin-offs.

I started with a suggestion along the lines of have the characters do a few random encounters between adventures. I then thought, I hate random encounters why am I saying this?

I then came up with a table with ten entries and three columns for a person, a action and a motivation. So three dice rolls creates a stub of an adventure or a scene for the characters to walk in on. This seemed good. The results would be something like Farmer + Accuses + Murder but most GMs could work with that. The person column went from Village Elder to homeless beggar. So we had 10 people x 10 actions x 10 motivations for 1,000 possible random things going on in a village.

I not got a bit enthusiastic about this. These are so open to interpretation that they could be hack and slash encounters…

Farmer: You killed by son now I am going to kill you!

(farmer hefts his scythe and advances)

Player: I prepare Shockbolt

Or they can be nice situations to role play out. The random event, of itself, does not impose a play style.

For the GM a plot hook or random event is not really much help if they have been told role play an entire village or string of villages.

Random Villages

Using the same basic mechanism of 3x1d10 rolls I produced a table with three columns. The first was the first half of the village name, the second the last half of the village name and the last the villages primary industry. I thought primary industry was important. Once you know that it is easy to imagine all the supporting industry. If the place is known for leather working then the farmers are likely to have plenty of cows. Leather requires stitching and that requires thread. Already, we have fields of cows, a tannery, possibly old folk spinning thread in the village square. Where there are cows there are butchers. We can now start to give the players a picture of village life and give people employment.

The really curious thing was how I filled in the first two columns, the name.

I seem to be developing a bit of a thing for east Asian culture for fantasy. Here is a short list of things that I think are almost universally cool in RPGs. Himalayan style mountains, Tibetan style monks, Genghis Khan style hordes, Kung Fu Monks, Jungles, Ninjas, Pirates, ‘Lost Temples’ and finally dragons. All of those are features of this Asian culture. It also breaks the mould a bit of traditional fantasy being almost exclusively medieval European in style.

What you lose in moving away from the standard form is knights in shining armour.

This move to the east was never explicit or intentional. My regular RMC game is set in the Forgotten Realms, in the Dales region. All my online games through have a distinctly oriental feel and it is getting stronger with every iteration.

You can imagine that the name parts in these lists ended up as things like Phu, Dai and Ngu.

On my to do list is build my own setting. It has been there for a while. I am filing away copies of these things in my setting folder. I think there could be a future RMu fantasy Asian setting bubbling away somewhere in my subconscious.

But Wait…

The ‘random encounters’ so far have a village name, industries, actors, actions and motives but if the heroes are going to have a variety of side quests here the typical GM is going to want some more assistance.

I have been playing with Geomorphs recently. A geomorph in RPG terms is a fragment of a map, a bit like a jigsaw piece but one that it doesn’t matter which way round you use it. You can even flip them over and it will still fit. Most RPG geomorphs are for dungeon layouts but a few create towns and villages.

In the fanzine I have provided three Geomorph dice. You have to print them out and do a bit of cutting and gluing but at the end of it you should have three paper or card d6 with each face holding a section of map. I have included one here so you can see what I mean.

If you take the images and use an editor to flip or mirror image the images you can create 6d6 each of which can have four orientations. That is a massive amount of variations. In the example village I used three images in a triangular formation with the bottom image half way along the two above it.

The thing with visual maps like this is that they are open to interpretation. In the bottom corners of the 2 face above I can see a couple potential churches, one a western looking church and the other a ziggurat style one. The 6 looks like a market but is that a bandstand?

What started out in the fanzine as a one liner of give the characters some random encounters ended up taking about a quarter of the entire magazine and with random people, places and maps.

On the condition that you do not roll all this stuff in front of the players there is no reason for them to ever know that they are ‘between’ adventures at all. If the GM is good at improv, and most are, there is great potential to turn some of these little hooks into full blown side quests.

So this is my contribution to Lazy GMing, a thousand random villages, villagers and adventure hooks.

9 Replies to “Lazy Worlds & Settings”

  1. The die cutout is absolutely brilliant! I’m going to grab the fanzine specifically for those templates. What an ingenious idea. I hate making maps. I’ve always tried to stick to theatre of the mind. I use maps as a very ‘out-of-scale’ overview just so players can get an idea of where they are standing in relation to one another. Anytime I can get a nice, easy to throw down map, I’ll take it.

    I love the randomness of it all as well. I may roll the die 3 times and get 1, 3, 5. And if I roll another three times, I could very well roll 1, 3, 5 again but the difference being the orientation of the die when it stops rolling. Each die face has 4 possible orientations. Again, brilliant idea.

    When I started GM-ing, I liked the random encounter. I kept the Elemental Companion Random Encounter Table on hand. I would roll on it every time there was travel involving a camp section. As I gained more experience, I started to use side quests rather than random encounters. Whatever the random encounter was, I tried to build a backstory to it. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, so here is a fast summary:

    Random encounter – zephyr hound – air element. Why is it a zephyr hound? How did it get there? Why is it air element? Did it escape from a mage? Is it an attempt to kill the party off so the mage can loot the party? Was the mage killed off and the hound just wandering about attacking what it sees? It’s nature is Belligerent so it would attack anything it sees. I would build a story for that random encounter and it would give the party a side quest if they wanted to track it. I can’t imagine that my world has vast planes where the wild zephyr hounds roam and graze all the live long day. 🙂

    For example, the 50-in-50 series (Which I think I am one collection off) has the Cabin in the Woods module. Here is what this seemingly random encounter has led to in the campaign.

    – The PCs are tracking at a shrine with other ‘pilgrims.’ They find out later that the pilgrims are grave robbers. They wait until the priests are asleep, they poison PCs to sleep or to drunkenness so they can be looted easily and the graves can be robbed. During their interrogation of one of the looters, they discover there is a cabin in the woods.

    – Another session leads the PCs to the cabin. They stake it out and believe the bad guys are inside the cabin. During the session, they stalk up to the cabin and start the attack. During some hilarious interchange, the PCs find out that the occupants are actually a posse tracking the looters and each party believes the other party is the looters. The real looters then attack the two parties who are trapped in the cabin.

    – The leader, who escapes with the second in command, has been plotting revenge on the PCs as well as having the cabin rebuilt as it a great dead-drop location and a nice base of operations. The NPCs decided to set the cabin on fire to trap the PCs inside.

    – This last session (this past weekend) had the PCs being attacked by various groups of rogues, an assassin, and some street urchins whom have been hired by the leader of the bad guys. He needs a personal item from each PC to aid him with tracking them. The street urchins picked the pockets on one member. The rogue put one to sleep with sleeping powder but was discovered before the others could be affected. The assassin poisoned one of the PCs successfully. The bad guy still has three more PCs to target, but these seemingly random encounters are all based off the original encounter centered on the cabin in the woods.

    – The party is going to eventually be heading back to the cabin where they will have a nice battle with the BBG. I may allow him to escape so the BBG can be a nemesis who pops up from time to time as needed. But more important, these encounters have nothing to do with the main quest. These are my carefully controlled and selected “random encounters.”

    1. The key is the GM’s improv skills. If one monster can inspire an entire backstory and side quest then that is great. For a less experienced GM it is too easy to turn random encounters into a series of fights. The other objective in this adventure was to create a time gap between the two main events. I don’t think a player should be able to tell when they move from the written adventure plot to the commercial breaks between adventures.

  2. The die templates are not printing out for me. What settings should I use? I’ve tried various quality levels and sizing/page fitting.

    Page 8: Tile 4 shows only the top edge of graphics

    Page 9: Tile 4 is blank

    Page 10: Tile 1 and Tile 4 are blank

    They display properly in the PDF, but the physical printout has errors.

    1. I made screen shots of the pages, then printed them off as jpgs and they worked. What are the letters associated with each die? I have A’s, E’s, F’s, and one G on the die facings.

      I’m assuming the explosion markers are areas for ambushes or combat?

      1. These are a font you can buy and then ‘type out’ a map. They come in sets of towns, ruins, villages. The A-G just denotes which ‘set’ they are from.

        I didn’t see them as explosions, I saw them as trees with spikey leaves such as palms or aloe plants.

        1. You see relaxing palm trees and healing aloe plants…

          I see explosions or points of conflict and ambush…

          I wonder what my therapist has to say about that.

  3. I really like the idea of an RMu Asian setting. I think you could either keep it generic, or set it in some of the Shadow World areas that have a distince Asian influence. Either choice has advantages and disadvantages:

    –Setting it in Nuyan Khom in NE Emer would be the best choice if you wanted to keep it in Shadow World, since the language and the culture of the Y’nar who inhabit this area are clearly based on the Japanese. The challenge here would be to negotiate keeping the region canon, since there are some big differences between Nuyan Khom and feudal Japan (e.g. some of the original Kulthea stuff like Navigators and skyships and Essence flows might not really fit with what you want to do).

    –Keeping it generic means you can make it what you want, but that people (like me) who want to play in the RM default world will have some work to do to adapt it to our games.

    1. Right now I have named two coastal towns and some random villages. This is definitely not feudal Japan, if anything I would say it is somewhere between Mongolia, Vietnam and Myanmar.

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