Tuesday, February 21, 2023


 I had a pretty serious knee injury so I've been laid up. Rather than working on comic sans 23 as normal I've instead been playing Shadow of the Colossus and messing around with character.ai. The site let's you make an AI chatbot by describing it's personality.

There's a few characters people made that are DMs. Most are boring. One has a set up that start you out as a miserable stupid peasant hated by everyone in a fantasy world. The adventures I had with it are hilarious and bizarre. 

I'm including them as week 2 and 3 of COMICSANS23. Even if there's not much game able content, the AI DM is pretty good as running things on the fly, and it's a good example of player agency and sandbox style gaming. I wish human play reports were this entertaining to read.

Adventure 01: the Bizarre Adventures of Cugel

In this one Cugel fumbles around, lying and stealing. The AI starts getting weird and putting treasure everywhere, so Cugel destroys the universe and recreates it in his own image. Weirdness ensues.


Adventure 02: The Homunculus

A more traditional adventure where a thief joins the mage's guild, argues with his mentor, uncovers the secrets of dark magic, and learns a lesson about friendship and sacrifice.


Wednesday, February 15, 2023


 Here it is, the first entry in my year long experiment to produce a sloppy half-cocked adventure module a week. I plugged away at this one a bit a day since my introductory post. I think I may have overdone it a bit. It's a fully realized two level dungeon with mostly unique monsters, encounter tables, everything. 20 entire pages of adventure fuel.

The next ones will probably be simpler. My original idea was to make non-dungeon adventure scenarios, but this is caught and stuck.

Read it and die.


Wednesday, February 8, 2023


 A lotta people are doing the Dungeon23 thing, where you write a dungeon room per day and by the end of the year you have a 12 floor megadungeon. Some people are using it as an excuse to do other stuff, like hexcrawls etc.

Me? I always have to be different. I noticed there's a sad lack of low-quality homebrew adventure modules bouncing around the scene and I want to try and rectify that.

Product brain is stupid. The hyperfocus on sleek polished for profit products over hobbyist zines is a disease. OSR, like punk music, is better when it's made by obsessed eccentric amateurs and not well uh obsessed competent slightly-less amateurs. I like my shit free, ugly, mediocre, and BRUTAL.

so that's my reasoning. I'll die on this hill. Y'all can have your stuff involving paid artists, editors, and graphic designers and kickstarters. I want to see more free burning garbage.

Comic sans 23 is intended to be that - a molten lead injection of so bad it's good hearkening back to the game materials I wrote in word pad back in 1998 when comic sans, verdana, and courier new were the only fonts worth fucking with. When crazy fun, gleeful cackling, and awful ideas were more important than good design. Think early 00s zine culture, plus art drawn by that kid in your class that draws cool dragons, plus wayyy too many hours watching heavy metal or playing FF1 on a CRT monitor, drinking mountain dew. HERE CHECK OUT WHAT I MADE

But it's not a nostalgia project. It's something to fill a void and inspire others that you too - YES YOU! - can write and self publish fun game material just as you are right now, nothing added. If you have a laptop capable of running abiword or a smartphone with Google docs you have no excuse to not be writing modules and game material instead of shunting out yet another BX rewrite retroclone heartbreaker nobody will use.

If you write modules people might actually use it! Well, parts of it. Maybe. If you send it to me I definitely will rob it for ideas and republish the good parts as my own thing. CC-NO YO

Parameters: I have to do a little bit every day.  Even if it's just another adventure seed or a character or a pen and ink picture snapped on my smart phone. At the end of each week I'll throw up a pdf of insane trash.

If I skip a week I'll publish two the following week. Unless I forget. But even if somethings half finished and I don't feel good about it I'll try to just tie the knots and throw the slab of meat on the table, good, bad, and ugly. That's the point, but life has a way of throwing curve balls. Listen, I've got a life and shit too, okay?





Thursday, December 22, 2022

Eat everything, aka the rule of rations

 Aka vilecult abuses math

An adventurer needs about 4000 calories a day. An iron rations contains this. Meat and carbs are the most energy dense. Plants have very little in the way of calories. You can't survive wild foraging plants.

Nuts are the most realistic food source. 4000 calories of acorn meat = 2.2 pounds. Plus it takes days to soak and dry the nuts to make them edible. But they're only available for about two months of the year.

It would take 20 pounds of berries to meet an adventurer's food needs. They'd have to eat the equivalent of fifteen potatoes in wild tubers. Just forget about salad - most leaves contain less calories than it takes to digest them.

So hunting it is. How much meat is in a wild animal?

This article has a lot of great info about this subject. I get all my numbers below from it.

A deer is about 40% meat. This doesn't include the guts, which you would definitely want to eat in a survival situation. In the article they say you can get close to the live weight of the deer by multiplying the field dressed weight by 1.28 - field dressing just means taking out the organs and blood. So if you have a 125 pound field dressed you've thrown away about 35 pounds of viable food.

So that's like, what, 60% of the deer is edible?

I'm pedantic enough to figure out how many iron rations are in a deer, but I'm not pedantic enough to figure out how many calories are in deer liver (885/lb) versus meat (675/lb).

Okay maybe I am.

Actually this is pretty easy. You can just multiply the organ meat weight by 885 and the venison weight by 675, add them together and divide by 4000.

But who wants to do that at the table? Let's just go with 60%. That's a nice clean number for our back of the napkin calculations.

Does weigh between 80-120 (average: 100)

So that's 60 pounds of meat *675 = ~40,000, divided by 4000, or 10 rations

Bucks between 120-160 (average: 140)

84 pounds of meat *675 = 56,700 calories or 14 rations

Beat that, vegans.

According to this chart most game animals have pretty close to the same number of calories per 3.5 oz portion. Close enough to our magic 675 above that I feel comfortable using that as the number of calories in all meat.

The thing is that different kinds of animals have different amount of meat on them. But we're not gonna do that, we're just gonna assume all animals follow the same ratio as deer. We actually want people to come back to our game.

Average weights

Beaver, 25 - 70 (4 rations)

Porcupine, ~30 (3 rations)

Female red kangaroo, 40 - 80 (6 rations)

Male red kangaroo, 120 - 200 (16 rations)

Female elk ~500 (50 rations)

Male elk ~720 (72 rations)

Female moose, 440 - 1100 (77 rations)

Male moose 840 - 1400 (155 rations)

Female wild hog, 130 - 180 (22 rations)

Male wild hog, 170 - 220 (39 rations)

Female black bear, 90 - 180 (13 rations)

Male black bear, 130 - 660 (80 rations)

Female grizzly bear, 400 - 800 (60 rations)

Male grizzly bear, 400 - 1000 (70 rations)

Squirrel, ~1 pound (about 10 to a ration)

Rabbit, 2 - 5 pounds (about 2 per ration)

Female alligator, 250 - 500 (38 rations)

Male alligator, 500 - 1000 (76 rations)

Reticulated python, 170 - 250 (21 rations)

Rattlesnake, 3 - 5 (5 rattlers make 2 rations)

Boa constrictor, 20 - 30 (2 rations)

Note on snakes: you could probably get more rations out of a snake. Might double it.

Female water buffalo, 400 - 700 (55 rations)

Male water buffalo, 600 - 1200 (91 rations)

Female bison, 800 - 1200 (100 rations)

Male bison, 1000 - 2200 (162 rations)

Domestic cow, 800 - 2400 (162 rations)

Domestic bull, 1000 - 4000 (253 rations)

Calf, 25 - 100 (6 rations)

Domestic sheep, 100 - 220 (16 rations)

Domestic sheep, 100 - 350 (22 rations)

Female giraffe, 1200 - 2600 (192 rations)

Male giraffe, 1800 - 4500 (318 rations)

Female elephant, 6000 - 8000 (708 rations)

Male elephant, 4000 - 14000 (911 rations)

Stegosaurus, 6800 - 11000 (901 rations)

Triceratops, 12000 - 16000 (1417 rations)

Ankylosaurus, 11000 - 18000 (1468 rations, but maybe less, they don't look like they've got much good meat on em)

Apatosaurus, 36000 - 49000 (4151 rations)

Argentinosaurus 110,000 - 220,000 (16,706 rations holy shit)

Tyrannosaurus, 11,000 - 15,500 (1341 rations)

Pteranodon, 55 (5 rations)

Quetzalcoatlus, 550 (55 rations)

You get the idea.

Do you have a faster way to calculate?

5 rations per 50 pounds

So how much do these meat rations weigh?

The magic meat number is 675 calories per pound, making a 4000 calorie fresh meat ration weigh 6 pounds. If its dried into jerky for iron rations it'll lose 2/3s its weight and be 2 pounds. Organ meats tend to lose more water but let's not be fussy.

How long does it take to butcher an animal?

It takes about 20 minutes to pluck and cut up a chicken. Rabbits are faster. It takes me about an hour to skin and butcher a deer. Several people working together on a cow might take a couple hours - we're using old fashioned bone saws at best, or knives. I estimate an hour per 500 pounds. This is mostly for palatability and for drying the meat. Nothing's stopping the party from indiscriminately hacking off chunks and roasting it.

How long does drying meat take?

You have to cut it into thin strips and hang it. That takes a long time, see above. Humidity has to be low or meat will spoil. 8-14 hours in the sun.

Smoking it?

Ideally you salt it first. 1 day per 10 rations.


10% salt per weight. 10 rations = 60 pounds = 6 pounds salt.

What else?

If this isn't enough for you get help

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Hexcrawling Procedures: a Simple Guide


Over at the OSR discord we get a lot of questions about how to run a hexcrawl, often from 5e refugees. There's a lot of great how-to posts out there, but many of them overcomplicate what is, in my opinion, a very simple thing. 

Here's my  hexcrawling procedures, without all the extraneous junk, culled from various sources. Start here and expand your own methods as your own experience requires.

Why hexcrawling?

This is pure sandbox. Complicated prep is unnecessary. It simplifies wilderness exploration. It puts players in the driver's seat, letting them choose where they go, what they do, and how they solve problems. It's simple, fast, and open ended. If you like open world RPGs like Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Arx Fatalis, this is like that. Random tables and reaction rolls keep things fresh and interesting.

When preparing a hexcrawl you're freed from dreaming up plots, adventure paths, or stories. Instead, you focus on populating the map with dangerous locations and interesting situations, letting what happens unfold in play.

The Concept

There's some similarities between dungeon crawling and hex crawling. Both have a DM facing terrain map, a key to locations, and encounter tables. Both have a map the players create as they play. However, dungeons use grid paper and hexcrawls are on hex paper.

The key for your hexcrawl is numbered by coordinates on the sheet. If your hex sheet is 10 hexes by 10 hexes the top left hex is labeled 0101 and the bottom right hex is 1010. A couple hex key entry might look something like this:

0508 Cave of Wonders - at midnight on the full moon a stone lion head emerges from the sand. When the passcode is uttered ('Lama Innut') the mouth of the lion opens, permitting entry into the Lair of the Manticores.

0602 Lake of Largess - this lake is home to 12 gnomes which will do all in their power to befuddle unwelcome trespassers. Bathing in the pool causes random change in size (equal chance to double or half in size) for one week.

Once the key of interesting locations is made players are presented with a blank hex sheet of equal size. Only the starting location and perhaps a few obvious landmarks or known areas are pre-marked.

As play progresses players explore the given area, revealing the terrain, uncovering secrets, and plundering monster lairs. The keyed locations, procedures, random events, and player actions work together to create a unique, unplanned, organic narrative.


The hexcrawl world is a microcosm. Usually, and certainly at first, you'll be working with a postage stamp sized corner of land in a distant kingdom. In all cases resist the urge to plan the entire articulated clockwork of world-spanning cultures, continents, and histories. In time, and as necessity dictates, you may expand the starting range by adding additional maps to the world. At first it is unnecessary and wasted busywork to prepare more, as well as constrictive to the natural growth of the campaign. It is enough to know scraps and hints that a wider world exists 'over there'. You will have time. A properly prepared 10x12 hexcrawl map can provide numerous sessions of adventure without exhausting.

The sandbox world of hexcrawling isn't concerned with the big picture; the movement of cosmic forces or matters of earth shaking consequence. Instead, it is focused on scenarios of a more provincial sort. Robber barons, dragon hoards, goblin reavers. The game world is expressed through the variety of encounters.

Most hexcrawls are measured at 6 miles across each hex. Some use 12, 24, or more. I find 6 miles to be the ideal level of granularity. At the larger scale you'll find yourself in need of mapping the important hexes on their own, creating more fusty busywork. These distances are based on human walking speeds over rough, wild terrain.

I know from experience that walking 24 miles over flat road in an 8 hour period is truly grueling. Real world death marches have taken place over similar distances in rough terrain. If you wish to use common sense in adjudicating your campaign, I would limit travel on foot over rough terrain to 12 miles or 2 hexes per day, adjusted by terrain difficulty (see "direction of movement" below) unless the players wish to perform a forced march.

How to make a hexcrawl map

Start with something small. 10x12 is a good size. No more than 20x20. You can expand later.

Generate random terrain and adjust to suit your taste. There's several automatic hexmap generators online. Hexographer can do it. There's tables in Delving Deeper. I'll include my own tables at the end of this post.

It's good to start with a large body of water on one side of the map. Initially this will prove a limiting barrier. Eventually, however, it may give the opportunity for seafaring adventures and provide a connection point to the wider world. A variety of modes of travel and obstacles is an important part of encouraging player agency within the game.

One way to place the water is to throw a d8 for which side or corner, then a 2d6 or d20 for number of water hexes. Afterwards, fill in the remaining land using your preferred method.

You can think of this as procedural generation. Combining random elements with your natural human faculty for pattern recognition and symbolic thinking is what creates a living, breathing world.

You'll want a varied terrain, a mix of swamps, icy mountains, forested hill, jungles, etc. Try to avoid large swaths of one terrain type - the diversity of ecosystems will encourage variety. You'll want about 6-10 different terrain types.

Pay attention to how the diversity of the landscape effects travel. Rivers can impede movement across, but serve as a helpful landmark, or offer a highway when traveling downstream. Mountains, forests, deserts, tundra, and swamps all provide their own challenges. Having diverse terrain allows players to discover, and then choose, the best possible route and what dangers they're willing to face as they explore.

Once you have your terrain in, look at where the bodies of water, mountains, and swamps are located. Swamps, lakes, and seas indicate low elevation. Pick a few mountains (maybe d4 or d6) and add rivers winding their way toward the nearest body of water.

Important features, such as villages, cities, castles, and dungeons, should be placed logically. Settlements must have a water source, often a river or lake, place them nearby. Castles need a defensible location and are often situated near trade routes, or in areas where their influence will be most felt. Dungeons are generally off the beaten path, hidden in the tangles beyond the reach of law.

Speaking of roads, these are links between civilization. However, they should be used sparingly. Adventure happens in the Wilderlands, not under the watchful eye of a tightly organized society. Roads indicate safety, security, and a strong enough force to maintain and patrol them. You may wish to connect the starting village with one or two other locations (perhaps a megadungeon or castle) via a road, facilitating a little movement and a familiar 'safe zone' for the party while they're still fresh. Since this area is less dangerous it'll also be less profitable - the 'good stuff' requires risk.

Stocking your hexmap

Once you have your body of water, rivers, terrain, and a sprinkling of civilized outposts, possibly with a road, it's time to populate the map with dangerous and interesting locations.

For each hex throw 2d10, each of a different color. One color is for 'monster lairs' the other for 'ruins'. A 1 indicates an interesting location - mark it with a dot on your map. Some may have two. For mixed terrain types, say forested hills or jungle mountains, throw for both types, for a possibility of 4.

In this example a 'monster lair' is a mini-dungeon or small area, perhaps d12 rooms, which serves as the lair for a particular monster type and their treasure hoard. Delving Deeper contains rules for generating monster lairs, though you'll need to create the map yourself. The two examples I gave above are both of the lair type.

A 'ruin' can be anything. A crystal obelisk, a wizard tower, a field of soporific poppies, or an actual ruined castle or proper dungeon.

Feel free to adjust these as whim dictates. You are the master of your domain.

The exact content of each location is detailed on your separate key, as demonstrated above, using the four-digit coordinate for the hex. Much like with dungeons, brevity and flavor are the meat and potatoes of this type of keying, allowing for improvisation and open ended play. Keep your descriptions short, punchy, and to the point. Refer to my examples above, or the linked hexcrawls at the end of this post as a guide.

Getting ideas

There are a limitless number of tables and generators online for creating content to fill your map with. Likely you already have ideas of your own. You can also shamelessly steal ideas from other people's games and hexmaps, real world history, mythology, and fairy tales, as well as books, movies, and games, with or without manipulating them to obscure the source. You can also drop in published adventures.

Do not even think of creating a hexmap to sell as a product until you've developed your faculty in this playstyle. However, I fully encourage you to share your creations on a blog, website, or on the OSR discord so that we can rifle through them and steal from you. Tis only fair.

Finally, once you've done all that, think of a few competing factions in the area. Large lairs of powerful monsters, potent wizards, castles, and cities are all ripe for this. Put a couple in with their hex key description noting their goals, allies, enemies, or resources.

Running the hexcrawl

You've generated your map, peopled it with people (and monsters), and a few interesting locations, but what exactly are the procedures of play? That's why you're really here, isn't it?

Nothing could be simpler.

Opening and context

First, decide where the players are to start, and the context for the beginning of their adventure. I would caution the intrepid referee from starting new players in town, especially those unfamiliar with hexcrawling, or used to being lead by the hand through an adventure path. Often times they become lost and overwhelmed by the variety of choices and possibilities at their disposal, leading to a rather flat initial experience.

Also I would recommend against starting the players in the middle of the wilderness with nothing to go on, for the same reason. Although these starts are viable, they are better reserved for veteran players who already know what to expect from this type of campaign.

Instead, I would suggest starting them in the middle of something interesting, which gives them a small number of interesting choices to make right out the gate. An obvious goal and a direction. The olden and golden standby here is plopping them in front of the local dungeon with a tattered map to the location and a few rumors about the treasures and dangers that await then within. Go get 'em!

Once they've done what they will and are ready to get back to safety you can allow them to travel back to the nearby town where they can nurse their wounds, hire henchmen, refresh spells, identify and sell loot, collect additional rumors of other locations or about the previous dungeon, and ready for the next adventure. This is the original mode of play and works perfectly well today as it ever did.

It may seem counter-intuitive that a campaign based on exploration, agency, and free-wheeling adventure should begin with a shoe horn, but think of it as a warm-up. Once the players get their feet wet they'll begin to develop ideas of their own. Giving the uninitiated a cold-open leads to decision paralysis.

Procedures for Play

Here's what you've been waiting for. Your players have got back from their first delve. Maybe they have some loot, maybe they got their butts kicked, but now they're safe and there's a big world. What now?

Rumors and Hooks

These are of the utmost importance. Without them a game cannot progress. Rumors and hooks are the sign posts that direct your players towards ADVENTURE! They tell them what's out there, which way to go to find it, and what dangers they may find. They can be specific or vague, true, false, or a mix. Put a rumor at the lips of every washer woman, midwife, nanny, town guard, inn keeper, bard, leige lord, roustabout, bandit, child, and pig farmer they bump into. Have a table of d20 rumors about places near or far. Improv when you must and squeeze them in. OR give the players a hint but make them twist, poke, prod, threaten, extort, and pay for the details. With a handful (not too many at once! Two or three is good!) the players can decide what they want to investigate and what risks they're willing to take. Here's some examples.

"The elf queen is looking for a new husband. She has wealth beyond measure and beauty to match. Eh? What happened to her last husband? He disappeared in the mountains looking for a magic sword ten years ago! The fool!"

"The goblins of Black Crag keep turning up with Dwarven gold. Where are they getting that stuff?"

"I heard tell there's a gnome living in the Sundering hills - will grant a wish to anyone who manages to catch him! I'd go but my fool husband would drink up the farm while I was away. Ah well, might be worth it?"

"Don't go to the keep in the desert. Trust me on this. The wizard there dabbles in Necromancy. Shut hisself in. That place wasn't always a desert you know."


When the party enters a hex briefly describe where they are, what interesting things there are to see, and a bit about the adjoining hexes.


"As dawn spreads you pack up camp and head on your way. You begin to cross an expansive field, dotted with small trees. To the north, a day's journey away, you see the peaks of the steel mountains, shrouded in rain clouds. To the west is the edge of a black forest. Your view east is obscured by high forest hills."

Say they move towards the mountains. They're nearer now, but perhaps still in a grassland hex. You could describe the sun lowering in the sky as the day wanes on, drizzle moving in from mountains, or a stream or castle they couldn't see from their previous location.

It is good if the players ask questions about what they see, make adjustments to their plans, or become distracted by interesting things along the way. If a sudden thunderstorm strikes they may be forced to take shelter in the forest, which could be the haunt of robbers, werewolves, or the beautiful elven queen.

The brevity of your descriptions, though peppered with small visceral details, will draw the players in, speed up play, and facilitate an action-oriented game.

Direction of movement

Players decide which direction they want to move based on what they see, the rumors they've acquired, and what they know. They may say things like "we go north" or "we go towards the forest", or even ask questions like "how far away is...?" or do crazy things like climb up cliffs to get a better view of their surroundings. Encourage this by providing good answers.

When the players move you'll need to calculate their movement rate based on the kind of terrain they're leaving. My preference is 3 hexes of easy terrain (18 miles - plains, roads), 2 hexes of difficult terrain (12 miles - forest, hills), and 1 hex of very difficult terrain (6 miles - mountains, swamps). These are based on distances covered by real life hikers over such terrains. You may wish to default to whatever the ruleset you're using says - I won't judge you.

Note about mounted travel: over open ground or well-maintained roads a horse can cover much more land than a human when moving at a full gallop - say 4 to 6 hexes (24 to 36 miles) a day, depending on the quality of the horse. Such a pace would quickly exhaust and possibly kill your horse if kept up for many days, much like a human. However, at walking or trotting speed, such as over rough terrain, a horse may only cover the same distance as a human. In such scenarios the benefit of the horse is mainly in the ability to carry more gear and the comfort of the rider.

Getting lost

If you are using an old school ruleset they probably contain contingencies for the party getting lost or veering off course, often determined by terrain type. This adds an entertaining degree of uncertainty to travel, encouraging certain things like hiring guides from the locals. However, it can sometimes be an irritating and nitpicky problem. You may have to adjudicate this depending on the party's behavior.

Personally, I don't roll for getting lost if the players are heading towards a large visible landmark, have a guide, or are moving along a coast, river, or open ground such plains or roads. In such cases the direction of travel is obvious.

However, I do roll when the party is moving over difficult, trackless terrain such as deserts, swamps, forests, or mountains. In such cases the party may end up in a hex different than what they're expecting. They'll mark their map as if they know where they're going only to find they don't get there. It's up to the players to find a way of correcting their course.

You may wish for outdoorsy type characters such as druids or rangers to have a reduced chance of getting lost. Either lower the odds or use a larger die.

Locations and encounters

When the party enters a hex they find whatever is there to find. If there's multiple locations then determine which it is randomly. Some hexcrawl advice recommends rolling to determine if the party stumbles across the thing. However, the thing is what we're all here for, so just give it to them. You may wish to put obstacles in the way, or otherwise obscure its true nature, however.

Roll for an encounter check once for the day of travel and once at night, 1 in 6 chance each. I roll these when it seems prudent, often in the morning or evening. If an encounter happens then roll on the encounter table for that terrain type or region. You may assemble your own tables based on what you want or use the ones listed in your ruleset. Don't forget to roll for encounter distance and reaction! Not all encounters are a fight to the death. Especially if you're using a ruleset that includes potentially running into orc warbands numbering in the hundreds! This requires adjudicating. Monsters may wish to avoid the party, trade, ask for help, or anything else.

Tracking supplies

One ration is consumed per day of travel, usually in the evening when setting up camp. Iron rations last indefinitely and fresh rations spoil after a few days.

Parties low on food or wishing to supplement their tack may spend the day hunting or foraging. Roll a d6, adding +1 for the special ability of outdoorsy types, and +1 for terrain with a lot of food. Subtract a point for barren terrain. On a score of 4 the party gains d4 fresh rations, +1 for each point over 4.


Your ruleset will probably have rules for this. Usually I just make up what seems prudent or throw a d6 - a low score means sour weather.

Alternatively I also like Empire Weather. Its simple, clean, efficient.

Make weather matter. Sunshine is fine and dandy - snowstorms, hail, flash floods, and lightning have serious consequences. If players insist on traveling through inclement weather give them a higher chance of getting lost, losing equipment, horses, or worse.

That's all there really is to it. If you have any questions feel free to ask them and I'll update this how-to with more information.

Example hexcrawls

Black Marsh

Unholy Lands

Empire of Vavia

The Grab Bag

A collection of hexcrawling resources

Dead simple hex terrain generation table

Save yourself some headaches and throw on this table. When you get your terrain throw d6 for the number of hexes of that type and lay them out where they're touching at least one other terrain of the same time. Then, move on to the next empty space and repeat.

Any hill or mountain that touches tundra, forest, or jungle on two sides becomes a mixed type.

Any swamp that touches plains or water becomes marshes.

1-3 Water 

4-7 Plains

8-10 Forest 

11-13 Hills

14-15 Mountains

16 Jungle

17 Tundra

18 Desert

19-20 Swamp

I like to start in the center of the map and spiral outwards. Another option is to jump around, filling in randomly. Sometimes I try to make mountains and hills meander in a diagonal direction like they're following a fault line.

Simple hexcrawl procedures summary


1. Prepare terrain on 10x12 hex paper, each hex marked with its four digit coordinates. Place settlements, castles, and dungeons logically. Place a river and road or two.

2. Roll 2d10 of different colors on each hex - one color represents monster lairs, the other ruins. Roll for both terrains on mixed terrain hexes.

3. Key locations with short flavorful descriptions. Create wandering encounter tables. Come up with a few factions giving them each a leader, a goal, a resource, an ally, and an enemy.

4. Decide where players will start. Come up with context.

5. Come up with a rumor table. Include some for nearby locations, dungeons, factions, monsters, or adventures.


1. Describe hex the players are in and nearby hexes - any obvious features. Be brief but let them ask questions.

2. Players determine which direction they move and what they do. Tell them what the see. Roll for getting lost if applicable, adjusted by difficulty of terrain. Calculate how many hexes they can move in the day based on their encumbrance and terrain difficulty. 

3. Roll one encounter chance on d6 per day, and one per night. If an encounter is indicated roll for surprise, reaction and encounter distance. Have players subtract a ration at the end of each day of travel 

4. Players automatically find special locations in hexes unless they're deliberately hidden or obscured.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Gaming with Kids: Danger and Violence

 Kids are exposed to too much violence in media. I know this is a controversial subject, and I may seem a little old fashioned for putting it forward. So be it.

Now, I don't think all violence is bad. It's all about context. When you're dealing with kids you always have to ask yourself 'what message am I giving?' Kids are gonna take whatever you're doing at face value and if it clashes with their lived experience it'll be hard to process.

The stories you give kids tell them what the world is like and how we solve problems. Children are still in the process of developing their symbol system, so all new symbols will become part of that.

Yes, this is an esoteric subject, and I'm not explaining everything. There's a reason for this.

As adults we've built our symbol system - we know what the world is like. If we are exposed to something that doesn't fit our expectations, we reject it. This is an evolutionary part of our development.

As children grow every new experience becomes part of their dictionary of what 'is'. The psyche, or subconscious, takes everything at face value and accepts it. This is why mantras, dream interpretation, tarot, and creative visualization work. Since the psyche has so little to work with in kids it's especially sensitive to new symbols to use.

So anyway, violence without context creates a system shock. It's important that we instill in kids a sense that the world is safe and good, that morality matters, and that there is abundance. They can learn the hard lessons when they're older, but when they're still vulnerable it's important that their primary symbols are ones they can draw strength from later in life. If they're imprinted with symbols that the world is dangerous and help won't come and violence is random and unavoidable, these negative primary symbols set them up for a hard time at life.

I strongly feel that exposure to violent media at a young age, before children have built a resilient symbol system strongly contributes to a weakened psychic immune system. It's like building your body on frozen pizzas and fast food. The nutrition isn't there.

So when are kids old enough to be introduced to d&d? The short answer is not before age 10.

Up until this point the child's mind is wide open - they're totally dependent on their caretakers. Anything that threatens them physically, emotionally, spiritually, teaches 'this world is not safe". If the world is not safe development is hindered.

From 7 to 9 children are beginning to develop enough that they can perceive a wider world beyond the scope of their parental matrix. Around the age of 9 kids begin to see themselves as fundamentally separate from their caretakers, with their own power and agency. Yet they're still fragile. Repeated failures and exposure to danger outside their abilities can hinder development. By 10 they've hopefully had enough time to begin to build a suite of skills to prepare them for life outside their parents. This skill set won't be fully developed until much later, but it's a good time to be testing themselves against danger. 

I could go deeper into this subject, but I'll leave it surface level for now. I know this is very different from how most people think about child development, but I think they if you spend some time with these ideas you'll find a kernel of truth.

What do you do if your kids are younger than 10?

7 and younger read them folk tales from a variety of different cultures. The D'aulaires Book of Norse Myths is great, the 7 Year Old Wonder Book, Beetle Tamer and Other Stories, the Andrew Lang Fairy Books, and Grimm Fairy Tales. Many of these stories have violence, but within the context of a moral worldview which renders then comprehensible to children. Heroes always win and there is meaning and goodness.

8 and 9 you can do more realistic hero stories and mythologies. The Old Testament has a bunch of great stories (disclaimer: we're not Christian, we present them as myths like any other), the Norse Ragnarok stories, King Arthur, maybe some tamer Greek myths. At this age it's good for kids to be exposed to stories like Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden, the Hobbit, or Pandora's Box, the idea that there IS suffering and evil in the world, and that we are separate from God, and that there is a darker world outside the doorstep. This is because at this age children are awaiting to their separation from their caretakers.

9 to 10 kids are ready for subtlety. Robin Hood is a great example - Robin does bad things for good reasons. At this stage kids should be exposed to life skills, such as gardening, woodworking, house building. If you can take them hiking, primitive camping, and introduce them to stories where people defy the odds or commune with nature all the better. I recommend My Side of the Mountain, the Chronicles of Prydain, Septims Heap, and the Giver for this age. In these stories kids are thrust into dire situations without their caretakers, which challenge and strength their abilities to rely on themselves. Along the way the young kids meet older adults who are good role models and sources of advice and strength, but the kids are still forced to prove themselves in the end rather than relying on adults to bail them out. A careful balance to strike.

From 8 to 10 you can play roleplaying games with kids that aren't about using violence to solve your problems. If they struggle against an enemy the threats should be transformation, capture, losing something dear, getting lost, but never overtly life threatening. When you fail you have a set back, but you don't die.

At 10 I think it's okay to start introducing life or death situations as long as they aren't too gratuitous. I think Cairn is a great introduction to this kind of gameplay. I don't think kids of any age should be shielded from natural consequences or failure, I just think it's a little much for children younger than this to have their avatar torn limb from limb, get their head cut off, eaten alive, boiled, burned, or gutted. They experience their imaginative characters as part of themselves. 10 is just right because they can now understand the difference between imaginary-for-fun and imaginary-as-practice-for-life.

This is such a big subject and there's a lot more to cover. Kids 10 and younger will act out in their games with other kids stuff they experience in their media. So fairy tale stories might lead to situations where one child is threatening to eat another in an imaginary game. Play between children is different from play between children and adults. It's important to understand that they view us as providers of symbols. Our imaginary play with them has a wholley different character of instruction that play with other kids does not. It's the difference between exploring the woods with your peers and exploring the woods with your science teacher. As an adult we cannot and should not strive to form the first relationship, and always remember our role is the secondary one.

Parents teach, children rehearse.

Rules to modify death in Cairn.

When failing critical damage you are knocked unconscious and out of the combat. You come to an hour later. Put a tally mark in the corner of your sheet.

The second time you take critical damage you are wounded - you can't walk unaided. If you perform any check or roll you collapse afterwards, too weak to move. You are Deprived.

If you aren't treated in 24 hours you develop a fever only powerful medicines or magic can cure. Three days later, if still untreated, you die.

If at any time you recieve a third critical damage you die.

After several weeks of rest and healing, say a couple months in a Haven between adventures, all tallies go away and you're fit to quest again.

The point of these changes isn't to reduce the danger. A character who fails is still 'out of the game' for a while. Instead, it increases the *threat* of danger while still giving players a chance to overcome and learn from their mistakes. This fits in with a lot of youth fiction

Friday, November 18, 2022

Eldritch Sorcery

 Here's some notes I have about elves, magic, and low fantasy campaigns. The part about elves is lifted almost directly from the Japanese Wizardry TTRPG. The campaign thing came from a discussion on the discord.

From Reddit

Elves are a truly ancient race with a long history. They prefer solitude and do not readily share their sacred knowledge with outsiders. No elf is known to have died from natural causes.

Their race is slender and light-boned, like a bird's. Average height is about 5' 6" for both men and women. Elven skin is greenish-white and their facial expressions stoic, almost humorless, except for an occasional tell-tale reddening of the cheeks.

 Elves live in small, isolated bands of 30 to 100 individuals. Some larger communities contract dwarves to build elegant castles deep in the mountains or near waterfalls, though most prefer to live nomadically, wandering the ancient forests.

 Because elves are, by nature, only concerned with the pursuit of knowledge, they are often dependent on other races for their material existence, hiring gnomes and hobbits to do household chores. This makes the originally incapacitated elves an even weaker race. They feed on the production of magical medicines and scrolls. You can think of most of the magical things you see today as being made by elves.

From Reddit

Would be a cool setting for a low fantasy campaign with no magic

City is beseiged, plague corpses thrown in and the dead walk again, the city flees to the depths of the tunnels walling up the underground until they find something even worse creeping in from below them. Now they've been huddled in enclaves of the undercity for a generation and the plague corpses are rotted and withered to dust as adventurers go in looking for the riches that the church supposedly hauled with them to the tunnels to escape destruction by the seige.

So are the descendents like reduced to cannibal cretinism or what


there's an idea - to perform magic on something, you have to sincerely believe that it is lesser than you

it's easy to telekinesis rocks around, set plants on fire, whatever, and generally people can do magic at animals but doing it to people requires that you believe that you're just better than them, whether through lichdom, connection to the divine, or godawful racial theocracy or godawful racial theory

AI generated fantasy art

This thing I think came from doris2, for generating a campaign setting:

You have traveled centuries into the future to find that there has been a _____ and the area is now controlled by _____ wielding _____

























AI generated fantasy art

Here's a snipped discussion about running hexcrawl campaigns


i guess, for the sake of being helpful, a summary of my stocking process

- step 1: ok yes you have to figure out the terrain first (this is art and the hardest step, but I have had good results from the welsh piper method linked above, though I modify it significantly)

-step 2: decide # of known settlements based on map size, probably between 4-8 for the maps I tend to do (10x10 to 12x12 is my favorite size). Connect settlements with roads, add forts and inns in logical locations

- step 3: add some significant monster lairs, small dungeons based on a single big monster threat. probably equal to settlements. 

-step 4: define a handful of world factions. things like mercenary groups, religious groups, old nobility, friendly monster towns, stuff like that, and key them to a hex. Mercenary camps, Monastaries deep in the woods, isolated gothic castles, the monster's towns, would be examples of how I'd do that. Again, might as well match the # of settlements, give or take 1. 

step 5: add some magical waystones, petty god shrines, places of power, this stuff is FUN and I find it usually is pretty easy to come up with fun effects for messing with magic and making deals with Entities

step 6: Add a bunch of ruins, not necessarily full dungeons, I have a table I use for generating this stuff. Some of the ruins should have loot, treasure caches, magic weapons. Using the word ruins real liberally here- an abandoned farmstead counts, for example. 

at this point I usually end up with a really well stocked map, at which point I start thinking about any other specific coolness I want to add that isn't quite so formulaic. The sky's the limit there but following these 6 steps (5 steps, really) tends to result in a pretty decently stocked map as long as you aren't running a gargantuan hexcrawl

As for running them- I try to give fairly strong directed quest hooks, the players are free to ignore them but that gives direction. The first few journeys into the hexmap are usually spent with very specific goals in mind, then they see something off in the distance and have to explore it, then they see another thing off in the distance, it's good fun. 

The worst thing you can do is just give the players a map and say "go explore it, have fun!" without any hooks, in my experience. 

I use fairly complex random encounter tables to make travel interesting but that's a whole other rant, lol. I will say a key bit is that they encounter other travelers on the road, who can point them to new locations through rumors.

I also am very loose with distance traveled measurements, I mostly count movement in hexes traveled rather than miles traveled. trying to squeeze as much utility out of the hex format as possible.


This is a very good point. I've seen newcomers struggle with this, this is seen as a contradiction - "I want to run a sandbox game, I don't want to railroad my players with quests". But at the initial stage, the first couple of sessions, a basic hook is very much needed to introduce them into the setting

And bypass analysis paralysis

"escort this rich pilgrim to magic mountain, 6 hexes away" gives a waypoint, an incentive, a quick intro to crawling hexes

And the way will take them by features they can mark for future exploration


It also really REALLY depends on the players.

I started my game with just two things - a town and a dungeon an hour away from it. The players then spent the first 3 sessions only going there, and not exploring any of the other elements I placed on their map. Once I put in some news and rumors, they basically latched onto them. I've only had one session where players just went out exploring (it was also probably the most fun and rewarding one in terms of play experience).

Unless you're already playing with people who are deep into old school play and more or less don't need ANY prompts, most other players will basically refuse to just go out and do stuff unless there's some kind of hook there.

I've noticed that there's a non-insignificant lack of creativity, drive and curiosity with a lot of my players. And a truly sandbox experience kind of requires the players to have those things

Instead of the GM just telling them where there's interesting stuff, and them beelining for it while ignoring everything else.