So a good friend of mine recently informed me that the Ruin Generator I provided in Monkey Business (that OSR module I wrote) had no merit at all. The results were too vanilla and for the time you'd spend using it, nothing of value would be produced. He admitted, though, that this judgement was superficial and only based on his read-through, not on actually testing it. Fair enough. I value his observations a great deal, so I should pay attention. If my description of it wasn't enough to inspire him to use it, I'd go as far as agreeing that I failed to make him use it. That doesn't mean, however, that the tool doesn't have merit, it means I failed to make my case properly. This series of post will try to rectify that (this is going to be a big one, so I decided to go with two parts or more here).
Presumptions 1: Can Complex Environments be Randomized?
DMs using the tools provided will create a huge jungle sandbox from scratch, including factions, villages, treasure and ruins as well as having an idea how those interact. It is a tall order and people seem to mostly find it all usefull. Treasure got some heat, but I make my case about that in the post linked above ... in short, I believe the treasure generator gives a DM a shitload of information to build on while IMPROVISING treasure on the fly, even creating quest items (among of lots of other things). Test it in specific gaming situations (it needs the context of the game to build on) then tell me it doesn't work and, more importantly, why.
Anyway. The Ruin Generator got no love at all and was deemed to baroque to be even used. I mean, it definitely is high concept and not using it will have you missing out (imo), but not hinder you from using the module at all. It is just (and here's why I even bothered to write it) that a DM will create 19 hex fields with each containing an average of 3 ruins, some of them small (not so much work), some of them huge (that'd be modules in themselves, actually).
You don't have to have all of them prepared (players will only explore one hex at a time ...), but you'd be well advised to have the hex prepared the characters are in and the adjacent hexes as well. Starting at the border of the hex map would mean you'd have some concepts for round about 12 ruins ready enough for the characters to explore on a whim. Looky here (from the module):
|Open in new tab for details ...|
Now, either way you prepare for that will be lots of work, because that's just what it is. You sure can have some maps handy or some other product or even some random online generator to help you through this, but you will not get around preparing all of that. At the least you'll have to adjust what you get to your game.
The problem is, obviously, the level of detail players will expect when exploring ruins or a dungeon. It can barely be handwaved (if at all) and it'll have lots of moving pieces in the air as the players gather information about structure and inhabitants and how to work that to their benefit.
My design goal for the ruin generator had been to have a system easy enough to complete in a couple of steps, but with complex enough results to allow for depth and variety while summoning all the little tropes one could encounter in such an environment in the order they would be encountered.
That last part ("the order in which they are encounteres") turned out to be the crucial part, as it mirrors the hierarchy of information from "most general" to "most detailed" when the narrative starts zooming in on something that warrants more detail. Having the information build up that way a DM will have at all times a superficial pattern on hand to expand on as well as some detailed hot spots to work with as the characters explore.
That is, admittedly, a tall order. But if pulled off properly, it'd be a mighty tool for a DM to get all of those ruins prepared within some reasonable time frame (imo). If a DM has fun doing so (because we are nerds like that), it'd be even better. It'd be the DM playing AND creating at the same time (like, you know, How To Host A Dungeon, for instance). If nothing else, DMs using this tool will spend time creating something themselves instead of learning to use something someone else wrote (well, it's kind of both ... you know what I mean).
Naturally, one could critizice now that you don't buy a module to do something yourself that should be provided instead. However, that argument does not stand with all the sandbox creation tools I have encountered so far. It is always assumed that the DM interprets and builds on the pattern any such tool would provide. Why should this be different with ruins or treasure created that way?
It isn't different at all, imo. The DM creates. Ideally a module will provide a great frame to make what they create shine and maybe even give it some direction. But DMs will create or they end up being the mouth piece for something someone else created, and where's the fun in that?
Anyway, I digress. Sorry. I believe that a certain amount of complexity for such a tool as described above is warranted, even necessary to get results worth anything (considering said complexity). Still not saying I managed to create such a tool, but I hope I was able to explain where I'm coming from in this and how I went about it.
Show, don't tell, man!
Alright, lets get rolling. I'll just go ahead and use the module as intended so you guys get an idea what's happening. Our hex-field is a 52, that'd be "rolling plains with some jungle". The Resource Level is a bit lower here (-1), so we get to roll 2d6 for ruins here ... a 7. That means we have one medium sized ruin hiding here as well as two overgrown remains (a piece of road, a pillar, something like that). As for factions, this hex also contains a hidden Gorilla Base (with 2 orangutans, 3 chimpanzee ninjas and 9 goblins stationed here) and two hidden drug stashes, 2 Cannibal Villages, some mushroom artwork (5 times, spread across hex) and some artifact and weird effects from the Alien presence as well as some (4) areas showing signs of radiation.
First, the Cannibal Village (just going with the dice here) actually is within the ruins. They currently have lots of wounded due to some sort of war and people are afraid of something (quest is indicated!), but are poorly equipped. They have a shaman who's faking his magic abilities (which is somehow connected to the people being afraid) and have a crazy chieftain (reason for the wounded and the poor equipment, although they live within the ruins).
The second Cannibal Village fights with some sickness but has the population happy as something nice had just happened (I'd go with them finding a cure or remedy). They are quite primitive and have only basic farming and rudimentary tools available, but their fighters are capable veterans and have a level 3 Shaman that is in contact with the spirits. Their chieftain, however, is quite incompetent.
There are no conflicts in the area, but the next time the gorillas will expand here, it'll mean to go to open war with the cannibals, so tension is high.
That's the stage as far as we'll need it for this example (we'll ignore the surrounding hexes and the vistas they'd add to this as well as the results about what the villages would exactly look like). This is what's going on in the 790 square kilometers of this hex (an area about two-thirds as big as Los Angeles) ... everything is in a distance equivalent to couple of hours travel across those plains.
What ruin over yonder?
|This is for the results!|
Now for the Medium Ruin. First roll is 1d100+50 to see how big we'll go ... that'd be 115 points for building this. The result of our first Ruin Section is 9 (d12), 20 (d20), 5 (d8), 10 (d10) and 2 (d6) (a total of 46). First sign of those ruins is a big overgrown Stone Arc (adds includes Inside Area). It should be in a jungle area this hex is featuring, visible between the green growth.
The Theme for those Ancient Ruins is "Time Loop Destruction" and it'll feature some Residual Magic of sorts. There are also some harmless ghosts here and a zombie problem as well as Kobolds. One Jungle Treasure can be found here.
TREASURE 1: 17 (d20), 2 (d20), 1 (d12), 6 (d8) - This is one dose of a rare drug made from vermin and worth 208 gp.
Our 115 are reduced by the value of that first roll (46) to a 69.
For the second Ruin Section (an Inside area) the results are 3 (d12), 5 (d6), 7 (d10), 20 (d20) and 7 (d8) (a total of 42). This is a former Green House. The entrance to it is hidden, Stone Faces are heavily featured in this area, it is quite swampy and here are some crude and natural traps. Here are two factions present: Kobolds and Troglodytes, but it also has a Dragon! So a dragon has its lair in a tower here ... Furthermore adventurers might find 4 Jungle Treasures and access to clean water here (additionally to what the Factions and the beasties carry, that is).
TREASURE 1: 4 (d20), 15 (d20), 2 (d12), 5 (d8) - This is some ancient weapon made out of iron and worth 130 gp.
TREASURE 2: 1 (d20), 12 (d20), 8 (d12), 7 (d8) - This is some alien wear made out a strange leather with usability 8 (high) and worth 56 gp.
TREASURE 3: 6 (d20), 10 (d20), 4 (d12), 1 (d8) - This is some crested container made out of wood with a usability of 4 and worth 21 gp.
TREASURE 4: 2 (d20), 1 (d20), 5 (d12), 7 (d8) - This is 5 doses of some alien alcohol made out of herd animals and worth 30 gp.
Our remaining 69 are reduced by the value of that second roll (42) to a 27.
On to the next area. The results are 15 (d20), 4 (d6), 4 (d12), 5 (d10) and 2 (d8) (a total of 30). First Impression here is a "Mountain Side", which should translate to something like a cliff of sorts with the features "hiding" in the jungle atop the cliff. I'd go as far as saying this is a wonderful stone wall featuring a mountain scene and hiding some stairs that lead to the top. The high result here also adds one Inside and one Feature Area to this.
Main Theme here is "Roots"and the Complication is "Uneven Footing", both adding to the hidden aspect of this area. Some harmless monkeys reside here and there's one Jungle Treasure hidden here as well. I'd put the cannibals here in relative distance to the Kobolds and the Zombies (and the Dragon, for that matter).
TREASURE 1: 3 (d20), 16 (d20), 11 (d12), 1 (d8) - This is an ancient artwork made from salt and worth 62 gp.
Our remaining 27 are reduced now below 0, but there are still two areas to be resolved (an Inside and a Feature). After that the ruins are complete (for now).
For our Inside in this area we get 6 (d10), 5 (d6), 5 (d12), 1 (d8) and 5 (d20). This is a Boneyard (a huge hall, at that) with the Stone Faces returning as a Theme, more harmless ghosts and some termites. Three Jungle Treasures can be found here. The Cannibals are aware of this area, but mostly avoid it because of the ghosts.
TREASURE 1: 13 (d20), 13 (d20), 3 (d12), 6 (d8) - This is some mysterious knowledge conserved on iron sheets with a usability of 3 (low) and worth 70 gp.
TREASURE 2: 15 (d20), 1 (d20), 9 (d12), 7 (d8) - This is 9 doses of some primitive alcohol made out of herd animals (blood?) and worth 32 gp.
TREASURE 3: 4 (d20), 8 (d20), 1 (d12), 1 (d8) - This is some big ancient accessory made out of bone with a usability of 1 (very low) and worth 14 gp.
The Feature is connected to the Inside and for that we get 3 (d8), 13 (d20), 3 (d12), 1 (d6) and 2 (d10). An Ancient Gallery with some hidden spaces can be found here. The main Theme is "Bridges" and these ancient halls still have some magic working here. The complication here is that it's crawling with insects, mostly Termites, it seems. One Jungle Treasure can be found here.
TREASURE 1: 17 (d20), 13 (d20), 2 (d12), 2 (d8) - This is some rare knowledge written on some vermin based medium with a usability of 2 (low) and worth 272 gp.
That's it for the random results and what they sum up to. All of this is somewhat basic, so far. What we haven't done yet is interpreting how the dice used for those results connect with each other and what that looks like. A map, so to say (see below).
And all that for what?
I had scribbled on the side how all of this comes together, roughly. This will need some fleshing out in places as well as produce some very specific necessities for the ruins here (mostly due to residual magic and a dragon).
What I will do now is putting in some extra effort, since this is a blog and not a DM notebook. If I were doing this for my home game, I'd just make a sketch, put down some notes and be done with it, which would be much faster. Since this is also a proof of concept, I'll go the distance and show how the provided information helps creating a very individual and fitting location for Monkey Business.
It goes without saying that this has a very high variation due to basic variables like location alone. Have this location high in the mountains and it will look totally different as well as offering different challenges (different hidden areas, different ways to get from A to B, different populations, ...).
Other than that, there might be many different reasons to explore those ruins derived from how the adventure is going. Those cannibals have a problem that needs solving. The dragon could be a problem in the area or even a possible ally versus the gorillas ... or it's all just treasure hunting (again, that dragon will have a hoard!).
You won't get the same result twice, so there is that as well. In the end, if you do 12 ruins like that, even without fleshing them out properly (there are cheat sheets to keep the information straight and with that it should be easy to even improvise a ruin), they all will be distinguishably different with lots of variety for exploration and enough information established to keep the players busy for some time.
And now for the first Area ... this is me as the DM now, building on the established. The map for what is presented here looks like this (preliminary and to be expanded on, of course, but this is what you get):
|Just a sketch, but all the pieces are there!|
The Hidden Everdying Galleries of Karrik-Thazzar
These ruins of a long lost civilization once flaunted its greatest achievements and victories for its people to indulge in. It featured a magical gallery where the rooms connected via magical bridges, a boneyard where the remains of overcome foes could be admired in artful displays and a green house showcasing the most beautiful and magical blossoms throughout the realm.
It fell, as all things do eventually. Now only the ghosts and ruins left behind give careful observers a hint of the serene beauty this place once held.
This location contains five major areas, some of them hidden, as well as two factions to interact with (Cannibals & Dragon Crew). It's low in treasure and in traps.
The whole complex is hidden under heavy plant growth and the easiest access to the ruins is through a overgrown but still well visible artificial and ornate stone arc.
Encounters as per rules for exploration (in this case using Labyrinth Lord and the module itself).
Random Encounter Table (1d12)
3-5 Signs of Dragon Presence
6-7 Sight of Dragon in Distance
8-9 Kobolds on Patrol
10 Troglodytes having Fun
11 Cannibals, but lost
12 Dragon Close-By
Add (1d4-1) 1 Random Jungle Encounter, as per the module (results 12 & 8):
There are some stoned lower monkeys somewhere in the location (where the DM thinks it appropriate ... I decided for Area 1 Site 3).
Basic mixture of jungle and ruins. Sites are connected via paths that allow easy traversion. Cutting through the jungle between sites is (mostly) possible, but tiring and time consuming in comparison. Sites are between 30 and 50 meters apart, visibility of surroundings is noted if applicable.
There is some Magic Residue in this Area with a "Time Loop" as a theme. Let's have some fun with this one: once per character (not enough magic to trigger this more than once per character!) death in this area creates a loop where the character is sent one combat round back in time instead. First time this happens, the character has to make a successful check to not be surprised and just die again (because, duh!). Second time around they know what's happening and can take the knowledge about their surroundings and the fight into account to avoid their death. Each time they willingly die to learn from the experience, they either get +1 to attacks or -1 to AC until death is avoided (as for the DM: that last and deadly last attack will stay the same, of course ... no additional rolls needed!).
If they die more than 10 times, a succesful Save versus Death Rays becomes necessary to stay sane. Unsuccessful save implicates fear against [mode of death] and means that each time a character is confronted with similar situations (same weapon, same monster, whatever applies) they have to make a Save versus Paralysation to not freeze in place instead of acting.
Please encourage players to come up with creative alternatives to allow their survival. Characters willingly facing death in this Area after surviving their first loop, will just die as per the rules of the game you are using.
Area 1 Site 1: A once glorious Arc
The top of this arc is well visible when the jungle containing those ruins is approached from the plins due south. Even when entering the jungle during daylight, the top of the arc will function as an easily visible guide to the location.
On site, this turns out to be a roughly 40 meters high, 60 meters wide, 20 meters deep triumphal arc. Very ornate heavy stone blocks that mostly feature edged but expressive stone faces.
- An eery whisper is omnipresent here. It sounds like the distnat buzz of a town.
- The remains of a cobblestone street lead downhill towards WWN (Area 1 Site 2).
- The surrounding jungle is littered with big overgrown stones, but no complete structures are visible.
- Everything but the arch seems thrashed.
- Climbing the arch will reveal two more close-by features: a half-sunken building with a tower due NE and a massive cliff artificially cut to appear like a mountain panorama due west (Area 3 Site 1). The panorama can be recognized and located in the distance after a succesfull INT check (and might lead to other locations, if the DM so desires).
Area 1 Site 2: Kobolds & Decaying Ghost Shadows
This has been a plaza of sorts, located at the foot of a artificially altered, 30 meters high cliff bordering it due W. The cobblestones here resisted some of the roots reclaiming this area, resulting in a bit of a clearing. Still, it's full of big debris and growth, making this the perfect camp for the kobolds residing here. They are the preliminary guard for the Dragon living in Area 2 Site 5.
- The residual magic remaining in this place makes things even more irritating: glimpses of the past of this location flitter ghostly over the remains, making the whole area very restless with ghostly people and buildings telling of the downfall of this place, if one cares enough to observe the phenomenon for a long enough time (at least 4 days before it loops back to the beginning).
- The Kobolds are well hidden here, allowing for an ambush 4 in 6 times.
- An optical illusion hides a staircase up that cliff (leading to Area 3 Site 1).
- Rests of one cobblestreet leads up SEE to the arch, one leads up NEE (to Area 1 Site 3)
12 Kobolds, 1d4 HD (4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1), AC 7, C, 1 Attack, D 1d4 or Weapon-1, Saves 0 level Human, Morale 6, Hoard Class I
Area 1 Site 3: Hidden Durst Jamboree
This clearing borders above a swampy area due N (some 20 meters down from the clearing). It has only big debris marking the area, like overgrown partial walls and half broken passage ways. Some stoned monkeys have set up camp here (the Random Jungle Encounter set up above ... it fits here quite well becaus of the Treasure hidden here). There's a shabby tent, some carpets, wooden boxes and dirty cushions. There's also a table set up with six monkeys playing poker and five more commenting on it (in Common Tongue, of course). It's a lively scene and they are unafraid and relaxed (the Dragon allows their presence, thinks them entertaining). The monkeys are not associated with the Hidden Gorilla Camp in the area (just customers ... those monkeys are too flimsy for military duty).
- From here the half sunken building due N (Area 2) is well visible.
- The monkeys will allow characters joining the poker game, but they cheat and are careless about it. Still will take the gold, though. They are easily threatened and intimated, however, and will make concessions if pushed hard enough.
- One shady monkey will offer the character some Durst (see Monkey Business p. 42 & 43), but has no idea what the dose is actually worth (or what the drug does ... he'll sell it hard, though). He'll claim 100 gp, but can be haggled down to 60 gp.
- One path leads down due W into swampy territory (to Area 1 Site 4), one leads down due WWS (to Area 1 Site 2)
[using the Monkey Generator provided in the module, adding the stats myself:]
11 White Howler Monkeys with flat wide faces and naked prehensile tails (black skin), 1d4+2 HD (6, 6, 6, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 4, 4, 3), AC 4, C, 1 Attack, D 1d6-1 or Weapon, Saves 2 level Human, Morale 4, Hoard Class IV
Area 1 Site 4: A damp place, but sunny
This little clearing is bordering on a swampy area with a half sunken building due NNE surrounded by lots of water patches between the dense jungle as a main feature (Area 2). Other than that, there's not much else to be seen on a first glance. There's no such thing as an empty space, though. It's quite nice here, actually. And no ghosts at all. Coming to rest here, one can admire the beauty of nature integrating what's left of this once thriving place. Thick roots, rustling green, ornate stones and sunlight glittering on water ...
However, spending more than half an hour here will trigger an encounter as described above.
- Taking the time to enjoy the scenery will heal 1d3 HP.
- There are two hidden paths leading away from this location. Finding will take 10+1d20 minutes each (unless characters very actively look in the right places, going by the description the DM provides).
- One leads underwater NE and into the building adjacent to this site (into Area 2 Site 1, sidenote: the building can be entered by climbing as well, see entry Area 2) and can be discovered by looking into the clear water between this site and the building (which will reveal a stone doorway). Characters will have to dive through it into the building (simple CON check will suffice, though).
- The other leads through an ascending tunnel due N (to Area 1 Site 5). The Stone doorway leading into the tunnel is hidden behind some rubble (covering the lower third) and heavy undergrowth. This is former service tunnel used by slaves and it is very well intact, even features some graffiti mocking the long dead masters of those long dead slaves (texts will need read magic to be deciphered, the pictures of profanities speak for themselves).
- There is one obvious path leading up and due E (to Area 1 Site 3).
Area 1 Site 5: Foul Kitchen Service
The building that stood here is long gone and only some foundation and debris are left to frame this site. The service tunnel this site is entered by opens into what has been a kitchen (which could be found out if someone where to study the remaining foundations). This is not a clearing, but somehow bushes did not overwhelm this part of the ruins. The jungle only gets thick right behind the remaining stones marking where the building stood. The Dragon Crew is not aware of this area, which would make it a nice place to hang out. However ...
- Main remaining feature in this place is an open well with a 2m diameter. The water deep down is black and muddy. On opposing sides of this well, somewhat hidden below earth and grass, it has two skeletons. The rests of their clothing indicate that they had been soldiers of some kind. They seem to have stood guard here.
- Only the night reveals the tragedy that befell this place, albeit only incomplete. The scenery will come to life ghostly, showing the two soldiers forcing what seems to be the household into the well, with all the tears and drama one would imagine. Women trying to protect their children, people trying to climb out of the well only to be cut down. The soldiers do their job relentlessly, but with tears streaming down their stoic faces. 20 people die in that well. The Soldiers commit suicide after the deed and die where their skeletons are found.
- Those 20 souls forced into the well are Zombies now that will climb out as soon as they sense the living above. It'll take them two rounds to get out of the well, and even though characters being aware of what's coming will be able to shoot some of them down before they get out, most sure will make it. And they will follow those adventurers mercilessly unless destroyed.
- Service tunnel leads out of there due S (to Area 1 Site 4).
20 Zombies, 2d8 HD (adults: 15, 13, 12, 12, 11, 11, 10, 9, 9, 9, 8, 8, 8, 7 children: 7, 7, 7, 5, 4, 3), AC 8, C, 1 Attack, D 1d8 or Weapon, Saves F1, Morale 12, Hoard None
That's enough for now ...
I think it's already a lot, actually. The rest will follow as I get down to it. As I said above, just going with the notes and sketches is way less work intensive, especially if the DM is somewhat familiar with the tool and uses the provided Cheat Sheets.
Okay, I have to admit this was more fun than I thought it would be :P Reminded me why I enjoyed writing MB to begin with. However, as I stated above: if you actually use the tool, you'll get lots to play with and it does allow for a deeper exploration of the setting while allowing room for what the module established. This is an, I'd say, average result (you can get a crystal skull, ffs, and more quests that connect this with the hex ... a lot can happen).
In realted news, since the PoD version of this is overdue and a revision is warranted (it is my first, and I love it for that, but it can be better!), I'll aim for a Kickstarter of the Revision in 2022. So stay tuned! You want a teaser? You'll get a teaser :)
|Sexy, no? More 2022 ...|
The module itself already does a lot, of course, so make sure to check that out
if haven't already! It is PWYW, so you can get it for free, give it a try and show some love afterwards, if you are so inclined. This beast of a module received 3 five star ratings since the reviews had dropped. From people I do not know, I might add (and still love for their commitment!), so this actually is received quite well.
If you are thirsty for more, you can check out a free preview of the Ø2\\'3|| (that rpg I published) right here (or go and check out the first reviews here).
We will do a sale in October when the banner goes live. Stay tuned for that ...
If you are in Europe,
I'd put this on hold for a bit (wishlist it, or something). OBS still
prints in the UK and since that isn't Europe anymore, tolls are
mandated. No one needs those extra costs. They are working on the
problem, and I'll do a happy sale as soon as they switch printers.
If you already checked it out, please know that I
appreciate you :) It'll certainly help to keep the lights on here!
|Just look at that beauty ...|