Category Archives: Hex Describe

One-Page Generator for Keeps

As I’ve written elsewhere, when I started my current homebrew O5R campaign, I generated a 10×10 hex map using Hex Describe. Even though it is powered by nearly 2,000 tables (!), I found myself missing the cast of characters that populate a town. I came up with a design goal of, within a single page, emulating the keep from The Keep on the Borderlands (buy it!) as a useful starting location for the adventurers, but adding more elements of intrigue. Since Hex Describe is open source, and you can append your own tables to it, I did so and shared my tables with Alex Schroeder and Ktrey Parker. Ktrey suggested I add more professions; Alex suggested it could be used for more than just one town, but if so it would need more options and more variability.

Here’s example output from what we came up with.

This is Selwick, a town of 200 humans (HD 1 AC 8 1d6 F1 MV 12 ML 7 XP 100). The wooden houses are protected by a large keep, a wooden palisade and the river. The outer bailey of the keep houses the richest tradespeople of the land, under the rule of Duke Félix the Lucky Khan. The inner bailey houses the castellan and the guard. Entering the outer bailey is by paying 1sp per person. These tradespeople work there: 

  1. The crier Darwin is an excellent source of rumors. (A member of Fellowship of Pale Fortune Tellers.) 
  2. The herbalist Ève buys rare flora. (A member of Perfect Disciples of the Archaic Victory.) 
  3. The jeweler Loan acquires up to 1,000gp of gems. (A member of Beautiful Folk of the Keep.) 
  4. The merchant Allyson buys bulk quantities of spices, metal ingots, and other trade goods. (A member of Beautiful Folk of the Keep.) 
  5. The moneylender Hristina will convert coins from one denomination to another (10% surcharge). (Prays to Odin.) 
  6. The provisioner Tamira sells all types of equipment. 
  7. The rat catcher Kashfia, a devoted follower of Mitra, travels around singing hymns. (Surreptitiously favors Duke Alesch.) 
  8. The smith Besart sells new – and refurbishes old – weapons and armor. (Surreptitiously supports Duke Alesch.) 
  9. The tavern owner Henos runs the King’s Swan here, frequented by the well-off and the rabble-rousers. (A member of Fellowship of Pale Fortune Tellers.) 
  10. The trader Aaron buys old equipment and rare finds. (A member of Perfect Disciples of the Archaic Victory.) 
  11. The watchman Thalea frequents the shops the PCs visit and keeps an eye on them. (Second-in-command of the Fellowship of Pale Fortune Tellers.) 

(For a rumor about allegiances, roll a d10 and a d6. On a d6 of 1-3, tell the truth about the tradesperson corresponding to the results of the d10; on a 4-6, lie about them.)

The inner bailey is open to the select few and houses these noteworthy personages: 

The castellan Courtney. (Trusted confident of Duke Félix the Lucky Khan.) 

The corporal of the watch Alisha. 

The local secret society Perfect Disciples of the Archaic Victory is being infiltrated. It is led by the wizard Gentjana📷(level 3). The spells known are based on The Book of Songs by Xoralfona the Wordsmith: 1. empathycalm, 2. mind blast. They believe that the ruling class has been taken over by vampires. They prepare for the big fight by studying ancient books and training with silver daggers. 

The Fellowship of Pale Fortune Tellers have been plotting to overthrow them, led by the wizard Diell📷 (level 5). The spells known are based on The Book of the Warp by Korokoro the Mad: 1. recoilmishap, 2. oozeplague touch, 3. warp mind. A potion of strength (deep red, smelling like tree resin, 20min, strength 18). To believe in the current order of things is what servants are trained to do. They believe that another world is possible. 

Yet another secret society waits in the wings.

And, of course, this is built into the full hexcrawl generator, if you select Alex Schroeder’s set of random tables. For my hexcrawl, I actually ran all three sets of tables and combined them. I ran the same map through the generators from Alex Schroeder, Peter Seckler (a fork of Alex’s supporting different terrain types), and Matt Strom. Then I copied and pasted each together. Tedious and not something I’d do again but Alex’s doesn’t cover all terrain types. In retrospect, I’d start with Alex’s only and then cherrypick from the other two documents rather than combine them all to start with.

Alex SchroederPeter SecklerMatt Strom
Best forAlpine mapsSmale mapsSmale maps
Word count101,00717,882101,165
LicensePublic domainPublic domainCopyright held by various authors

The specific ruleset that Hex Describe uses is Alex Schroeder’s heartbreaker: “Halberds & Helmets is the name of my Players Handbook for old school D&D. It takes its inspiration from B/X D&D (1981) via Labyrinth Lord and incorporates many of the various rules and ideas I tag Old School.” This is mostly compatible with B/X but Halberds & Helmets (and therefore Hex Describe) uses its own sets of spells.

You can take the generator for a spin here: Hex Describe Town Rule (about half the towns have the keep with personages).

One-Page Dungeon Generator

I love the Dungeon Contest’s one-page dungeons, where you can see the entire dungeon and its contents at a glance. Especially those dungeons that get beyond the fixed narrative structure of five-room dungeons. My own attempt for the Dungeon Contest was thematic but probably unoriginal, though it did lead to three great sessions in my last campaign and the rise of a new Big Bad Evil Gal (you can download Catacombs of the Lich Queen here).

So I was disappointed when I ran Hex Describe for the first time and realized it lacked any single-page dungeons in its hexes. I suggested something quite simple, providing five bullets built from three types of rooms (entrance, interior, final):

  • Natural cavern
  • Mushroom farm
  • Kitchen
  • Guardroom
  • Throne room

Well Ktrey Parker ran with it, adding themes and adapting his tables, and Alex Schroeder built a dungeon-map generator, and together we iterated and iterated, ending up here:

Check it out! You can generate your own random dungeons, varying in size from 5 to 14 rooms. And, if you’d like to improve the generator, we’re always looking for additional authors to add to our tables.

Use Text Mapper to Create Random Maps and Hex Describe to Create Random Campaigns

For my current hexcrawl campaign, the Hexedland, I created a 10-by-10 hexmap using Text Mapper. I used the random generator based on Erin D. Smale’s algorithm, then keep tweaking the results by hand until I got something I liked. For instance, I wanted the starting hex to border each type of other terrain (forest, mountains, hills, swamp, lake, grassland) so that players could choose the type of environment (and therefore monsters) they wanted to encounter. I lengthened a mountain range that divided the middle of the map, and had the west side be arid and the east side be fertile, indicating that rains blow westward.

Editing the map doesn’t involve drawing but involves changing descriptions of hexes:

0101 green firs thorp
0102 light-grey mountain cliff1
0103 light-grey mountain
0104 light-green firs thorp
0105 green fir-forest
0106 light-grey forest-hill
0107 light-grey mountain
0108 light-green firs thorp
0109 grey swamp
0110 grey swamp
0201 light-grey mountain cliff0
0202 white mountain
0203 light-grey mountain
0204 light-green fir-forest
0205 light-grey mountain cliff0

I also ended up adding names into the map for some of the major landmarks. The following illustration is just of a random map, as I don’t want my players to see the actual map I’m using. Half the fun is in the discovery.


Now why create maps like this?

The key reason is that you can then copy that map into Hex Describe and create an entire campaign!

All of a sudden you have 100 regions that your players can go explore! And of course you can hack and edit any description to better suit your players’ interest. But it is much easier to start with 100 descriptions already generated then to start with a blank page.

So far I’ve extensively rewritten each of the hexes my players have visited, keeping some elements from Hex Describe’s output. For instance, I’m replacing the Halberds & Helmets cosmology with the gods from my one-page pantheon. But the random hexes generate ideas that push me to be more creative and inspire confidence that, should my players set off in an unexpected direction (as they often do) or get lost (less often), I can describe where they end up.

I encourage you to give both Text Mapper and Hex Describe a spin!