Monday, September 27, 2021

Ludic Dreams - Filling in the Blanks


I will be reviewing two books written by Todd Leback, published by Third Kingdom Games, and written for the Old School Essentials system, but easily usable for any older edition of D&D or their retroclones. The first, which I'll talk about today, is Filling in the Blanks: A Guide to Populating Hexcrawls. In the next installment of Ludic Dreams I'll delve into Into the Wild: A High-Level Resource for OSR Games. The first presents a technique for randomly generating the keys for wilderness maps. The second presents rules for wilderness travel and exploration, a system of random weather generation, rules for establishing and ruling a domain, techniques for handling trade, and even a system for creating new B/X classes. Together they present a unified system for handling what happens outside a dungeon. Indeed, taken together they are impressive in scope, depth, and detail.

Filling in the Blanks is illustrated by Jen Drummond, who did the covers, and Adrian Barber, Chad Dickhaut, and Dan Smith who did the internal illustrations. The maps are made by Todd Leback and Aaron Schmidt using hexographer. Art and cartography is crucial in conveying a setting, giving flavor or visual details of adventure locales, and igniting the imagination so that a DM can inhabit the mental space of the adventure or world. It is much less important for a generic presentation of rules. The inoffensive B/X feeling art in Filling in the Blanks fits the generic character of the system, breaking up the page layout, without distracting from the rules presentation. 


Hex Theory


What is a hex? Historically speaking, hexes derive from hex and chit wargames, where troops represented on little cardboard squares (chits) moved across a board divided into hexagons representing a battlefield of different terrain types. In this sense, they represented abstract boardgame spaces that tracked troop movements in six directions (N, NW, SW, S SE, NE), while accounting for the effects of terrain on movement and battle.

Early ttrpg players, many of whom were wargamers, general employed graph paper maps for dungeon crawls and hex maps for wilderness travel and adventuring. Indeed, in Gygax’s Greyhawk campaign, when the players moved from the graph paper squares of the dungeon into the wilderness, Gygax employed a hexmap borrowed directly from the boardgame Outdoor Survival. He used it for a phase of the campaign that came to be called domain play, where the game swayed towards its wargaming roots, as players were expected to “clear” a wilderness area of monsters and claim it as a domain, building military outpost (castles, monasteries, etc), “civilizing” and ruling it, while perhaps engaging in warfare and diplomacy.


                 

In contemporary play, hexmaps are used in a variety of ways in classic or old school play. We might distinguish the following six functions of a hex—no doubt there are others we might think up.

  1. Smallest Map Unit: In this function, the hex is the smallest unit of the map. There is no map inside a hex, rather the map is composed of hexes.
  2. Measure of Movement: In this function, the hex is used as a measure of movement, which proceeds from one hex into another hex in one of the six directions of the hex facings. As pieces move across a certain number of spaces across a board, so too in hexes, PCs move a certain number of hexes in one of the six directions.
  3. Terrain Bearer: In this function, the hex is coded with a certain terrain type. This type comes with both mechanical and narrative effects, including affecting movement rates and encounters. We operate here at the level of a uniform type “hills”, “swamp”, “forest”, “jungle”, and so on.
  4. Keyed Unit: In this function, the hex is the unit of the map which is “keyed”. It thus plays the same role in wilderness maps that rooms play in dungeon maps. Hexes are “stocked” with notable features, including possibly adventure locales, natural formations, lairs, settlements and the like.
  5. Encounter Space: In this function, hexes are the spaces in wilderness exploration where random encounters happen. Different encounter tables may be tied to different hexes, regions, or terrain types.
  6. Political or Economic Unit: In this function, hexes bear a political status, showing them under the sway of certain factions with mechanical or narrative effects, or they function as an economic unit with the capacity to produce wealth or different goods.

As we’ll see, these functions can be separated from one another. One can use hexes without hexes playing all these roles. For example, this glorious illustrated hex by Tom Fitzgerald is not the smallest map unit (1), since it has a map drawn within it. It might otherwise function as a hex in the other senses.



As we'll see when we get to Into the Wild next time, Leback too leaves some roles behind. For example, he draws a distinction between exploration and travel by using the hex as a measure of movement (2) for the first but not the second. He also divides these roles between two different kinds of hexes.

Hexes and Subhexes


Leback’s system of hexmap stocking and wilderness exploration involves two levels of hex: the hex, and the subhex. The hex is a 6-mile area, which is composed of thirty-three 1.2-mile subhexes. Like so:



The subhex in Leback’s system play most of the six roles of a hex: it is the smallest unit of the map; it is the bearer of a terrain type; it is the unit which is keyed; and it is the location where encounters happen. Players move through subhexes by charting a course across the map in one of two modes (exploration or travel), they encounter the keyed elements in hexes, and all encounters occur in a determinate hex. They are where most adventure activity happens. 

Keep in mind that subhexes are tiny! Even a group with a heavily armored person on foot will move through a baseline of 10 subhexes a day (or fewer if moving through difficult terrain). So the basic building blocks are relatively small. 

The larger hex plays more abstract roles. They play a DM-facing prep role in organizing how keyed elements are distributed across subhexes (4), and each has its own encounter tables (5). They are also the basic political and economic unit (6) that is crucial for Leback’s domain play of “clearing” and “civilizing” the wilderness into a domain ruled by player characters, from which economic power can be extracted. But since that's in the other book, we'll have to save it for the next installment.

Keying Subhexes


In Filling in the Blanks, Leback uses hexes to help organize the keying of subhexes. For reach hex, he has us roll for 1d6 features. For each feature we roll to see what category it belongs to. The categories include geological features, structures, resources, hazards, bodies of water, dungeons, settlements, magical effects, and so on. Once we have the category, we then turn to subtables that give us more details to work with. 

The results in many of the tables are seemingly pedestrian, resulting in fertile dirt, or apple groves, or an abandoned house, or a distribution of boulders throughout a subhex. At the higher rolls they get weirder, and there is plenty of interesting material, but many of the results are mundane or barebones. When we have our feature fleshed out a bit by rolling on several subtables, we then place them in the subhexes. This gives us a sense of the expanded topography of the hex and can even alter its layouts by introducing bodies of water, changes of elevation, or systems of roads.

We next roll 1d6 to see how many lairs are placed in the hex. For each of the lairs, we use some set of wilderness encounter tables, drawn perhaps from whatever your favorite other monster books are, to decide what monster’s lair it is. (These encounter tables set the baseline of how closely the hexmap will hew to vernacular fantasy tropes. For less vanilla settings, use weirder encounter tables.)

This is where things get interesting. We then use the map of the hex and the features we've rolled to place the monster lairs in locales that are interesting, using the random combination of these three things (map, features, lairs) as a spur to our imagination. For example, if there is an abandoned monastery or sinkhole, perhaps we place monster lairs in it—and what we place in it will also give us ideas for fleshing out the locale. The weaving together of random features and lairs in a hex presents opportunities to imaginatively inhabit and elaborate the space of the hex by focusing on the interrelation of different, randomly generated elements.

Finally, the hex is also the unit of the unified encounter table for all the subhexes it contains. Each hex has its own separate encounter table. The table is constructed by including each monster with a lair in the hex, adding monsters from the surrounded hexes likely to roam. This has the effect of giving a unified, more ecological feel to a hex. If you encounter a monster, you can probably surmise that it will have a lair nearby, which you could find with some effort. This system emphasizes the significance of lairs to wilderness exploration. Lairs are crucial for Leback’s vision of domain play as “clearing” and “civilizing” hexes (more on this in a minute), but could be made central in other ways, provided players had good reasons to search out the lairs of some of the things they encounter along the way.

The Stocking System in Action


I decided to take this system for a test spin. So, I created a 19 hex map, which is a sizable chunk of a wilderness area for players to explore. I made it in Worldographer, the only hexmapping software I know that let's you do hexes and subhexes. It looked like this:




Hex 1

I started with hex 1. Let's zoom in on the image:





I rolled 3 features and 3 lairs, so the hex has an average number of things in it. For the lairs I used the encounter tables from OSE--so a pretty vanilla baseline. This is what I rolled.

Features

  1. A 4-room dungeon of 3rd level
  2. A keep, worth 100,000 GP (!). It was built 20 years ago. It is inhabited by its original builders. It is in immaculate shape. (All these results came from rolling on subtables.)
  3. Resource: Parrots

Lairs

  1. Goblins
  2. Giant Rats
  3. Crab Spider

The emergent possibilities here were fascinating. The burning question, looking at this set of results, is who the builders and current occupants are of this 100,000 GP keep. From this list, the only intelligent creature is the goblins. But with an immaculate keep worth 100,000 GP, this must be a wealthy and powerful faction in the jungle. This means these must be some remarkable goblins! I asked myself where all their wealth could come from. Since the hex also has the resource of parrots, I decided their wealth must come from the parrots. Brainstorming, I thought perhaps these goblins are merchants of trained parrots. Even better, I thought, perhaps they are traders of whispers and secrets, with parrot spies spread throughout the jungle! Now we’re cooking with gas!

Looking at the OSE entry on goblins, I see that Goblin Kings have 3 HD and their bodyguards have 2 HD. I liked the idea of a goblin king with a crown of gorgeous parrot feathers, surrounded by gilded bird cages in which his favorite birds are pampered after returning to him with news from far and wide. Stat-wise goblins seem awfully weak to hold a stronghold of that value, so I thought that they must be intelligence brokers among jungle factions, conveying crucial information to opposing groups, and perhaps blackmailing others. So there would likely some other higher HD beings on loan to the Goblin King from his customers. We'll have to wait to see how the rest of the map unfolds to decide who these borrowed guards might be. 

Looking at OSE, it also mentions that there is a chance goblins ride wolves. Wolves doesn’t quite fit in this jungle context, so I decide that they ride jaguars. As these goblins are taking shape in my head, I decide that perhaps they are not the greenskins of 5E, but more fey, like the goblins from fairytales or The Princess and the Goblins. Perhaps they have varied appearances, and some lesser goblin magic. I place the keep in 019.014 and decide that the parrots congregate in 018.014 fed and guarded by the goblins.


The crab spiders are also an interesting result. Perhaps they are the occupant of the 4 room, 3rd level dungeon. In OSE it says that crab spiders camouflage themselves and have deadly poison. I don't know if crab spiders are real, but they sound like aquatic or amphibious spiders--maybe half crab and half spider. So perhaps the dungeon is in the swampy cove in 022.015. 



Riffing on the idea of a spider-infested swamp dungeon, I decide it was the half-drowned sanctum of a Sybil who prophesied by inhaling hallucinogenic swamp gasses that bubble up through a sacred pool in the inner chamber. The gasses probably still provide valuable visions at a cost of a save vs. poison with ill results. But the place is infested with these deadly camouflaged water spiders and perhaps some ancient curses. Likely there's other treasure and lore in there as well. 

Finally we have the giant rat lair. Looking at the map, maybe they have networks under the savannah in 019.015. Perhaps they set ambushes with softened ground and set upon those who fall into the tunnels with bites that bring jungle rot.




Last we need to construct our encounter table for the hex from these materials. That’s easy enough to do. Here's a rough encounter table without stats:

Hex 1: Encounter table (1d6)

  1. Parrot Spy: Befriends the party only to deliver info to the goblin king about their actions and movements. Subsequent ambush or offer to trade, depending on information conveyed.
  2. Goblin Patrol on Jaguars
  3.  Goblins going about business (1=gathering fruit, 2=trapping parrots, 3=harvesting timber, 4=hunting giant rats)
  4. Giant rats
  5. Crab Spiders
  6. Encounter from surrounding hexes (trading partners? To be filled in later)

I actually carried the experiment further, and did a number of other hexes as well (2-4 from the bigger map above). Once I got multiple hexes going, patterns began to emerge across them that produced further imaginative synergies, as a chain of thousand year old buildings in different hexes made me think about a historical layer of the remains of an ancient culture in this region. Later, when I rolled a sprawling 1 mile high plateau in hex 4, caused by a natural but violent event, and a large human settlement in a hex, I decided that this settlement was an isolated surviving remnant of this ancient culture, perhaps living in a decaying domed city that time forgot.

Praise & Critique


In short, Filling in the Blanks works magic by introducing a typology of hex features with a robust set of random tables, which it juxtaposes with randomly rolled lairs, all against the backdrop of a hexmap to produce emergent possibilities that provide seeds for your imagination. Starting from nothing but a utilitarian hexmap and a vanilla encounter table from the OSE core books, this process produced a rich imaginative yield for me in short order. 

Why is this method of juxtaposing randomly rolled pieces so effective? Here I think we need to stress the way in which random generation, especially where many of the elements are generic (a pristine keep, a level 3 dungeon), forces you out of your rut. The dice function as an enigmatic oracle, a voice that speaks from beyond. By asking you to build imaginative connections between randomly rolled items, and in the process put flesh on their bones, it spurs you to creation through an assemblage of things you never would have put together. It also has a pleasing sense of throwing down a gauntlet. The voice of the oracle issues the following challenge: "riddle me the relation between these things: a bit of jungle map, a pristine keep 20 years old, parrots considered as a resource, a level 3 dungeon, goblins, crab spiders, and giant rats." Puzzle it over. Let your imagination build a web of connections. It gives you a foothold to imagine.

I have experienced the agony of staring at a huge hexmap I urgently need to stock with an idling imagination and building desperation. Filling in the Blanks provides a workable model for doing something hard. It will certainly shape how I do things moving forward. It’s frankly hard for me to imagine not riffing on these tables and system for “populating” the hexes in my next campaign. Bravo.

And yet. 

Producing the single hex detailed above took me 24 rolls, occupying 12 straight minutes of rolling and flipping back and forth through the book. It took at least another 15--admittedly fun--minutes to dream up some possibilities from the results and jot down barebone notes.  As I mentioned, I rolled other hexes too. Some went quickly and were pleasant, but I had to stop after one particularly dense hex with 6 features and 4 lairs that took no less than 45 rolls occupying 35 minutes of clattering dice and flipping pages to get a list of results. And that was before I ever got in a position to start interpreting their meanings! Admittedly it was shaping up to be a neat and meaty hex, but it probably would have take an hour to finish. 

I'm sure it would have gotten a bit faster as I got the hang of finding things in the book. But there's no two ways about it: it’s going to take a very long time to populate even a small hexmap like the one I made above using this book. My guess would be maybe 6-8 hours of prep? One frustrating thing is that it needn’t take so long. The text is its own worst enemy. Leback never bundles rolls, opting instead to send you to further subtables or even scurrying to a new section with its own host of tables, when it would be easy to combine them all into a single roll. Worse still, the paragraphs leading up to each subtable often have 3 or even 4 inconspicuous pre-rolls buried in the text. Meaning that you have to scan paragraphs to extract hidden rolls or crucial information before you even get to the tables. This is not great information design. 

Here Leback would do well to consider the following two simple information design options. The first is to increase the die size (perhaps to 1d100) and incorporate combinations from subtables on a single table. The second is to have muti-roll tables, with three columns (say) next to each other, so that one can roll by dropping dice simultaneously, just reading the results across. 

But it's not just organization of the tables. Some of the rolling seems almost obsessive, as when Leback instructs you to roll for how many boulders are in a hex, or how many feet wide or deep a small brook is, or what the square footage is on a hut. Imaginative seeds emerge from the conjunction of mundane and relatively generic elements (goblin + parrots + immaculate keep), but there are limits to how much the addition of minutia spurs the flow of imaginative juices. It's pretty clear that this book veers too far towards the minutia. 

What makes it too far? How do we know where to judge the line? I suppose there are two things at stake. One is the question what details fuel the imagination. On the one hand, knowing a bit about the keep was useful: valuable, pristine, still in use by its original builders. On the other hand, having to roll the number of boulders and their size, and what type of stone they are, does not do nearly as much for me. Something a bit more general would be more evocative and flexible. The other question, of course, is less about what spurs the imagination, and more about how long the process of prep takes. Labor intensive methods are fine if the yield is good and the DM signs up for it; but we should remember that the DM's time is a precious commodity and so we shouldn't needlessly increase the length of prep where it can be avoided without loss.

I wish that some ruthless editor could get their hands on this book, cutting superfluous rolls and combining the remaining ones into bigger single tables, perhaps working with one of the many geniuses of information design that seem to be everywhere in the OSR scene now, to give the DM easier access to the information they need at a flip.

But I want to be clear. Even with this problem, I recommend Filling in the Blanks very highly. It plays for the stocking of hexmaps something like the role that Matt Finch's glorious Tome of Adventure Design plays for the design of dungeons or adventure seeds. (In fact, you could combine them!) Filling in the Blanks is a wonderful if flawed product that you should get if you are a DM who plans on creating hexmaps for wilderness exploration in your games. At least, you should get it if you're willing to spend some real time prepping your campaign using a technique that spins gold from the juxtaposition of mundane (and occasionally fantastical) to take your imagination into a terrain where it otherwise would never go. 

15 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for the review (Todd L here). I wasn't aware of it until someone on Discord pointed it out.

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  2. When I first skimmed through Filling in the Blanks and Into the Wild, I thought it looked quite similar to ACKS with the Lairs & Encounters supplement. Or perhaps a little more distantly, something like Bloch's Random Terrain and Encounter Generator or Hexplore Revised + An Echo Resounding and Red Tide. In short, it seemed like a variation of something that had been done before, rather than something that represented a shift in paradigm. I'd be very interested to hear in the next part of your review how these Third Kingdom books fit in to the existing ecology of sandbox toolkits, including those works above and things like the d30 Sandbox Companion or Kellri's CCD #4 or even Perilous Wilds + Freebooters on the Frontier.

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    1. I haven't read ACKs (and don't plan to), but let me refresh my memory about the others and circle back soon.

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    2. To be honest, I wrote Into the Wild as a means of providing rules similar to what is found in ACKS without the . . . baggage that the author brings to the table. A lot of the rules in both ACKS and ItW come from BECMI and the Gazetteers (Market Classes, mercantile ventures, etc.).

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    3. Here's how I see at least a little of this terrain in relation to Filling in the Blanks. Bloch's Random Terrain and Encounter Generator is just a huge list of tables to randomly generate terrain of hexes, and a mind-boggingly large set of random encounter tables by terrain type. Filling in the Blanks takes the map and encounter tables for granted and asks how to stock it. So these don't really overlap at all, and would be complementary.

      Kellri's CCD #4 is mainly encounter tables. There are some nice tables about settlements, ley lines, and other oddities that are useful for stocking. But there's nothing like the stocking system here that gives you a real method to procedurally stock hexmaps in a way that gets your imaginative juices flowing.

      The D30 Sandbox Companion deserves its full own review. There is some overlap insofar as it suggests three different hex levels, and it has some neat tables (not unlike Kellri's) to help with stocking. However, its bulk is taken up with adventure generators. Furthermore, there is nothing the procedural generation of a key that draws on juxtaposing random elements (map + features + lairs) to get your creative juices flowing.

      I love Perilous Wilds. That too deserves its own review (you're giving me a lot of ideas for reviews here!). As I see it, Perilous Wilds is more focused on collaborative worldbuilding, and the creation of sites of exploration by themes. It is a different beast. First, it aims to make an analogue of the sort of play envisioned by Filling in the Hexes (and OSR exploration-based play in general) available within the framework of PbtA. Second, it primarily aims at improvisational (zero-prep or low-prep) gaming, which is pretty much the opposite of the approach taken here.

      Thank you for prompting me to reflect on this. It's a good reminder that information like this that situates a work in a broader landscape belongs in reviews. I'll try to do that in the future.

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    4. Thanks, that really me appreciate what ItW is trying to do here. Todd, it also inspires me to go back to BECMI and particularly the Gazetteers, which I haven't looked at much before, to see where some of these ideas came from. And Ben, I wait in eager anticipation of those future reviews!

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  3. Very nice! Can't wait to see the next review. One question: how do you think that Filling in the blanks covers more (and better) than Rules Cyclopedia?

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    1. The Rules Cyclopedia has almost nothing on stocking hexmaps. It just says that you should roll up some monster lairs and construct an encounter table. This book presents a unified system for doing that using a structure of hexes and subhexes. It also introduces numerous subtables with hex features, which are the central organizing idea, and are not mentioned in the Rules Cyclopedia. In other words, this book gives you a system to do what the Rules Cyclopedia tells you to do through the method I describe in the review.

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  4. I find this sort of procedural generation of wilderness interesting. Wilderness adventure's aren't my personal focus for game design, but products such as Filing in the Blanks hit on a couple of interests:

    A) Detail/Scope and Usability: The wilderness always seems more amenable to broad generalizations then specific locations (I don't think this is really controversial?). The amount of play time spent in most hexes is likely pretty low in the sort of "hex crawl" travel or exploration I generally expect from almost all games. Yet these procedural generation tools often delve fairly deep into each hex (as you point out Filling the Blanks drills down to stream depth. While filling in this kind of detail is often fun for the world builder, it seems like an enormous amount of time to spend on a large scale hex map -- especially if the vast majority of hexes are going to be something the players pass through in 20 seconds of a travel montage. "You follow the river east for a day, paddling through a forest of twisted cypress, hanging moss and curious crows. At dusk it gives way to broad plains showing a few ruined signs of former habitation." That's 3 hexes (18 miles a day for canoe travel per Cook Expert) zipped through, and unless there's a random encounter the Referee may have spent almost 2 hours of prep for one sentence of play.

    You mention this at some length in the review, but it seems obvious to me that there's more utility if the map is smaller and a region where the party will linger for many sessions. Otherwise it sounds like a fairly poor tool for most wilderness unless its something one can use on the fly, perhaps in response to random wilderness encounters (party tries to track bandits back to their stronghold etc) rather then something to build hexes during prep. Does Filling in the Blanks address scale and scope at all? How is its immediate, in play utility?

    B) Aesthetics/Setting: You mention the oracular power of these tables, and considering the utility concerns, the world-building aspect of procedural wilderness generation seems important - a variation on the How to Host a Dungeon style solo play/prep game. Nothing wrong with that, but again I can't help but wonder about the utility for play.

    It strikes me that encounters like "goblins" are themselves very much world building, and demand the use of the standard vernacular fantasy setting. While this setting is popular, it also strikes me that there are many tables of this kind starting with OD&D and expanded to fill a good portion of the 1E DMG. Acknowledging this assumed setting and figuring a way to make tables that address the possibilities of other genres structuralist approach (e.g. what setting narrative do goblins serve?) might provide greater utility.

    Does Filling in the Blanks address anything like this? How many biomes and genres can I use it as an oracle for?

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    1. I think your question about scale and scope is really about two different ways of interacting with a wilderness map. Way 1: travel from point A to point B. Way 2: explore the wilderness. If you're poking around in a stretch of wilderness extensively, then this micro-system is labor intensive but fits well. If you're traveling from point A to point B, it may not be what you're looking for. The system also cannot be used to generate material at the table. It is a prep system for DMs to use in advance of play.

      As for your last question, part of it is addressed by the question how the system generates lairs. It generates them from random encounter tables. You could use any random encounter table. So it will work, in this way, for just about any theme or genre for which you have a relevant encounter table. So a good deal of the worldbuilding you speak of happens offstage in the selection or development of encounter tables.

      But not all. It's true that the tables of features presuppose certain things about the setting. For example that there can be ancient monuments, or battlefields of unquiet dead, or lay line type "magical areas". So I think to make it specific to a non-vernacular fantasy setting, you would need to do a little more than pick the right encounter tables. You would probably need to tweak a limited number of the many, many hex feature tables in the book.

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    2. One last thing I want to repeat. This supplement is not for use at the table during play. It is a DM prep tool. I think it's quite useful, although I do mention some problems with using it, and your point about customizing it adds another layer of challenge. But to be clear, I intend to riff on this very system to stock maps for my next campaign. So it will certainly see use at my table!

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    3. Interesting. It's nice to hear that the system has some customization potential.

      As for the questions of utility, travel and prep I has a suspicion that this might work well to create regions of one or two rings of hexes and in turn place these as destinations or deversions, as well as built out hexes that were landmarks. The majority of any larger map could be traversed via point crawl or simple weather, encounter, landmark tables.

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    4. Just to clarify, Gus L, that is literally what FitB sprang from. I put out a series of hexes called "Populated Hexes" that are clusters of seven 6-mile hexes (one hex per release). I started the hexes first, and then FitB came about when people started suggesting that I compile and publish the method I used to populate the hexes. Of the two, FitB is probably the most "original". Into the Wild (which does have encounter tables designed for populating lairs, as opposed to generating random encounters, since some monsters, like ooze, minotaurs, etc. aren't on the wilderness tables) came about as a desire to have ACKS-style rules without supporting the alt-right. So, ItW definitely covers stuff that has been written before, but hopefully in a newish way.

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  5. I'm glad you wrote this, Ben. I hadn't heard of "Filling in the Blanks" or "Into the Wild" before reading this post.

    Near the end, I think your scope expands beyond this one supplement into a larger consideration of the qualities of procedural generation tools.

    I appreciated your point about randomizing too many minor details. It uses up time and mental energy and may not really add anything to the game. If I know there "about a dozen boulders" do I or my players really care if there are 10 or 11 or 13? I think one of the most difficult things about designing a tool like this is recognizing which details don't need to be generated.

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  6. Ditto---thank you writing for the review, Ben, as I'd not previously heard of either book.

    I will definitely check them out!

    Allan.

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