Campaign Mapping

Map of Paris (1569)

Map of Paris (1569)

When running city-based adventures, players will often ask NPCs for directions to random establishments that probably do not warrant a keyed location on your map prior to the question being asked (e.g., a random blacksmith, general store, inn, or bookseller). At that point, it is helpful to have some pre-canned directions to provide based on how rare the type of establishment they are trying to find is. I have uploaded a script to this site (available via the link or the menu below the site banner) that allows the user to pick the number of direction sets to generate and how many districts the city contains (although these can be quarters, neighborhoods, etc.). I should note one important debt: the descriptive content of the script is based on a blog post at Blog of Holding.

Here is how to use the direction sets generated by this script:

  1. It is assumed you already have: A city map indicating districts (or equivalent), each having at least one marked/named street
  2. When the players ask a NPC for directions, use the next set on the list you pre-generated.
  3. Determine (based on your campaign type, city size, etc.) whether the location sought is a common, rare, or unique location. Check the results to see if the location is in the current district or another as described in the entry. Technically, you could use the script for a single district city (just choose two districts from the drop-down and ignore district indications).
  4. The first direction entry in the result tells you how many blocks down the relevant district’s main street before the first turn in the directions. If you have more than one main street, role to determine which is being referenced; also either make a judgment call or roll to determine direction along street for block-counting purposes).
  5. Next, there is an indication of which direction the turn is off of that main street.
  6. There are then separate indications of how many blocks on the side streets and the number of turns (these details should be improvised and noted for later reference; ignore these if they don’t make sense given the nature of your city).
  7. Finally, there are a couple of short phrases to add some unique descriptive flourishes to the final location.

I hope some other DMs/GMs find this useful; let me know about any problems with the script and I will make corrections.

Final Note: The version of the script on this site is designed for pseudo-medieval/medieval settings (although it may work in other time periods). I will be releasing the source code to all my generators sometime this year, though, and it should be trivial for those familiar with coding to swap out the descriptions to better match their setting at that point.

[This is the third post in a series dissecting the campaign ‘bible’ document I drafted while planning my AD&D 1e campaign. See here for an introduction to this series of posts.]

Geography is Destiny

Deep Jungle by lyno3ghe

Deep Jungle by lyno3ghe (

The next section of the campaign bible document consists of a high-level summary of the islands making up the archipelago of Curabel, broadly divided into major islands with centers of civilization, second tier islands with smaller populations of note and/or adventure locations, and small islands with some special claim to fame. This was not intended to be an exhaustive list, with my thought being that this area would have countless small islands (many uncharted) that would make introducing new adventure locations on-the-fly without breaking the players’ suspension of disbelief easier.

More important than the geographic thumbnail sketch, though, this section of the bible is where I first decided some of the finer details of Curabel’s history, invented some (hopefully evocative) bits of its peoples’ languages, and introduced the small tweaks to the standard demi-human races that would set them apart (somewhat) from their fantasy archetypes. Many of these ideas were suggested to me by the geography of islands and how that would practically impact the development of different populations and any attempt to govern them — whether by a native empire or colonizing force. Besides pointing out the practical/gaming rationale of the islands’ layout, I will be calling particular attention to these socio-political points in the following commentary.

Geographic and Linguistic Overview

Isles of Curabel

Curabel is the imperial name for a chain of islands in the tropics of a world called Meidia. While the imperials were driven out centuries ago, the isles split into city-states following independence and no new human or elven name for the entire chain was adopted. In imperial common, the name meant “Beautiful Islands” (Cura = islands; bel = beauty). The native dwarves called the islands Weland’Khel (Water Fortress; Khel = fortress, Weland = water) and ruled the islands sometime before the arrival of the imperials – leaving behind many ruined cities and strongholds. Native humans adopted first the dwarven then imperial names.

Jungle Ruins with waterfall

Jungle Ruins by Electricleash

I suppose it goes without saying that, like many RPG players of my generation, J.R.R. Tolkien was a major influence on my early life — and, eventually, my decision to get a PhD in medieval literature. This first little bit strikes me as reflecting that early influence, with the pseudo-linguistic investigation of place name derivations. Looking at this now, it seems like my idea of “imperial common” is partially indebted to Latin (noun preceding modifying adjective; third declension plural form) and the Dwarven seems a bit Germanic — specifically Afrikaans according to Google translate (which is weirdly appropriate if totally unplanned). While my work on Curabel’s fantasy language is not terribly complex or extensive, I do try to be consistent in the few words and phrases introduced to the campaign and this has paid dividends during actual play (link to come when I start posting play reports).

Most of the islands in Curabel are covered in tropical rain forests, although there is also a chain of mountain peaks running north-south through the islands. On some of the largest islands, like Curmidden, Curanost, Curasur, and Crescent Isle, open land has been reclaimed from the jungles and is cultivated by civilized races to supplement their mostly seafood diet.

A rather pithy statement of the geography of the islands that also inspired a bit more elaboration of the imperial language, which continues to show a Latin flavor (-midden/middle, -nost/north, -sur/south).

While most of the smaller islands are uninhabited, all but a handful of the larger islands have several layers of civilization both modern and ancient. First, there are the current cities and towns of Curabel. These include the larger city-states as well as innumerable fishing villages. Next, there are the abandoned imperial outposts from the colonial era, many of which were erected in remote areas after the rebellion started. Some of these were never completely cleaned out and many have been taken over by monsters and wild creatures. Finally, there are the ancient ruins of the dwarven empire, which range from the thoroughly looted and well-explored to the untouched and mysterious (the exact state often depending on proximity to later settlements).

This is probably the key paragraph in this section of the text, setting up the framework for typical adventures on the islands of Curabel. The significant detail here is the idea of there being layers of civilization from various eras, making Curabel a “graveyard of empires” as I eventually termed it in the advertisements for prospective players. These layers are as follows:

  1. Current fishing villages and city-states of Curabel
  2. Remnants of the imperial occupation, including outposts built during the rebellion in remote areas
  3. Truly ancient dwarven ruins either picked clean by previous adventurers or still undiscovered/untouched

The first layer of villages and city-states provides the relatively safe locations that could serve as bases for the PC party and adventure site for more investigative/intrigue based scenarios involving imperial spies, political and mercantile rivalries, and tensions between the native islander population and colonists.* Surprisingly, this has been the main focus of the majority of the current campaign’s forty-five sessions (to date) — my assumption at the beginning was that the players would concentrate on the exploration and treasure-finding opportunities provided by the other two layers of abandoned imperial installations and dwarven ruins.

[This section is a little too long for a single post, so the discussion will be continued in the next installment with a look at political exile elves and Mormon dwarves.]

* I was delighted to see Arnold K. discuss the advantages of city-states on G+ the other day given how inspiring his work was when putting together my campaign house rules. While my cities are not as gonzo as the ones he describes, the basic point he makes about smaller political entities allowing for more variety in the campaign setting is very correct. It has already come up in the Curabel campaign with the party only having visited two cities, a metropolis serving as the center of human political and military power largely controlled by the descendants of the rebel leaders and a center of mercantile activity ruled by a council dominated by competing guilds.

Photo of Curabel campaign setting notebook

My notebook for the Curabel campaign setting.

My decision to get back into role-playing games was made gradually over the course of two years. This process began with my backing of the Tabletop Forge Kickstarter virtual tabletop (VTT) project in July of 2012, the funding of which was transferred to the Roll20 VTT project shortly thereafter. Around the same time, I discovered the entirety of my first edition AD&D collection while clearing out the attic of my childhood home. The combination of seeing the possibilities inherent in the Roll20 platform and rereading the core 1E rule-books was extremely inspiring and I went to work programming various random generators and drafting a new campaign setting.

Without a gaming group for whom I needed to deliver adventuring content by a set date, though, I worked at a rather leisurely pace on these endeavors. While a couple of months late-night coding led to automated scripts for generating weather, random encounters, and NPCs, the campaign setting that these tools would help bring to life came together much more slowly. In fact, it would be March of 2014 before I felt prepared enough to advertise my new campaign publicly via Roll20 and various G+ RPG/OSR communities.

What I developed over the course of those two years was a sandbox style home-brewed sword-and-sorcery campaign (with a dash of science fantasy) set on a tropical archipelago named Curabel (pronounced Kur’-a-bell). The initial campaign materials included the following:

  • A ‘bible’ document detailing the general features of the setting with some more specific information about the starting area (a major city located near the center of the archipelago)
  • A world map showing the entirety of the archipelago, first drawn by hand on graph paper and then transferred to a hex map using Inkwell Ideas’ Hexographer program.
  • A detailed hex map of the central island of the archipelago where the campaign would begin
  • A key to the detailed hex map with high-level details and adventure hooks for all 80 12-mile hexes
  • A rumor document for use in the starting city referencing adventures both in that location and elsewhere on the archipelago’s central island
  • A general map of the beginning city (Midmark) along with detailed maps of a couple of key neighborhoods
  • Lists of NPCs for the key neighborhoods and the city generally
  • Maps of key locations in the city, including two possible adventure sites (a wizard’s tower and bathhouse/tomb complex hidden beneath the sewers)
  • Randomly generated weather information for the first three months (in-game time) of the campaign
  • A house-rule document based on my reading of various OSR blogs and previous experiences as a DM
  • A document to advertise the campaign and recruit players

My intention is to post these materials here under a Creative Commons license for others to use, providing commentary on each that will clarify my creative process, inspirations, and intentions. My next post will begin this exegetical process with the campaign ‘bible’ document.