Dark Jungle Sandbox Map

September 13, 2011

Here is an example of Using Mahjong Tiles to Generate a Dark Jungle Sandbox:

It’s just a first draft sketch.  Eventually I’d like to turn it into a fancy “finished” map in the style of Greengoat.  Specifically, inked onto a blank Judges Guild map with a wash of various greens added to indicate that the entire map is jungle-covered.  Not sure when I’ll get around to that.  In the meantime, I wanted to show the Mahjong Tile system in action before it falls into the “no longer on the front page of the blog” oblivion.

The system mentions how the density of the sandbox can be varied by drawing a tile for only some of the hexes, instead of all.  For this particular map, I choose a density of 33%, i.e. for each hex there was a 33% chance that I’d draw a tile to determine its contents.  Some tiles don’t create monsters, so the actual monster density is about 25%.  Wandering monsters should appear at times too.  The numbers on the map indicate hexes containing the pre-determined encounters.

Then I drew the Spindle Rivers in blue.  The guidelines for drawing these rivers are simple but the results are wonderfully complex.  The rivers have a labyrinthine quality to them, creating pinch points and hidden areas.  Not unlike labyrinthine mountain ranges.  The winding rivers are somewhat smushed together in this draft map, but the final version will have larger hexes to better fit in all the bends of the rivers.

Finally, I drew the Fire Ravines in red.  For some of them I randomly determined their directions, for others I choose the direction in order to fill in gaps on the maps or to create interesting barriers and pinch points.  Whereas the rivers can wiggle and wind in crazy directions, the Fire Ravines are more under your control.  This is why I add them last…to fill in gaps and tie the map together.

Notice that the NPC/River/Ravine system worked as intended:  rivers are clustered on the left side of the map (the side I began at) and fire ravines are more prevalent on the right side.  I like how this can give the sense of a changing, increasingly malevolent landscape as the PCs travel through what would otherwise be endless jungle.

Other symbols:

  • Arrows show when a change in wind direction occurs.  When the PCs stumble upon one of these, the wind changes to the specified direction, then move the arrow to another randomly determined hex.
  • Dragons are indicated by a square around the number.
  • Special locations are indicated by a triangle around the number.
  • Special NPCs are indicated by a circle around the number.

Examining the encounter key, there are some interesting clusters that the DM can get creative in explaining:

Why are Sees-Through-Leaves (#19) and Panther-Claw Glin Topp (#20) located near each other in the SW portion of the map?  Perhaps there is a disagreement about each other’s hunting territory?

The Cave of Melting Moss (#41) and a Red Dragon (#42) are neighboring.  Hmm…interesting.  They are also located in a strategic pass through two river systems.

El Grande Loco (#91) and Eberhard Dunwitty (#95) are in close proximity of each other and two dragons: a green (#94) and a white (#96).  Are they in league?  Who is hunting who?

The Sacrifice Pit (#97) is fittingly located at a confluence of Fire Ravines on the eastern edge of the map.  What fiery god is the lucky recipient of these sacrifices?

I chuckled when the Valley of Flowers (#101) was randomly placed in the extreme NE corner of the map.  Is finding the Valley the ultimate goal of those who trek into the Dark Jungle?

The hex map in the Fire in the Jungle Supplement

I created the Dark Jungle map with the intention of placing it somewhere east of the hex map in the Fire in the Jungle Supplement, as the band of Dark Jungle on that original map suggests.  The randomly determined Spindle Rivers fit nicely with that conception.  The rivers exiting the north and west edges of the Dark Jungle map theoretically link up with the rivers on the eastern edge of the FitJ map.

A note about encounter density.  There has been some discussion of this in The RPG Site forums recently.  Also, I started a thread on the topic last year on Dragonsfoot.  Nothing beats a good random encounter system, but pre-determined hex encounters can be useful for giving sections of a map their own flavor and suggest interlocking adventure possibilities, as demonstrated above.

The map in the Fire in the Jungle Supplement is relatively sparse, with only a 10% encounter density.  I see the Jungle Event and Travel System of random encounters as the “core” of the supplement, with the pre-determined hex contents primarily for specifying major adventure sites (such as tombs and ruins) and example lairs of jungle creatures found in the random encounter system.

The Dark Jungle map has 25% encounter density.  Just because PCs enter a hex doesn’t mean they automatically encounter that monster…the hunt is on…hopefully the wind is in your favor.  The increased density allows the DM to examine the encounter key to determine which areas are certain to contain particular monsters.  So when the players ask an NPC…

“Just where is it I could find dragon, panther, and other critters worth cash money when skinned?”

…the DM can give an answer like…

Ride due west as the sun sets. Turn right at the Emerald Mountains.  Swing across the fire ravine.   Slosh through the Swamp of Illusions.  Don’t get lost looking for a gap between the rivers.  Watch out for Zoltar’s Hell.  Yer there.”

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