The Land of Tiny Castles

February 16, 2013

Across the Wide Dark Jungle mentions a portal to The Land of Tiny Castles. Actually it’s called a Dimension in the book, but what difference does it make, Hillary?

This is my interpretation of The Land of Tiny Castles…

The Folk
There are no humans in The Land of Tiny Castles, only halflings, elves, and dwarves. Let’s call them Folk, collectively.

The halflings are like this…


Hi, I’m looking for “XP = gold pieces”…and a clean pair of shorts.

The elves are short, like the yellow shirted one in this old D&D advert. They don’t make toys or cookies.


High quality adventuring.

The dwarves are short and round. Like on the cover of Dragon 180.  They get angry if called gnomes or “garden sentinels”.


Dragon 180. Them are dwarves I tell you.

The three folks generally get along, but with the usual mix of spats, feuds, and traditional grudges.  It’s not unusual for castles and adventuring teams to contain a mix of Folk.  If you want to add more detail to these races, I recommend Kesher’s Devil’s in the Details tables.

Any human PCs in The Land of Tiny Castles are “visitors”.

The Rule of Visitors:
A player can only have one human PC in the land of Tiny Castles…the visitor. If that human dies, the player must play Folk PCs while the campaign remains here.


Rock piles that cover dungeons.

The Land
It’s is mostly rolling plains dotted with patches of trees, marshes, and rock piles. These piles hide the dungeons that become castles. It’s these many castles, perfectly sized for the Folk, that give the land it’s inter-dimensional moniker. More on the castles later.

The Land is a precise rectangle of unknown size…nobody has thought to measure it. Around its perimeter is The Ditch, a mist shrouded chasm, beyond which is unknown.

More often than not, exploring The Land actually IS a walk in the park. Dangerous monsters are usually found below ground, not above. Most overland hazards are seasonal and the only year round threats are the wolves and the Fox Guys, anthropomorphic fox bandits (Haha…totally not trying to make a funny about the fair and balanced news source.)

A walk in the park.

A walk in the park.

The Seasons
A power known as the Intractable Overlord creates the four seasons…

Winter is the season of snow and white and treasure gathering. Winter Obstacles: blizzards, snow dunes, and the winter wolf.

Spring is the season of melting and grey and cleaning of castles and treasure.  Spring Obstacles:  Flooding, mud, and the tattered wolf.

Summer is the season of sun and green and castle construction.  Summer Obstacles: thunderstorms, construction crews, and the lazy wolf.

Fall is the season of morning frost and brown and dungeon finding. Fall Obstacles: wild fire, dungeon prospectors, and the hunting wolf.

The Castles and Dungeons
The two main industries of the land are treasure hunting and castle building.  All else is in support of those two.

Finding a dungeon is like drilling for oil. Once found, a castle is built on top.  Everybody lives in these castles.  Rich dungeons lead to larger, more elaborate castles being built atop. Some castles are eventually abandoned when the dungeon is out of treasure. Discovery of another level in a dungeon is greatly celebrated, because it ensures the prosperity of the castle for another generation.

The dungeons are the domain of the Inscrutable Underlord..of unknown relation to the Intractable Overlord.

The Adventurers
Among Folk, money and fame are explicitly the most important considerations.  By their nature, they are inclined to seek out treasure.  Folk will usually suggest a treasure hunt as the solution to most problems.

Adventuring parties usually have Sponsors. Most often the sponsors are taverns in their home castles. Along with this is a “Contract of Adventure”. Treasure hunters are under oath to recover a quota of treasure from the dungeons, and give a percentage to the castle and the sponsor. In return, the adventurer receives benefits such as outfitting expenses, “fame insurance”, death coverage, and carousing forgiveness.


The Congo River snakes through jungle, then savannah, then into the mountains where Dr. Livingstone was found

Talysman has lately been writing brief summaries of some of the existing hexcrawl generation systems. He won’t be reviewing the Source of the Nile system, so I’m here to grab that baton…

The Source of the Nile hex generation system

The SotN rule book actually contains two hex gen systems. They are virtually the same except one is card-based and the other chart-based. For the solo campaign I conducted a couple years ago, I used the cards because they provide a little more detail and seemed faster. In a nutshell, the system involves drawing a series of cards (or rolling on several tables) to determine the hex details…

2 of the 108 cards used to generate the map of Africa

2 of the 108 cards used to generate the map of Africa

Draw a card to determine if the new hex will be a continuation of neighboring terrain or not.  See on the cards where it says “Terrain” followed by two numbers?  Basically, if either of those two neighboring hexes are already generated, this new hex matches the terrain type of that neighbor.  Otherwise the new hex is of the indicated type.  What ends up happening is that the number of “already-explored” hexes surrounding a new hex increases the likelihood that the new terrain will match a neighbor.  If the new terrain type doesn’t make sense, adjust according to a few simple rules. For example: desert and jungle can’t be neighbors…so the new hex is changed to savannah/veldt instead.

Draw more cards to determine natives, special discoveries, and water features. Due to the focus of the game on exploring Africa’s waterways, additional complex rules govern river generation. Sans the river rules, the system would be streamlined enough for improv RPG hexcrawl play.  As is, it’s maybe too fiddly for that purpose.

The hexes generated are about 100 miles across and the game turns are a month long, so larger scale than what most RPGs use, but I think the system would work just as well at a smaller scale.

Pros: Makes sensible maps of satisfying complexity and detail, with neighboring hexes strongly influencing terrain type of a new hex.

Cons: Tailored for large scale Africa terrain but system could be generalized.  Crazy complex river gen rules…

Flowchart for generating rivers!!!

Flowchart for generating rivers!!!

Regarding rumors

SotN also has a basic method of incorporating rumors into the map:  Eight markers are placed on the blank map at the beginning if the game. Four are blank (false rumors) and four indicate legendary discoveries (King Solomon’s Mine, Lost Tribe, Lost Civilization, and Dr. Livingstone).

Here’s a special rules supplement for SotN that includes an additional rumors system when Dr. Livingstone is found. The concept could be adapted to RPGs. The basic idea is that specific rumors come from specific NPCs.  When creating an NPC, make note if any areas on the map that the NPC may know something about. When the players meet that NPC, add the NPC’s knowledge to the map, perhaps in sketchy details only.

Another idea I had for rumors in an improv map gen system dates back to when I was thinking of ways to use Magic cards with D&D.  Use different stacks of land cards to randomly create different regions on a map and when a rumor is told about some specific place, put that card into that stack.

For example, say you have a region on the map called Habadabump that consists primarily of forest and mountains. The DM makes a stack of mostly Forest and Mountain cards. When the players hear a rumor of the Howling Mine in Habadabump, the DM adds the Howling Mine card to that region’s stack. So the players know the general direction to the mine, but not the exact location. When exploring Habadabump, eventually the Howling Mine card will be drawn.

Regarding starvation

Bonus secttion…because Telecanter posted about simple survival rules the other day.

In SotN, rations are only consumed when hunting fails. Hirelings desert if they aren’t fed.  Explorers (i. e. the PCs) get sick if no food is available and must be carried by hirelings (except the hirelings have probably all deserted!).  If you are fortunate, you can crawl back to a port city.  Or you can try your luck with the natives.

In Isle of the Ape, Gygax’s take is similar to SotN (not surprising since Gygax played SotN)… Lack of rations can lead to disease instead of direct HP damage. Disease then causes Attribute damage, which eventually leads to death (when attributes reduced to zero) if not treated. One thing I like about this is how Cure Disease, Create Food, and Purify Water spells can directly overcome the harsh conditions, but not Cure Light Wounds.

My preference is to not meticulously track supplies.  Whenever a food shortage event occurs, movement rates are reduced by half.  Basically, a food shortage doesn’t kill directly, but indirectly due to the increased number of encounters inherent in a slower movement rate. Death comes in adventure, not in emaciation.