Thursday, 8 December 2011

RPG Mapping Tools Part 4 - Planet and Star Maps

In this part I zoom out even further and take a look at planetary system maps and star maps.  Which conventionally use the hex grid I looked at in Part 3: Region Maps.

Regina Subsector Jump Map

The definitive starmap has to be a Traveller sector map, which has some particular conventions of its own, namely the positioning of features around the edges of each hex to denote the hexes contents (clockwise from top; Starport Type, Gas Giant, Allegiance, World Name, and Base Type.)  Stellar trade routes which are also the main lines of communication are denoted by solid lines from one planet to anotherand the hex center contains world information (water present / not present or if it has an asteroid belt).  The sample I'm using is the Regina Subsector Jump Map and the standard 1½ hour rule applies.

Hexographer (

Hexographer "Cosmic" output
If you've read Part 3: Region Maps, you'll know I rate this highly as an easy to use tool with great output.  "The Daddy" of free online hexmapping solutions has its own "Cosmic" menu which offers features such as planets, stars, and spacestations which can each have custom colours.  Hex features can also be placed at various clock positions around the hex, but these are not entirely traveller compliant and are time consuming to include and to be honest if you're running anything other than traveller you won't need them.  7/10 - "Not too Shabby"

The Traveller Map (

An awesome bit of interactive mapping which shows the full stellar map divided into it's individual sub-sectors.  Double clicking on the sectors zooms in and you can even print off the results in booklet form.  If you're GMing a game in the Traveller universe then this should be your first starport of call.  9/10 - "Why DIY when it's already done for you?"


The inherent problem of mapping a globe onto a flat plane has plagued cartographers ever since our view of the world changed from being flat to round and has resulted in a number of map projection techniques of which we are most familiar with the Mercator Projection.  However, Sci-Fi roleplayers will be most familiar with the icosahedral projection popularised by Traveller.

Icosahedral World Generator (
Joe over at Inkwell Ideas has pulled off an amazing planet generator which should keep most DMs more than happy.  Not only does the tool allow you to customise the random size, temperature and percentage of land, mountains and vegetation, it also includes a hex editor allowing you to replace terrain as you like.  There's no export to image function but you can export to hexographer for even more editing possibilities.

Inkwell Ideas Icosahedral World Generator

Other Notable Tools

Donjon's Sci-Fi World Generator (

This browser based tool will happily generate planets for you all day long.  You can customise the generator a little to make each planet a bit more useable, the output includes a map, physics (size and physical composition), gravimetry (gravity and esape velocity), rotation (length of 1 rotation and axial tilt),  hydrosphere (ratio of water/ice), atmosphere (chemical composition), climate (temerature ranges) and biosphere (chemistry and lifeforms).  If you want to create a whole star system Donjon also has a Traveller System Generator and a Star Wars D6 System Generator.  There are a lot of really useful tools on his tsite I particularly like the Sci-Fi Name Generator's Star Trek Technobabble option
9/10 - "Superb"

Other Posts in this Series:

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Legendary Locations: Cave of Crystals, Mexico

Nature has this unnerving way of making humanities greatest achievements sometimes seem seem really insignificant...

Crystal Caverns, Mexico - National Geographic
You can learn more about the expedition to the Cave of Crystals over at National Geographic.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Minions: my OSR take on the one hit wonder.

One of the 4e concepts that intrigued me most was the idea of minions, I thought it was very cinematic and was itching to see what it was like from a player perspective.  Earlier this year when I got a chance to play in a demo game I was quite dissapointed, there was no sense of fear or uncertainty about the whole combat and It left me quite unsatisfied.

despicable me minions
Geek Ken has some useful advice on how 4e DMs should use minions, particularly in the use of attack waves and Glimm's Workshop introduces the Resolve concept to make minions a little tougher but clearly something is not quite right with the rules for minions as they stand.

In OSR (or retroclones) a monster is generally ranked by its Hit Dice (HD) which in most cases equates to 1d8 of HP.  The DM can simply turn any monster into a 1 hit wonder by reducing the number of HP it has to a value below the minimum damage dealt by the majority of the party.  Even at 1st level this is usually around the 4HP mark and will increase slowly as the party's levels and damage bonuses increase. 


How the DM assigns this HP reduction is up to them, for me this depends on what type of monster I am stocking the encounter with.  If it's a creature with animal intelligence or lower with no social structure then I'll either randomly roll or just assign every creature the same value say 4HP per HD.  However, if it's a creature with higher than animal intelligence or an animal which has a clear social aspect then I like to use the following system:
  • ALPHA - (8HP per HD) - This is the pack leader or alpha, the toughest member of the encountered group and will be the one giving the orders.  There can never be more than one Alpha in a group regardless of its size.
  • BETA - (6HP per HD) - These are the Alpha's bullies, they do what the Alpha tells them to and will bully the norms into doing what the Alpha demands.  Their number depends largely on the size of the group but I like to use the ratio of 1 Beta to every 5 Norms.

  • NORM - (4 HP per HD ) - The rank and file version of the creature who will be goaded into action by the BETA or ALPHA.  In some cases I'll keep the actual value of Norm HP fluid just in case the PCs have excessively bad rolls, after all there's no point in them falling at the first hurdle and getting slaughtered by minions.

If players have the opportunity to observe a group before engaging they should be able to identify each ALPHA and BETA.  This may have a bearing on their plan of attack, particularly if they have ranged specialists which can target the ALPHA and BETA types and take them out provoking a morale check which may result in the norms fleeing or surrendering and giving the PCs the victory but morale for minions is another thing all together and maybe a subject for a future article.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Ruined Tower of The Archmage

Ruined Tower Prize
David over at the Tower of the Archmage is running a competition to win one of his scenic models, a ruined tower.  Unfortunately for me I'm based in the UK and am therefore ineligible (the postage to the UK would be ruinous) but I liked the model enough to knock up a quick map and the basics for an encounter.

The Ruined Tower of the Archmage

The ruins of this solitary tower sit atop an exposed moorland hill which is constantly blasted by the elements.  Anyone crossing the moor on a particularly stormy day or night will be glad to shelter inside the towers walls even just for 5 minutes.

1.  Ground Floor - Even in its ruined state, the ground floor of this 20ft wide tower offers a welcome respite from the storm.  If the PCs search the tower or try to light a fire they disturb 3 Wolves who have made a den under the spiral staircase.  They fight to the death.

2.  Spiral Stairs - The spiral stairs stop after 1 half revolution, anyone making a leap of faith whilst on the outer part of the staircase will pass through a dimensional portal onto another set of stairs which lead to the 1st floor.  The portal is invisible and can only be detected by magical means.

3.  The Library - This room is dedicated to learning and storing knowledge as evidenced by the many bookshelves which line the walls.  A staircase sweeps up to another floor above,

4.  The Storeroom - A small 10ft by 5ft room containing shelves stacked with a myriad assortment of magical and mundane ingredients.

5.  The Laboratory - An octagonal room whose walls are chalked with all manner of magical symbols and signs.  The floor is dominated by a pentacle and a cloud of oily black smoke writhe within in the shape of a column.  Sprawled face down on the floor just outside the pentacle is a white haired old man dressed in long robes clutching a book.


Thursday, 1 December 2011

Fields of Battle: What's in the box?

During several recent trips to my FLGS (Orcs Nest in central London) I have found myself being drawn to Fields of Battle: Miniature Battle Rules for Castles and Crusades.  Unfortunately I like to know what's in the box (or book) before I buy it and scouring the internet for photos drew a blank.  Well here is a box content photo for those of you who may be thinking of making this purchase.

Fields of Battle Box Contents
Fields of Battle - Box Contents
As you can see the bulk of the content is made up from cardstock counters, wilderness battlemat sheets and the beautiful papercraft siege engines from Fat Dragon Games. The rules are contained in a slim 48 page book. Potential buyers may be turned off by this plethora of cardstock, particularly if they are intending to use this as a wargame with their own miniatures, but this would be an injustice.

I'll admit that this is probably a niche product, but I see it coming in veru handy as an adjunct to a regular RPG campaign session. I know that in my own games I have written storylines where PCs are involved in mass battle events, either as a group of fighters in a particular unit or in defending a castle from a siege assault.  RPG combat systems don't cope well with this scale of combat yet it is a quintessential part of almost every work in the genre which we use as our inspiration for our games.

The usual cludge is to focus purely on one or two encounters within the battle and your players will have no appreciation of the scale and in many cases will not have any impact on the battle as a whole.  Fields of battle attempts to bridge that gap by introducing a variant of the Siege Engine system which allows your Castles and Crusades PCs to get directly involved in the battle and their players can see the whole battle rather than just the tiny vignette you may have otherwise created for them.

In essence I just can't see myself carting around hundreds of heavy miniatures in order to stage a battle as part of my regular games session, whereas slipping this box into my backpack opens up a whole new scale of combat for my players.