Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Grand Project

I spent hours of my youth rolling up characters, wizards and gnomes and thieves. Oh, how I longed to play them through some dungeon or explore tangled woods. I never seemed to be able to find people similarly inclined. I tried the random dungeon charts in the back of the 1e DMG, but they were so random as to be nonsensical to me. I played through every solo module and gamebook I could find, which were nice, but once you run through them, then what?

So about ten years ago I sat down to methodically devise a way to play solo D&D.

I had found a design textbook in the boxes of my father's college books out in our backyard shed. I was intrigued by the way it talked about combining the functional features of a product and this was the biggest influence on this project.

I took stock of all the things you needed to determine in play, e.g. monsters, treasure, hazards, and the map itself. I decided the map could determine some of this. [I think I'll need to post separately on the many iterations of prototypes I made, I just want to get something posted today.]

I had several breakthroughs and many setbacks. But eventually, my system worked out to being a 1) Catacomb, because I felt the smaller, more windy features would be easier to create than a typical dungeon, at least at first, and 2) It would be hexagonal, the largest regular polygon you can tile with, but also easy to use with the most common of dice, the d6.

Yes, yes, you might be thinking, there have been hexagonal geomorph systems before (there must have been, but I don't know of any personally [well, except the brief mention in the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide]). But what I think is cool about my system and may be useful to others is the way the map helps generate encounters.

Here's how: On the geomorph (that seems to be the term people would most understand, but is it a trademark?) above is a loculus, a place in the catacomb wall where a body has been sealed. Well, it was sealed, but that was centuries ago, perhaps it's been broken open and a spider lairs there now, perhaps the skeletal remains of its occupant still clutch a glowing dagger. In all the loculi of these geomorphs will be a two symbol code, the second designating Monster, Treasure and, maybe, Event. The first symbol is the key, and determines the likelihood of the second of triggering.

In play, you'll randomly determine the next hex and its location. For now, let's say you'll roll two differently colored d6. The first will indicate which of the six available hexes to lay down, and the second die will tell you which face aligns with the passage you are in. Those faces will generate a two digit number.

Now, back to our loculus, the first symbol will refer to the two digit number that your entrance to the hex generated. This symbol could reference Odd/Even, Double, Odd Double/Even Double, or a Specific Number.

If we have two tiles with all six sides accessible, the odds for the above categories work out to 50%, 16.7%, 8.3%, and 2.7%. This gives me, as a designer, a range of probabilities for things to trigger. Each tile will have different triggers, and each time you enter the tiles you'll be coming from different directions, so it will be impossible to game them, knowing which tiles have better treasure etc. It will be largely random.

Now the problem comes in, when the tiles don't have all 6 sides accessible. My example above cannot be entered from side 6 or 4. So the chances of an Even triggering are down to 25%, and the chances of Odd are up to 75%. Doubles, Specific Numbers are all affected. It would be easier to make the tiles all accessible on all six sides, but that makes the catacomb infinite, and I don't think we want that.

So, what this means, is I have a lot of work to do, hand choosing the triggers for each tile so that they trigger in appropriate ratios. First I have to finish making the tiles. And I'm having a bear of a time learning to make SVGs with Inkscape. Each step leads to new revisions. I've just decided, for example, that the hexes will be 6' across and that I will hand draw gameboard-like squares in the passages as above.

I have always intended to give the whole set of these away once I'm done, as downloadable SVGs (so you can edit them and resize them to your heart's content), but I think it would be cool if I could make something I might be able to sell in addition. Don't get me wrong, I don't think there is even a tiny market for something like this. But I guess I'm thinking of the product I would want if I weren't making it myself. I'd like to offer that to people and be able to cover costs.

Anyway, printing these tiles on paper will work, but I think having them printed on something more sturdy and durable would be even cooler. To that end, I began learning how to screenprint this summer! Who would have thought that all my thinking on this project with a little boost of excitement from the OSR would end up in me learning a completely different craft!?

Still learning, but I did produce a prototype that let's me know that this is possible. I can actually do this.

Disregard the hex grid there, I just wanted to see how fine a line the screenprint could produce. Fine indeed, it turns out. Also, the blemishes there resulted from me brushing on the emulsifier when I shouldn't have, so it will look better next time.


  1. That's very lovely and a cool idea to begin with.
    I'm still wrapping my brain around the issue of determining which edge of the hex to be entered is
    determined - but math ain't my highest high point. I'm interested to learn how this progresses. I got into T&T when I was young and really appreciated the solo adventures as I never had large groups of players either.

  2. Thanks. Yeah, language was always my strong suit not math. This project is definitely straining my abilities. My goal is, when it's finished these tiles will be so elegantly simple to use you'll just look at them and say "oh, of course."

    Now, how to boil down some of the fiddly complexity is something I'm still refining.

  3. Could you maybe post a more detailed example of how this would work? I don't entirely grasp what you're doing but it looks very interesting.

  4. My pleasure. It's easier to see it than read about it.

  5. the geomorph (that seems to be the term people would most understand, but is it a trademark?)

    It is a service mark, but only in the field of:


    My understanding is that this has no impact on its use for roleplaying games. The term geomorph should be free and clear for our purposes. IANAL.