The Seven-Sided Die

The odds & ends of roleplaying

Archive for March 2012

My own hex paper

written by d7, on Mar 30, 2012 12:22:00 PM.

I needed some hex paper for the game I’m setting up. Autarch even has some 6-mile hex paper that’s custom-designed for their particular campaign-creation guidelines. I, however, am Very Particular as my wife well knows, and using four different types of hex paper that uses 24 minor hexes to one major hex on one sheet and then 4 minor hexes to 1 major hex on another and then uses rectangles and hexes together on yet another sheet is just silly. [1]

(Actually, Autarch’s hex sheets are very nice sheets and I’d recommend trying them for anyone who likes hexes.)

I wanted one sheet for any scale I could think of. I liked the logic laid out in In Praise of the 6 Mile Hex, and I’ve got some skill with the drawing functions of ConTeXt, so I made some hex paper with 12 minor hexes to 1 major. With these sheets I can scale up or down in 12ths, giving me 6-mile hexes for my core scale, ½-mile hexes for detailed maps, and 72-mile hexes for large regional maps. I doubt I’ll bother with a continental scale for this campaign, but 864-mile hexes should handle that fine if I do.

Screenshot of the hex paper I made

Download it here:


Translation for those who can’t hear my tone of voice: tongue firmly in cheek there.

Simple hexcrawl horizons table

written by d7, on Mar 21, 2012 11:13:00 PM.

Reading In Praise of the 6 Mile Hex I started thinking about how useful it would be to be able to say how far a PC can see from any given height. How far can the halfling see while perched at the peak of a 200-foot tree? How far if the tree is surrounded by 100-foot forest canopy? How far if that tree is in the middle of an empty plain? How far if there is a 50-foot wall to the north?

All things that might be solved by guessing or just giving the most situationally-convenient answer, but for an old-school game I prefer things that eliminate my unconscious bias from the outcome, to better be a referee with all that title’s implied impartiality.

I realised I needed a table. So I made one.

Survey Distance

Vantage Height (ft)









































(Here’s a more compact HTML version of the table.)

The exact numbers have been massaged to be more gameable, but not by much — 75′ instead of 76.27′, 20′ instead of 22′, ignoring the difference between how tall a human and a halfling stand, etc. I’m also using 6-mile hexes in this table; if there’s demand I could work up a 5-mile hex version easily enough.

The table is easy to use:

  • Survey Distance is the radius of a circle around the surveying PC. Vantage Height is the height of the object the PC is standing on (not the height of their eyes when standing on it).

  • To find out how far a PC can see from a vantage of a certain height over flat terrain, find the nearest height under Vantage Height and find the answer in hexes or miles.

  • If a PC wants to know how high they need to get to survey the land a certain distance away across flat terrain, find the nearest distance in miles or hexes under Survey Distance and take the answer in feet on the same line.

  • If intervening terrain is taller than the Vantage Height, then it forms the visible horizon in that span of the view.

Initially I thought it would be easy to figure out the visible distance over intervening features like hills and forests (e.g., “Can I see the river valley beyond the forest from the tallest tower of my castle?”), but it turns out that’s a geometrically non-trivial problem so it can’t be approximated by just subtracting or adding to the values in this table. However, the answer to “Can I see the edge of this forest of 100′-tall trees from the top of this 200′ tree?” is a simple matter: just use the difference of heights, and if the Survey Distance reaches beyond the forest’s edge then the edge is visible. [1]

Eventually this table will go into a set of custom landscape-oriented reference sheets to fit into my customisable DM screen, and it will be so useful the one time I ever need it. ;-)


Whether the forest’s edge “looks like” an edge from that vantage and not just trees all the way to the horizon is debatable, but you might as well give it to your players in that case since the distances and heights necessary to make it visible-yet-in-doubt at so very particular that I think it would count as screwing them over. Thus ends the minutiæ of a minutia of a minutia.

Dyson Logos' awesome and easy map tutorial

written by d7, on Mar 16, 2012 3:48:15 PM.

I discovered Dyson Logos’ inspiring side-view dungeon map tutorial a couple of days ago. Since then I’ve been experimenting with the style and I find it suits me really well.

A drawing depicting a cut-away view of a waterfall descending into a sinkhole, with caves in the walls. A tree and a ruined tower overlook the sinkhole.

I started by doodling from memory an old dungeon I ran years ago for D&D 3.5 and shook out some of the kinks in the style and started making it look good. I found that the real key to making it look good, as he points out in the tutorial, is to go over the lines that separate solid ground from air a second time to darken them. It’s such a simple thing, but when you slow down to make the tracing accurate it transforms shaky, amateurish lines into confident, polished ones.

The sample at right is a work-in-progress so the crosshatching hasn’t been finished, but it gives a good idea of how nice the results look even when it’s incomplete [1]. The crosshatching gives it a great finished look, and isn’t nearly as hard as I anticipated. The trick I’ve found is to slow down enough to make the lines evenly spaced and parallel – getting the orientation just right is much less important.

I’m still finding it hard to conceptualise the layout before committing it to ink and I’m still running into room shapes and details that look better in my head than when executed on paper, but practice is very quickly paying off. I’m learning what sort of shapes look good and which convey information well much faster than I would have thought, so the exercise is having a very encouraging effort/payoff curve.

I have to say that I’ve never been good at drawing a straight line without a ruler, and yet look at how nice those lines look! This sample is only the second map I’ve done since reading the tutorial. I don’t consider myself to be very artistically skilled, so if I can do this, so can you!

I haven’t tried it in pencil yet, but I think pen is the way to practice. Drawing in ink is forcing me to think about what I’m doing rather than rushing something onto the page just to kill the abhorrent blankness.

For more map awesomeness go read through the rest of his mapping blog, the (hilariously misnamed) A Character For Every Game. And if that only whets your appetite for maps in this line style (side-view and otherwise), there’s always Tony Dowler’s Year of the Dungeon. Now that I’ve shown myself that I can do this at all, I’ve got a stack of index cards that are earmarked for drawing Dowler-style microdungeons for even more practice. I’m determined to have a hexcrawl that is well-stocked with my own subterranean creations among the One Page Dungeons and published megadungeons I’ll be using.


Even when photographed with a cellphone under terrible conditions. Post-processing makes it marginally presentable, but don’t look too close at the tower in the top-right!

Making a calendar

written by d7, on Mar 15, 2012 4:47:00 PM.

I’m in the early stages of setting up a sandbox setting for potentially multiple groups with variable player rosters. In brainstorming how I would organise my records for such a persistent setting independent of the PC parties, I realised I needed to create a calendar. I’d need to keep track of when things happened so that I could restock dungeons believably, track the progress of event lines the PCs neglect to interrupt, determine the likelihood of items on fallen PCs remaining where they died, and sundry little play logbook things I like keeping track of like local weather.

The last time I ran a game where bothering to track time made a difference I already had a calendar provided by the Forgotten Realms setting; the time previous was more than a decade back and I fudged with an expired real calendar for some year in the 1990s.

But I like building settings and the bits that make them unique, so I didn’t want to use a real calendar, and obviously I wasn’t going to be handed a published fantasy calendar.

I’m also lazy, and I wanted a calendar that was conceptually easy while not being dull. So here’s how I went about building one.

Calendar specs

I had a few requirements for my calendar that were dictated purely by usability and personal convenience. Sure, I could make something arbitrarily complex, but I wanted something that would at least have a chance of being comprehensible to players who will frequently have more important things on their mind than what month it is, let alone whether it was a month of short days or how many feast days there were coming up.

  1. I wanted to have regular months. No variable days per month, no leap days, no funkiness from one month to the next.

  2. I wanted to have a year roughly equal to 365 days. I’ve read novels where the year was a very different length from ours, and it takes mental gymnastics to follow along whenever time is relevant to the plot. I wanted “a year” to mean a year to my players.

  3. Ditto weeks. If possible, I wanted 7-day weeks so that when an NPC says, “Your sword will be ready in a week, m’lady,” my players would immediately know what that meant without having to ask me (again and again) how long a week is in my weird funky calendar.

  4. Months I wanted to be in the rough neighbourhood of real-world month, but I wasn’t going to push this one too hard because…

  5. I didn’t want too many months. Players are only human, and humans deal best with quantities that are roughly seven in number, give or take. I didn’t want to have 12 months, really, as that’s just too many to ask players to care about paying attention to. My desire for the calendar to be meaningful in play to others than myself would best be served by having the fewest number of months so that players actually remembered them and had a rough idea of what they meant without having to constantly say, “Marpenoth is roughly like March”. [1]

I also had some stylistic preferences that I wanted to fit into the calendar.

  1. There would be the usual four seasons. Seasons are usually more relevant to play because villages and weather react to the turn of seasons, not arbitrary month divisions.

  2. Months should relate directly to the seasons. A system that is useful and comprehensible to farmers rather than an hurdle to properly timing plantings and harvest seems much more likely to be in widespread use. If I want to have the date come up naturally in-game in a useful way for the PCs, having NPCs using the calendar in their daily lives will better convey date information than me shoving it at them as meta-game information.

  3. I like how the Forgotten Realms’ calendar includes days that are not part of any month or week, and these are culturally meaningful days. This sort of thing can also provide the wiggle room necessary to make some of the usability specs happen.

  4. I wanted the division between years to be the last day of winter and the first day of spring, rather than the astronomical winter solstice. [2]

The calendar

So I built a calendar with 7-day weeks, six weeks to a month, one extra day-of-rest “feast day” per two weeks, 360 days to the year, two months to a season, and eight months to a year.

A calendar of eight months. Months are in pairs under each of the four seasons. Each month is six 7-day weeks stacked atop each other, every second week having an 8th day sticking out of the right side of the month's box.

It’s not terribly exciting, but I wasn’t going for exciting. It accomplishes the primary goal of giving me something easily-understandable to write in the headings of each day’s entry in an adventure log.

As a bonus it has all these interesting “non-calendar” days for me to play with. Some of those days are going to be special: the one between Early Summer and Late Summer is obviously Midsummer’s Day; the last day of Winter (well, not really part of the Winter months nor part of the Spring months) is some kind of year-death or new year’s day. Similarly, there are obvious prospects for harvest festivals and holy days. Those non-calendar days that aren’t claimed by religions or seasonal celebrations are going to be plain old feast days or market days or whatever sort of day of rest is culturally appropriate to the setting.

You’ll notice the names of the months aren’t marked. There’s an early and a late month in each season, and to avoid the Marpenoth Problem I’m going to assume that the inhabitants of this world are pragmatic and never saw a need to name the months with anything especial or non-obvious. So we have Late Fall and Early Summer, or New Spring and Old Winter, as references for month names. Really, any fantasy-sounding names I created would, if I were being sensible about it, mean those terms anyway, so made-up names would just be imposing a barrier between the players and their ability to reference time.

If the inhabitants are that pragmatic, and since I’m making it all up anyway and might as well have the world be gameable where it’s not implausible, I figure the days of the month are just going to be tracked with numbers. For spice, I might have some people count “the 10th of Early Summer” and other people count “the 3rd of two of Early Summer”. I kind of like the sound of the latter, though, so I think I’ll count time by default with “the [day]th of [week number] of [month]”. That way, “the 8th” will always be the strange day, the feast day, the day of celebration. I can use the other way of counting days as a marker for a particular culture or nation being odd and foreign, with their 32nds of Old Summer and Twelfths of New Winter. I figure they’ll just count the feast days in there too, as the 15th, 30th, and 45th.

Public Domain

For the reasons above I find this an eminently usable calendar for game records-keeping and for informing players, and has just enough flavour to say “fantasy” to me. It’s also pretty generic, being different from our own calendar while still matching our sense of year and week lengths. For a GM who needs a calendar this could be dropped into most implied settings with little to no work. [3]

If you want to use this in your home campaign you of course need no permission from me, but since I hate the headaches that licenses can bring I’ll just make it simple and put the calendar into the public domain. (If you use it I’d love to hear about it, but don’t count that an obligation!)


Marpenoth is actually equivalent to October in the Realms’ calendar which just goes to show that needing to keep the calendar mentally straight is an additional burden on anyone, GM included, and so likely to get neglected as a PITA.


Yes, I know that the visible demarcation between winter and spring is fuzzy and varies by year, which is why astronomical divisions were originally used in real-world calendars, but I’m planning on having a cosmology that isn’t based on planets orbiting a star in space. Without the inclination of a planet’s axis the solstice wouldn’t be determinable from the stars and would need good clocks instead. The winter/spring changeover is going to be conventional, fundamental to the establishment of the calendar, and keeping track of its return is the original function of the first calendar of this sort. As a convenience to me and time-tracking (because I don’t really want to figure out sunrise and sunset variations across the year but I still want sunrise, sunset, and midday to be practically meaningful), I may even make day/night lengths invariate between seasons, eliminating the concepts of solstice and equinox entirely.


Maybe shift the year-split to between the two winter months if that’s your taste, and the feast-days can easily by eliminated if you don’t like them by making the months a straightforward six weeks of seven days each for 42 days a month. And if you really like 12-month calendars you can easily redistribute the last two weeks and the first two weeks of each season’s months to make a third seasonal month, each of four weeks or 30 days (with feast days; 28 without).

DHB Preview: Turn Undead

written by d7, on Mar 2, 2012 1:59:00 PM.

Here’s another taste of how I’m handling traditional D&D concepts in the first draft of the Dungeoneer’s Handbook.

Turn Undead [−1]

You can rebuke undead creatures and send them fleeing or destroy them outright.

Musts: Your High Concept must be related to faith in some way.
Rebuke: When you present the symbol of your faith and stand firm against an undead creature, you may make an opposed Conviction roll against its Discipline to place the aspect “Held At Bay” on it.
Cleansed In Light: You may make an attack using Conviction against the creature’s Discipline. If the undead is corporeal, stress dealt in this way is physical rather than mental.
By The Word: By paying one shift you may affect all undead in a zone, or (when using Rebuke) place the aspect “Fleeing!” instead of “Held At Bay”.

I was going to make the Must for Turn Undead be having Divine Miracles (the DHB equivalent of Sponsored Magic I’m using for priestly spellcasters), but for the Cleric template I took some inspiration from very early D&D editions and made spellcasting optional at character creation. So, Turn Undead (and their ability to use armour and decent weapons) is key to making a classic cleric work and I had to hang it on their faith-based character concept rather than spellcasting. The upshot is that characters without the Cleric template could conceivably take Turn Undead given a High Concept that is faith-related, but I don’t think that’s a problem as much as it might be a feature.

What I like about this power/stunt is that it captures the turn/destroy mechanic of D&D’s turn undead ability without needing a big table for it. Does the undead creature have low discipline (a zombie or skeleton, say)? Then you can very likely send it running, and if you’re good enough you can destroy it outright with the power of your faith. Of course, you have to choose which one you’re doing first, but that introduces a nice tactical consideration, I think. Are you facing a vampire necromancer and its zombie minions? If you just Rebuke you’re likely to get enough shifts to turn all the zombies but the vampire will be unimpressed; if you opt to attack then you likely won’t generate enough shifts to fill the zombies’ stress boxes and deal them enough consequences to take them out outright, but you’ve got a good chance of stinging the vampire if you try.

Of course, all this has to see playtesting before it can be considered good and functional under actual play conditions. But I certainly am fond of how this one has shaped up initially.