13 min read

Create an original, open world setting in less than an hour

In this newsletter, we will use procedures (ie. step-by-step instructions) from an RPG called Mausritter, and sprinkle in our own random tables with a Winter Solstice theme, to rapidly generate a small open world setting you can run adventures in immediately.

Create an original, open world setting in less than an hour

The idea of homebrewing your own open world setting is daunting.

You might think of popular open world settings that represent the pinnacle of this craft - places like Skyrim, the Continent from The Witcher, or Hyrule from Breath of the Wild. Open world settings like those take large teams of people thousands of hours to create. How can we possibly do it ourselves?

The answer is to start small.

In this newsletter, we will use procedures (ie. step-by-step instructions) from an RPG called Mausritter, and sprinkle in our own random tables with a Winter Solstice theme, to rapidly generate a small open world setting you can run adventures in immediately.

Even if you don't want to run an open-world game, you'll find that following these procedures is a great way to generate your own D&D campaign ideas.

Table of Contents

  1. Materials
  2. Wait, what's a Hexcrawl?
  3. Part 1: Fill the hexes
  4. Part 2: Create Factions
  5. Part 3: Add adventure sites
  6. Part 4: Seed rumors
  7. Part 5: Create encounter table
  8. Explore your world!
  9. Random Tables for Winter Solstice

Materials

You will need a few basic materials to follow along:

  1. The hexcrawl template from Mausritter.com OR any hex-grid paper with hexes large enough to sketch in.
  2. Some paper, a journal, or LegendKeeper to write notes in.
  3. A pencil.
  4. Some dice. A d20 and a couple d6's will do nicely.

Wait, what's a Hexcrawl?

You can think of hexcrawls as a gridded map that's designed for exploring a world, rather than running a combat encounter.

Hexcrawls usually involve travel mechanics that provide the GM with rules around how the party can explore the space. But the goal of this newsletter is to create a world - not learn new game mechanics. You don't need to learn new rules to make good use of a hex map. At minimum, you still get a nice map with a convenient grid for figuring out distances.

If you are interested in learning more about the travel mechanics, and other game systems that usually come along with hexcrawls, I recommend you read the 5e hexcrawl article on The Alexandrian.

Part 1: Fill the hexes

In Part 1, we need to turn blank hexes into a map filled with interesting places to explore. To do this we will:

  1. Number the grid
  2. Place a friendly settlement in the centre
  3. Fill the rest of the hexes with one-line descriptions
  4. Draw the map

1a: Number the grid

If you are using the template from Mausritter.com, this is already done for you! The center hex is numbered 1, then the numbers spiral outwards from there.

If you are using blank hex paper, you need to add some numbers. These numbers provide a set of hex keys you can use to refer to what each hex contains. You can number the grid any way you want - all that matters is that each hex has a unique number.

For the purposes of this walkthrough, I recommend copying the approach from Mausritter:

  1. Choose a center hex and number it 1.
  2. Move up 1 hex and number it 2. Add the next number in a clockwise direction around the center.
  3. Move up to the next circle and repeat step 2.
  4. Stop when you've numbered 19 hexes.

Here is an example of how this ends up looking. You might want to make the numbers smaller and place them in corners. We'll need to room to draw stuff!

Hexgrid numbering from Mausritter.
Hexcrawl numbering from the Mausritter template. CC BY 4.0

1b: Place a friendly settlement in the centre

Generate a friendly settlement using your favorite random generator, random tables, or the settlement tables at the end of this newsletter for inspiration. This place will be a hub for the players to begin their adventure in, and return to for rest and recuperation.

The key to success is to keep it brief. Resist the urge to develop a long backstory for the settlement. All you need are a few bullet points. The rest of the story will develop through actual play!

Place this settlement in the center hex (Hex 1) by writing its name next to the hex key in your notebook. At this point, we aren't drawing anything.

Generating a town for a hexcrawl.
Pinehenge - my friendly settlement at the centre.

1c: Fill the rest of the hexes with one-line descriptions

Write a one-line description for each empty hex. You can use the hex contents tables at the end of this newsletter for inspiration.

Once again, its important to keep it brief. The world will be developed through actual play.

For each hex on your map, roll, choose, or invent:

  • Terrain type (open countryside, forest, river, mountains, town)
  • Landmark
  • An interesting detail for that landmark
  • A name for that area (optional)
Filling out a hexcrawl.
Adding short descriptions for each hex.

1d: Draw the map

Now that we have a numbered list of each hex's contents, we can draw! You don't need to be good at drawing to do this. Even basic symbols and sketches make the world seem more real for you and your players.

A few tips for drawing:

  • Don't worry how good you are at drawing. Have fun with it!
  • The edges of the hexes are great for adding rivers, roads, or mountain ranges.
  • Use simple representations of things. Use icons and symbols.
Hexcrawl map with drawings of interesting locations.
Drawing my hexcrawl map. I added small icons to help remember terrain type.

Part 2: Create Factions

Mausritter notes that adding Factions is optional, but in my experience it's an essential step. Even two factions will make the world feel alive, and make it easier to generate interesting stories.

Come up with 2 - 3 factions and add them to your notes. For each faction, roll, choose, or invent:

  • A name
  • 1 - 2 goals
  • 1 - 3 advantages they possess (eg. resources, special skills, knowledge)

Once again, try to keep it brief. Bullet points are fine. You can use the faction tables at the bottom of this newsletter for inspiration.

Generating factions for a hexcrawl.
Adding factions to my hexcrawl - Mining Kobolds and Frost Cult.

Part 3: Add adventure sites

You already know adventure sites by another name: Dungeons. These are the dangerous places your players delve to find treasure or accomplish their goals.

Creating a great dungeon is a deep topic in itself. For the sake of brevity, we will only generate some high-level ideas in this newsletter. If you have time to go deeper, we recommend reading the full instructions in Mausritter (p.34-41), watching episode 2 of Running the Game by Matt Colville, or learning about the 5-room dungeon method.

Pick 2 - 4 of the landmarks on your map and mark them as adventure sites. Spread them out so that the players have to criss-cross the map to find them all.

For each site, roll, choose, or invent:

  • A theme
  • 2 factions
  • A reward (eg. treasure, knowledge, achievement)

You can use the adventure site tables at the bottom of this newsletter for inspiration.

Adding dungeons to an open world hexcrawl.
Simple, high-level adventure site descriptions. I circled them on the worksheet.

Part 4: Seed rumors

Create a table of d6 rumors.

As the players explore adventure sites or rest in settlements, use this table to give hints of other locations and of the activities of your factions.

  • Entries 1-3 should be true
  • Entries 4-5 should partially true
  • Entry 6 should be false

Part 5: Create encounter table

Based on the factions you’ve chosen and other inhabitants of the area, create a table of d6 encounters.

Make sure to jot down an idea of what each group is doing when the players encounter them.

You can lean on your favorite monster manual or a random generator to help. You can use the encounter tables at the bottom of this newsletter for inspiration.

A completed hexcrawl map with rumours and encounters.
The final product includes d6 encounters and d6 rumours.

Explore your world!

You should now have a small open world filled with ideas, landmarks, factions, and potential adventures. Simple procedures from games like Mausritter, combined with a few random tables, can produce great results in a short amount of time.

We hope you can use the world you've just created for something fun. Feel free to share your creation with us on our Discord server or Twitter.

Happy holidays from all of us at LegendKeeper!

Special thanks to Mausritter for the fantastic game and inspiration. Get it today on Itch.io


Random Tables for Winter Solstice

We've prepared a collection of random tables to help inspire you while trying the procedure in this newsletter. To celebrate the holiday season, we went with a Winter Solstice theme. Feel free to replace these with the tables or random generators of your choice.

Some of our favorite random generator websites are Here Be Taverns, Donjon, Chartopia, and r/d100.

Settlement Tables

Use these to generate the friendly settlement at the center of your map.

Settlement name

Roll 1d20 for each column.

d20 Start End
1 Pine heim
2 Black town
3 Moon grave
4 Willow dale
5 Fairy haven
6 Winter rise
7 Hallow rest
8 Frost nest
9 Wind henge
10 Oak spring
11 Earth keep
12 Candle brook
13 Cedar borough
14 Elk ridge
15 Ever field
16 North cliff
17 Wick stead
18 Alun run
19 Leif hill
20 Flora mill

Settlement customs

What habits and customs do the inhabitants have?

d6 Custom
1 Burn their dead.
2 Brew unusual but effective medicines using pungent herbs.
3 Dress in the same uniform.
4 Stop work for feast days once a month.
5 Build everything with wood and hempen rope.
6 Treat magic users as human vessels for the gods.

Settlement feature

What feature sets this settlement apart?

d6 Notable feature
1 Large maypole in the centre square.
2 A large, well-groomed hedge maze.
3 Unusually large temple with rare stained glass frescoes.
4 A massive pine tree covered in glittering ornaments.
5 Animal skulls at the entryway to every home.
6 A secret tunnel system.

Settlement industry

What trade drives the settlement?

d6 Industry
1 Kiln-fired pottery, glazed in cheerful colors.
2 Beautiful, hand-crafted toys.
3 Teams of reindeer-sled drivers help with passage through the snowbound realm.
4 Weavers of magic-imbued green and red cloth.
5 Woodcutters and sawmill operations.
6 Frost shepherds.

Settlement event

What is happening as the players arrive?

d6 Event
1 Wedding, streets decked in wreaths.
2 Religious ceremony, candles lit throughout the settlement.
3 Winter solstice festival, the longest night of the year.
4 Preparing for grand seasonal feast.
5 Market discount day, with farmers flocking in to save a few silver.
6 An innocent is being prepared for holy sacrifice.

Settlement governance

How is the settlement governed?

d6 Governing power
1 A secret coven of witches.
2 Village elders.
3 An ancient daemon who presents as a man in red. Assisted by a faction of loyal snow elves.
4 Representatives of a powerful noble house from the deep north.
5 Magi who represent 9 of the old gods.
6 A shadow council holds the real power.

Hex Contents Tables

For each hex on your map, roll, choose, or invent:

  • Terrain type (open countryside, forest, river, mountains, settlement)
  • Landmark
  • An interesting detail for that landmark
  • A name for that area (optional)

Terrain type

d6 Hex type
1-2 Forest
3 Open countryside
4 Mountains
5 River
6 Settlement

Landmarks

d20 Countryside Forest River Mountains
1 Field of snow Lonely cottage Stone bridge Abandoned mineshaft
2 Field of flowers Giant pines that keep snow off the ground Wooden bridge Narrow rope bridge over chasm
3 Sparse trees without leaves Blue lights floating in the dark Fallen tree crossing Glacial shifts
4 Lonely oak tree Trees decorated with ornaments High waterfall Sled run
5 Stone farm wall Cold, fresh spring Frozen ice shelves Faces of old gods carved in rock
6 Igloos Trails made by humanoids Rocky rapids Massive boulders
7 Reindeer tracks through snow Trails made by animals Stepping stones Caves
8 One-horse open sleigh Thick, twisted trees Sunken barge Single tall mountain looms above
9 Old farmhouse Tangled brambles with large spikes Floating logs with carvings View of a settlement below
10 Quiet dirt road Stick figurines hanging from trees Connecting rivers Winding pathways
11 Path of flat stones Forest clearing Small whirlpools Sheer cliff faces with carved footholds
12 Abandoned huts Runic symbols carved on tree trunks Herd of reindeer drinking Giant bird nests
13 Campsite Sunken region Frost covered rocks on the bank Pine trees with lights in them
14 Animal bones Fallen trees for crossing snowdrift Purple lights underwater Skiing slopes
15 Herds of elk Frozen trees that chime Sacred crossing A functioning gondola
16 Giant Menhirs White trees with faces in them Abandoned rafts Lakeside cliffs
17 Large, erratic boulders Clusters of tree stumps Stony shallows Sliding rock slopes
18 Crop circles Natural caves Trees standing in the water Massive idols carved in rock
19 Patterns carved into deep snow Overgrown ruins Guide ropes for crossing Climbing gear at every crossing
20 Giant snowmen Enormous god tree Isolated island Star hangs over the north mountain

Landmark details

Terrain type d6 Detail
Forest 1 A jolly man in red carrying an ornate yule log. What does he want?
2 A group of naked people with bodies painted. What do they celebrate?
3 A row of floating candles moving in line. Where do they lead?
4 A hunter's lodge. Who built it?
5 A tree with a door in it, painted like a pine tree. Where does it lead?
6 An ancient forest spirit. What animal does it appear as?
Countryside 1 A traveling family. What do they flee from?
2 A circle of standing stones. Who gathers here?
3 A deep hole in the ground. What's at the bottom?
4 A large stone used for sacrifices. How old are the blood stains?
5 A large rune drawn in the snow or grass. What does it look like?
6 An order of frost shepherds. What is their purpose?
Mountains 1 The home of an ancient spirit who appears as a man dressed in red. What does he want?
2 A hermit in a cave. His skin is green. What does he want?
3 An impassable wall of ice. What is on the other side?
4 An ancient keep. What's inside?
5 A hot spring that heals you. What gods are watching?
6 A functioning gondola. Who operates it?
River 1 A crossing that animals avoid. What stops them?
2 A ferryman who charges in riddles. Who is he?
3 Faerie faces in the frosted banks. What do they offer?
4 A well-dressed corpse floating peacefully in a boat with candles. Where are they coming from?
5 Glowing blue lights under the ice. What are they?
6 A small lake that never thaws. How is this possible?
Settlement - See Settlement Tables

Faction tables

For each faction, roll, choose, or invent:

  • A name
  • 1 - 2 goals
  • 1 - 3 advantages they possess (eg. resources, special skills, knowledge)

Faction name

Roll 1d20 for each column.

d20 Start End
1 Santa's Fellowship
2 Frost Circle
3 Reindeer Council
4 Antlered Band
5 Burning Covenant
6 Pine Gang
7 Elmwood Family
8 Poisonwood Coven
9 Tinder Guard
10 Magick Guild
11 Alchemic Hunters
12 God's Clerics
13 Secret Druids
14 Sacred Ravens
15 Hooded Elves
16 Naked Volk
17 Dancing Worshippers
18 Singing Cult
19 Forgotten Flame
20 Yule Shepherds

Faction goals

What is the faction trying to achieve?

d6 Goal
1 Stop Christmas from coming!
2 Summon an old god on the longest night of the year.
3 Spread holiday cheer.
4 Make sure winter ends when it's supposed to.
5 Organize a big winter sports competition.
6 Hide the fact that an old god is real and walks among us.

Faction advantages

What resources, special skills, or knowledge does the faction possess? How will it help them achieve their goal?

d20 Advantage
1 Abundance of combustible materials.
2 Knowledge of the deep forests.
3 Can commune with the gods.
4 Resistant to the effects of alcohol.
5 Expert sled drivers.
6 Expert deer hunters.
7 Expert toy crafters.
8 Can always find true north.
9 Tons of gold and silver.
10 Expert musicians.
11 Possess a cache of finely tailored clothes.
12 Can wield weather magic.
13 Nightvision.
14 Ability to morph into one type of animal at will.
15 Knowledge of the constellations.
16 Can craft nearly anything from animal bones.
17 A twinkle in their eyes charms most people.
18 Possess a holiday sack of holding.
19 Placed a spy inside another faction.
20 Resistant to cold.

Adventure Site tables

For each site, roll, choose, or invent:

  • A theme
  • 2 factions
  • A reward (eg. treasure, knowledge, achievement)

Adventure site theme

What theme ties the site together? This will help you fill the site with details that logically connect to each other.

d6 Theme
1 Platforms built in the forest canopy.
2 Frost magic affects the terrain and the denizens.
3 Magical darkness. Torches and candles everywhere.
4 Ancient temple to an old god.
5 A workshop where toys are constructed.
6 Hidden winter storehouse.

Adventure site faction

These are not always the same as the major factions you already created for the world (though they can be). Think of it as a lesser group of some kind that dwells in or around the adventure site. Make sure to give them goals.

d6 Faction
1 People with the heads of animals.
2 Clerics of the Frost Shepherds.
3 Elves who serve the man in red.
4 Winter witch coven.
5 Strong raiders from the North.
6 Kobolds aligned with faeries.

Adventure site rewards

What treasure, knowledge, or achievement does the site contain?

d6 Reward
1 Silver and gold.
2 A wand made from a reindeers antlers.
3 The Frosted Blade once wielded by the Northern Hero.
4 A path through to the place you seek.
5 The identity of the spy who dwells within a faction.
6 A glimpse of the ominous future.
7 An alliance with a powerful cult.
8 The hidden weakness of an evil coven.
9 A lost burial site. Better rewards lay below.
10 The real meaning of the holiday season.
11 A word of power.
12 The item a settlement needs for the festival.

Encounter tables

Roll 1d20 for each column.

d20 Creature What are they doing?
1 Snow elves Scouting
2 Humanoids with the heads of animals Searching for something lost in snow
3 Dwarves Chasing someone
4 Frost sprites Running from something
5 Faeries Ice fishing
6 Kobolds Sitting at a campfire
7 Goblins with skiis Trying to stay hidden
8 Bow hunters Hunting
9 Mercenaries Arguing about something
10 Animated trees Leading prisoners
11 Frost golems Playing a game
12 Floating ice crystals Singing carols
13 Frost magi Dancing in a ritual
14 A man in red Chanting in a ritual
15 Angels Sleeping
16 Witches Lighting signal fires
17 A hermit Cutting down trees
18 Frost giants Skinning deer
19 Cold undead with blue eyes Eating people
20 Faction Building a shelter

Published
Written by Adam Waselnuk

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