Building on the idea of die drop tables and tools in Vornheim, I came up with a simple approach to quickly generating a region: the drop map.

I had fantasy hexcrawls in mind when I wrote this, and the map I’ve created using this method is for that sort of game. There’s no reason you couldn’t fiddle with this in all sorts of ways to produce maps for larger/smaller regions, other genres, or even other kinds of maps entirely. It’s deliberately a lazy, quick, flexible system.

I find that when I create maps I overthink everything. Should the river bend west here, or stay on its southerly course? Could there really be two towns so close together? Is that forest one hex too large? It’s maddening and it prevents me from getting anything done, so this process is intended to short circuit that by forcing me to adapt to randomness (which is fun in its own right).

I’ve used it to create the map for a hexcrawl campaign, and I like the results. That’s enough proof in my personal pudding to make it worth sharing here. It’s got rough edges you’ll need to sand off according to your own GMing style and preferences, and this is intentional. Make this method your own.

Setup

Open Hexographer. (The free version is fantastic; the paid version is entirely worth it.) Create a new map 11 hexes wide and 8 hexes tall. Assume 6-mile hexes, giving you an area of about 3,100 square miles. Leave the hexes blank, but number them.

Open a Word file or text file or whatever you like to write in on the computer.

Grab the lid of an 8.5×11 box set and set it down sideways, open side up. If you don’t have any of those, grab a blank sheet of 8.5×11 paper and plan to re-drop dice that fly off the paper.

Decide what you’re mapping. For this example, I’ll map a starting region for a fantasy hexcrawl. I decided what I wanted in it based on what felt right about the sort of region I wanted — generically medieval, temperate climate, not wilderness but not too populated either. I explicitly ignored realistic population figures and all that stuff because in general it just doesn’t matter during the game.

Grab some dice and match die types to the elements you want on your map. For this example, I chose:

  • 6d4 – villages
  • 3d6 – towns
  • 1d8 – city
  • 6d10 – forest
  • 4d12 – mountain
  • 10d20 – dungeons/adventure sites

Drop dem bones

Start dropping dice into the box lid. There are two stages: landscape and points of interest. During a stage, leave all the dice in place as you drop new ones. It doesn’t matter if they bump each other into new positions.

Drop 4d12 for mountains. The bigger the number showing on each die, the taller those mountains are. At a minimum each die represents a hex of mountains; join them up if it feels right.

Drop 6d10 for forests. The higher the number, the denser the forest.

Add those elements to your Hexographer map, with each die’s location corresponding to a hex (just eyeball it). Connect areas of forest and mountains if you like. Don’t think too much about it. Everything else is open terrain (grassland).

Before you remove all the dice, write the hex numbers in your Word file and note the die numbers. So if there’s a one-hex forest area in (say) 0804 and the die reads 7, write 0804 in the Word file and put a 7 under it so you’ll remember how dense that forest is.

Clear the box lid of dice. The landscape stage is done — it’s time for points of interest.

Drop 6d4 for villages. Higher number means higher population.

Drop 3d6 for towns. Higher number means higher population.

Drop 1d8 for your city. Higher number, larger city.

Drop 10d20 for dungeons and adventure sites. You can be mean and let the number equal the level of the dungeon, but it’s better to use it as a vague representation of danger level.

Add villages, towns, city, and adventure sites to Hexographer.

Add the die numbers to your Word file.

Add details

The rest all happens in Hexographer or Word. The map you have isn’t going to be logical, but don’t correct weird things, like clumps of villages, unless you absolutely have to. Instead, make up reasons why they are how they are and jot those reasons down in Word. Looking at our map, the first two things I want to know is why two villages and a town are so close together and why most of the adventure sites are in the bottom half.

Add some rivers and/or other bodies of water. Rivers flow towards bodies of water; they sometimes merge as they near the coast, but they rarely diverge after merging. Most large settlements are near water.

Add roads and stuff.

Name every feature on the map — every hex where you dropped a die. (If you connected forests or mountains, name the whole thing, not each hex.)

Make up two things about every hex you filled in (every die you dropped, or every area of forest/mountains). It’s hard to remember lots of things; it’s easy to remember two things, and using just two forces you to focus on the most important things. Jot it all down in Word, a sentence or two at most per thing.

If you’re using published adventures, assign them to the dungeon locations on the map. If not, make up some stuff for those sites.

Name the region.

How you finish depends what you’re mapping, but don’t take too long. Fiddle the with map if you like, but not too much (add some hills, for example). Add wandering monster tables if it’s that kind of game. Make up a rumor table.

Then start playing. Really — don’t write anything else down unless it’s amazing. All your notes for the region should fit on a page or two. Being unfinished and sketchy is a virtue — you won’t need most of what you just did right away, so don’t waste time on it unless it’s fun. Everything else will come from actual play. If you know your players are headed somewhere, add more details then if it seems like you’ll need them.