Beyond the Waves: Island Generator
The Further Afield sandbox (or in this case, saltbox) is collaboratively (and if you like randomly) developed between all players at the table. One really important factor is the way the Village is at the centre of the map, and the location of other features is relative to the Village (distance and direction). Even when far away, home should always be present on the map.
Of course you don’t need to make the village (or island) central to the map; it could be at one end. This works if there is one big destination in mind (e.g. travelling from the Shire to Mount Doom, or Analand to Mampang). That makes your campaign a bit more of an epic journey than a free-roaming sandbox, but the principle is the same — the characters should always be thinking of home.
If you stick your archipelago next to a land mass it becomes bounded between the land and the ocean, so your archipelago could be long and thin as it follows the coastline of the mainland. At the same time archipelagos can contain thousands of islands and be located away from a land mass. In the early stages of the campaign you could only be looking at one small portion of the island chain, and concepts like Land and Ocean will be so distant that they may as well be myth.
- Because the islands can vary in size you may want to use smaller hexes or a bigger range between the “near” to “far” bands given in the Further Afield map sheet, or you’ll run out of space when packing islands in or you’ll only have a few islands on the map. Part of the feel of the saltbox should be that there are a lot of islands to explore, something that could take a lifetime. And there should be sea in between to cross.
- If the party plan to sail long distances, they should uncover new islands as they progress. This means your map needs breathing room, but also you won’t know what direction the map is going to expand in. The paper answer to this is to get another hex sheet and tape it to the original one, when you know what direction it’s going to expand in. There may be electronic tools that let you do the same thing (but I like paper)
OK, here’s how to grow the archipelago:
- Use the Further Afield rules for creating a location in turn, including direction, distance, and type. Do as many rounds as you have enthusiasm (or space on the hex map) for.
- Islands are small, medium or large.
- Stretches of sea between the islands can be any size; the distance between islands may determine what size of boat can sail those different channels.
- Each island has a Safety Slider. This affects the overall danger of the island itself, and extends to the surrounding waters. The Home Island (Village) is always +3 on this scale, i.e. safe.
- Each island is usually considered a “dungeon”, i.e. a single area to be explored. If there’s danger, the party should be in danger as long as they’re on the island. Safety rating applies to the whole area.
1. Where is your island?
Use the Further Afield rules for direction on the map, and distance (close/far). Also use the rules as you see fit for what kind of Major Location exists and whether the island is Heard, Seen or Learned and how accurate that information is (FA p.8).
2. How big is your island?
Choose a scale for your hexes. FA p.12 gives us a default distance of 1 hex = 10 miles; this means that small islands will be a 1-5 miles across (the size of Oxford), and big ones will be maybe 30 miles across (the size of London). That sounds OK to me. If there’s a settlement on the island it could be a mile across, and if there’s a major city it may be 5 miles.
Roll a d8:
1: 1 hex small island (entirely contained within 1 hex)
2: 2 hex small island
3-4: 3 hex medium island (usually one vertex of each hex entirely on land)
5-6: 4 hex medium island
7: Medium-large island, 5 or 6 hexes but all hexes contain beach/sea
8: Large island (at least 1 hex does not touch the sea on any side)
Each player draws their island within the above guidelines.
I’d suggest modifying the roll by +3 if the location is a Major City, and +1 if the place is a Settlement (see Further Afield).
3. Set the Safety Slider
Each island has a safety rating, set from +3 (very safe and welcoming) to -6 (really dangerous). This rating should apply to reaction rolls, rolls on random tables where there’s a mix of good and bad outcomes (with the bad outcomes low), etc.
This rating applies at sea, too. For every hex away from the island, move the safety slider 1 towards neutral (0). Use this rating to apply to chances of wandering monsters/pirates, dangerous weather events, etc.
Sometimes the danger is known, sometimes it’s secret. Sometimes the party have the wrong information (use the Further Afield rules for whether the information is accurate).
Big islands that are commercial hubs (where a lot of people of different cultures pass through) probably won’t range more than +/- 1. There’s a limit on how safe and friendly they can be due to size (they just become impersonal) and there’s a limit on how bad they can be, because if they’re dangerous to a lot of people then no-one will go near them to trade.
For islands (usually big islands) with a controlling the Safety should determine (or be determined by) how hostile that faction is to the PCs. (note: Faction rules to come later)
4. What’s on the Island?
Here are a few tables to start off.
Roll 1d20 for each hex of island with seashore. Alternatively roll once for a small island, twice for medium and three times for large.
1: Rocks and cliffs, calm
2: Rocks and cliffs, dangerous currents or whirlpools
3: A cove with a rocky beach that floods at high tide; rip currents
4: A wide sandy beach with dunes
5: A lagoon separated by a barrier island or reef
6: A natural harbour, big enough for a boat
7: Rocky headland with a cove
8: A steep shingle beach with rough waters and seaweed
9: A spit, with or without a structure at its end
10: Small caves in a cliff-face (covered at high tide?)
11: Vanishing island (headland with vegetation — possibly seaweed — vanishes at high tide)
12: Beach with mud flats/quicksands
13: Shallows with rocks
14: Rocky beach with rock pools
15: Sandy beach with many small or large shells
16: Rocky headland with many narrow and tall rocks, rising like fingers from the sea
17: Cliffs with many ledges
18: A series of terraces
19: Headland and causeway, submerged with tide
20: Natural piers or sandbanks
Where to land your boat
Roll 1d8 and modify by +3 if it’s a City and +1 if it’s a Settlement. If it’s Ruins you have two options: either don’t modify the roll (so if there should be a pier and there isn’t, it’s in disrepair and can’t be used) or adjust is as you see fit but make every structure unreliable.
1-2: Nothing; you need to use natural features to moor your boat, drag it onto the beach, or anchor the boat and go ashore on a skiff
3-4: A small jetty for mooring fishing boats etc. Possibly with boat-building nearby. Could be owned by one family if there’s no settlement.
5-6: A natural or artificial pier
7-8: A harbour with a small quay, suitable for small-medium merchant vessels
9-10: A harbour with a large wharf, multiple piers, etc.
1: Changeable (sunny, windy, stormy)
2: Always warm and clement
3: Windy with rough seas
4: Stormy with lighting and rough seas
5: Frequently raining and cloudy
6: Meteorological enclave (makes its own weather, separate from surroundings)
5: Lagoon (or Atoll)
6: Freshwater brook or lake
7: Plains, fertile
8: Plains, infertile/desert
9: Salt marsh
11: Rocky spires
5. Interesting Things
Here are some interesting things about the island (may be a bit of colour, may be adventure)
- The island is surrounded by things that colour the water (seaweed, algae, jellyfish). What is the consequence of sailing or swimming in these waters?
- The island has many tall thin rocks on its coast, which sing when the wind blows. What does the song do?
- The coast includes geometric (e.g. hexagonal) rock formations.
- The water is unusually clear, and there’s something on the bottom of the bay. What is it?
- The Veil is thin here (see Beyond the Veil).
- A network of caves penetrates the entire island. What made them? What uses them?
- Several lava tubes can be found on the island. What lives in them?
- Many tall trees connected by rope bridges.
- A plain with a thin, brittle crust. What’s underneath?
- A ship, about a mile inland. How did it get there? Is there anyone on board?
6. Interacting With Minor Locations
When the Major Locations have been fleshed out, the GM writes the Minor Locations. The party then interacts with these on the way to Major Locations. For a Saltbox there are a few good reasons why they would need to interact with the islands on the way:
- They have limited water or food to stay on the water.
- They’re forced to land in bad weather.
- Winds or currents send them off-course.
OK, that’s it for this one. Now we have to fill it with people or nonhumans or monsters… TTFN.