Sometimes, inspiration is not on your side. Irritatingly, this can happen all too often when you have a session coming up that very evening and nothing prepared in advance. For the ill-prepared or creatively blocked, the Internet comes chock full of inspiration in various states. You could try skimming news and current affairs sites for a few ideas, or go link surfing through Wikipedia. Many other games have their own ideas on random ways to generate adventures and fill whole sites with hooks and seeds. Then again, some people and publishers have taken it upon themselves to polish their scattered thoughts into a cohesive product and made them available for download.
The Location Crafter assumes you might have got this far, and focuses on facilitating your need to structure all those random ideas and bring them together, on the spot, as an entertaining adventure.
The Location Crafter is a simple and structured guide to create locations and window-dressing for your adventures on the fly, though you still need some idea of setting and theme. Usable with any role-playing game, it serves as guide and tool for solo or group gaming with minimal prep.
The Location Crafter is a slim PDF, written by Tana Pigeon and published by Word Mill. The supplement runs to 22-pages, including covers, ads and credits. Effectively, you have 15 pages of productive, and lightly illustrated, content.
Illustrated by Jorge Muñoz with a few scattered black-and-white illustrations and a colour cover, features various exotic locations. Importantly, the supplement also contains a bunch of examples, including completed forms and sketched maps generated using the tools presented here. A nice touch, as the rough and ready sketches show that when you’re creating your location you don’t need to be some sort of seasoned cartographer to get the job done.
In writing The Location Crafter, Tana Pigeon does not provide a magic solution for all your preparation needs, but this slim volume does provide some handy structure to approaching that pressured situation of creating adventure content on the fly.
For the first half of the book, The Location Crafter explains the way to structure what creative content you do have. To simplify the process, you break things down into Regions – which represent the current focus for the adventure, or perhaps just the current scene. So, a Region could be a dungeon or a haunted house, or it might be a newly discovered continent or an unexplored star system. Whatever the level of zoom, your Region represents the broad container into which the characters can turn their focus.
Each Region then has three Categories of potential content – Locations, Encounters and Objects. As with the Region, what falls into these Categories depends on the game you’re playing, but they’re the where, who, and what, as well as the scattered colour and window-dressing. The initial few pages discuss this in detail and offers various examples. Initially, you come up with the meaningful content, then you scatter the lists with filler – like the Expected, the Special and the None.
If you want to have a short session, then you keep the lists relatively brief and focussed. For a longer session, you will want something more substantial, possibly with more instances of the generic window dressing and empty rooms. You roll on each list with a six-sided dice, adding one to the roll after each throw. The stuff you want the players to find should fall somewhere around the middle.
For example, having entered a haunted house, stood in the open hallway at the foot of a sweeping flight of dulled and dusty wooden stairs, you roll three dice. The door you pass through reveals a cloakroom, expected close to the entrance. Empty of coats or umbrellas, you do find a mildew stained painting with a broken frame and a scattering of rat droppings.
Later, as the modifiers accumulate, you’ll reveal more pivotal locations. Upstairs, you discover a moldy bedroom, the bedding damp and stinking with rainwater. A hole in the ceiling reveals ragged and torn floorboards and a hint of cobwebs in the attic above. Behind the bed you find a rotten apple and a discarded shotgun, lying on the ground by a dark stain in the tatty carpet.
The Location Crafter doesn’t create the finer detail or tell the story for you. Rather, it provides the means to record, structure and randomly access the content. Where you’re lost for ideas, you can roll on the random tables in the back of the book or answer a simple Yes/No question with the throw of a die.
If the characters find and attempt to open a chest, what do they find? A roll on the twinned Descriptor table for Complex Questions (where the answer needs to be something other than yes or no) might suggest ‘Angrily Graceful’. What does that mean? Again, the book isn’t doing the thinking for you, just offering suggestions. Angrily Graceful might mean an elaborate clockwork trap of fascinating, but lethal, workmanship, for example.
If you use the book as a GM or as a group of players running a game without a guiding referee, you will need to take the random phrases and agree what to make of it. If in doubt – or totally flummoxed – then you can always skip it, admit you don’t know and move on. You interpret the outcomes, but the book firmly advises you to never let anything bog down the enjoyment of the game.
A 2-page worked example, with a picture of the Region worksheet and a rough sketched map, makes for a perfect guide to how you might use the tools presented. It takes each dice roll and result, then transforms that outcome into a game narrative spoken between a Gamemaster and her players. Very much like my examples above, each roll on a table leads to a little creative thinking, building on the accumulating elements of the story.
A page of after-thoughts considers how a Gamemaster can use The Location Crafter in advance, creating the lists and then generating a whole Region. Under such circumstances the GM can become even more cavalier with the results, willfully ignoring any elements that don’t fit. With less pressure and more time, the supplement becomes a way to inspire without ever constraining. The section also considers using the Crafter without a GM or with other supplements designed to create games from scratch.
Finally, you have three pages of random tables and a blank page-sized Region Sheet template, suitable for recording the category lists for a Region and marking off progress as characters venture into a randomly created domain.
The Location Crafter is a well explained concept with supporting examples and several random tables for quick actions and descriptions. It serves as a fine toolkit for on-the-fly adventures – providing you haven’t hit an absolute creative brick wall. Better yet, the concepts and ideas make it a perfectly reasonable way to create locations for solo or GM-less play with a similar measure of brief preparation. Combined with Word Mill’s other products – like Mythic Role Playing – you have a complete no preparation tool set for adventure.
A worthy weapon to keep on hand for when the going gets tough, and sufficiently compact to sit on your smartphone or tablet as ready reference
The Location Crafter, Tana Pigeon, Word Mill, priced $3.00 in PDF at time of writing.