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D100 Dungeon» Forums » General

Subject: Procedural terrain generation rss

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Alexandre Santos
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I read the wilderness fan expansion available on the files section, but would like to use some form of procedural terrain generation that produces more natural results (chains of mountains/hills, continuous forests or lakes).

I'd like for instance for my PC to go climb a hill to see what lies beyond, or checks for mountain passes to discover what lies on the other side, have some more natural layout for rivers, villages and cities, etc.

Would you know of some simple method that would be conductive to that in solo play, i.e. terrain generation should be quick, effortless and give me the player a sense of discovery?
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Dave B
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I'm not sure if this will do what you want, but Scarlet Heroes has a wilderness exploration system that generates terrain as you go.

I have seen a few blogs that outline wilderness exploration, too. One example I found some time ago is at: http://9and30kingdoms.blogspot.com/search/label/wilderness

A non-fantasy game that does something like that is Adventures in Jimland - it's based on the idea of exploring a place like Africa, but you could take just the terrain generation part (and change jungle to temperate forest if you like).

I'm sure there are plenty of other games and ways to generate terrain as you explore. The trick will be finding one that gets close enough to what you want to do (and maybe adapting a bit to suit).

Maybe some of the others here will have some good suggestions.
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Every now an then I continue to work on a solo hexcrawler game I started about a year ago.

What I do there at the moment is this:

- When you explore a new hex, you roll a D10 to get its terrain type.

- A result of 1-5 gives different terrains (1 water, 2 mountains, 3 woods, 4 hills, 5 plains)

- A result of 6-10 means "the terrain mostly used on adjacent hexes". This prevents the map from becoming a total mess with all different terrains

- If there are multiple terrain types tied for adjecency, the terrain with the lowest number in the 1-5 range wins. This results in water and mountains being the largest bodies and plains being the smallest (in theory, because the next rule unfortunately tends to make them pretty large)

- It's possible to scout a neighboring hex. If you scout a plain or water hex you automatically scout the hex beyond it, because there's nothing blocking your line of sight. If you have two plain/water hexes adjacent to your hex, you also scout the hex centered behind them. This rule makes sense thematically, but since it lets you expand the map in otherwise unchartered territory, the 50% chance to copy the most used adjacent terrain often results in very large plains

- As I said, you can scout adjacent hexes. Normally, you would use one action to scout one hex. If you are on a hill, this one action will scout mutliple hexes depending on your skill. If you are on a mountain, you can scout all adjacent hexes for just one action. This is pretty neat, because it lets you stand on a mountain and maybe discover several adjacent hexes of water behind which you spot new land.

- I also offer different worlds, where the order of terrain is different or one terrain is covered twice (using the result of 6 for a specific terrain). This offers a lot of variety.


The system is far from perfect, but it gives some pretty realistic maps.
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Alexandre Santos
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Thanks Dave for your tips, Scarlet Heroes seems like a pretty integrated solo system, from which I might recycle a lot of stuff (oracles, etc). I need to read it in a bit more depth.

The terrain generation procedure is as follows:
Quote:
Determining [the hex] terrain type : Roll 1d8. Starting from the hex immediately above the one the hero has just entered, count clockwise around the hex a number of steps equal to the die roll. Assign the new hex the same terrain type found in that space. If the rolled hex is unexplored or the die roll is greater than 6, roll on the Terrain Type table to randomly determine it.


This is followed by a D10 terrain table with entries for Tropical, Temperate, Cold and Dry climates. 1-8 are terrain types, 9-10 is the same as the adjacent terrain, if applicable.

The 9-10 bit is a step in the right direction, but still not enough for me. Thanks for pointing me to that resource!
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Alexandre Santos
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Cervantez wrote:
Every now an then I continue to work on a solo hexcrawler game I started about a year ago.

What I do there at the moment is this:

- When you explore a new hex, you roll a D10 to get its terrain type.

- A result of 1-5 gives different terrains (1 water, 2 mountains, 3 woods, 4 hills, 5 plains)

- A result of 6-10 means "the terrain mostly used on adjacent hexes". This prevents the map from becoming a total mess with all different terrains

- If there are multiple terrain types tied for adjecency, the terrain with the lowest number in the 1-5 range wins. This results in water and mountains being the largest bodies and plains being the smallest (in theory, because the next rule unfortunately tends to make them pretty large)

- It's possible to scout a neighboring hex. If you scout a plain or water hex you automatically scout the hex beyond it, because there's nothing blocking your line of sight. If you have two plain/water hexes adjacent to your hex, you also scout the hex centered behind them. This rule makes sense thematically, but since it lets you expand the map in otherwise unchartered territory, the 50% chance to copy the most used adjacent terrain often results in very large plains

- As I said, you can scout adjacent hexes. Normally, you would use one action to scout one hex. If you are on a hill, this one action will scout mutliple hexes depending on your skill. If you are on a mountain, you can scout all adjacent hexes for just one action. This is pretty neat, because it lets you stand on a mountain and maybe discover several adjacent hexes of water behind which you spot new land.

- I also offer different worlds, where the order of terrain is different or one terrain is covered twice (using the result of 6 for a specific terrain). This offers a lot of variety.


The system is far from perfect, but it gives some pretty realistic maps.


This looks pretty good, I need to test it! I especially like the terrain scouting rules depending on the terrain you are presently.

Have you dealt with continuous features, like rivers, roads?

For instance, if one finds a city, there should be something leading there, either a river or road. How to account for that?
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AlexFS wrote:
Have you dealt with continuous features, like rivers, roads?

For instance, if one finds a city, there should be something leading there, either a river or road. How to account for that?


I have a system that generates terrain features like farms, villages, cities, ruins, mines, dungeons, temples or castles.

They can be connected by roads by using a maximum road distance (normally 3, but there is one world setting where I increased it to 4).

The rule is: If you discover a new terrain feature find the nearest other terrain feature hex or hex with a road.
If it is not more than 3 hexes away, they are connected.

You must of course count around water hexes and mountains are only entered by a road if one end point is actually in the mountains (or in a connected mountain hex).

This system results in roads suddenly popping up in hexes you have already been to. But if you imagine them big enough, it's pretty clear that your hero must have overlooked them the first time


Unfortunately I don't have rivers at the moment, but I am open for suggestions
And let me know how it goes with this system.
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Dave B
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The scouting stuff sounds good. One thing I know from my travels is you can often see mountains from a long ways away if the terrain is open between you and them. And you might be able to see tall peaks even with some intervening terrain. If you're in the midst of mountains you might not be able to see far; especially if you are in the valleys between mountains.

Weather can play a big part in visibility, too.

Of course all of that can easily lead to more complications that one might want for simple exploration.

I think a lot of such systems assume it's a wilderness crawl, so roads don't often come into the equation. Rivers are tricky, because they need to make sense and flow from higher elevations to lower (although they can do things like disappear under mountains, go underground into cave systems, or peter out into marshes or salt lakes or nothingness). And mountain ranges/chains would ideally make tectonic sense.

Another system that I remembered is the one used in the old game, Source of the Nile, which did handle rivers. One thing that game did was have the coastline already mapped, so you knew the mouths of rivers as well as had some terrain types to start from.

I think the best way to do something like this would be a computer system (maybe the entire area would get mapped out first, placing mountain chains, river systems, etc., but keep things hidden until you move into an area. Games like Sid Meier's Civilization games do that.

I think this is a fascinating aspect to explore (). I love exploration games myself. It really comes down to how much simplicity you're willing to compromise for. Like many things it's easy to get bogged down by going too deep (of course, deep can be good if that's what you're going for).
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Alexandre Santos
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Cervantez wrote:
And let me know how it goes with this system.


Ok, I tried three times both systems discussed, that I'll call "Scarlet" and "Cervantez". In both cases I moved 12 Hexes, and in the case of the "Cervantez" method used the additional scouting options depicted (across for water and plains, all around scouting for mountains). For Hills I gave myself 2 scouting actions.

"Scarlet" method:


"Cervantez" method:


I'd say both methods provided continuous features, but the "Cervantez" method provides many more interesting decision points during the exploration. The scouting actions do provide for a lot more terrain to be discovered with less movement.

One caveat is that I had one instance of "mountain proliferation", but this does not seem to happen all the time.

Both methods were quick, the "Scarlet" one being obviously faster.

Cervantez wrote:
Unfortunately I don't have rivers at the moment, but I am open for suggestions


Only major rivers should be mapped. I would say that once one gets to a major town there should be a river (or a road). A river is interesting as a navigation resource, so the river should have a continuing Hex, allow to scout neighboring hexes, and once in a while fork.

One could also think about a main direction for the river, while allowing it to meander somewhat. So upon reaching an hex with a river, one should determine which hexes continue the river, and then scout the remaining hexes.
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Alexandre Santos
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agramore wrote:
The scouting stuff sounds good. One thing I know from my travels is you can often see mountains from a long ways away if the terrain is open between you and them. And you might be able to see tall peaks even with some intervening terrain. If you're in the midst of mountains you might not be able to see far; especially if you are in the valleys between mountains.

Weather can play a big part in visibility, too.


Agree completely.

Quote:
Of course all of that can easily lead to more complications that one might want for simple exploration.

I think a lot of such systems assume it's a wilderness crawl, so roads don't often come into the equation. Rivers are tricky, because they need to make sense and flow from higher elevations to lower (although they can do things like disappear under mountains, go underground into cave systems, or peter out into marshes or salt lakes or nothingness). And mountain ranges/chains would ideally make tectonic sense.

I think the best way to do something like this would be a computer system (maybe the entire area would get mapped out first, placing mountain chains, river systems, etc., but keep things hidden until you move into an area. Games like Sid Meier's Civilization games do that.


Indeed the system should assume the point of view of an exploring adventurer, and be structured as to provide a fun experience while enabling such exploration.

I don't want to use a computer assisted method. In the spirit of D100 Dungeon and similar games, the complexity of the system should be handled the tables, while the terrain generation algorithm should be dead simple so as to allow one to easily play it with pen and paper.

Why do adventurers explore:

A - pure exploration : new land has been found, the idea is to get to know the lay of the land, its riches, the people that inhabit it.
B - in order to reach a destination : the adventurer wants to reach a given destination, and is trying to find a passage (a mountain pass, good roads, etc.) Examples are Marco Polo, Columbus, the Northwest Passage. Roads and Rivers are useful for this type of exploration
C - Search : the adventurer is trying to find a specific McGuffin : the treasure, fortress, Eldorado, Dr. Livingstone. The adventurer knows more or less the region where the target is located, but needs to discover it.

The exploration system should provide for these needs while building an interesting and naturalistic geographical layout.

Quote:
I think this is a fascinating aspect to explore (). I love exploration games myself. It really comes down to how much simplicity you're willing to compromise for. Like many things it's easy to get bogged down by going too deep (of course, deep can be good if that's what you're going for).


Agreed. Like I mentioned, all the complexity should be encoded in the tables,so that when you play you're just having fun discovering new lands and having an awesome adventure!
 
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Dave B
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AlexFS wrote:

Agreed. Like I mentioned, all the complexity should be encoded in the tables,so that when you play you're just having fun discovering new lands and having an awesome adventure!


I agree with that and with all of the points you made! And would love something like that. (I've even played around with trying to work out my own method, but wasn't really satisfied with it)

I like the reasons you laid out for why adventures explore. Those are some good basic reasons, with different goals and likely different paths/strategies and outcomes.

A. Would probably try to cover as much area as possible.
B. Crossing an area in a more linear fashion, while looking for best routes.
C. Getting to the McGuffin and then probably returning to the starting point (or possibly to a known rendezvous?).

One of the things that SOTN did was give the player points for doing things like being first to cross the continent east-west or north/south. You could also get points for things like highest waterfall discovered. But you had to get back home to publish your findings.
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agramore wrote:
One thing I know from my travels is you can often see mountains from a long ways away if the terrain is open between you and them. And you might be able to see tall peaks even with some intervening terrain. If you're in the midst of mountains you might not be able to see far; especially if you are in the valleys between mountains.

I added the "look across plains or water" mechanism to simulate this as easily as possible. Spotting mountains that are farther away than 2 hexes would be great, but I don't know how that would work.
I guess you could roll for all hexes directly behind maximum viewing distance and if you roll a mountain, the hex becomes a mountain. If it's not, you leave the hex empty for now.
But that would requirer a lot of rolling...

agramore wrote:
Weather can play a big part in visibility, too.

In my game I have event cards that sometimes simulate weather.
I have "fog" that says that you cannot scout for the rest of the day (turn) and "clear weather" that gives you a free scouting action.
I also have "rain" and "great travelling weather" that reduce or enhance your speed.
Mapping this to a die roll in D100D should be easily possible. A die result of "unchanged" might also be interesting. This way you could have something like a long rain period.

agramore wrote:
Rivers are tricky, because they need to make sense and flow from higher elevations to lower (although they can do things like disappear under mountains, go underground into cave systems, or peter out into marshes or salt lakes or nothingness).

AlexFS wrote:
Only major rivers should be mapped. I would say that once one gets to a major town there should be a river (or a road). A river is interesting as a navigation resource, so the river should have a continuing Hex, allow to scout neighboring hexes, and once in a while fork.
One could also think about a main direction for the river, while allowing it to meander somewhat. So upon reaching an hex with a river, one should determine which hexes continue the river, and then scout the remaining hexes.

The problem with rivers is that they cannot suddenly appear. If you only model the big ones you would probably want them to have some impact on your travels, e.g. you have to find a bridge, boat or ford to cross them.
So if they suddenly appear on the map like my roads do, you break the map logic, because you may have crossed hexes earlier that are now blocked.

The only thing that would work in that regard is that you have to find a river's mouth (water hex) or source (mountain hex) first. An additonal roll (maybe taking into account the distance to the next river) could determine if there is a river ending in that hex.
Afterwards you can simply define that the first newly discoverd hex that touches an existing river must contain a river. If you discover multiple hexes in the same action (e.g. scouting from a mountain top or looking over plains), do that first and let the river flow in the most similar terrain. So a river from a mountain would prefer to continue through the mountain before going through hills, woods or plains (in this order).
This could reduce cases where rivers flow through plains and suddenly enter mountains again. A tiebreaker between identical hexes could be the length of the shortest unmapped route to the next water (rivers tend to flow into water hexes. Taking the shortest route there minimizes the risk of weird rivers).
You would need additional rules to prevent e.g. mountains that you discover while all adjacent hexes are already mapped out to contain river sources.

agramore wrote:
Another system that I remembered is the one used in the old game, Source of the Nile, which did handle rivers. One thing that game did was have the coastline already mapped, so you knew the mouths of rivers as well as had some terrain types to start from.

Ok, having a coast line definately helps... I cannot do that in my game but maybe it would work for a D100D wilderness expansion.
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Cervantez wrote:
agramore wrote:
One thing I know from my travels is you can often see mountains from a long ways away if the terrain is open between you and them. And you might be able to see tall peaks even with some intervening terrain. If you're in the midst of mountains you might not be able to see far; especially if you are in the valleys between mountains.

I added the "look across plains or water" mechanism to simulate this as easily as possible. Spotting mountains that are farther away than 2 hexes would be great, but I don't know how that would work.
I guess you could roll for all hexes directly behind maximum viewing distance and if you roll a mountain, the hex becomes a mountain. If it's not, you leave the hex empty for now.
But that would requirer a lot of rolling...


You could simplify this. Let's say you have good visibility. You could have a scout check to see if there are mountains in unexplored hexes. If there are, they could be a single mountain (Fuji), or a mountain range (Alps). You could define the distance, orientation of the visible mountain range. The unexplored hexes between your position and the mountain range can't be mountains, so when you explore them you ignore "mountain" results. This could be done with very few die rolls.

Cervantez wrote:
agramore wrote:
Another system that I remembered is the one used in the old game, Source of the Nile, which did handle rivers. One thing that game did was have the coastline already mapped, so you knew the mouths of rivers as well as had some terrain types to start from.

Ok, having a coast line definately helps... I cannot do that in my game but maybe it would work for a D100D wilderness expansion.


Coastlines, mountain ranges and rivers are continuous features. As Dave and you mention, they are a challenge to manage for a procedural terrain generation algorithm (the inconsistencies you mention), but one should probably design a similar mechanism to handle them. This mechanism would be based on continuous (linear) generation of a feature, instead of a contiguous (area) generation.

There are two situations :
A - you don't know that the continuous feature is there, you just stumble on it
B - you know that the continuous feature is there, but you don't know where.

A is unlikely for mountains, but could happen with rivers and coastlines. A coastline means salty water. Once you get to the coast, you should probably generate a good bunch of continuous coastal hexes, at least until the coasts turns away from the point of view of the observer. This should lower the chances of inconsistent results. You could do something similar for rivers, but line of sight would be much shorter. Still you could so a default of 3 hexes up and downstream, and this might be sufficient to limit inconsistencies.

B could happen if for instance local tribes told you that the coast is nearby, or if you know that there must be a river before a visible mountain range. You could think about setting up a track that increases the chances of finding the feature. as you go in the supposed direction. Let's say the track increases by 1 each time you go West (on a scale of 1 to 10), then when you move west you make a die check against that track, and if you get lower you finally stumble on the feature.

If you know the feature must be within a 5 hex range (because the mountains are 5 hexes away), then you use track increments of 2 instead.

Cervantez wrote:
The problem with rivers is that they cannot suddenly appear. If you only model the big ones you would probably want them to have some impact on your travels, e.g. you have to find a bridge, boat or ford to cross them.
So if they suddenly appear on the map like my roads do, you break the map logic, because you may have crossed hexes earlier that are now blocked.

The only thing that would work in that regard is that you have to find a river's mouth (water hex) or source (mountain hex) first. An additonal roll (maybe taking into account the distance to the next river) could determine if there is a river ending in that hex.
Afterwards you can simply define that the first newly discoverd hex that touches an existing river must contain a river. If you discover multiple hexes in the same action (e.g. scouting from a mountain top or looking over plains), do that first and let the river flow in the most similar terrain. So a river from a mountain would prefer to continue through the mountain before going through hills, woods or plains (in this order).
This could reduce cases where rivers flow through plains and suddenly enter mountains again. A tiebreaker between identical hexes could be the length of the shortest unmapped route to the next water (rivers tend to flow into water hexes. Taking the shortest route there minimizes the risk of weird rivers).
You would need additional rules to prevent e.g. mountains that you discover while all adjacent hexes are already mapped out to contain river sources.


The thing about rivers, coastlines and mountains is that they are landscape defining features. Rivers define the lowest point of the basin they are located in. Mountains are the highest points. Coastlines define the end of a continent.

All these features are linear, except mountains. But even for mountains you could you could accept to consider mountain ranges limits as a linear feature, and treat it accordingly.

So you could have a terrain generating algorithm with two modes : area generation for plains, forests, lakes and hills, and linear generation for coastlines, rivers and edges of mountain ranges.

This should avoid most inconsistencies. If I'm exploring a region and I stumble upon a river (either a river alone or a big city that generates a river), then we know that there won't be another river before a long while, probably beyond another mountain range. This could modify the way we interpret results, and avoid inconsistencies.

In the same manner, if we follow a river and stumble upon a fork, then we know that upstream there are two basins, that must be separated by higher terrain. There is a high chance of having mountains between the two rivers. There may be simple ways of encoding these features into the algorithm.
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Alexandre Santos
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I would also take a tangent and consider that fact that since we are not generating a pure physical terrain, but rather a land with population, culture and past history, then one has also to consider cities and civilizations as "landscape defining features".

For instance, if there is a big city, then it must be located upon a river:
1 - at the coast, on a river mouth,
2 - at a river fork, where two affluents meet,
3 - where there is a bridge over a river

There are more specialized scenarios, like a city in a oasis, crossroads of two big roads.

So the presence of a big city "creates" these geographical features, so far as the algorithm is concerned, and this is true for present cities or past cities that fell into ruin.

But in the case of present cities, one should meet the city's back-country before reaching the city itself. A city needs farms, i.e. villages, perhaps even towns to supply it. The adventurer would meet these people before reaching the big city.

In terms of the algorithm, this is somewhat similar to the distant mountain case, except you don't see it visually, but you perceive the consequences of its presence.

So let's say you roll the existence of a big city. This does not mean that there is a big city in the hex where you arrived, but would perhaps change the table you are using to generate terrain, so that it starts producing more villages, and tilled fields. You would also raise your chances of finding a river. Once you find it, following it would also lead you to the big city.

Would there be other human-related features that also define the landscape? I could think of fortresses (usually connected to a terrain elevation or constraint (mountain pass, river crossing, etc), but there could be others.
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This is an interesting discussion; and shows how easy it is for things to get complicated! laugh

Maybe there would need to be different "tracks" for wilderness exploration vs. "civilized" (or "populated") exploration? Wilderness exploration could include areas that had previously been populated long ago, but have since been mostly deserted. Ruined cities, for example, could be found in places like the midst of jungles or deserts (according to fiction anyway; but also in the real world). Given enough time things like desertification can eliminate features like rivers that might have sustained cities in previous ages.

Places that are currently populated need more support and reasons for existing and for being where they are, as Alexandre describes. And maybe there would be some more or less minimal maps or other information already available to any would-be explorers, so generating more widespread terrain in advance might make sense. This info could be incomplete and/or inaccurate, of course, so even the stuff you roll ahead of time might not prove to be quite correct once the explorers get out there.

In either case, wilderness or populated areas, there could be rumors that explorers could pursue, too. Like the Seven Cities of Gold, El Dorado, Fountain of Youth, King Solomon's Mines, etc. Of course, those could be goals, MacGuffins, or even the main reason for an expedition.

But I'm getting off track again! (some explorer, eh?) laugh

I have tried googling, but get lots of computer-generation stuff. Hard to find good pen and paper, dice-rolling systems/examples that include the generation of realistic mountain ranges and river systems. Especially for systemts that generate as you go, rather than ones that basically generate an entire area.

There are few, if any, good exploration boardgames, that are more about mapping and exploration rather than combat and conflict (looking for boardgames as inspiration for generating terrain for rpgs, for example).
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agramore wrote:
This is an interesting discussion; and shows how easy it is for things to get complicated! laugh


Well, the trick is to have the highest possible payoff with the least possible complexity.

Reading around (I plundered 1, 2, 3) I think one could use the following method to decrease fiddlyness:
- some parameters concern a wider region that does not need to be determined at every new hex explored
- you could limit rolls for such features for when you enter bigger scale regions
- you could use larger scale hexes to achieve this

Normal hexes are about 5 miles wide (side to side). You could then have regions made of hexes 25 miles wide, enclosing 5 normal hexes.



So you would only roll for certain features every time you enter a new region (25 miles hexes):
- is there a city nearby (and hence a road/river?)
- is there a super predator (dragon) that preys in this region?
- what's the main ethnic group in the region
- are we near a mountain range?
- etc.

A lot of the complexity mentioned could be encapsulated in these 2-tier hexes. Thematically the adventure would hear about rumors, see charred remains of animals or humans, etc.







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D'oh! I forgot about Welshpiper's stuff. I have come across it previously.
 
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