Laws of the Land: meaningful terrain via in-fiction limits and conditions

you seriously thought i was gonna be able to resist Kilian-Eng-posting?

<3 Phlox killin it with some examples of meaningful terrain; ie, terrain that is mechanically distinct in some way that leads to player choice. <3

their method leans mostly on encounter tables and incremental modifiers. latter is not so much my speed

i've been really digging diegetic/in-fiction conditional mechanics that force players to make hard choices / or work around limits that affect their characters agency in the game world. 

these ideas have been naked mud wrestling in my brain. watched until i got hot n bothered. crammed my looney toons spring-eyeballs back into my skull, went home, made this this. 

my man Shaun Tan

Laws of the Land
Update 1: Super Clark took it on themselves to automate the whole thing!!
Update 2: I've created an Indoor Terrain Generator based on the same principles!!
For each realm the heroes might wander, roll twice or more on the following table and combine to determine the terrain and tone of this region. 
Nature's Natures
  1. forested
  2. stony
  3. marshy
  4. humid
  5. foggy
  6. arid
  7. freezing
  8. volcanic
  9. windswept
  10. flowering
  11. steep
  12. riverside
  13. grassy
  14. fungal
  15. hilly
  16. flat
  17. oceanic
  18. freshwater
  19. sunken
  20. fruited

Then, roll twice on the table below: in my opinion, 2 laws per realm or region give it character and make travel a meaningful puzzle to solve without becoming prohibitively difficult; here and there I'd reccomend creating a region with only 1 law to act as a respite or sanctuary, and a few treasure-rich regions with 3+ laws can act as fun challenge zones. 

make sure that your description of the region details the consequences of breaking one of these laws; these consequences tend to follow pretty easily from thinking about the ramifications of the laws combined with the nature of the region. The laws, if not the consequences (and probably them too) should ABSOLUTELY be forecasted to the players, either by NPCs, easy observation, or a low-stakes encounter early on in their exploration. 

Following this table, I've included 6 lands of my own creation to give you an idea of how I've been using this stuff in my own games. 

Natural Laws: in this Land, You Must Not...
  1. bring...
    1. animals or livestock
    2. food
    3. liquid
  2. kill
    1. plants
    2. animals
    3. people
    4. anything
  3. be quiet
  4. create...
    1. noise
    2. light
    3. fire
  5. look at anything
  6. listen to anything
  7. stand...
    1. close to one another
    2. on the ground
  8. go off on your own
  9. stop traveling
  10. leave the trail
  11. travel...
    1. quickly
    2. slowly
  12. make sudden movements
  13. leave a trail
  14. stand upright
  15. fall
  16. speak
    1. about the past
    2. about the future
  17. sleep
  18. breathe the unfiltered air
  19. drink water from here
  20. expose...
    1. skin
    2. metal
    3. leather
    4. wood
    5. blood
    6. paper


the scatterhills 
hilly + riverside
must not stand close to one another
must not travel quickly
river carving its way through soft hills of sand and gravel, barely held together by wiry grass. Too many people in one place or too rapid a pace will quickly break the thin roots and send you skittering and sliding down the slopes towards the river with a rockslide of loose earth and stone in your wake.

the smog flats
foggy + flat
must not create fire
must not expose skin
flat stretch of clay, puckered holes releasing foul clouds of smog into the air that burns exposed skin and erupts into flame at the slightest spark, creating fireballs at best and flash-firestorms at worst.

witch-star crater
flat + sunken
must not make sudden movements
must not drink water from here
the bone-white bed of a crater, pockmarked with pools exposing the putrid aquafer below, long ago poisoned by the cursed star that fell here. the ground is unsteady, and while rhythmic walking or running is possible, sudden shifts in weight and movement are liable to punch through the thin shell of compacted dust and send you plunging into the vile waters. 

the prowlmarsh
marshy + fungal
must not bring food
must not leave a trail
wetland, clusters of pale, fragile mushrooms growing on every dead and dying plant and animal. careful not to leave a trail; huge, thin worms will follow your footsteps, waiting till you sleep to slip into your nostrils and weave themselves through the grooves and crevices of your brain. the air here is thick with spores that will settle on any food and grow rapidly, mushrooms bursting through the seams of bags and bundles, their caps and stems leaking luminescent ooze onto the ground when broken. 

the flowerpaths
oceanic + flowering
must not leave the trail
must not create light
deceptively calm waters. at night, flowering algae blooms, thick enough to walk on. bring no light; even the full moon is bright enough to wither the blooms and leave you to the mercy of the vicious currents that pulse and ripple through the depths. 

the fields of sleep
foggy + grassy
must not sleep
must not create noise
the air is still. the fog is gentle on your face. the grass is soft. to sleep here is to sleep without dreams, without interruption or disturbance; indeed, without natural wakefulness at all. even the scrape of thirst and the gnaw of an empty belly will not rouse you, and the bones of the dead lie alongside the living sleepers, man and beast, whose bodies loom from the mist. make no noise to rouse them; waking to the ravages of their stomachs, most are mad with a desperate hunger. 


  1. This is a very cool idea - especially the second part, the laws, that will snap on to any sort of terrain generator to add depth. Definitely going to have to try this one out!

  2. Nice, creating context through taboos! This is awesome! Reminds me of the way Paddy Hutchinson used taboos for his weird / interesting culture generator "This town of ours".

    Cool! I'll go and try using youre generator here on a smaller scale and will create one or two rooms with it for an Electric Bastionland Mini-Adventure

    1. fuck yeah! please drop the link when you finish the mini-adventure, I'd love to take a look or cop it on else!

    2. Aye, I’ll do that!

      Using the generator for room creation went very well. Favourite output so far: Greenhouse-ish room with muddy plant beds overgrown with strange red flowers. Air is full of hallucinogenic pollen (you must not breathe the unfiltered air) and stepping on the flowers will cause a chemical reaction that lets you freeze to death in seconds (you must not leave the path). Possible hints to the danger: Frozen corpses in the plant beds, i guess. And maybe just a simple warning sign for the pollen hazard.
      I realized that the generators are a good resource for creating Encounters to:
      must not travel slowly
      must not drink the water from here

      “Prowling River-Goddess”
      She is liquid determination and cunning like a thousand currents.
      She will follow you for miles. Relentlessly, ever flowing.
      She won’t let you rest. Stopping means being slowly pulled into her suffocating embrace.
      You must hurry constantly.
      But even if you hurry, she has time. She will wait until all your water supplies are gone and father thirst himself will force you to turn to her. Force you to drink from her shifting essence and become a Vessel of her godly offspring.

      As always, thanks for the inspiration!

    3. oh WOW I really dig the greenhouse but I am in LOVE with the Prowling River Goddess; with your permission I might have to throw that at my players!! Thank you so much for sharing your creations it's so fuckin sick to see the stuff people make with these tools!

    4. Sure! Unleash the flowing glory!

      And i have to thank you! Preparing stuff for games often gets very stressful for me. All the things you put up here really help me in finding ways to create in a way i feel comfortable with. Your Blog has been an incredible help in the last few months!

      So, thanks!

  3. Great! I made a generator:

    1. Thanks so much Anon, do you have a blog/ I could plug? I'd love to link the generator with credit to you if you'd like/allow it

    2. Yes, thanks:


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