Ruins occupy iconic status in RPGs: exploring dungeons, looting tombs, delving into lost caverns. There’s a style of play called “Dungeon Crawling.” You may have even heard of a game called “Dungeons & Dragons.” Clearly, settings must needs ruins. So here’s a tool.
Now, granted I’m reinventing the wheel somewhat—there are several ruin-generating tools out there. The first such I encountered was Moldvay’s dungeon generation instructions in D&D Basic (1981). Though it didn’t include tables in the random tradition, the system was a step-by-step process to create a dungeon (read: ruin). It was designed to the get the GM thinking about why characters would explore the place, what the ruins were (or used to be), and who dwelt there.
In recent years, I discovered the Ready Ref Sheets from Judges Guild. The “Ravaged Ruins” section relies heavily on randomisation, focusing perhaps more on window dressing and environmental details than Moldvay, but nevertheless providing plenty of seeds to inspire the GM. And that’s really what you want from a random table: a helpful nudge in a good, creative direction.
Depending on one’s perspective, these are opposite ends of the same spectrum, but instead of settling on the middle ground, let’s take a few steps back and ponder: Whatever are “ruins”?
In short, a ruin is the future state of something that was once useful. By definition, ruins used to be functional, generally like something from an earlier instalment of this series: a settlement, a fortress, or a religious order. Through some ruination, that “something functional” was degraded, destroyed, or lost. In short, a ruin.
Roll once each for: Type (what the ruin used to be), Ruination (what caused the ruin), Interest (why characters might explore the place), and Majordomo (being the chief special big-bad who lives in the ruins). Roll two Minions for each Majordomo; these are monsters either in the employ of the big-bad or just hanging out to make the place more dangerous:
ROLL TYPE* RUINATION INTEREST MAJORDOMO MINIONS
1 Village Sacked Plunder Fighter Bandits
2 Town Plague Artefact/Relic Cleric Humanoids
3 City Earthquake Bounty Hunt Thief Imps
4 Tower Curse Recovery** Mage Sub-men
5 Keep Flood Rescue† Demon Constructs
6 Castle Angry God(s) Recon/Intel Humanoid Lowlifes‡
7 Tomb Infestation Portal/Gate Dragon Animals
8 Temple Evil Magic Restoration Alien Hybrids
9 Abbey Tech gone Wrong Rare Item Roll x2 Undead
10 Chantry Self-destruction Search & Destroy Roll x3 Weird things
* Roll imploding d6 for number of “levels” or sections (above or below ground)
Roll imploding d12 for number of “rooms” on each level
** Recover (d6: 1 heirloom; 2 noble person; 3 lost secrets; 4 remains;
5 birth right; 6 ruin itself)
† Rescue the PCs’ (d6: 1 mentor; 2 patron; 3 ally; 4 prisoner; 5 ward;
‡ Creepy things (d6: 1 fungal; 2-4 insects/spiders; 5 worms; 6 plant)
Note the imploding die for the ruin’s size. Also, depending on the number of levels, you may want to roll for multiple Majordomos (just remember to roll twice for each Majordomo’s Minions).
Using the table above, here’s what I came up with for Minocra’s four major ruins (my results are shown to show you what I was working with).
Hex #0409: Ruined City of Sercus (What I rolled: city ruined by infestation (11 levels); recover noble person; demon with hybrids and humanoids & alien with constructs and weird things)
Sercus was a sprawling port built by the first explorers to Minocra. Baseless tales report that a crimson vessel, not of the local seas, put in for repairs. Not long after, the city was crawling with a “Hoste of red-eyed Spidres, fashioned of polished silvre and brasse,” which apparently ravaged the population and left the city barren. The ruin is prudently avoided for fear that the seeds of its destruction lie fallow within, but one of the Padishah’s reckless sons supposedly entered Sercus in search of plunder—naturally, he’s not been heard of since and the Padishah would likely pay for his safe return.
Hex #0513: Ruined Tower of Auscus (What I rolled: tower ruined by infestation (1 level); rescue PCs’ ally; dragon with constructs (x2))
This massive tower of tarnished metal stands squat on a rise overlooking the coast. There is no visible means of entry, though there are at least two hidden entrances in the cliff wall underneath (1/8 chance to find each day of active searching). Its builder is unknown, though it appeared—gleaming—shortly after the fall of Sercus (Hex #0409). Sages posit that clues to Sercus’ demise are hidden within, along with requisite tales of treasures and technology (for what else would a metal tower contain but the wondrous devices of an advanced intelligence?), and it is known that the inside is bigger than its outward appearance suggests.
Hex #0621: The Fallen Knights of Trengus (What I rolled: chantry ruined by angry god (2 levels); restoration; demon with imps and animals)
Trengus was dedicated to Trengus, one of the eastern Spire Gods, who intended it as an outpost from which to launch forays in search of the Tholdir heretics (Hex #1117) . The chantry’s garrison never found their quarry, instead falling prey to a demon and his wicked minions. Whether the demon was sent by Tholdir’s Order, or perhaps summoned by Trengus’ servants who could not control it is unknown. What is known is that artefacts recovered by treasure-seeking scavengers hint at powerful restorative magicks somewhere within the complex, yet persistent efforts to scour the ruin have yielded naught.
Hex #1822: Ruined Tower of Grallus (What I rolled: tower ruined by self-destruction (5 levels); recon/intel; cleric with hybrids and imps & fighter with plant lowlifes and animals)
Grallus was a flamboyant mage, judged by most to be careless of the rivals his arrogance fostered. One such rival was the sorcerer Kubu (Hex #1518), who somehow tricked Grallus into self-destruction. A survivor of Trengus, the priest Molibar, took up residence in the ruin, planning to deliver the punishment of his god upon the Tholdir heretics. Molibar still searches for Tholdir’s Order, summoning a loyal cadre of demonic servants and a nameless Saba bodyguard known only as “Flower.” The tower and grounds are warded by strange animal/imp hybrids and carnivorous plants.
I have tread lightly on this entry, only because ruins are so iconic to fantasy RPGs—it’s easy to screw up by painting too much detail on a canvas that each GM must decorate to his tastes. Still, I think these results are workable—enough, I think to provide good direction for creating sandbox ruins.
As always, I ask: what’s missing and is it useful to you?