GPTS Exercise: Ruin Generator

This is a continuation of the GPTS (Good Place to Start) Exercises. GPTS is explained HERE.

This is a series of dialogues – I share how I make things, and readers may reply with their alternatives, or their iterations on what I make. The actual responses may be on Discord, in the comments section here, or on peoples’ own blogs.


Context: I wanted a ruin generator when I was running UK4: When a Star Falls. The main reason is because the hex-map for that adventure is incredibly sparse (you should verify this yourself! Don’t just take my word for it). Unfortunately, this table only saw use in my later campaigns and not at all in UK4, as players TPK’d. I owe much of its creation to inspiration from Knockspell No. 3.

Jojiro’s Ruin Generator

A ruined building in Aleppo, before and after the start of the Syrian Civil War.

This is a two-step generator.

  1. Roll 4d6. The total indicates what type of ruin it is.

2. Then, roll a separate 1d6 – a loaded encounter die, courtesy of Necropraxis.

1A wandering monster has come to lair in the ruins – roll on the appropriate wandering monster table for this region.
2People have come to lair in the ruins – refugees, bandits, or wandering merchants. Choose what fits the “tone” and “pacing” of the current session.
3Some contextual event forces players to treat ruins as shelter rather than curiosity – night is falling, a storm is coming, the pack mule is frothing at the mouth, etc.
4Magical phenomenon – illusions, mutation magic, a zone of nullified magic, an elemental loci, or a desecrated shrine that could grant blessings if set to rights.
5The place is haunted. Use vestigial ghosts for social encounters or incorporeal undead stats for combat encounters.
6Just focus on the ambience, o GM. These ruins are empty, but make them weighty anyway.

For the 4d6 roll:

4-5. Surreal and Bizarre Amalgamation

For every die that is a 1, choose one surrealist painting (that you find on Google or in an art book or whatever works for you). Apply elements of that painting to your ruin. The ruin defies sense and logic. Your GMing principles here override whatever principles you formerly used: all you want is to do here is defy player expectations and laugh in the face of reason.

6-8. Built for Foreign Anatomy

A tunnel-city for giant eusocial worms, a slanted reef jostled above sea level by geological activity, the remains of a great spaceship from the heavens, etc. Make it alien to the players in specific terms, using your highest die as the number of misconceptions that players might have about the place.

For instance, a player might think that a honeycomb structure indicates that the culture found hexagons of holy significance, rather than the fact that they are looking at a hive-wreck of feral giant bees.

9-10. Mega-Monument

A single reclining Buddha, a broken spire that must have extended far into the sky, some dome stretching from horizon to horizon, buried beneath layers of silt. Count the highest number of dice that match, and count around the table clockwise until you reach that number player. The mega-monument will be from some ancestral culture to their current cultural background. If the player has no backstory, then just ask them to describe the monument.

11-12. Cyclopean Walls

Whether these are literally built by cyclopes or merely the cyclopean masonry found in Mycenaean architecture is up to you. The longest wall extends as many miles long as the lowest die. There are as many murals on the stone walls, preserved in crude dyes, as your highest die.

13-15. Vernacular Dwelling

This is a sample of vernacular architecture, built to be a dwelling, a home. Use whatever materials would make sense for this home in this location.

The highest die indicates the total number of rooms worth describing, all of which should have a “homely” feel to them – a pantry, a bedroom, a dining room, a stables area, a personal workshop, an outhouse, etc.

The lowest die indicates the number of “active signs of ruin” that you will explicitly describe – a caved-in roof in the shape of a fallen giant, with a skeleton occupying it, broken pottery that looks as if it were smashed by axes, signs of a great fire, etc.

16-17. Retreat

Perhaps it was a vacation home, perhaps it was a seasonal palace, perhaps it was a private monastery, perhaps it was a wizard’s tower.

The highest die designates a number of features which indicate this was a place of pleasure and respite – game boards, cabinets full of dusty liquor bottles, chaise lounges, large outdoor baths, and the like.

The lowest die indicates the number of “active signs of ruin” that you will explicitly describe – the corpse of a master who was obviously killed by a slave rebellion, arrowheads which suggest some manner of assault on the retreat from outside, or a copious amount of black paint spattered about the place, always depicting a lotus flower.

18-19. Multiple Structures

Not enough structures to justify calling a place a settlement, but not so few as to dismiss the idea, either. Use the lowest die to indicate how tall (in feet) the “centerpiece” of all these structures is. Use the highest die to indicate how many intact structures there are – three times that number is instead broken-down rubble that forms no recognizable structure.

20-22. Town

Towns that go missing would almost certainly be noticed, so if you roll this and don’t have any “available rumors or news” about a missing town, roll again. But if you do, this is a great time to reveal a missing town. Perhaps it fell to invaders. There might be signs of plague or famine. A natural disaster could explain a fallen town as well, as could signs of eldritch gods and cursed idols. Take your pick of disaster, and keep players focused on that. The specifics of the town ruins can be settled by re-using town elements elsewhere in your game, but in ruined form. Don’t emphasize these too much, lest the “oh, this is familiar, how sad” vibe is replaced by “oh, these are just copied features, how boring” vibe amongst your players.

23-24. Metropolis

You have found a lost city, one of the crowning discoveries of ruin-kind. Take the sum of your two highest dice and multiply by 100. That is the number of ruins that the city is comprised of (though this is perhaps where wealthy patrons and archaeologists will take over from the players, after paying them a hefty reward for discovering the city).

The lowest die indicates the number of earth-shattering anthropological revelations that can be had through research of this lost city, which reveal themselves one by one after every week of careful excavation.

Robert, Hubert; The Dismantling of the Church of the Holy Innocents, Paris, 1785; The Bowes Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-dismantling-of-the-church-of-the-holy-innocents-paris-1785-44308

A Good Place to Start, a Bad Place to End

Let’s talk a bit about the above generator from the GPTS perspective. This is a generator that is untested and can certainly be improved upon for your own campaign.

We’ll cover some exercises for stages 1 and 3 of the GPTS hierarchy. Remember, you can look at the other stages too – I only include two here for brevity’s sake!

Level 1. Comprehension

As always with a new generator or random table, actually practice generating a ruin first. The generic response to generators is to skim them and say “wow this is so cool!” Try to resist that temptation.

When you actually use the generator, you will find hiccups – a wandering monster that lairs in a mega-monument, for example, takes a little bit of thought on your part. And if a combat encounter happens in these ruins, think about how you would run it? Are you even willing to go to that hassle, without a pre-generated map? Some GMs are, some aren’t. Be honest with yourself.

As part of the GPTS exercise: A TWO-PARTER! Part one: generate at least one ruin with this generator, encounter die and all, and figure out how comfortable you are with running it. Part two: figure out at least one part of this generator that you would have trouble running, or that your players would have trouble appreciating. Don’t bother trying to fix it. Just note that tension. Learn to find that tension when reading other generators and tables too.

What you’re trying to catch is this: what reads as cool, and also is in fact functional for my games? What reads as cool, but may not work for me? Train yourself to ask those questions.

Level 3. Community

If you are part of a community that you can talk to about tabletop RPG stuff, whether that’s your housemate or a workplace acquaintance or a Discord server, talk to them about ruins. You don’t even have to link this blog post – in fact I recommend that you don’t. Ask them if they use ruins. Why or why not? If they do, how do they use them?

Consider what they’re saying, and see if this ruin generator has anything to do with what they say. Does it perhaps provide a reason for them to use ruins, if they formerly did not? For instance, if they found ruins too hard to come up with, this generator might help! But if they hate the aesthetic of old and crumbling things because they’re trying to run a setting shiny with all-brand-new airships and wizard colleges and bustling halfling taverns…maybe this generator isn’t for them.

Reflect on those answers yourself. Where do you stand, compared to the community you are talking to? Do you feel like you belong in that “style” of approaching ruins, or are you walking to the beat of your own drum? Are you okay with that?

As part of the GPTS exercise: understanding how other people interact with content, and examining how you situate yourself with respect to them is not intuitive to practice, when it comes to generators and to tables. We as GMs are solitary creatures when it comes to how we prepare. But having those conversations broadens your perspective.

Your job here isn’t to have good questions or good discussions. It’s to have the bravery and curiosity to start a discussion.


All GPTS entries will be like this – going over hiccups I think can occur in comprehension, going over what I think are useful exercises to get the most out of a post, and covering at least a bit of the meta of how a thing is done or made, so that the reader can do or make the thing themselves. Search the #GPTS tag to find past exercises!

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