I read a really great article called “Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus” by the Angry DM that is really good and describes his “Slaughterhouse” system for defining zones in dungeons/ruins/whatever.
It reminded me of a brilliant thing that Sword & Sorcery Studios (the White Wolf d20 imprint) did with their Scarred Lands stuff, which was to have ELs for various wilderness areas representing the average EL of the kind of encounter you might have. Lovely civilized farmlands, you come across a bunch of CR1 kind of folks. The Dark Woods of Dark Death, on the other hand, are maybe EL7. It provides a nice mechanical backup to how dangerous that place over there is – you as the GM know what to expect immediately, what kind of encounter charts to use, what kinds of stories to tell – “Twenty lumberjacks from our village went in there and a hydra attacked and half of them were killed and the other half is missing random limbs.”
It’s also an expansion of the 3e concept of city stat blocks (which I don’t really use all that much – it’s good to know the population and $ limit of goods but the rest of it isn’t all that actionable). Here’s an example if you’re not familiar with it:
Large City conventional (mayor); AL N
GP Limit 40,000 gp; Assets 32,856,000 gp
Type mixed (81% human, 5% halfling, 4% dwarf, 4% elf, 3% gnome, 2%
half-elf, 1% half-orc)
Haldmeer Grobaras, lord-mayor (N male human aristocrat 9); Verrine
Caiteil, spokeswoman of the Council of Ushers (NG female elf
aristocrat 5/bard 2); Lord Justice Bayl Argentine, leader of the Justice
Court (LN male human aristocrat 6/fighter 3); Remeria Callinova,
leader of the Varisian Council (CG female human expert 4/rogue 2);
Lady Vammiera Symirkova, mistress of the Gargoyles (NE female
human aristocrat 2/rogue 6/sorcerer 4); Princess Sabriyya Kalmeralm,
de facto ruler of the Bazaar of Sails (CN female human rogue 12)
And they use a much simpler country stat block –
Andoran, Birthplace of Freedom
Capital: Almas (76,600)
Notable Settlements: Augustana (54,200), Bellis (4,800), Carpenden (10,600), Falcon’s Hollow (1,400), Oregent (22,700)
Ruler: His Excellency Codwin I of Augustana, Supreme Elect of the Free Peoples of Andoran
Government: Fledgling democracy
Religion: Abadar, Erastil, Iomedae, Aroden, Shelyn, Cayden Cailean
Bat in the Attic has a cool “Traveller-like” village stat block random generation system.
Angry DM’s scheme is good but is pretty 4e-ey and also is good mainly for very enclosed locations – “that tower,” “that part of the dungeon” – not really useful for a wilderness kind of area.
So what would a more 3e/Pathfinder-type of stat block for a wilderness area look like? Let’s see. You want to know the CR. You want to know what kind of major inhabitants there are, both friendly/intelligent and major critters, while not becoming as complex as a full encounter table… And keeping the granularity large enough to not be fiddly but small enough to be a discrete adventuring area.
Well, let me take a shot at it. I did up an area called South Argavist Island where I knew my pirate PCs were going to venture. It’s forested, has some small friendly settlements, a ruined shrine, and a bad goblin problem. It’s really not worth doing a huge amount of work on – mapping it and placing locations and all that, because the PCs are *probably* just going to shoot through it to the ruins. But you want a little meat to expand on if necessary.
South Argavist Island
CR3 Temperate forested island
Zones: Coast, Low Forest, High Forest (on the slopes of the mountain)
Inhabitants: Junk Kicker goblin tribe (moderate population density), local human tribe (light population density; human 50%, half-elf 50%)
Notable Inhabitants: Chief Chop-Man of the Junk Kickers (goblin warrior 4, goblin village), Vixyondriax (Very young green dragon, Low Forest), Bobobobobobobo (ettin, High Forest)
Notable Locations: Greenglade (human thorp in the High Forest), goblin village (Low Forest), ruined shrine (CR 6 dungeon, Low Forest), hidden cove used by pirates (Coast), ancient circle of trees inhabited by dryads (Low Forest)
Random Encounter Tables: Temperate forest CR3 (Low and High Forest), Beach CR2 (Coast)
Hmm, what do you think? Concise but meaty? Is it missing anything?