An example of using ChatGPT to create hex map descriptions

(Skip down to the jump break if you want to get to the actual ChatGPT chat/response bit.)

Update below as well (11am CST 2/8/23)

AIs (or, more correctly I think, VIs) of 2023 are, I believe, one of the most impactful stories in the TTRPG world. Even more-so than the OGL debacle.

I say this because these tools have the ability to give me something that no simple random generator or table in a book can easily give - the ability to take these combinations and "create" ideas composed of those elements. The ability to lay out fairly complete and relatively useable constructs that are composed of the things that we use most - words, sentences and thoughts. 

Now this is something we do quite easily. Given a combination of random words, we can create an idea from that. That's the appeal and usefulness of the generators and tables.

What about when generating a lot of these at once, though? It can get tiring! It can also be challenging - not everyone has the same skill in creating ideas from these combinations. Plus, we're creatures of our own experiences, memories, imaginations. If I were to look at a combination of words like "air", "arcane focus", "organic", "sacred ground" - the things I come up with are going to be because of me. You are going to probably come up with something completely different.

I say all this as a preface to how I'm using ChatGPT. To fully set the stage, let me digress for a moment.

I'm on a mission. About ten days ago, I had a task. My players in one of my AD&D games have been transported to an area that I've not fully mapped and keyed out. I know the particulars of the immediate area they're in, but I don't have the overall area completed. So I have to key those hexes.

"What's that?" you make ask. "Your campaign map isn't fully keyed?!"

To be fair, my campaign world consists of 220x100 24 mile hexes. The players have traveled to maybe 20 or 30 of them, max. So that leaves approximately 15,000 to 18,000 "land" hexes to populate. 

BIG world. So, my keying is just-in-time, when-needed. I will probably shuffle off this mortal coil with a good chunk of my world unkeyed.

Well, when I go to key my hexes, I pull out a spreadsheet I've been tinkering with for the past fourteen years or so. It's gone through quite a few revisions, and it's tuned very specifically to the Etinerra campaign. The problem is, though, that it's clunky. I have to do a lot of individual copying/pasting.

From this...

So to make a long story short, I (re)discovered Alex Schroeder's amazing Hex Describe tool. It's a table-based random generator for creating hex descriptions. This kicked off a feverish, time-consuming and extremely focused project to convert my spreadsheets into the table formats using the hexdescribe syntax that Alex has developed.

To this! Generated by my tables that Hex Describe uses

Thus we come to ChatGPT.

I've been using ChatGPT to help me come up with ideas for the tables. Say, for instance, I need a list of descriptions of fantasy jails or foundries or palaces. ChatGPT can act like a random(ish) generator of 

what are the fantasy sources of rumors about a forgotten treasure

An old map found in a dusty library
A cryptic letter from a former adventurer
A mysterious stranger with knowledge of the treasure's location
A poem or riddle that hints at the treasure's whereabouts
An ancient prophecy foretelling of the treasure's discovery
A journal or diary belonging to an explorer who searched for the treasure
A mysterious symbol etched into a rock or ruin

Not bad! Certainly these are thought provokers and gave me spring-boards to expand, update or use as-is. 

I'm sure this is fairly easy stuff, but to quickly get a lot of ideas, but this is all what we've been doing with random generators forever.

However, what if all I have is a random table of ideas and I need something generated that makes sense?

The general approach I take to generating hex contents is based on Erin Smale/Welsh Piper's approach that they published in 2009 - 2012 ("Hex Based Campaign Design"). For me, it's their approach to actually populating the hex map with interesting encounters - a Major and one or more Minor encounters per hex. That was the crux of my spreadsheet - taking Erin's tables and mashing them together and then producing text I could copy/paste into my keys. I'd then adjust them to suit their purpose and the Etinerra campaign.

It's a lot of manual work to copy all that. Alex's tool gives me much more useable content, organized for me already in the format I like. I still will do what I normally do, adjust/fold/what-not, but now I have much more information available. It's my spreadsheet taken to the next level.

So while I've enjoyed ChatGPT's random generation ability, I had a problem I needed solved and this is where the VI showed me an aspect of its ability to generate language-based fleshed out concepts out of random ideas.

One of  Erin's tables that I find the most difficult to use is the "Natural Phenomena". 

As Erin says: "The table above can produce some fantastic outcomes, but it’s important not to overdo it—not every phenomenon has to be a secret and amazing danger—sometimes a waterfall is just a waterfall that hides a secret door leading to a clustered maze of goblin warrens."

It can produce CRAZY results and for whatever reason, I have a hard time with it. I struggle with taking those combinations and creating something from them. I didn't have this problem with the other tables, just this one.

It is the last of major encounters that I need to add to my hex-describe tables. I could just spit out the basic results in a line of words and then try to come up with something myself, but then I decided to turn to ChatGPT and see what it would do.

First thing is that I gave it the basic list and told it the "rules":

Now let's use this comma delimited list of 4 columns and 11 rows. The first row is the column titles. 

Air element[1],It Visually strange,Hot,Follows Lunar / Solar Cycle
Earth element[2],is actually ordinary,Cold,Unusual Colour
Fire [3],Attracts [6],Wet,Attracts Vermin
Water [4],Repels [6],Dry,Distorts Sound
Elemental Combo [5],Arcane Focus,Sparkly,Portal / Gateway
Plants,Divine Focus,Dismal,Adapted Monster
Animals,Mental Benefit [7],Crystalline,Protected
Precipitation,Mental Detriment [7],Organic,Bigger Inside
Sunlight,Physical Benefit [7],Vibrant,Artefact / Relic
Moonlight,Physical Detriment [7],Desolate,Sacred Ground

Some cells may have a number in brackets. If that cell is chosen, the value inside is further described by a list identified by the number in brackets. Those lists are:
choose 1 of the 4 options: 1 breathable air; 2 wind; 3 sky; 4 cyclone
then choose 1 of the 4 options:: 1 volcano (dormant); 2 formations; 3 seismic; 4 canyon
choose 1 of the 4 options: 1 volcano (active); 2 natural vents; 3 lava; 4 open flame
choose 1 of the 4 options: 1 geyser; 2 spring; 3 whirlpool; 4 waterfall
Choose two different elements (column 1, rows 1-4) and choose from the further description that applies to those specific elements
choose one of seven options: 1 Metal; 2 Wood; 3 High intelligence; 4 Monster type; 5 Alignment; 6 Precious metal; 7 Low intelligence;
choose one of six options:  1 Intelligence; 2 Memory; 3 Awareness; 4 Personality; 5 Will Power; 6 Alignment)
choose one of six options: 1 Strength; 2 Dexterity; 3 Size; 4 Age; 5 Health; 6 Appearance

With the new list, give me twenty descriptions of a fantasy location that would be affected by a natural phenomena using a random selection of aspect, effect, description and quirk, where it would make sense, from a fantasy perspective. The location would be an ordinary fantasy location. The aspect is the aspect of the phenomena itself.  The effect is either a visual or physical/mental effect. The description would relate to the effect and the quirk is an unusual twist or complication to the effect. If the aspect has a bracketed number, then enhance or update the aspect with a choice from the related expanded information. 

  1. The cyclone, a visually strange aspect of the air element, is followed by a lunar/solar cycle and creates a hot, disorienting environment with unusual color.
  2. The canyon, an ordinary aspect of the earth element, is cold and infused with an unusual color.
  3. A natural vent of fire attracts metal with a wet, vibrant effect that also attracts vermin.
  4. A waterfall of water repels low intelligence with a dry, crystalline effect that distorts sound.
  5. The sky and lava, a combination of the air and fire elements, create an arcane focus with a sparkly effect and portal/gateway quirk.
  6. The dismal atmosphere of the plants is infused with divine focus and an adapted monster quirk.
  7. The rain is a mental detriment to personality, creating an organic environment with a bigger inside quirk.
  8. The sunlight provides a physical benefit to strength with a vibrant effect and artifact/relic quirk.
  9. The moonlight is a physical detriment to appearance, creating a desolate environment with a sacred ground quirk.
  10. The wind, an aspect of breathable air, is visually strange and follows a lunar/solar cycle with a hot, disorienting environment that is also infused with an unusual color.
  11. A dormant volcano, an ordinary aspect of the earth element, is cold and infused with an unusual color.
  12. An active volcano attracts high intelligence with a wet, vibrant effect and attracts vermin.
  13. A whirlpool of water repels precious metal with a dry, crystalline effect that distorts sound.
  14. The sky and open flame, a combination of the air and fire elements, create an arcane focus with a sparkly effect and portal/gateway quirk.
  15. The dismal atmosphere of the plants is infused with divine focus and an adapted monster quirk.
  16. The sun is a mental detriment to memory, creating a vibrant environment with a bigger inside quirk.
  17. The sunlight provides a physical benefit to dexterity with a vibrant effect and artifact/relic quirk.
  18. The moon is a physical detriment to health, creating a desolate environment with a sacred ground quirk.
  19. The seismic activity of the earth element is cold and infused with an unusual color.
  20. An open flame of fire attracts alignment with a wet, vibrant effect and attracts vermin.

Now I know that the "creation" of these VIs is by word association and language rules. But that's a pretty powerful option there - to take the results of a randomly generated list and then "create" ideas much like we do normally, especially in ways that flow and seem to make sense.

The reason I say this is a powerful, impactful thing is that this technology is using these random tables, in cogent ways that are, for lack of a better word, "correct" and "believable" in a fantasy setting. Words and language are how we play TTRPGs. 

When WotC says they want to create virtual VI-driven Dungeon Masters running game sessions - this is the way its going to make it happen. 

I don't know, to me, this is pretty mind-blowing.

What do you think?

Maybe this is helpful to you, maybe in ways you can use ChatGPT to enhance your own creation or gaming. 
(Update: 11am, 2/8/23) Funny that I posted this today and then HackADay posts this article:

Not only is AI-driven natural language processing a thing now, but you can even select from a number of different offerings, each optimized for different tasks. It took very little time for [Bloc] to mod a computer game to allow the player to converse naturally with non-player characters (NPCs) by hooking it into ChatGPT .
[Bloc] modified the game Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord to reject traditional dialogue trees and instead accept free-form text inputs, using ChatGPT on the back end to create more natural dialogue interactions with NPCs. 
The NPCs communicate as though they are aware of surrounding events and conditions in the game world, are generally less forthcoming when talking to strangers, and the new system can interact with game mechanics and elements such as money, quests, and hirelings.

So clearly this is starting to hit a critical mass. 


  1. Is the "final" version online somewhere? I saw the town generator update.

    1. That's a great question and the answer is ... I can't put it online. There are spoilers in that file for my active campaigns, all 3 of them. It's so tuned to my world and the internal consistency of it.

      Best I could do is give away the generic Domesday generator.

      If you had some specific questions, I could share with you privately!


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