I'm using random tables to explore ideas for world-building things fantasy worlds, today with underground societies.
[Photo by Andrew Lancaster on Unsplash]
Underground realms and worlds are part of many worlds and games. The Underdark of the Forgotten Realms, the dwarven tunnels and skaven warrens of the Warhammer World. The Vaults, Caverns, Deeps or whatever you want to call them.
Places of darkness and cold, creatures adapted to life without light, fungi, stone, insects and quakes. Places of magic, great danger and a variety of lifeforms.
I'm using d6 tables for forming ideas for undergound societies and ancestries. Constraining to a d6 means I'm forced to find enough ideas for it, and justify the ones that make the cut.
I'm using Core, Unusual and Unlikely as my table names.
Core Underground Societies (d6)
- Fish-folk who long ago fled from the surface and dominate underground lakes. Worship fiends
- Deep fey, which could be dwarves, earth-elementals, gnomes, something more malign or a mix of all of these
- Lizardfolk in constant communication with the earth, with many reptilian servants. An ancient society who look after old sites of magic
- Ratfolk worshipping an ancient entity. Each society varies depending on which aspects of the entity it reveres.
- Goblinoids as traders and living where others don't want to
- Fungal humanoids living in small communities
Unusual Underground Societies (d6)
- Technological advanced humanoids mining and living in metal suits
- A wide-flung confederacy of serpentine semi-aquatic dragons using other societies as allies, servants and pawns. Exist in a hierarchy of constant scheming and have kobolds or similar as servitors.
- Servants of powerful genie-like beings from realm of Elemental Earth (or Fire) or a similar place. Mining, trading and watching other societies from their portals, planning for slow expansion. Could be dwarves, gnomes, genie-kin, fire-dwarves or many other earth-connected creatures
- Aggressive snake-kin who are fire-infused or use fire magic. Live near heat vents and underground sources of heat
- Gnomes farming or tending vast fungal caverns. Use earth magic for defence and might have a symbiotic relationship with fungi
- Humans who recently fled from the surface and trying to make a new life here
Unlikely Undergound Societies (d6)
- Trolls with a powerful innate magic, but they barely control. Many versions of them and incredible ability to survive. But each one is constantly evolving and their society waxes and wanes.
- Sentient oozes who live in the lakes and sludge pits. Possibly linked to a central intelligence.
- Sentient rocks invested with elemental magic. Can take crude animal-like stone forms. Exist in a hivemind and act at times and in ways alien to other societies
- An arcane society of various ancestries that is fascinated and powered by underground magics. Fled or cut off ties from the surface, and planning for a future return there as conquerors.
- Frog-creatures who live in a symbiosis with fungi. Each has fungal grafts, a fungal companion that accompanies them from when they are young.
- Servants of a fungal intelligence. Possibly infected and originally part of another society
Trying It Out
So for a one of my next solo games I'll explore an underground realm with 3 of these societies, one from each of the d6 tables.
Results of 6 (Core), 4 (Unusual) and 3 (Unlikely) are - small communities of fungal humanoids; aggressive fire snake-kin; and sentient rocks invested with elemental magic.
So I think we are near steam-vents and heated caverns, which the snake-kin have taken from their previous owners. And now they are attacking fungi-folk communities, which are each centred around a portal, temple or site of power the snake-kin want. The fungi-folk are desperate for allies, from near or far, especially from our sentient rocks (3rd society). The snake-kin are wary of the rock hivemind, which sometimes oppose them, but with no discernable pattern.
Characters and other NPCs might be people helping the fungi-folk, seeking aid of the rock-hivemind, servants / slaves of the snake-kin, survivors of the civilisation dislodged by the snake-kin, traders or travellers.
I'm happy enough with these tables. They are mostly different enough from the standard dnd summaries to be interesting, but mostly familiar enough to be useable.
Using three tiered d6 tables allows me to try out some wierder ideas but also categorise existing ones. Looking at several entries and moving them between tables if they feel like they should be more common / rarer.
I think a better system for creating these societies would be a base table for ancestry (including fungi, monsters and mixed societies) along with a couple more tables for organisation or traits that make them interesting.
These table entries aren't fully fleshed out societies, but they are enough to start from and the details will normally depend more on their neighbours, allies and foes.