Using the Random Nations Generator
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By jhubertjhubert

(Note: This essay was originally written in October 2009, and thus doesn't reflect the current contents of the Arcana Wiki.)

This essay is intended to demonstrate how to use the Random Nations Generator to flesh out a locale. My goal is to both show the usefulness of this tool as a source of inspiration and to encourage others to adding new entries which feed into the generator.

For this demonstration, I will use the city-state of [ Nimdenthal] as an example, which I developed for my own [ Urbis campaign setting]. For the record, Urbis uses many of the tropes and elements of fantasy - especially D&D - but combines this with social and technological elements of Industrial Age Western Europe via a magical industrial revolution which continues to transform the world.

So far, I have written the following about Nimdenthal:

Population: 723,510

This city is infamous for surrendering to the invading armies of Negroth the Doombringer without a fight, and is still hated by the citizens of the other Flannish Cities as a result, which suffered far more under his brief reign than Nimdenthal did. That the army of Nimdenthal was hardly able to withstand the might of Negroth's forces on their own is conveniently forgotten. Many other cities still levy large tolls against the goods from Nimdenthal, or boycott them outright. As a result, the people of Nimdenthal take an almost perverse pride in being self-sufficient.

"Negroth the Doombringer", for the record, was one of the last of the stereotypical Evil Overlord types in the setting, and his defeat resulted in a shift from the traditional pseudo-medieval feudal society to a more modern one - complete with revolutions that chased the aristocratic rulers away. However, all this was more than two hundred years ago within the timeline of the setting, and the other people in the region likely wouldn't be able to keep a grudge against Nimdenthal for so long if the city hadn't found new ways of aggravating them - and thus reminding them of their earlier "transgression" of being cheese-eating surrender monkeys against an overwhelming military onslaught. I'll keep this in mind as I interpret the results of the generator.

So, let's proceed to the generator itself. The first category is "Type of Government", which at the time of this writing has only 6 seeds (i.e. entries from elsewhere in the Arcana Wiki which are called up in the random generator) - not much, but since this is the first time I am using the generator for this I don't have to worry about repetition yet.

I pick a single type of government for starters, and the result is:

That means that the city has a number of very different factions - political, cultural, religions, or even racial - which all rule together in some power-sharing arrangement made so that no single faction can dominate the others and no faction is kept out of power. The precise nature of most of these factions is something I will determine with the help of later results. However, keeping in mind my overall goal of having Nimdenthal alienate its neighbors, I already have an idea for one of them - goblins! In most of the region, goblins are second-class citizens at best - even when they are tolerated within a city, they are often forcibly sterilized, and when they aren't tolerated they are [ forcibly transported to a reservation] where most of them starve. So having goblins as a more-or-less equal political group within Nimdenthal is sure to offend the other city-states in the region - and might make the city more sympathetic to the player characters, despite all the other problems the city might have.

Speaking of other races, next up is the generator for the major races or species. This generator will likely not be terribly useful - for one thing, it only has 14 seeds at present, and for another it is based on creatures from all sorts of myths, fiction, and so forth while Urbis already has a fairly firmly established group of races based on D&D. Still, I'm picking 5 random races - let's see if something inspiring results from this:

Monopods are entirely inappropriate for the setting - they are a particular medieval form of silliness which doesn't work for Urbis. Mermaids do exist, but a look at the map of the region shows that Nimdenthal is too far from any large body of water to justify their presence.

"Reptilian Humanoids" is a fairly vague term. But it's close enough to describe dragonkin, my equivalent to the dragonborn of D&D. So I'll just note that they have a major colony there, and worry about the details later.

Devils… are an interesting matter. In Urbis, devils are extraplanar parasites which feed on humans in the throes of particularly strong emotions and passions, possibly even their souls if they die while experiencing those emotions. Needless to say, they aren't accepted openly in any civilized nation, and Nimdenthal is no exception in this. However, maybe Nimdenthal is home to an especially large number of warlocks - those are mages who overpower devils with their strength of will and then steal their powers to cast spells. This is a far quicker road to power than traditional academic wizardry, but also much more dangerous - and while not illegal by itself in most places in the region, it carries a significant social stigma. Furthermore, not all such attempts to control devils succeed, which means that there might be more than a few devils lurking around in the shadow of the city and influencing politics and society - making handy foes for player characters. And the warlocks could represent one of the major political factions of the city - further alienating the city from its neighbors.

Onocentaurs don't exist in the setting so far, but maybe there is a small colony of their close conceptual cousins the centaurs living near the city. I can't really see many centaurs living in the city itself (which is more built for humanoids), but maybe there is a small colony of centaurs living in the protectorate of Nimdenthal who are descended from former slaves Negroth the Doombringer brought with him and who were unable to return to their homeland. They could work as border guards, or on the plantations of the city where their great strength and carrying capacity would be useful and their size less of a hindrance.

Next up is the category for the "Significant Creatures" - the non-civilized or organized beings (intelligent or otherwise) which might be encountered here. As the number of seeds for this category is a much more robust 41, I pick ten and get:

Squids might seem inappropriate for an urban, inland setting, but I've already created an equivalent creature for Urbis that could work here - the Sewer Squid. Still, it is strange that they should show up so far from the coast. Maybe there's a story here…

I have some doubts about how well trapdoor alligators works for this location, especially since the habitat of normal alligators is that much further to the south - Nimdenthal has a Central to Northern European climate. And the old "alligator in the sewers" urban legend seems to be too simple. Maybe there is some strange, reptilian monstrosity with illusion powers living in the sewers and the poorer areas of the city - possibly one of fiendish origin, accidentally or deliberately summoned by the warlocks? I'll think about this later.

Nagas probably exist within the setting, though I hadn't given them any thoughts so far. The geography of Urbis is roughly analogous to the real world, so there is likely an equivalent to South-East Asia, the region on Earth where the myths of nagas come from. But how did the nagas get from there to far-off Nimdenthal? Probably together with an expatriate community of people from that region, but I'd expect such expatriates to congregate in port towns such as Dartmouth instead of a relative backwater like Nimdenthal. There is a story here which I need to explore. Furthermore, this expatriate community could represent one of the many political factions within the city.

Interestingly, the Patasola is also from South-East Asian legend - it's a type of vampire that can create the illusion of a beautiful woman to lure men, but which is a hideous one-legged creature in its true form. But is it truly "one-legged", or is it in fact tailed? Could the Patasola in fact be an undead naga? I will likely use this interpretation here - one powerful villain living in secret in the city will be an undead naga (possibly with several spawn), and they hide within the expatriate community just like the ordinary nagas are doing. Perhaps there is some shadow war going on between the living and undead nagas…

The Aufhocker exists in Urbis as a creature of Faerie, but I've always envisioned it more as a creature home in the mountains and foothills of the Siebenbund Alps and the surrounding areas. And I'm showcasing the fey in enough other places in Urbis and thus don't need them complicating affairs in Nimdenthal - unlike the Immortal Elves of Shadowrun, my faeries aren't supposed to be behind everything ;). Therefore I'll just skip this one.

Sasquatchs aren't very appropriate here either - a creature of the American Pacific Northwest doesn't fit into this reason. But maybe there is a single, hairy humanoid of indeterminable origin lurking in the forests near the city - perhaps the result of some arcane experiment. Maybe the centaurs know more of this creature… I will see if I can make something interesting out of this later. In contrast I don't know how I can make bunyips work here, so I won't even try - there are only so many cross-mythological transplants one location can endure.

"Nephilim" is what I wanted to call the Urbis equivalent of the devas of D&D - immortals who are reborn again and again into new bodies with only hazy memories of their past. I guess I need to write up details for them now - and come up with an explanation why Nimdenthal is important for them.

Rat Kings are entirely appropriate for the setting, and tend to appear at locations where is a lot of filth and waste for rats to thrive in. So the city will likely have one or more neighborhoods where such conditions are common. They might even be secret power brokers - as I envision them, Rat Kings have telepathic over lesser rats, and thus could develop a very effective spy network.

As lichs are very powerful individually, I think I'll just describe one of them - one who doesn't control any of the public political factions but who is politically very powerful nonetheless in the underground.

The next generator lists cultural influences - cultures which might provide inspiration for building fictional societies. I'm not really satisfied with that part of the generator yet - not because of the number of its seeds (a respectable 55), but because most of the linked entries are stub articles with little or no cultural information added to them. Nevertheless, I choose three cultural influences and get:

While there is a Switzerland analogue in Urbis already - the Siebenbund - this still works because Switzerland is a good example of a Cosociational State (as the country has four different language groups), and it might be useful for me to read up on how these groups divide political power in Switzerland among themselves. I have no idea yet what to do with the Czech Republic result - I guess I should read up assorted Wikipedia entries on the nation. If anyone here has useful suggestions, I am all ears.

Israel, on the other hand, has all sorts of tensions which are very messy in real life, but makes things very interesting when it comes to gaming. While the occupation of the Palestine territories is hard to transplant in this case - Nimdenthal doesn't strike me as powerful enough to do that - the tensions between secular and religious groups would work. And maybe there are Kibbutz-like settlements in the protectorate of the city…

Next up is religion. I haven't actually gotten around to typing up any entries for the type of worship (Monotheism, Polytheism, Dualism etc.), so no results for this category. Urbis also already has its own pantheonl, so the 10 entities used as seeds in this generator likely won't be very appropriate. Nevertheless, I'm choosing three deities. Let's see what we get:

Heimdall is a god of vigilance. Looking at the Urbis pantheon, a reasonable approximation would be Bucatar, a god who protects civilization against the wilderness - whether the wilderness without or the wilderness within. And given how wild some parts of Nimdenthal seem to be, with rat kings, naga vampires, liches, warlocks, devils and so forth, it's easy to see how such a god might be popular. J√∂rmungandr is more difficult to place, as most of the deities of Urbis are fairly anthropomorphic in popular imagination. But perhaps there is a relation to the illusion-casting reptilian monster in the sewer? Perhaps a cult consisting mainly of goblins worships it… Lillith, on the other hand, fits in well with the devils and warlocks mentioned above. She could represent a devil lordl worshiped within the underworld of the city, and who can command devils feeding on lust and related emotions.

Now we come to powerful organizations operating within the city. There are 26 seeds for this generator, so I'll pick eight of them to avoid too much repetition with future uses of the generator. I get:

An equivalent of the "Royal Navy" just doesn't work here as Nimdenthal is land-locked, so I'll just skip this entry. The Real World "Russian Business Network" is an organized crime group specializing in cybercrime. Urbis doesn't have computers and the Internet yet (though it does have optical telegraphs), so I'll create a group specializing in forging paperwork instead (of which Urbis has lots). The next group is also involved in organized crime, but instead of forging paperwork they are criminal mercenaries with some nice elements of a death cult in the form of Santa Muerte worship. This translates into a cult of Cryelis (the local deity of death and the underworld) for Urbis. And I must say that Nimdenthal is slowly shaping up into the Urbis equivalent of Gotham City in my mind - a city that's barely functional and full of grime, corruption, and madness. Does the city also have its own Dark Avenger? That is probably up to the player characters to decide…

Something like the International Peace Mission Movement probably wouldn't fit in very well in the sinful city itself, but they could live on one of the kibbutz-like settlements dotting the Nimdenthal Protectorate - in fact many of these settlements could be home to their own cult or sect. Such as the Spring Seeds, a cult of halflings who believe that their race is "divinely chosen" and regard it as their sacred duty to multiply as quickly as possible until they crowd out the other races…

But there's more going on in the protectorate. Obviously, there are no motorcycles in Urbis, so Biker Gangs and Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs can't exist there as such (the two terms are of course overlapping somewhat - which is unavoidable with such a relatively grainy generator, so I will just have to live with it). But maybe there is an overabundance of horses in this region, causing many young people to own them and riding in large groups through the countryside. Some are harmless "joyriders" while others will use their mobility to harass travelers and plunder farms - and it's hard to distinguish these groups from each other…

A further group is based on the KGB. But given how chaotic the situation in the city is, I don't think the KGB as it existed at the height of the Soviet Union would be appropriate. For our purposes, maybe it would be better if there used to be an organization as powerful as the KGB while the city government was more dictatorial. But perhaps a decade or two ago the city underwent a more or less democratic "revolution" that swept the old guard out of power and caused the KGB-equivalent to be disbanded. But the old members of the organization still keep in touch and are often involved in organized crime, and many have risen to prominent positions in the new administration. These might form the basis for the "Deep State" equivalent, the secret masterminds hiding behind the public face of the government who want to remain in charge.

Now we come to the major ongoing projects the city has running. With a solid base of 25 seeds, I choose the maximum of 5:

Now, there aren't any nuclear weapons as such in Urbis (though see The Hole), so I have to get creative here. But aren't nukes seen as a "hellish" weapon? Maybe instead of using conventional, safe Golem technology, maybe they are using devices powered by devils (keeping in mind the warlocks and devils already lurking in the city). Possibly they are digging some canals in the region, since that was one of the proposed projects for the peaceful use of nuclear weapons as well (no, I'm not kidding).

While the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program would be a cool patron or antagonist for adventurers, I've already used it as a source of inspiration elsewhere in Urbis (in Hogenrood and the infamous Mine Shaft 23, respectively) and so I'll just skip this. The "impossible space drive" is more interesting - in Urbis, there is already some exploration of the local Solar System, which was pioneered by the city of Bodenwald and the Astromantic Society. Basically, you have to get to an equatorial mountain range from which teleportation rituals to other planets are much cheaper than from elsewhere on this world, and from there you can establish further colonies. But each interplanetary teleportation is still very expensive - so any city-state which could improve on this project would have an enormous head start in interplanetary colonization (and exploitation) over the others. So, what could Nimdenthal attempt? How about an infernal stargate powered by devils that avoids the use of expensive ritual materials entirely but which can be keyed to pretty much any location the operators want? Really, what could possibly go wrong with this?

And the next entry gives us an idea just where this infernal stargate will be built, as it describes a convention center planned for the United Arab Emirates which looks pretty much like the Death Star (no, I'm not kidding - look up the article with the associated images). Now, using exactly the same appearance would be silly - but placing the "Hellgate" into a vast, circular building would be entirely appropriate in my opinion…

The Mind Control Project described in the article isn't that impressive in Urbis, as this can already be done with golems to a certain degree. So let's say that the good folks of Nimdenthal have developed a way of using "mind control helmets" to control devils as cannon fodder. Entirely appropriate for what other hell-tech the city has created, and it does nothing to help their popularity - just like intended.

Next up is the "Major Personalities" category, which translates into important NPCs dwelling in the city. Out of 24 seeds I'm choosing 8 and get:

A Robin Stephens figure would work well as a major investigator/interrogator of the more benevolent remnants of the pseudo-KGB agency - someone determined to root out the corruption of the city without succumbing to corruption himself. He could make a good ally or patron for a group of like-minded PCs. Homer, in contrast, doesn't really fit into the relatively "modern" ambience of the setting as a living poet. But maybe there is a major center of literary research in the city that centers on a particular (fictional) "classical" poet? And to make it more relevant to adventurers, what if his works are examples of Coded Myths which contain secrets of powers for those who can decipher them - including (of course) how to summon otherworldly entities?

Douglas Corrigan doesn't work for Urbis, as there is no real artificial flight except for spells and some very rare prototypes, so I'll just leave him out. P. T. Barnum, on the other hand, would work well - and to make his equivalent more important to adventurers, it might be a good idea to make him a major underworld figure, with the Grand Circus of Nimdenthal a neutral meeting ground for all underworld factions. Naturally, the circus has a few supernatural defenses of its own - including (of course) Monster Clowns.

The Henry Okah equivalent works well as another major underworld figure (we are piling them up here, aren't we)? He's likely active in the Protectorate, possibly in connection with all those horse gangs terrorizing it and keeping a major protection racket going there. Given how important the city considers its self-sufficiency, he will be seen as a major threat to the established order. Bertie Wooster, on the other hand, will work as a comic relief character - a rich heir who gets constantly into trouble and whom the PCs might have to rescue from it.

Fafnir, if we ignore the dragon form, is a dwarf who killed his father to gain his gold. So let's say the richest dwarf in Dartmouth is the son of the former Hidden King (the secret ruler of the dwarf population within a human city) who secretly murdered him to inherit the gold. He is not the new Hidden King - he is considered too shifty for that by the other dwarfs - but he might put his money to use as an underworld loan shark. Like Homer, Abraham doesn't really seem to work here as a living, active personality. But maybe a number of the Protectorates are descended from an Abraham-like figure - representing a splinter sect of one of the established religions which is popular within the region.

We already have lots of political issues apparent in the city so far. But as there's a separate generator with a whooping 107 seeds, we might as well more. Most of these are based on various real world news items, and let's see how we can make them relevant to our city. I pick the maximum of 10 seeds and get:

OK, let's see what we've got here. The first article is about the exploitative way Wal-Mart treats its labor. But Wal-Mart is very much a 20th century American company, so it wouldn't quite fit here. That being said, mistreatment of labor is certainly appropriate for an Industrial Age setting. Maybe there's some company which has recently fired most of its human staff and hired goblins instead, because they are the only ones willing to work under such poor conditions for so little money? Meanwhile, the piracy near the Suez canal can be translated into piracy along the rivers and canals near the city - presumably sponsored by our Henry Okah-like figure.

The clash involving police and religious factions at Iraqi cult sites can easily be converted to the Nimdenthal guard cracking down on certain cults operating within the city - some of which are likely in league with devils (such as our Lilith-analogue). But are the guards hitting the right sites? And even if they are, are they willing to deal with the uproar of the overall religious establishment within the city? The "North Korea Has A Mission" article describes the decaying state of the nation's special forces. The same could be true for the special forces of Nimdenthal - during the time of the previous dictatorship, they were widely feared in the region, but now they are suffering from poor funding and poor morale.

"Mayor Resigns, Claims Abduction By Satan Worshipers"… well, that just fits perfectly in our overall infernal theme for the city, doesn't it? But what's the true story here? Was the mayor an innocent victim of a devil cult? Or is he a former member and the cult was unhappy he turned on them? And when he was "rescued" - was still the same soul inhabiting the body as before? And what impact will that have on the government of the city - and its future?

The "Nazi hunt" can be translated into a hunt for the worst criminals of the old regime. This might not just be a matter of bringing villains to justice (though this might be enough to motivate player characters) - it could also mean finding the people who know where the bodies are buried, and burying them next to said bodies so that nobody else learns about them. Player character bounty hunters might get involved in a very lethal web of intrigue if they pursue this - and will have to wonder if they were ever intended to get the bounty in the first place after finding and eliminating their targets.

The tough drug laws of Dubai could translate into equally tough drug laws here - after all, many of the Flannish Cities are very firm on "public morality", or at least pretend that they are. It is more likely, however, that this is nothing more than the natives protecting their turf and getting the guard to cooperate with them. If foreigners who come here to seek out forbidden pleasures, are stupid enough to get caught, and don't know how to properly bribe the authorities… well, there is no helping some people, is there?

If there is a city in the region where you'd expect witchcraft to manipulate a sports event, then it's probably Nimdenthal from what we've learned. I haven't made up my mind if it's soccer or some other game that was manipulated, though - since I haven't really put any thought into the sports world of the setting. Soccer actually would be appropriate for the period I am aiming for, so maybe I should leave it like it is.

As a young "democracy" and generally very corrupt place, vote fraud should generally be expected here. And who was likely the biggest beneficiary of such fraud? The Mayor - who, as we have learned above, may or may not be under the influence of infernal forces…

We've already learned that Nimdenthal has its own way of approaching the fledgling space race of the setting. But maybe the city has already made a splash - perhaps a prototype Hellgate already exists, but it is still fairly unstable and can only open a connection once per day or so. Still, this is enough for a proof of concept and might make it possible to establish some first colonies on other worlds - giving the city some much-needed infusion of wealth, and allowing it to get the funding for the much larger and more stable Hellgate in the future Death Star building. Just as the devils have planned it…

"Dominant Terrain" is inapplicable here - I already know that Nimdenthal has a Central to Northern European climate. The "Economy" section suffers from far too few seeds to be useful yet, so I will skip it at well. This brings us to "Famous Locations", with 71 seeds. I choose the maximum 5 and get:

So Nimdenthal has some famous educational institution. It would be very appropriate if this represented a school for warlocks in particular, since there are so many of them around (and just what would Hogwart's look like if its students were all would-be devil summoners? Hmmm…). The "Big Well" could be an aborted attempt from an earlier age when the rulers believed that Sheol, the home plane of the devils, was located deep within the planet. But of course, all they were able to reach was Terra Profunda

The Palisades Rathouse was always one of my favorite locations listed in the Arcana Wiki (a bunch of crazed old women seeing it as their religious Christian duty to feed millions of rats? How cool is that for an adventure seed!), and here it ties in nicely with the rat kings I rolled up earlier. So there is one major rat king spymaster who is attended to by old twin women who worship him and obey his every command - this should work nicely to unsettle visitors. Presumably, the rat king itself will be hidden by a curtain from behind which it sends its telepathic voice…

A "Bad Guy Bar" is, of course, a perfect fit for a city so full of Bad Guys. It will likely be known far beyond the city's protectorate, and serve as a neutral meeting ground for all sorts of shady business. I just need to come up with some sort of unique shtick to make it stand out…

On the other hand, an equivalent of Tara, the old seat of the High Kings of Ireland, doesn't fit into the city itself very well. But it works better for the Protectorate, as the ruins of an old center for the Henge Culture (see the "Regional History" section of the Flannish Cities entry) that dominated the region before the goblin hordes decimated it. Now, perhaps, it has been claimed by a more modern cult (one of many within the protectorate) who have rather fanciful motions about what really happened back then…

Now we come to the final part of the generator - the history of the locale.

A Yasukuni Shrine equivalent is easy to establish - a location that serves as a memorial of the "heroes" of the previous regime which is still maintained despite that regime's atrocities. Similar parallels can be found among modern-day Russians glorifying the times of the Soviet Union, despite the many atrocities during that period. The new people in power might not like it, but they fear backlash should they openly move against it. Thus, the memorial endures and serves as a rallying point for the reactionaries - including many former "Oprichniks" (the fourth random entry) who would have been the thugs death squads of the former regime.

Two of the results revolve around meteorites. Let's tie this together with the "Doomsday Cult In Cave Stand Off" article, and we get the following: A few decades ago or so, a then-14 year old boy gets hit by a meteorite. But instead of giving him 15 minutes of fame, he gets strange powers - including the power to control the minds of others. He slowly builds a cult base (one among many) within the Nimdenthal Protectorate, and manages to turn agents of the former regime into his brainwashed slaves. The agencies of the regimes wise up when it is almost too late, but the witch hunt for the mind-controlled traitors is fierce and the final raid on the cult compound saps much of their remaining strength. Thus, they cannot maintain control and the city-state undergoes a revolution where a new government steps into the power vacuum.

Using the "Californians are sinking themselves" article, it can be assumed that the new government is not able to create a balanced budget - and that the citizens are also spending their money like there's no tomorrow. Quite possibly because they believe there is not going to be a tomorrow…

The "Peshtigo Fire" equivalent could be a historic event which was caused by some powerful devils running amok - in other words, it wasn't just a big fire that destroyed much of the city and the surrounding areas, but actual hellfire. You think the people of Nimdenthal would learn not to meddle with devils…

The "Curse of Tippecanoe" refers to how many American presidents who were inaugurated in certain years died in office. For Nimdenthal, I think I'm going to do something more direct - since the defeat of Negroth the Doombringer, the then-current leaders of Nimdenthal were gruesomely murdered in every thirteenth year. While gruesome murders are in itself not surprising for the city, given its sordid history and character, and many of the murders weren't in any way directly related to the work of some infernal cult, rumors do persist. The one exception was - last year, when the current mayor was abducted by an infernal cult (and everyone assumed that he was as good as dead) but managed to escape. But did he really manage to break the curse? Or did he come back… differently? Again, rumors persist…

Well, that's it for the basic framework of ideas and concepts that the generator has provided - and I have plenty of material now that I can flesh out further. I hope you enjoyed it so far - and if you have any ideas and suggestions for the Random Nations Generator, I am all ears!

Further Game and Story Ideas

  • By way of a comment, you've already got your Cultural Influence: Israel - Nimdenthal is hated and persecuted by its neighbours and takes a perverse pride in being self sufficient and winding them up.

Sounds pretty Israeli to me.

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