Interview with Tim Bannock of Old School Hacks - Hexcrawling

"So, my campaign or adventure prep consists more of finding existing stuff (tables, lists, etc.) that I can use in my upcoming game sessions, rather than building anything from scratch. Then, the best part is that I'll have these tables or resources handy for the foreseeable future: I don't have to prep anything else for the length of the campaign or adventure, unless the players do a complete 180 on me."

An interview with Tim Bannock, author of the DM's Guild bestseller Old School Hacks Vol 1: Hexcrawling - Wilderness Exploration and Random Encounters. And other titles at DM's Guild

Q&A With Tim Bannock of Hexcrawling

How did you get into publishing on DM's Guild?

When DMs Guild was first announced in January 2016, I already had a draft of some hexcrawling house rules ready to go since I was using them in a campaign I was running set in the Dalelands of the Forgotten Realms.

I had cobbled together a hex map and some locations in Daggerdale from 2E era adventures (called the "Randal Morn Trilogy") that were sorta lackluster on their own, but in the context of a hexcrawl, created this awesome campaign of nomadic rebels fighting against Zhentarim occupation. The hexcrawl side of things was to help them uncover ruined adventure sites that might provide safety and/or resources once they cleared them of monsters.

What inspired the tables of "Old School Hacks Vol. 1: Hexcrawling"?

Hexcrawling went through a major revision. In its first iteration, I basically used the tables from my Dalelands campaign, but added a little more "weirdness" to the results, just to show how interesting encounters can be when they aren't "1d6 goblins." I was intent on seeding mysteries throughout the encounter tables, adding clues about (and the numbers of monsters) lairs connected to smaller encounters, and so on.

In the second iteration of the book, I expanded everything, but grounded it strictly in the Forgotten Realms, specifically an area around the settlement of Hardbuckler, located in a little region between the High Moor and Elturel.

I used the 2nd Edition-era Elminister's Ecologies books, some stuff that Alex Clippinger wrote about in his High Moor book, and some other stuff I researched from a few 3E-era Forgotten Realms books as inspiration to create really big encounter tables.

Basically, I just wanted to up the ante, and give a DM everything they need to start a hexcrawl campaign without having to do much table-building themselves. It's all there, and it all fits into the lore of the setting, even highlighting little bits of history, nearby adventure sites, and the folk who inhabit that region.

What is the most fun thing about creating random tables?

I'm gonna cheat a little, because I like two things equally:

I like working with themes, and finding ways to stretch a theme. If an area's filled with goblins, I really scour the depths of goblin lore to add in encounters that can be combat, interaction, or exploration based, and that highlight their ecology. Meaning, I add in encounters with goblin pets and mounts (worgs, wolves, giant spiders), as well as creatures that naturally might try to overpower, eat, or conquer them (ogres, orcs, young dragons).

I love making encounters that are tied to adventure sites, whether I'm simply adding some facts about the possibility of a nearby lair, or actually calling out, "Hey, this encounter is on this table because the nearby Keep of Evil Goblins is something that should necessarily affect this region!"

What are the most painful lessons you've learnt from working on DM's Guild?

Not being able to re-use some of the creative content outside the Guild is a little rough. For example, I have a setting (Dalentown) that I publish for my cousin, and we do it through the OGL. When we've tried to work on pregenerated characters for modules set there, or build NPC stats, we sometimes run into situations where it's like, "Oh wait, we can't use that ability because it's from Xanathar's Guide to Everything, or it's a Background from someone else's DMsGuild release." So we either have to drop that piece of the idea, or create our own, differentiated version of the mechanic so as not to step on Wizards of the Coast's IP.

Adventures in Dalentown

How do you use random tables and tools yourself?

I love them as a tool for both inspiration, and to save me work later. I think hexcrawl campaigns and big lists of stuff on tables are intimidating to some people because they think they have to emulate that in their own creations from scratch, but the truth is that there's so many already out there (plus online generators) that it's really not that hard to just co-opt something that already exists and use it.

So, my campaign or adventure prep consists more of finding existing stuff (tables, lists, etc.) that I can use in my upcoming game sessions, rather than building anything from scratch. Then, the best part is that I'll have these tables or resources handy for the foreseeable future: I don't have to prep anything else for the length of the campaign or adventure, unless the players do a complete 180 on me.

For a small adventure (1-5 sessions), I do about 2-5 hours of poking around and collating this sort of stuff. But then, in between each session, I do at most 10-15 minutes of looking over notes to refresh myself. That's it. For campaigns, I do maybe double that, but then I'm good for something like a full year of game sessions.

In other words: random tables and generators and other tools allow me to front-load my prep, so I don't have to do hardly any work later on.

What is the most interesting RPG tool you've seen?

I don't know if it's interesting because it's really just a dry read of a book, but AEG's Toolbox and Ultimate Toolbox books remain my go to source for random tables. They provide hundreds of 1d20 tables on every subject imaginable for D&D, doubling as both great stuff you can use during a session and fantastic inspiration for worldbuilding when you're writing something. An adventure, a campaign, a campaign world, a novel...those books are just stellar.

What are your next big projects (generators or otherwise) that you can talk about?

I haven't been doing much on the tools side since I published Old School Hacks Vol. 3: Megadungeon Mayhem. I'm mostly working with my cousin on publishing more stuff for our Dalentown campaign setting (some new character ancestries are coming up, as well as the sequel adventure to DD-01: The Darkness Beneath Dalentown). We're also publishing some small, indie RPG systems and settings, the biggest of which is a diceless RPG called DeScriptors [PWYW and full versions], and we're revising the BETA we released of a community-minded OSR game called F.A.R.M. Champions, with some options in there for Powered by the Apocalypse and Forged in the Dark game system conversions, making it a really versatile game.

Where can people find you on social media?

Best place is Twitter: @timbannock. I've also got a website that's solely dedicated to RPGs (both what I publish as well as random thoughts, reviews, and mechanic ideas) at timbannock.com.

Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

If I may be so bold: please check out and support indie RPGs!

Not even because I publish a couple with my cousin, Matthew Bannock, but mainly because there's some unbelievably cool stuff going on in that sphere. There are some amazing creations coming out of indie game designers that will absolutely change how you play RPGs. I'm a veteran of D&D back from the early 1980s, and yet my playstyle has radically changed in recent years because of tips and tricks I've picked up from indie games.

While I think D&D 5th edition has done wonders for the profile and playstyle of my favorite game, I think it still has a long way to go in terms of presenting some of its ideas and certainly in how Wizards of the Coast publishes adventure material. In the indie scene, there is often significantly better work being done in terms of making games clearer in less words, and more immediately playable at your game table than big 200-page campaign modules end up being.

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