Interview with Todd of Beastlands

"People have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea of a "Procedurally Generated Monster".

This next creator is Todd of Beastlands.com, generating unique books of 5e monsters. Examples on twitter under #generatedmonster.

Q&A with Todd of Beastlands

How did you get into creating random generators?

This is sort of a loaded question because I loved the idea of generated content since I started playing computer games. Diablo 2 was such an inspiration for me because the weapons could be randomized and the chunks of the levels were placed randomly as well, giving the game a great feel even if you did manage to run through the game again. Dwarf Fortress is another huge inspiration considering they procedurally generate existence.

I always dreamed of making something similar to some sort of medium. It was not until I made it to college that I would truly start to make generators. My first generator was written in visual basic, it was a weapon generator inspired by Path of Exile and Diablo 2. I was mimicking how they produced weapons inside of a application for a final project for the class.

I also implemented my own version of Perlin noise before it was in unity to make Minecraft-like terrain. I eventually want to expand upon terrain generation for DnD, but that is a different project.

terrain generation

My next dabble was screwing around inside of Unity, I was making a tactical RPG and made a character generator out of that. I was using JSON and C# to produce characters in a very similar form as Dungeons and Dragons characters. The stats were randomized and produced in a logical was for each class inside of the game. I never released it, and it is unfinished, but it gave me great footing on starting Beastlands.

As I was looking online I noticed that there were very few in not any monster generators, and the ones that did exist were very simple. Either no stats with a very simple 2-line description or basic stats that used some SRD material. So this got me thinking on converting the data from my unity character generator to Beastlands

I took the data I made for that and converted it into tables and started working on a full-fledged monster generator, I ran into some hurdles, as far as handling the PDF generation, I started by trying to mimic what Homebrewery and GMbinder does to produce pages but realized quickly that dealing with browsers other than chrome would become a problem, also it was a slow process that most people would not want to go through.

After that things started falling into place. The whole process actually skips InDesign and directly goes to PDF pages. Once you buy a book it is generated by code, put into a pdf and sent to my website.

What generators are you most proud of creating and why?

Definitely Beastlands, I learned so much by creating this project. My character generator was definitely an important stepping stone that made the bulk of the generator fairly easy.

What is the most fun thing about creating generators?

You can keep adding more and more to the generator, each time you add something it increases the combinations exponentially. Also being able to reproduce randomness from seeds is super awesome for testing.

What are the most painful lessons you've learnt from creating generators?

People have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea of a "Procedurally Generated Monster".

Procedural generation lets you build rules into the random generation that makes things a little less random and a little more uniform. It also lets you make a great template for creatures.

But when you say "procedurally generated" most of the time people do not really understand what you are talking about. So for me, the technical barrier for the market can be a little frustrating.

Also, Having to switch PDF generation mid-project after I realized the inconsistencies of trying to generate books just with pure HTML and being able to print them was a struggle.

beastlands monster generation

How do you use random generators yourself?

I use them for everything and build on top of it. Cities, continents, NPC characters, dungeons, adventure outlines.

But I use it to future proof my campaign, making the generators produce some of the details and then connect the dots. Most of the time my sessions are very minimally planned because I can always bounce off of the generated stuff to make bigger descriptions and meaningful quests and just tie everything together.

Last session my players went in a direction I never planned on them going, but it was no problem mid-session because I could just use generated stuff and past story hooks to make it all make sense.

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

Currently Beastlands and adding extra bits to finish it off. More descriptions, abilities and more cohesive monster templates for each monster type. I also plan on adding a "Warbands Feature" that is also 60% of the way there that groups monsters together and gives them a common goal. (some of warband names are already inside of the monster descriptions.)

After Beastlands I plan on making an item generator that hooks into all of the monsters created by my books. The plan is to have both books reference each other and letting the players craft items from the monsters. Everything from new mundane items to legendary artifacts that scale with the players.

Far off goals are dungeon generators, city generators, region generators, world generators until it is basically a campaign generator. Each hooking into the other to make cohesive campaigns. It would also use some digital aid to make the world alive. Basically almost going full dwarf fortress but for Dungeons and Dragons.

Where can people find you on social media?

@beastlandz on twitter and I also have a facebook page that just has my recent posts from Twitter. Otherwise there is my website www.beastlands.com.

Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

My book is for sale currently as an early access piece since it is 50% software and 50% book...

As I make changes people will probably get free books out of the deal.

Thanks for interviewing me!

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