I've been working on an abstract means of exploration for dungeon, city, and other small areas I don't feel like mapping as we go at the table. The need comes from wanting to prep less and have more surprises at the table. I've always liked random dungeon generation, in fact I rarely make dungeons by hand without my 1st edition DMG.
|1st edition DMG
I decided on hexs, as I am going for the wilderness hex crawl feel, but I could have just as easily gone with squares. Using hex size based on my maps (City of Zobeck) and preference of sub hexes (six per hex) I came up with hexes approximately 144 feet from flat to flat. Exploring a dungeon at my table takes ten minutes for two hundred feet, or a dungeon turn. I abstract that further to say a turn is between 3-10 minutes and keep track of it with six dice I drop into a cup at the table and roll for encounters when it is full or when they make a lot of noise. This abstracts nice to my 144 foot hex assuming it is not a straight corridor, which I am. I broke out my 5e DMG (gasp!) and rolled up a dungeon on a hex that size for a visual sample of what the players are navigating.
|Random sample dungeon hex
I've been using the Tome of Adventure Design for my last six sessions. It has extensive tables, that I am using, for random dungeon creation. Basically my plan was to strip out the corridors and use it as is. Of course, as is is never enough for me, so I started customizing table. The table gives a 50% chance for an empty hex (good average for an average adventure) and a 10% chance for an encounter. Normally I'd roll every so often for encounters, but this has it baked in so every turn (10 minutes, remember?) there is a 1 in 10 chance for an encounter, that's equal to the average hostile wilderness or dungeon area in many supplemental RPGs. In addition to rolling on the table I am using a d6-1 to account for exits from the hex a roll of 0 has a 30% chance (1-2 on a six sider) for a secret door. After my initial plan, I got to generating a sample map; not only to see how my distribution looked in practice but to show my players should they choose to map. I started off with a d10 table, but I didn't like how often some things (like level changes and large monuments) were coming up. I changed to a d12, but eventually settled on a d20.
|Too many stairs
Numbers are locations (roll of 1-10) and dots are explored areas. So far its looking pretty good, but I have some more testing to do today and we need to see how it stands up at the table!
Update: I'm liking the d4-1 for exits, but stairs are coming up scarce!