Friday, April 19, 2019

The Great Migration

Migrations are a great way to cause trouble, and trouble usually leads to adventure.

American frontier history is full of migrations: the Lakota fleeing onto the Great Plains to escape the musket-wielding Ojibwe, the Oregon Trail drawing American settlers to the west, the Cree following the fur trading posts through Canada, the Mormons (and the Pilgrims before them) heading out to establish a holy city.  It's a long list.

So why do we care about migrations in a roleplaying game?
  • They're often a consequence of a conflict.  Help the local people win a war, and the losing side might have to flee somewhere else.
  • They cause conflict of their own.  Most places are already inhabited to some degree, so a bunch of newcomers showing up is likely to get folks ready for a fight.
  • Migrations need resources.  Plenty a trader has gotten rich on selling goods to migrants passing through.  Someone's likely to hire guides and armed escorts.
  • Migrations bring resources, too.  They might be the first ones in the area with guns, or they might be carrying sacks of gold to buy land.  Raiders might make a good living preying on these folks.
To create a great migration, you might find the following tables helpful.  As usual, you can roll randomly if you like, but you might just use the tables for inspiration.

Mitchell Pass, Oregon Trail - Todd Williams

Why migrate?

Pick two reasons from the table below.  The first is obvious and visible to outsiders; it's the reason you're likely to hear about.  The second is quieter, a reason that most outsiders don't know about.  It might even be a secret reason only the leadership knows about.
Why migrate? (d8)
1A bountiful land full of resources beckons to those who are ambitious or desperate.
2Enemies are driving them out to take their land.
3Their livelihood is running out: the land is barren, the fish are gone, the mines have run out.
4Fleeing from persecution, they want a place to live by their own ways.
5They aim to build a utopia, a shining land of virtue and prosperity.
6A prophecy, a vision, or a great spiritual teacher leads them into the wilderness.
7Trade opportunities beckon: access to trading partners, guns, a port, a trade route.
8They need to settle close to powerful allies.

Trail of Tears - J. Crosby

Difficult terrain

There's a major obstacle in the way of this migration, some kind of difficult terrain that's going to be hard for everyone.  Crossing this obstacle might be where the migration is most vulnerable.

Obstacle (d10)
1-2a vast, trackless plain, bitterly cold in winter and blazing hot in summer
3-4a rugged mountain range, nearly impassable under winter snow
5-6a great expanse of swamps, lakes and/or rivers
7-8a deep canyon, a high bluff, or a difficult portage bypassing a waterfall
9-10a journey on open water: over the sea, across a strait, hopping from island to island

Waka - Charles Goldie and Louis J. Steele


Roll to see how the migration is progressing.

Progress (d6)
1The migration is just talk so far. They do not know much about the destination yet.
2An outsider has been to the destination and back. Everyone is intrigued by their report.
3All the people are about to migrate in one large caravan.
4Groups of dozens of people are just starting out now, armed and vigilant.
5Families or very small groups are setting out, trying to keep out of sight.
6Most of the people already traveled the first step a while ago, but they ran into problems and hunkered down. Now they have to decide whether to keep traveling or return home.

Handcart Company across the Sweetwater River - Clark Kelley Price

Surplus & shortage

People on this journey are going to need help.  Roll once on the chart below to see what they need most desperately.  Roll again to see what they have in abundance.

Surplus/Shortage (d8)
1safety, forts to take refuge in, armed escorts, guns, powder
2food, grazing for pack animals, water in a dry country
3guides, maps and guidebooks, a navigator, an interpreter
4warmth, shelter, suitable clothing for the weather
5a safe place to cross an obstacle: a portage, pass, ford, strait, etc.
6boats, wagons, snowshoes, draft oxen, porters
7leadership, confidence, belief in their purpose
8money, trade goods, permission to pass through someone's territory

Trading Post - Hubbell

If you get the same result for both rolls, treat each one differently.  Let's say you rolled a 6 for both (boats, wagons, snowshoes, draft oxen, porters).  They could have plenty of canoes for the river-borne part of the journey, but be desperately short on hands to carry everything over the portage from one river to the next.  Or some of the people could have oxen and good wagons, while the rest are stuck hauling everything on their backs.

Hard work ahead

The migrants believe they'll have a hard task ahead of them at the end of the road. They might believe this from prior experience, or because of rumors headed their way, or maybe by the words of a prophecy about their new home.

Hard Work (d6)
1expel the people who live there already
2defeat those who will follow after them
3clear the wilderness to make room for settlement, felling trees, opening rivers, digging wells
4build a great colony/city
5learn how to survive in such a strange place
6prepare for dark days to come: starvation, disease, cold weather

Clearing the Land (Quebec)

Roll up your own great migration:

a great migration
obvious reason
quiet reason
major obstacle
in desperate need of
have in abundance
hard work ahead


  1. Perfect for use with Ultraviolet Grasslands

    1. How so? I know next to nothing about Ultraviolet Grasslands, so forgive my ignorance.

    2. UVG is all about making long-distance treks across a mostly open an unexplored landscape. This could easily be used to adapt into how players set out on their journey or interact with stops along the way.

  2. Really nice random tables here; I linked folks over on my blog this week. Keep up the good bloggin'!

    1. Thanks, I'm glad you're enjoying it. There's one post in particular on your blog that I really like -- it's the one where you show your sandbox binder. It's a small post, quite simple, but it's inspirational in it's simplicity, daring the reader to go make their own sandbox binder and have wonderful unplanned adventures.