Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus

August 15, 2010

The Zone Stat Block

Now we come to the central feature of Project Slaughterhouse: The Zone Stat Block. Each zone has one or more fairly simple stat blocks. The stat block defines the zones level, population, and what happens when the party does things there.

The stat block is your guide to populating and repopulating the zone. The basic assumption is that you start the game with a blank map (or area if you aren’t using a map) and you’re going to place several encounters on the map based on the stat block and the roster. At campaign design, this may seem like an extra step, but as the party starts to mess around, it will become very helpful.

After the party leaves the adventure site or takes an extended rest, you’re going to have to repopulate any areas they have explored. Again, the zone stat block and rosters will provide you with the information you need to do this very quickly.

First, zones come in four different roles:

  • A Lair is a zone that functions as a faction headquarters. If a faction is ever left without a lair, the assumption is that they leave the adventure site, never to return. They simply can’t regain a foothold. You can think of a lair as the source of a population. In a sense, it is where new monsters come from.
  • An Outpost is a zone loosely controlled by a faction. It isn’t as vital to a faction as a lair. If it becomes too much struggle to hold onto an outpost, a faction will abandon it, but they will also keep reinforcing it against minor incursions.
  • Contested Territory is a zone that two or more factions would like to control, but they are evenly matched and neither can get a hold over the other. If one faction or the other is eliminated, the contested territory will usually become an outpost of the rival faction because they can now control it.
  • Unclaimed Territory is a zone that no faction is particularly interested in claiming. It is simply there. Unclaimed Territory is usually populated by unaligned creatures, but factions may also occasionally be encountered wandering through.

Each zone has a population: a number of experience points worth of creatures (and skill challenges and traps) that is present in that zone. When you populate a zone, you draw on creatures from the various rosters and build four or five encounters that, together, add up to the population number (or very close to it, it’s okay to be slightly fuzzy).

Zone Stat Block: Fortress

A Zone Stat Block: The Fortress

So, if we take a look at the stat block for the Fortress. We can see that it starts the game as a Lair of the Blood Pudding tribe. We can also see that the only monsters in the Fortress are from the Blood Pudding Roster. And we can see that the Lair contains 7,500 XP worth of creatures drawn from the Blood Pudding Roster. Easy at that.

Now, suppose the party attacks the Fortress and starts fighting with the orcs. For instance, let’s suppose they attack the Guard House and kill all of the orcs there, about 1,250 XP worth of creatures. But then they retreat. They were already exhausted and they don’t have the energy to keep fighting the orcs.

This is where Schrödinger’s Gun comes in (if you read that part). The party doesn’t actually know how many orcs are in the Fortress. They only know they killed one little guard post. They are going to assume there are a lot more orcs. When they return, the orcs will probably reinforce the guard post.

This is where population thresholds come in. The idea is that the party can’t simply keep attacking one encounter at a time and then running away to go to sleep. They have to really push to make a dent in the orc forces. There is a minimum number of encounters they have to have with the orcs in the fortress before they can make a dent. If they retreat and take an extended rest, they will lose all of their progress unless they defeat a minimum number of orcs.

The first population threshold is called “depleted.” This is the point at which the population stops resetting every time they leave. If they have reduced the orcs total population (measured in experience points) to 3,750 XP (about half, or two encounters) without retreating and resting, the orcs will stop repopulating. They have made a dent. Only 3,750 XP worth of orcs remain inside (about two standard encounters or more much easier encounters) when the party returns.

There is another population threshold called “abandoned.” This is the point at which the population gives up. They’ve lost. If the party retreats and rests after getting the population down to this figure (1,500 XP, one encounter), when they come back, the orcs are gone.

This means that the XP is a little fuzzy. The party can get more XP by making multiple visits without depleting the population. Likewise, the party can get less XP by forcing the orcs to abandon the lair.

But, there is also another trigger condition. If the party sneaks in and manages to assassinate both the chieftan and the priest, the orcs will descend into chaos and start fighting amongst themselves for dominance. At that point, they will finish themselves off and, by the time the party returns, they will have abandoned the lair.

Zone Stat Block: Fortress 2

The Fortress Has Changed Hands

Now, what happens when the orcs abandon the lair? Well, the stat block tells us that too. In this case, the Fortress changes hands. Lord Vizier and his goons would love to get their hands on the Fortress. If the orcs are forced out, the next time the party returns, Lord Vizier has moved in and the place has become an outpost. And, because we wrote this possibility into the stat block, we prepared a second stat block for what happens when this occurs.

This stat block looks pretty similar to the first, except this is now an Outpost. Unlike the Lair, the Outpost is not some place that Lord Vizier will try to hold onto even when he’s losing. So, you will notice that the population never reaches depleted. Instead, when half the population is gone, the place is simply abandoned. Vizier gives up on it rather than sending reinforcements into a death trap.

But we also added a trigger. We know that Vizier wants the Temple first. If he is in control of the Temple, he is now ready to commit resources elsewhere. So, he will keep a population in the Fortress even if they are getting killed. They will hold it a little more fiercely.

Finally, if Lord Vizier is forced to abandon the Fortress, no one else will move in. The orcs are gone, Lord Vizier doesn’t want it. It becomes unclaimed territory. And we would have another stat block ready for that eventuality.

Zone Stat Block: Sewer

The Zone Stat Block for the Sewer

Let’s look at another case. The Sewer is the lair of the aberrants because of the gate. They aren’t really an organized faction. Instead, they literally just spawn into existence and wander around. And they aren’t trying to hold territory. First of all, notice that we build encounters from two rosters when we fill the Sewers. The aberrants are wandering around, but so are unaligned sewer creatures. No one else will come down here, though. They are afraid of the abberants.

The second thing to notice is that no matter how many aberrants the party kills, they will never force the aberrants to leave the Sewer. The aberrants just keep popping through the gate. However, if they make a serious dent in the population of the Sewer, it will take a while for it to recover. So, they could make a big push, retreat, and then return to close the gate.

Zone Stat Block: Sewer 2

The Sewer Has Become Contested

The triggered action tells us that when they close the rift, the aberrants now lose control of the sewer. Once the aberrant threat is thwarted, the gnolls and the orcs will bring their war down here. If you look at the zone map, the sewers are a valuable way to move around the city (they connect to several zones) and the orcs and the gnolls will take advantage of that.

The final stat block shows what happens when the orcs and gnolls have come into the sewers. It is now a warzone. Orcs and gnolls are fighting (and there are still sewer creatures) and both would like to control the sewer. If either side is defeated (by the PCs), the other side will claim the sewer as an outpost. And, once again, we will have prepared stat blocks for both of those eventualities.

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49 Responses to Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus

  1. Armchair DM on August 15, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Are you kidding me? Are you FREAKING kidding ?

    I’m totally loving this system… It’s elegant,it has a sandboxy feel, it’s awesome.

    It seems more WoW or “Gold Box” D&D to me.

  2. Mark on August 16, 2010 at 9:14 am

    This is so fantastic. I don’t know if you’ve ever played Mordheim, but this has a really similar style: the abandoned city with factions vying for control. I want to run a game like this now!

  3. Michael on August 16, 2010 at 9:52 am

    This utterly kicks ass for sandboxing. It will give my own free roaming campaign plot-lines a further brutal shove in the Angry DM direction ;)

  4. the Jester on August 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Wow, this is simply fantastic. I’m going to use it for my next megadungeon for sure, and probably for big wilderness sandbox areas as well. Thank you so much for this system- well done!

  5. Slimboy on August 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    You, sir, are a wizard! You’ve crystallized an idea that’s been pinging around in my skull for some time! Amazing. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to co-DM with a friend for some time, and this might just do the trick. You need to publish, sir. We need fresh voices in the Adventure-Building market! Good job!

  6. Giving Places Character | Geek Related on August 17, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    […] Posted on August 17, 2010 by mxyzplk| Leave a comment I read a really great article called “Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus” by the Angry DM that is really good and describes his “Slaughterhouse” system […]

  7. on August 18, 2010 at 7:19 am

    I just put together a quick-and-lazy PDF of this so I can keep it handy as a single file and print a copy for reference. I love the zone stats.

    I think I’ll be reading your site from now on!

  8. Flacco on August 18, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I really love this whole system, and I am developing my own version, where different fractions are fighting about a barony.

    I am also thinking about adding something else: Consequences that affect a whole faction, when having an Outpost somewhere, for example: If the orcs are holding the Mines near the City, they gain access to better weapons, making the faction stronger (maybe a bonus to AC or attack rolls)

    Or if the Human Freedom-Fighters gain power over the University-Distrit and its Alchemy-Labors, some of them start carrying alchemists fire, and so on, what do you think about this idea?

  9. The Angry DM on August 18, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Hey, everyone, thanks for showing up and commenting and stuff. I’d say it warms the cockles of my heart, but I haven’t got a heart and cockle sounds lewd. And none of you are warming any of my lewd bits, that’s for sure.

    Mr. User@Example – whom I shall call AFGNCAAP (look it up) – I’ve been encouraged by a couple of folks to do a PDF presentation and it might be in the future, but I’m also lazy, so we’ll see. Anyhow, I’m more than happy to see you thought it valuable enough to waste paper and printer ink on. Just please give me credit if you share it around. I’ve got a tremendous ego.

    Flacco – I think its a damned fine idea and you should run with it. Makes perfect sense and, again, brings the environment to life. That’s the most important part. When the PCs help the Freedom Fighters liberate Bobs Alchemical Emporium, they will be gratified to see a real in game effect.

    • Charles on May 3, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      Gravity is actually the weakest force.

      Just through I’d be a dick and point that out.

      • The Angry DM on May 3, 2013 at 7:46 pm

        Would it be dickish of me to point out “powerful” is not synonymous with “strongest?” One is a nice, vanilla adjective and one is a superlative. I sure hope so. Because dicks beget dicks.

        I am quite aware that gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces, but it is still extremely powerful, especially on a macroscopic scale, because gravity is always additive and because it operates over such long distances. Well, theoretically always additive, given the current hints that gravity may become repulsive at extremely long distances.

        Anyhoo, thanks for the constructive comments! Maybe work on that reading comprehension, though.

  10. Ms on August 19, 2010 at 12:32 am

    I wasn’t planning on sharing it other than by linking people here, I just pasted the whole lot in word and spent five minutes tidying the formatting up. 14 pages, for the record.

    Thankfully I have to leave for work in a minute, so I was spared the usual hours of reading TV Tropes you tried to give me.

  11. The Angry DM on August 19, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    I see now I used a gendered prefix and I apoligize Ms. AFFCAAP. I was mainly just making an ego joke. Please share it around. I put it out here because I want people to enjoy it. Also, the ego thing.

    Yep, 14 pages seems right. I typed it up in Word first and I think I was at 13.

  12. […] latest offering, “Giving Places Character“, inspired by the Angry DM’s article “Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus”, expands on the concept of city stat blocks originally introduced in D&D […]

  13. 1of3 on August 24, 2010 at 3:34 am

    Very interesting. I’ll at least show it around.

    To make a suggestion, I’d lay down methods on how the players can learn the details of the zone cards. It’s one of the prime questions that I always miss in published adventures: When the PCs question this or that goon, what can they learn?

    With this set-up DCs for knowledge checks might also come in handy.

  14. […] sent me the Angry DM’s slaughterhouse system of region/campaign building. The system is inspired by zoned video games like Metroid and provides […]

  15. Carl on September 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I absolutely admire your post…brilliant. I’m gonna use this on my next campaign.

    Sorry to ask here, but I don’t find anywhere else to: is there an RSS feed to catch all your updates on this blog? I’m following more than 50 D&D blogs on Google Reader and don’t want to have to use bookmarks on top of it. :)

    Thanks and keep up the good (great) work.

  16. The Angry DM on September 2, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    Hey Carl, thanks for the compliments. As it happens, there is, in fact a Feed. Its: . There is also a seperate Feed just for the comments. Its: .

  17. Gedanken über Dungeonsoziologie « Rorschachhamster on September 16, 2010 at 3:21 am

    […] sogar das Layout des Dungeon. Irgendwie bin ich auf einen Artikel des Angry DMs gestoßen, der, LinkyLink, eine gewisse Struktur für die Bewohner und Zonen eines solchen großem Dungeons vorstellt – […]

  18. William C. Pfaff on October 16, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Speaking completely without hyperbole or sarcasm, I can honestly say this is the most single useful piece of DM advice I’ve read in at least five years. You sir need to be nominated for something…an Ennie, a Nobel Prize for RPGing, something! Kudos and my players and I thank you for the incredible effort! I’m making wholesale use of this in my next campaign with very little modification…simply brilliant stuff!

  19. Ben on December 17, 2010 at 1:28 am

    Bravo. I’ll integrate this into my current campaign somehow, I vow it.

    Sorry for the necromantic commenting, but I was hoping for some AngryDM insight into adapting the system.

    I’m trying to conceptualize how this system could be modified to allow for coexistent zones at different levels. My meaning is a sort of vertical stratification, where from level 1 to 8 you might be most concerned about which street gang controls which block, but from level 5-13 you also care which noble claims suzerainty – but in exactly the same territory, and with overlap between the street gang threat and the noble threat. A zone with two (or more) owners.

    The simplest answer is writing up multiple zone stat blocks for the same territory, but that wouldn’t capture the possibility of running into the Count’s tax collectors right after a brush with the Fat Tony’s street toughs, unless you had both rosters represented in each zone. Which I guess isn’t such a bad thing, come to think of it, but it seems an inelegant solution.

    I’d love to hear it if you have a better take on how to implement this.

  20. Raddu on February 21, 2011 at 11:04 am

    @AngryDM Love this idea! I just stumbled up on it, good stuff maynard.

    @Ben, even more necromantic commenting (nice term!). I’d say just add another parameter to the stat block, at level 1-5 this happens at 5-10 this happens, etc, etc.

  21. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Scott, Robert Adducci. Robert Adducci said: @TheAngryDM Loved your Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus article! Wheels are turning about a city of Celik #DarkSun adventure […]

  22. T.W.Wombat on February 22, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Schrodinger’s Gun. That’s the framework I’ve been trying to verbalize. THANK YOU.

    Awesome system. It’s nice to find something that really speaks to the way I want to GM. I’ve done this with more handwaving and improv, but the Slaughterhouse looks like it’ll take some of the drudge work out of the process.

    Bravo, sir!

  23. […] They decided the Orc Warlord was important, and so he was, but he may as well not have been (see another excellent article by Angry about Schrödinger’s Gun in […]

  24. Natespank on March 8, 2011 at 6:35 am

    How would you suggest using this system with time constraints and/or adventures? Is it primarily intended for player-driven games?

    The reason I ask is because I enjoyed the “winning D&D” article and without adding win conditions and adventures and time constraints to the sandbox game, it’s hard to allow the PCs to “win.”

    Do you know what I’m getting at?

  25. Chris McNeil (a.k.a. Gwarh) on April 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I’ll add another “me too” thank you.

    I’ve got a pile of notes for a lvl 1-30 sandbox campaign area thingamabob, but was feeling that it was to daunting a task to stat it out past the notes and maps I’ve already made.

    But with your “Slaughterhouse” system, I think it just map be the trick to getting it all down in a workable/playable format.

    Did this ever get put into a PDF format. Or more importantly have you placed your campaing notes into a PDF format for us all to paruse?

  26. […] found on ENWorld through reference from an post), was from a blog post by The Angry DM: Schrodinger, Chekhov, and Samus.  It’s a bit longer of a post than I think it needs to be (much like all of mine!), but it […]

  27. Telarus, KSC on June 28, 2011 at 6:16 am

    Whoa! This is innovative and brilliant. I’m going to slam this together with the Company system from Reign (ORE) like chocolate and peanutbutter.

  28. […] was working on a 4e conversion of Gary Gygax’s Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works, using a set of quick-and-dirty stat blocks devised by The Angry DM to make an open, sandboxy dungeon very easy to manage.  It’s proven to be a fun experiment […]

  29. Elibus on September 15, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Hey Angry DM,

    Really love this idea and I’m going to use it in my game to run most of the paragon tier. What do you use to make your zone stat blocks? Is it a file you can make available?

  30. The Angry DM on September 16, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Elibus. I did the zone stat blocks in MS Excel. Nothing fancy.

  31. […] in his Schroedinger, Checkov, and Seamus article, this last campaign planning tool is something that I may or may not end up using.  […]

  32. […] is a different type of run site based entirely on the ideas of Angry DM’s Slaughterhouse concept.  In this case the run site is not a discrete location but a broad region that is […]

  33. […] Here are some links to further reading that will be of value in setting up your own dungeons: Angry Dm’s Project Slaughterhouse Alexandrian’s Jacquaying the Dungeon Simon C’s “How I draw […]

  34. Drakonius on September 3, 2012 at 7:07 am

    Hello mister Angry DM,

    May I have a Core rules copy of this system in PDF format, if of course isn’t too much of a trouble?
    And also, I would like to know what have you used for the nice and clean stat blocks for Lairs and Outposts, again if it isn’t much trouble.

    Thank you very much.

  35. […] I didn’t want to map out the whole darn city I used two of The Angry DM’s systems – Project Slaughterhouse and the Abstract Dungeon.  The city was currently contested between three factions – Minotaur […]

  36. Iggwilv on August 4, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Since the stat blocks are kind of like monsters, there could be “elite” and “solo” zones. They would have more XP, and so have more monsters, and thus be tougher to take down. In order to not just have it be a grind, such zones would be reserved for changing/terraforming or especially large zones so that it would remain interesting. Just an idea!

  37. […] First, it is fun. I like the topic and I like writing thousands of words about things and I like ridiculous, hyperbolic names. Remember “Project Slaughterhouse?” […]

  38. Dragonbro on December 4, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    I wish you where my DM. Great stuff. Wright more please.

  39. SimonP on December 12, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    I’ve been using groups (factions) and areas (zones) for about 15 years, as I wanted my sandbox campaign, Tovanion, to be dynamic. You, Angry, have just organized neatly what my disorganized brain wasn’t able to put together in a cohesive fashion.

    Thank you!

  40. Jeremy on April 17, 2014 at 9:13 am

    This is very similar to how I create a world… I do the same type of thing with countries and cities, mainly to describe how political factions interact with each other.

    It is simple and elegant, thanks for the writeup… Now I can just point to your explanation rather than use my own.

    Also I seem to have wandered here, I never knew about this blog until yesterday. It has become my favorite source for DM information.


  41. The Allure of the Mega-Dungeon @ RPG MUSINGS on June 8, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    […] Schrodinger, Chekhov, and Samus, a multi-page article from The Angry DM blog, about how to create zones and factions in your mega-dungeon. His system uses a more modern approach to mega-dungeon design. […]

  42. Frank on October 29, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Totally stealing this especially as I have a big exploration ruined city adventure coming up in my game and I was putting in a lot more work then I needed so I could make sure the area felt like it lived and breathed apart from the PC’s. It gives me a good way to keep everything flowing without having to stop the game in order to restock and change things around.

  43. MamboJambo on December 8, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Could someone please clarify how the zone lvl is calculated?

  44. Frank on December 9, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    I did it based on the average level of the party and what would pose a good challenge for them. I leveled up some monsters to match the average level of the party that I wanted from a storyline perspective to be in the area. There are some challenging encounters in the area as well, that while beatable by the players will be hard to do so. (as I am doing 3.5 the ECL is +3 to the party level) However most encounters are anywhere from -2 to the average party level to +1.

  45. [INTP] D&D, Anyone? - Page 3 on December 16, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    […] to organize your campaigns efficiently. (No, I am not secretly an advertiser.) Next, look at this. It's a great way of doing sandboxy, location-based adventures. I'm using a similar system at the […]

  46. solomani on February 24, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Classic way to describe what DMs do ALL THE TIME – Schrödinger’s Gun.

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