Baking a Layer Cake of History into your Campaign

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I was watching my friend, Chris P Wolf, play Caves of Qud this week. It’s a fantastic game, you should play it. The game describes itself as a layer cake of thousand-year-old civilizations”. That got us to thinking about how we could bake some of that into our campaigns. Today I want to talk about one aspect of this idea’s implementation, how we can use it in your campaigns, and how we can build upon it in adventure games.


Qud bakes their cake using a number of ingredients. The most important of which being the Sultans. (If you would like to learn more about how Qud handles proc gen I recommend giving these links a look/watch:


Thank you Brian Bucklew for tossing these links my way.


Each Sultan is randomly generated and assigned one of five periods of time. These periods represent their rule. There is always a sixth Sultan but they are not generated, and instead were purposefully written. Functionally a Sultan is made-up of a name, events, lore recounting the events, and Themes. By default the five generated Sultans all can affect the world, however depending on their order in history they can only affect certain regions due to earlier sultans not having as many locations created yet. This creates a natural feeling of time passing as you discover events and the reach of more modern Sultans.


Each Sultan has a collection of Themes. These influence events, artifacts, and abilities of their followers. Themes are intentionally vague, with examples being Jewels, Stars, Glass, and Time.

Historic Sites

Later Sultans have Historic Sites that are relevant to their rule. These sites are inhabited by cults that worship the Sultan and whose allegiances match the Sultans.

Baking Our Cake

This got Chris and I thinking. We both struggle with the ignition of dungeons, plot lines, etc for our campaigns. Personally, I love knitting together disparate ideas into a cohesive whole then running with things. I need those initial threads of procedural generation or preexisting works to get a campaign started. Locations might be able to house those threads. Now let’s spin threads and generate the beginnings of a dungeon.


Pilgrim’s Passages has a system for generating 5 mile hexes. This includes elevation, locations, and routes. You can check it out here. We are going to run with a few of those locations, mainly Omens, Signs, Landmarks, and Shrines. Each of those locations has something in common, they mark where an event took place. I want to be able to proc gen those events.


The first thing we need to determine is when the event took place. Pilgrim’s Passages has a time line of a thousand, or so, years I am going to run with that time line but feel free to make your own. Roll 2D6 to determine When our event took place:

2D6 Years in the Past Era Name Dungeon Floor
7 Present Calm 0-1
6, 8 <100 Revolt 2
5, 9 101-500 Gilded Age 3
4, 10 500-750 Great Flood 4
3, 11 750-1000 First People 5
2, 12 >1000 Spirit’s Birth 6+

The When will determine when narratively the event took place, and at what depth in a dungeon the event would be represented.

For example: This event took place in the Gilded Age. A time of mass industrialization and powerful oligarchs. This means that any artifacts related to this character or event are at Level 3 within a dungeon.


This part is simple. If the event took place in the Present use a character that exists within two five-mile hexes of the Location. If the event took place in the past generate a name for them. I have been using this name generator to great success. I roll 2D6 and let that determine the number of syllables in the names. Then generate names with the rolled syllables using the generator above.

Typically, I will assign the character an affiliation with a Faction that was present at that time or make-up a wholly new faction. We could use the Pilgrim’s Passages character builder to assign them a Trade.

Pilgrim’s Passages Trades Table
1D66 Skill Tools
11 Actor Quill (1L), Ink (1L), Make-up Set (1L), Costume (2L)
12 Apothecary Bottle (1L), Bottle (1L), Mortar and Pestle (2L), Knife (1L)
13 Archaeologist Brush (1L), Chalk (1L), Rope (1L), Magnifying Glass (1L), Paper (1L)
14 Basket Weaver Dried Reeds (1L), Knife (1L), Medium Basket (3)
15 Blacksmith Small Anvil (3L), Hammer (2L)
16 Bookbinder Paper (1L), Paper (1L), Leather (1L), Quill (1L), Ink (1L)
21 Botanist Secateurs (1L), Press (2L), Paper (1L), Twine (1L)
22 Brewer Medium Barrel (3L), Measuring Cup (1L), Yeast (1L)
23 Carpenter Hammer (1L), Saw (2L), Plane (2L)
24 Carver Chisel (1L), Knife(1L), Sledge Hammer (3L)
25 Ceramicist Brush (1L), Scuplting Tool (1L), Sponge (1L), Caliper (2L)
26 Cook Knife (1L), Wok (3L), Ladel (1L)
31 Cooper Hammer (1L), Saw (2L), Plane (2L)
32 Coroner Saw (1L), Knife (1L), Book of Anatomy (2L), Formaldehyde (1L)
33 Dancer Costume (2L), Make-Up Set (1L), Music Box (1L)
34 Glass Blower Jacks (1L), Blowpipe (2L), Block (2L)
35 Jeweler Magnifying Glass (1L), Mandrel (1L), Pliers (1L), Hammer (1L), File (1L)
36 Lapidarist Stone Measure (1L), File (1L), Pick (1L), Magnifying Glass (1L), Shovel (1L)
41 Leatherworker Awl (1L), Oil (1L), Knife (1L), Needle (1L), Ruler (1L)
42 Mason Sledge Hammer (3L), Chisel (1L), Brush (1L)
43 Mechanic Wrench (1L), Hammer (1L), Screwdriver (1L), File (1L), Vice (1L)
44 Musician Instrument (2L), Paper (1L), Pencil (1L), Small Sack (1L)
45 Mystic Candle (1L), Incense (1L), Chalk (1L), Knife (1L), Flint (1L)
46 Naturalist Binoculars (2L), Paper (1L), Paper (1L), Pencil (1L)
51 Needleworker Needle (1L), Yarn (1L), Yarn (1L), Scissors (1L), Measuring Tape (1L)
52 Painter Brush (1L), Pencil (1L), Roll of Canvas (2L), Paint (1L)
53 Papermaker Scissors (1L), Mold (2L), Sponge (1L), Masher (1L)
54 Photographer Camera (3L), Engraving Plate (1L), Silver Nitrate (1L)
55 Physician Knife (1L), Bandages (1L), Needle (1L), Twine (1L), Alcohol (1L)
56 Poet Paper (1L), Paper (1L), Quill (1L), Candle (1L), Ink (1L)
61 Printer Knife (1L), Needle (1L), Burnisher (1L), Ink (1L), Paper (1L)
62 Roper Scissors (1L), Flint (1L), Gloves (1L), Splicer (1L), Rope (1L)
63 Sculptor Point Chisel (1L), Tooth Chisel (1L), Chisel (1L), Hammer (1L), Brush (1L)
64 Tailor Scissors (1L), Needle (1L), Thread (1L), Tape Measure (1L), Chalk (1L)
65 Weaver Frame (2L), Shuttle (1L), Scissors (1L), Beater (1L)
66 Writer Paper (1L), Paper (1L), Quill (1L), Candle (1L), Ink (1L)

For example: Our character’s name is Aolorkophee. They are a Paper Maker. During this time unions were incredibly weak but there is growing distrust of the status quo. We will make Aolorkophee affiliated with a growing underground movement to return some power to the worker.


What did the character do? For this I am going to use the Domain table from generating Spirits. This will serve a similar purpose to the Themes sultans get in Caves of Qud. This is also going to be where we come in as the referee or author and get to writing. I use all the lore that has been built in the campaign, as well as the proc gen threads to make the What.

Table of Domains/Themes

Currently I am using the magical schools from The Nameless Grimoire as my Domains, with added Domains to fit Pilgrim’s Passages better.

1D66 Domain
11 Abjuration Banishment/Exile
12 Air
13 Alteration Growth
14 Animals
15 Autumn
16 Astral
21 Battle
22 Chaos
23 Correspondences Travel
24 Darkness
25 Divination Vision
26 Earth
31 Enchantment Charm
32 Enhance Improvement
33 Entropy
34 Evocation Creation
35 Fire Heat
36 Healing
41 Illusion Misdirection
42 Law
43 Manipulation
44 Mind Knowledge
45 Necromancy Death
46 Plants
51 Prophecy
52 Protection
53 Quintessence Spirit
54 Radiance
55 Revelation
56 Spring
61 Summer
62 Summoning
63 Transmutation Change
64 Wards and Runes Language
65 Water
66 Winter

For example: I assume this location is some sort of memorial for the character since the workers won. Maybe they sabotaged an industrial dumping pipe at that paper factory they worked at. This backed up paper sludge into the factory and destroyed the machinery within. However the factory itself is still in pristine condition under a cocoon of molten paper. I am thinking something like a wasps nest? We need some cool loot for the dungeon so maybe the super condensed paper sludge created some incredibly durable paper in the lower levels of the complex. You could almost mine the paper from there and get the strongest paper known. Perhaps even a +5 Paper.


Another easy step. Find the closest dungeon you have generated and plot the mummified industrial plant there. We know it will have 3 Floors, we can lean into the revolution as an event, we could lean into the art of paper making as a theme, and we know it is placed next to a body of water.


The above procedures are intended to help a referee to get ideas flowing for dungeons and stocking them. I hope this helps y’all out!

I wrote this procedure for this post, so I would love any feedback you all might have. I think moving forward I will keep using the blog as a test-bed for rough procedures. I like the collaborative nature of putting out less fleshed-out rulings and procedures, then discussing with all of you.

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