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Discworld RPG may include procedurally generated Ankh-Morpork

Modiphius' new Discworld tabletop RPG may let you procedurally generate parts of Terry Pratchett's city, boss Chris Birch tells Wargamer.

Discworld RPG Ankh-Morpork map procedural generation - Discworld Emporium image showing part of the Ankh-Morpork street map, overlaid with the official Forty Years of Discworld icon, featuring the great A'Tuin

Modiphius’ new tabletop Discworld RPG could well allow players to procedurally generate sections of the titular city of Ankh-Morpork in a bid to preserve the eccentric mystery of Terry Pratchett’s famous fantasy metropolis, the publisher’s founder Chris Birch has revealed to Wargamer.

In a recent interview with Wargamer, Birch says Ankh-Morpork is the natural center for the Discworld RPG, which it announced just last week – “because so much was written about the city – there’s a lot more we know about the city than we know about the rest of the Disc”.

But he says the team is being cautious not to go too far in mapping and gamifying the gigantic, sprawling city where so many of the dozens of Discworld novels are set, mindful that it could take more away from the game than it adds.

“You’ve got to be careful about that,” he tells us. “I know Terry resisted having maps for a long time, and then gave in and did maps. As soon as you map something, you do lose a lot of the mystery – that sense that over in the east, it’s really dangerous, and in the west, it’s this or that, and you get lost in the streets.”

“It’s like going to Venice,” he explains. “You walk and walk, and every few minutes you open up to another square, and another cool coffee shop. It’s wonderful; it feels like magic; it feels like you’re discovering this hedge maze of buildings.”

Discworld RPG Ankh-Morpork map procedural generation - Modiphius official logo for Terry Pratchett's Discworld Adventures in Ankh Morpork

The necessities of playable tabletop RPGs can easily pull writers and designers towards more specific, encyclopaedic mapping and structure, though – and Birch says Modiphius is considering different ways to strike the right balance between gaming needs and narrative mystery.

“I think people will want to be able to move around on a map and know, like, where do we go to meet Vimes?” he says.

“But I think it’s a bit like writing ‘Here be dragons’ on the sea. You’ve got to have a sense that there are dangerous areas, where anything can happen, and you’ll have to draw your own map once you get there.

“I like that idea,” he adds. “You know, the maps that have been done, there’s not huge amounts of places called out on them – we can leave a bit to mystery.”

And Birch tells Wargamer that Modiphius is considering squaring this design challenge with procedural generation.

The idea is to hand game masters and players a flexible system that’ll let them not only generate their own original Discworld stories within the RPG – but entirely new maps of Ankh-Morpork as well.

Discworld RPG Ankh-Morpork map procedural generation - Josh Kidby artwork showing a huge crowd of Discworld characters including the Librarian

“I like the idea of procedural generation,” says Birch. “There’s no way we can write a new RPG adventure set in Ankh-Morpork, which is all new characters and new plot, because we’re not Terry.

“But what we can do is give people the tools to generate very Pratchett-like types of stories from procedurally generated content – basic plot generators – that they then fill in the gaps of and tell their own story.”

“We might look at how we do that with the map, too,” he explains. “is some of the map procedurally generated? Do you as a group help generate your own bit of Ankh-Morpork?

“That’s one of the things we’ll be figuring out – because the city is so key to this book, it’s got to feel like Terry’s hand is still guiding us, going ‘don’t draw that!’”

Birch reckons this open-ended approach could both do a better job of preserving the weird, unknowable warrens of Ankh-Morpork in the Discworld mythos, and deliver a quirky unpredictability that’s true to the city’s spirit in the books.

Discworld RPG Ankh-Morpork map procedural generation - Discworld Emporium image showing part of the Ankh-Morpork doodle map, overlaid with the official Forty Years of Discworld icon, featuring the great A'Tuin

“I mean, you look at the map of the city on the Discworld Emporium, and you’ve got the biggest streets marked out, and there’s a few districts, a few streets, and names and stuff,” he says.

“But there’s a lot of streets that don’t have names, and you could assume that there’s large city blocks that are representative of what’s there, but actually all that stuff was demolished three years ago and no one submitted the planning applications.

“There’s all sorts of ideas you can use to go: ‘well, that’s kind of roughly what the map was’ – but once you get there, it might have changed.”

The name of the game here, unsurprisingly, is bridging the gap between Modiphius’ input as game designers; Pratchett’s carefully constructed setting and theme; and the functionally unlimited creativity of players.

“We don’t want to tie people down too much,” Birch says earnestly.

“It could just be that we say: that’s Terry’s map – use that as a starting point and fill in your map as you go for your version of Ankh-Morpork.”

“It’s figuring out what is the gameplay that’s fun, that feels like you’re at the table with Terry, and he’s helping you game master,” he adds – “What would have been Terry’s choices, you know?”

“So it’s a real tricky and creatively interesting tightrope we’ve got to walk.”

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld: Adventures in Ankh-Morpork is headed to Kickstarter crowdfunding in late 2024, and Modiphius is currently running a fan survey to collect data, preferences, and opinions about how the game should work.

We’ve got a lot more juicy Discworld RPG information to share from our one-hour chat with Chris Birch, so stick with Wargamer to find out more over the course of this week.

In the meantime, Modiphius has just announced it’s also releasing a brand new Mass Effect board game in 2024, so sci-fi fans should check that out post-haste. And another high-profile tabletop videogame adaptation has tasty news, as we’ve seen the very first Halo miniature game spartans revealed.

For more TTRPG inspiration, check out our guides on how to be a DM, and the best DnD one shots. For comparison with the mighty Ankh-Morpork, we’ve also got a guide to the most famous DnD cities.