Tuesday, February 9, 2021


Construction on York Minster Cathedral was finished in 1472, having begun c. 1220. For two-hundred and fifty years, the unfinished cathedral was a part of the city, an ongoing project longer than the life of any one person. In that time it brought in specialists and materials from far away and gave work and benefit to the locals.1


This toolbox is intended to quickly sketch a settlement defined by its largest ongoing project. The locals are building something massive, and this is hopefully a shortcut to intrigue and conflict.

What is it? (1d20)

  1. Amphitheater
  2. Bridge
  3. Canal
  4. Casino
  5. Cathedral
  6. Fortress
  7. Greenhouse
  8. Lighthouse (warning, beacon)
  9. Necropolis
  10. Observatory (telescope, supercollider, lookout)
  11. Palace
  12. Power Plant (wind, solar, nuclear, hydro)
  13. Pyramid
  14. Reservoir
  15. Roads
  16. Ship
  17. Stepwell
  18. Tower
  19. Tunnel
  20. Wall

How far along is it?2 (1d12)

  1. Design
  2. Surveying
  3. Permitting
  4. Site Clearance
  5. Excavation
  6. Foundations
  7. Rough Structure
  8. Exteriors
  9. Interiors
  10. Finishing
  11. Cleanup
  12. Warranty Period

What's the hold-up? (1d10)

  1. Beasts
  2. Beaurocrats
  3. Errors
  4. Funding
  5. Holidays
  6. Ill Omen
  7. Labor (shortage, strike)
  8. Materials (quality, supply)
  9. Plague
  10. Vandals

Why build this? (1d8)

  1. Convenience
  2. Defense
  3. Memorial
  4. Religion
  5. Research
  6. Spite
  7. Tourism
  8. Vanity

Who's building it? (1d6)

  1. Condemned Criminals
  2. Locals
  3. Military
  4. Refugees
  5. Slaves
  6. Sleepwalkers

Secret (1d4)

  1. Corruption in sourcing or labor
  2. Design is of occult significance
  3. Roll a second, hidden purpose (1d8)
  4. None

Thanks to David Macaulay.

1 I assume some of this, but it seems reasonable.back

2 Following the example of a cathedral, the barest functional parts may or may not be completed already.back


  1. My rolls: 5, 10, 10, 5, 1, 3(4)

    I might have accidentally gotten the most prosaic results your table offers.

    Okay, so this town is very nearly finished building its cathedral. The construction work is being performed by convicted criminals, and the final stages are going slowly because vandals keep sabotaging it at night, sometimes wiping out several days of progress at a time.

    The cathedral is officially being built for research purposes, but is secretly being built for religious purposes. Hmm...

    Okay, so this is village is in an avowedly atheistic principality. The people worship Reason and other abstract intellectual virtues. Two professors teamed up to get the grant funding from the state to build this thing.

    One claims it as an exercise in architectural history, a reconstruction of older building techniques for purely illustrative purposes. (Secretly, this professor hopes to use the finished cathedral to restart the Old Religion, possibly under the guise of reenactments.)

    The other professor is ALSO conducting research, in this case, on the moral effects of beneficial labor on the behavior of prisoners. (This professor also figured out what the other one is up to, and so has hired recently released ex-convicts to help prevent the building from being finished until the secret religious plans can be exposed to the public.)

    1. Nice! I like the dueling professors, and I'm glad you could still make sense out of the rolls. My test run gave me this project:
      This town is divided by a wide river, with criscrossing wooden bridges built on some small rocky islands. It's General Aiken's home town, so they're building a massive stome bridge across it to commemorate his military victories. Currently they've got the piers laid down and rough scaffolding between them, but more stone for the bridge itself has to be imported from the conquered territories. The workers themselves are slaves bright back from the conquered territories, and are secretly working curses into the foundations of the bridge.
      It's a little more static than I'd hoped, but it does supply a lot of detail and mood.

    2. Very moody for sure! I assume having curse-ghosts fly out of the bridge foundations and start breaking other nearby bridges or wrecking ships that try to pass underneath would liven things up.

  2. 8, 6, 5, 4, 6, 4

    Inland outpost of a civilization with deep ancestral and religious ties to the sea. They're constructing a lighthouse far from sight of any body of water because to them these structures are not simply beacons for ships, but also beacons that guide protector spirits to where the faithful need them.

    Construction is paused tonight. It is the Feast of All Souls, and everyone must stay awake all night long to ward away malicious spirits, and give guidance to those who are lost. Because the sacred stones of the foundation can only be laid by sleepwalkers, there are thus no workers to continue construction tonight.