Meet the Campaign: Bigger Bastionland

If you’ve been around the site for a while, you may know that one of my favorite games in the old-school sphere is Electric Bastionland. Chris McDowall’s game of electropunk weird fantasy is a high watermark in the world of gameable settings, creating the city of Bastion as a thematically consistent setting which still has nearly endless ability to be interpreted, customized, and hacked by players of the game. A city existing right after the discovery of electricity, it is a huge, chaotic place filled with strange beings and objects, unmappable boroughs and streets, and numerous factions, councils, and unions constantly at odds with each other. If that’s not enough, the Underground below, Deep Country surrounding, and the Living Stars above all serve to create a weird world to get lost in.

Electric Bastionland as a game is designed to use as few rules as possible to get everything working, and therefore allow each gaming group flexibility when it comes to which elements of the setting they want to nail down. That said, the game also includes a very clever piece of worldbuilding tech in the form of Borough creation. For a Borough in the city, or an area of the Deep Country or section of the Underground, there are rules for mapping out the key transit routes through the area. These mechanics create a segment of Bastion with a great number of locations and hooks, and one Borough provides more than enough information to start the game.

What I find, though, is that if you want to use Electric Bastionland for a longer game, you’re going to want more than one Borough. It’s quite possible to prep one Borough at a time, let the map expand organically as the characters wander. That said, many people are going to want some form of larger map. While Bastion as a city naturally resists mapping, I think there’s still value in building out a higher level diagram, something that tells you where the bounds of the city are. That’s why I’ve been experimenting with a game creation framework that I call Bigger Bastionland.

The goal of Bigger Bastionland is to help a GM paint a bigger picture of their city of Bastion either prior to starting a campaign, or after the campaign has started but before the players have moved on beyond the first district. The output of Bigger Bastionland is a city of a couple dozen districts, a similar number of zones of the Underground, and between one and four regions of Deep Country. Once this map has been made you can detail each Borough as much or as little as you want; this method expands fractally beyond the generation techniques already in the game but doesn’t contradict any of them.

Generating the Map

In order to generate our Bigger Bastionland while still keeping all the tools within Electric Bastionland useful, we’re going to think about the city as a grid of connected Boroughs. Once you’ve generated this grid, you can generate the Boroughs themselves using the existing guidance in Mapping Bastion (p. 252). This grid is going to be squares; we want each Borough to share at least one side with another Borough. These sides represent transit connections; once the relational map of the city is established you can cleanse, fold, and manipulate the physical geography of your city however you want.

To start, we’re going to place one square, and look at the squares immediately surrounding it. Graph paper is great for this, or you can use an online tool like, which is how I generated this:

For your first step, roll 1d8. There are eight squares surrounding the starting square on the grid, so we’re aiming to see how many Boroughs are immediately surrounding our first one. For my example city, I rolled a four. Now, there are multiple ways to arrange four squares in our larger square, and you can choose whichever you want. I went for an S-shape:

So now we have the start of a city with five Boroughs! This is a little simplistic for Bastion, the city so large that maps are useless. We will continue on by populating additional squares beyond the first. You can choose any of the four contiguous directions, I decided to start by going to the right:

For these next sections, we’re going to slice our nine squares into three slices of three each, and roll 1d4-1. If you roll a 1 and end up with a zero, it means there are no Boroughs in that slice and you go no further. I rolled my d4s and got 2 (1 Borough), 4 (3 Boroughs), and 3 (2 Boroughs). Here’s how our map looks now:

Once again you have some leeway as to which squares become your Boroughs; in that first slice I could have chosen the lower position instead of the middle position, as an example. Now, there are 11 Boroughs, but I still think I can expand a little further. Given the shape I want to see in the city, I’m going to go to the left next:

I’m going to use the same rolls I did for the previous section, 1d4-1 for each slice of three squares. Here, I rolled a 2 (1 Borough) and a 1 (No Boroughs, go no further):

At this point, I’m taking a look at the remaining six larger squares which surrounded the first large square we started with. Unless you want a really sprawling city you likely won’t want to go much further than a starting palette of 9 3×3 squares (for a total of 81 potential Borough locations); as it is it would take a very long campaign to fully explore the 12 Boroughs we have here. Looking at all of these large squares, I only see one with more than one Borough adjacent to it. I’m going to roll for this large square, the lower right-hand corner, and call it a day:

Rolling the dice, I once again get a 2 (One Borough), and a 1 (No Boroughs, go no further):

My city of Bastion has 13 Boroughs, which is a lot of space. Here’s the final map, rotated and without the template grids:

I imagined this Bastion as a peninsula, jutting out into the sea while the upper section was closer to the mainland. As I said, though, this map is intended to tell you which Boroughs are connected to which; your Boroughs not only don’t have to be uniform squares but they really shouldn’t be! Get creative with how you actually want your city map to look once you have this grid-based version as a starting point.

Now that you have your Boroughs, it’s time to start enriching your map. First, number or label your Boroughs, so you can start keeping separate notes about each of them. Next, roll 1d6 for each Borough. As noted on page 255, there are High Boroughs, Low Boroughs, and Broken Boroughs, which each have distinct denizens and hazards. On your 1d6, 1-3 means the Borough is a Low Borough, 4-5 a High Borough, and 6 a Broken Borough. You can adjust the probabilities to taste or override the dice rolls as you see fit; it is your Bigger Bastionland after all.

From here, you should begin sketching out each of your Boroughs. If you’re low on ideas or want to inject some randomness, I recommend using the Spark Table on page 250. Finally, pick one of your Boroughs, any one, and make it the starting point of your game. This is the first Borough you should actually map using the rules; just remember as you draw your transit routes that there need to be exits near the edges of your map to the Boroughs that are adjacent to that one in your Bigger Bastionland. If you need your Bigger Bastionland to be even bigger, first look at the two other major setting areas in Electric Bastionland.

Deep Country and the Underground

The Deep Country and the Underground are perhaps not as primary as Bastion itself, but they are equally filled with danger and mystery, and your Bigger Bastionland should have at least an indication of what’s out there, or under there.

Let’s start with the Deep Country. I just use four directions of the compass rose, and indicate four different areas of Deep Country in those directions. If it’s relevant, one or more of these may be Deep Water instead, as described on p. 263. As I described my Bigger Bastionland above as a peninsula, I may split it up: two areas of Deep Country and two areas of Deep Water. As they come up, you can use the mapping and stocking guidance already in the book, as well as the Spark Table on page 260. If you think you’re going to see your characters head to Deep Country or Deep Water, start by considering two encounters early on: an encounter “In Sight of Bastion’s Smoke” and an encounter “Deeper into the Past”. There are samples on page 265, but what’s most important is to capture that feeling of getting further and further away from the city.

And what about the Underground? The Underground is interminable and, like the city, unmappable, but going deeper can reveal treasures beyond your wildest dreams (or nightmares). For your Bigger Bastionland, I’d start with one third (roughly) of the number of Boroughs you have for zones of the Underground. For my map, then, I’d start with four. These are ‘shallow’ zones. Then, add an equal number of ‘deep’ zones. In terms of transit? I’d make it completely random. I’d roll 1d4 for the number of shallow zones with known entrances to the surface, and I’d choose which Borough and zone connect completely randomly. You can draw them on a grid to make sense of it that way, but the Underground need not conform to Euclidean space in any practical way. All you need to do is make sure that you can somehow get to every shallow zone from every other shallow zone, you can somehow get to every deep zone from every other deep zone, you can somehow transition from shallow to deep, and you can somehow get to the surface. Also consider that reaching the Underground is something that may change or expand over the course of the game. The Underground is a weird, dangerous place, and it simply resists being mapped even more than Bastion itself, which must at the end of the day exist on the surface in something at least resembling an ordered way.

In summary:

  1. Start with a 3×3 grid, the square in the middle is your first Borough.
  2. Roll 1d8 and tag a number of Boroughs surrounding your first that is equal to your die roll.
  3. Add another 3×3 grid in one of the four cardinal directions (up, down, left, right) which has at least one Borough on the edge. Roll 1d4-1 for each three-square slice, moving from closest to the previous grid to farthest. If you roll a 1 on the die (for a result of zero), you are done.
  4. Repeat for as many adjacent grids as you would like; I’d recommend doing at least two and no more than the first adjacent layer of eight.
  5. Once you’re done, rotate your map however you want and label each of your Boroughs (1,2,3,A,B,C, whatever labeling system works for you).
  6. Mark four areas of Deep Country in the four cardinal directions. Choose whether they’re Deep Country or Deep Water.
  7. Add a number of zones of Underground equal to roughly two-thirds of your Borough count; half of these should be Shallow and half should be Deep. Connect these zones in whatever arbitrary, random, or confusing way you want, just make sure there is at least one way to get from Shallow to Deep and at least one way to get to the Surface.

From here, you can start planting some seeds. As I mentioned above the Spark Tables can be a great help, but keep writing, brainstorming, and yes, conspiring as the game goes on. Rumors, encounters, and character elements are all great touchpoints to connect to something in a farflung Borough, giving your players reason to travel. As these Boroughs make it into play (and before that), think about who’s in charge, who thinks they’re in charge, and how these organizations relate to each other and to the characters. And, if you ever wanted to bring in more faction shenanigans, a Bigger Bastionland is a great way to do it.

Electric Bastionland has some amazing mapping and setting generation mechanics, and Bigger Bastionland gives you opportunities to use them even more and make your Bastion host to grander adventures. Have you used Electric Bastionland for a longer campaign? Did you use a framework like Bigger Bastionland, something else, or nothing at all? We want to hear about it! Reach out on Twitter, our Discord, or down below in the comments about your Electric Bastionland experiences. We’ll be back with more ideas, frameworks, and campaign seeds next time on Meet the Campaign!

Like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and want to help us bring games and gamers together? First, you can follow me @LevelOneWonk on Twitter for RPG commentary, relevant retweets, and maybe some rambling. You can also find our Discord channel and drop in to chat with our authors and get every new post as it comes out. You can travel to DriveThruRPG through one of our fine and elegantly-crafted links, which generates credit that lets us get more games to work with! Finally, you can support us directly on Patreon, which lets us cover costs, pay our contributors, and save up for projects. Thanks for reading!

One thought on “Meet the Campaign: Bigger Bastionland”

  1. Hey all, I’ve made a small tweak to this procedure as I’ve been getting ready to prep my own Electric Bastionland campaign. Instead of rolling 1d8 for the first 3×3 grid, roll 2d4. The middle of the results range is the most interesting, and this change to the die roll makes it come up more often. Hope you all find this useful!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.