Friday, December 4, 2009

How I Hexcrawl


Here are some notes from a 2007 Wilderlands campaign journal detailing how I prep my hexcrawls for the Wilderlands of High Fantasy (JG).

Typically, I would gauge where the players were likely to travel, between point A and point B, and make a quick list of what was probably going to be in each hex. I was also very strict about the players maintaing the proper provisions, pack animals, etc, so I'd be sure to know how much resources would be needed.

With wandering monsters, I like to have certain "iconic" monsters for each area (such as werewolves in the Blighted Forest and Ankhegs in the Sunken Hills, etc), rather than a mixed bag, as it gives those areas a more distinct flavor. I would then assign a chance for an encounter based on my perceived density of the local monster population. I try to use a lot of mid-powered creatures when possible, because its easy to scale them to the party's power level by simply adjusting their numbers (ie 1 ogre for a 1st-lvl party, a band of ogres for a higher level party etc).

Here's an example of a hex-crawl prep-sheet from the back-water Altanis town of Zothay, to the secretive Elven city of Onhir, as the players were going to return some freed slaves. The numbers refer to the map (Altanis is Map 8) and the specific hex number, and I usually note the general region the hex falls into (Arthiop Mud Flats, etc).

Part One:
Black Iron Band
Hex Crawl: Zothay to Bellystone Ford via Zothay Trail (Map8, Barbarian Altanis)
6 Hexes: 8-3711, 8-3710, 8-3609, 8-3509, 8-3408, 8-3308.
Total Distance: 30 Leagues (5 Leagues per hex)
Travel Time: 1 hour/league/on horseback, 10 leagues/day, 3 days.

Party Size: 36humanoid(6PCs, 30freedslaves), 14livestock(6 riding horses, 2packhorses, 6wagonhorses), 3wagons.
Food needed: 108man-days, 42horse-days worth.

8-3711: Zothay Trail/Arthiop Mud Flats. The swamp encroaches closer to the Zothay Trail every year, and the damp stones are always haunted by clouds of biting midges and flies. Slime trails criss-cross the road for several miles. Encounter Chance: 40%.
Encounter: Giant Slug
Giant Slugs have haunted this stretch of road for years now, finding food ever scarcer in the swamps due to the rapidly increasing population of lizardmen.

8-3710: Zothay Trail/Arthiop Mud Flats. The swamp encroaches closer to the Zothay Trail every year, and the damp stones are always haunted by clouds of biting midges and flies. Slime trails criss-cross the road for several miles. Encounter Chance: 40%.
Encounter: Giant Slug
Giant Slugs have haunted this stretch of road for years now, finding food ever scarcer in the swamps due to the rapidly increasing population of lizardmen.

8-3609: Zothay Trail/Batstone Bridge. An ancient bridge spans the Murmering Stream here, each block of purplish-black stone bearing the weathered imprint of a stylized bat. Encounter Chance: 100%
Encounter: Rufus the Swamp Troll
Rufus lives under Batstone Bridge and will attempt to charge tolls to anyone crossing the bridge that does not appear to be a resident of Zothay. He only charges 5gp per traveler, and will take less from obviously poor travelers. Most travelers find it easier to pay the toll than to face the crackling javelin of lightning Rufus holds aloft while demanding his toll. Rufus is not too unpleasant for a troll, and converses merrily with those he robs, though he often includes someone named Clem in his discussions (like, "Wow, Clem, lookit this pretty necklace!"). Clem was Rufus's brother, and was killed several years ago by a war-party from Zothay, which is why such warriors now pass free of charge. Rufus would welcome a chance to cause them mischief, though, as long as his personal risk is minimal

8-3509: Zothay Trail/River Mageven. The north bank of this wide stagnant river is always swarming with clouds of biting flies and midges. The stink from the river is nauseating. Encounter Chance: 40%
Encounter: 2-5Belabras
Belabras, large floating jellyfish, hover through this area, scooping up whole swarms of flying insects for sustenance. They have no problem with tackling larger prey when it presents itself.

8-3408: Zothay Trail/River Mageven. The north bank of this wide stagnant river is always swarming with clouds of biting flies and midges. The stink from the river is nauseating. Encounter Chance: 40%
Encounter: 2-5Belabras
Belabras, large floating jellyfish, hover through this area, scooping up whole swarms of flying insects for sustenance. They have no problem with tackling larger prey when it presents itself.

8-3308: Bellystone Ford. Encounter Chance: 75%.
Encounter: Patrol from South March Citadel. Dujik Panpipes (Bard4 w/Wand of Hideous Laughter(12 charges)), 4 Veterans (Ftr2,chain, l.shield,longsword,heavy crossbow), 8 Men-at-arms (HD1, Sd.leather, l.shield,handaxe,javelin).
Water at ford unusually high for this time of year, crossing takes 1/2hour, roll extra encounter chance during crossing.
Dujik Panpipes is friendly, but thorough. Will demand search of partys posessions: coinage in excess of 100gp per individual will be taxed 5%, illegal substances or items will be seized, names of characters will be recorded. Dujik will accept a bribe of 50gp per individual to forgo his search. Will use force if needed.

Of course, the actual notes in my journal aren't quite so neat, but the above gives you a good idea of what my shorthand info means. I've found that just a quick sentence or two of description for each hex can really help me expand more greatly in-play than I would going into it blindly, and takes only a few minutes of prep-time.

11 comments:

  1. Thanks this should be helpful to a lot of folks.

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  2. indeed it is, Rob (and Al). I appreciate this primer a great deal.
    -Geleg

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  3. actually a question does occur to me .... the percentage chance for encounter, is that for the iconic monster/npc of that hex, or for *any* random encounter (of which the iconic might be one). In other words, how do you incorporate random tables into this formula (or maybe you don't)?

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  4. @Rick - The percentage chance is *typically* for an encounter with the prevailing monster type of the area. If I'm bored with that, or want a non-combat encounter like a traveling tinker or a freak thunderstorm or whatever, then I can change things up pretty arbitrarily;) I use a *lot* of randomization, but typically before a session, during prep, rather than in-game, unless the players have gotten extremely far off the beaten path, which does happen.

    Even in those cases, I usually have a pretty big backlog of sandbox/hexcrawl stuff that went unused in previous sessions/campaigns. It pays to keep a notebook or campaign journal - I often create more stuff then I need for a given session, and the leftovers give me lots of material to handle surprises with.

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  5. I should also note that while a lot of DMs will prep a wandering monster table for a region with say a half-dozen monsters, I really like picking one monster type per small area. When the players catch on, they start to come up with all kinds of ways to avoid, trap, exploit, or gain some sort of combat advantage over the local predators/pests. Its amazing how a little thing like this can really get players invested in their campaign setting.

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  6. Very insightful, thanks for this post.

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  7. thanks, Al. I appreciate the clarification. I like your strategy a great deal.

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  8. Wonderful stuff, Al. It's lovely to see another DM's take on a familiar region of the Wilderlands. My PC's recently headed north from Zothay, inbound to the Citystate, as caravan guards. Travelling with the caravan was a mysterious covered wagon full of Sathar cultists of Tsathoggus, migrating to the Mermist Marshes due to the blossoming population of those same Lizardmen. Intrigue ensued when fellow traveller's began disappearing in the night. The crumbling Old South Road is certainly iconic in my campaign...

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  9. Interesting emergent behavior with the one monster type/small area system, I'll have to experiment with that.

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  10. Great stuff indeed, and timely--my next D&D game is set to be a bit of a mini-hexcrawl in the Wilderlands too!

    I like the switch from miles to leagues on the hex scale; I may have to use that.

    And like others have said, the use of iconic monsters is a great idea. I use the encounter table Kellri assembled in his Encounter Reference PDF, and I think I'll use this idea whenenver "Encounter" comes up on the table.

    Thanks!

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  11. I bet a programmer could make an encounter generator for hexes. A DM could select the type of terrain and the lvl/# of encounters, then the code could output monsters and maybe even some art.

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