2015-04-30 Hexcrawling

Chris Kutalik has been writing about his campaign: Small is Beautiful in the Sandbox and Rethinking Domain-Level Play in the Hill Cantons. Those two topics have been on my mind as well, lately.

Let’s talk about the sandbox, first. Chris has written about the problem before: The Unbearable Dullness of D&D Wilderness. The way I handle it is still the same hexcrawl procedure I used in 2012:

  1. When the players enter a new region, prepare a new random encounter table with eight to ten entries. See the Swiss Referee Style Manual for more information.
  2. Players tell me where they want to go. Roll 1d6 for a daylight encounter and 1d6 for a nighttime encounter for every hex traveled. Combine encounters if that spices things up.

I’ve recently started a new campaign. Here’s how I did it.

First, I got myself a hex map. I created this one using Text Mapper:

  1. visit https://alexschroeder.ch/text-mapper
  2. click Random
  3. click Submit

Repeat until you like what you’re seeing. The random terrain is generated using the Welsh Piper’s algorithm as described in Erin D. Smale’s Hex Based Campaign Design, Part 1; the icons are based on the Gnomeyland SVG Map Icons by Gregory B. MacKenzie.

This is the regional map I got:

https://alexschroeder.ch/pics/16271169809_9b96084a24_b.jpg

On this map, I placed a city, a few towns, a few lairs, a few resources – all according to the setup suggestions in An Echo Resounding. Unfortunately I can’t show them to you because they’re secret, but I did print out this map and use little stickers to help me picture it all, in the top right corner:

https://alexschroeder.ch/pics/16462903275_6761bd57b1_b.jpg

Then I picked the starting location for my adventures and added some details:

https://alexschroeder.ch/pics/16269720738_3ddf1b8507_b.jpg

I added some taverns, a ruler, a keep and some guilds to the starting town and wrote it up: Greyheim.

The city of Greyheim boasts of the following:

  • a river harbor
  • the keep where Lady Kyle resides; she will hear complaints and remonstrances on Mondays, hear cases and pronounce sentences on Tuesdays, and witness any executions on Wednesdays; she’ll be out hunting every afternoon
  • Singing Mermaid, the harbor inn, for dockers, rafters, knaves and gamblers
  • Trader’s Rest, the inn for merchants and successful dungeon delvers
  • Haversack, the run-down inn for peasants und luckless dungeon delvers
  • a temple of Freya, goddess of fertility, harvest, health, fighting, furs, winter, wolves, and many other things besides
  • the Porter’s Guild House where you can hire torchbearers and other hirelings
  • the Adventurer’s Guild House where you can find new companions and exchange news
  • the Halfling Help Harmony is a self-help organization for halflings; they meet for Sunday brunch at each other’s homesteads in the area around Greyheim, talk about politics, collect money for halflings in need

If you’re a thief, you’ll know where to find the following:

  • the Thieves’ Guild House where you can report new targets, fence stolen goods and get new tools

I had also picked the location of our first dungeon and determined that travel to and fro would be safe, at first. Nevertheless, I could not resist writing an encounter table for the Elderberry Forest:

Roll 1d6 once per day and once per night. There’s an encounter on a 1. In that case, roll 1d6, add 3 during the day and consult the following list:

  1. a darkness of shadows (1-12), guarding an old ruin
  2. a horde of orcs (10-60), roaming the forest
  3. the black cat of night (1), hunting
  4. a pack of wolves (3-18), hunting
  5. a company of dwarves (5-40), travelling through
  6. a group of elves (2-12), on a spying mission
  7. an arse of bandits (10-40), out to rob some rich folk
  8. an aerie of harpies (2-8), hunting
  9. a sloth of bears (1-4, in summer, ⅙ of the time including the wandering druid) / shadows (1-12, in winter)

Remember to use reaction tables when encountering these. Remember to provide warning signs when approaching larger groups (sound, smoke, smell).

So what does that give us?

What An Echo Resounding gives us on top of that:

But, as Chris says in one of his blog posts, there’s always the danger of these systems turning “boardgamey” or “beancounterly.” I recently mentioned on Google+ that I wasn’t happy with how An Echo Resounding was going:

How do you run your name level classic D&D campaigns?

I’ve been running An Echo Resounding for my group and they say they like it. I think they like it because they get monthly tales of what their neighbors are doing and maybe once a year there is a big battle. I’m sure they also like having champion levels and getting their own units. I run a domain turn every four sessions. Our sessions are short (about 3h) and we have a full table practically every time (6 players) and players will run multiple characters (2–3) and they’re all getting into champion levels. That’s why the player faction is huge, by now. That means I’ve been expanding the map and I’ve started thinking about adding more domains that can band together and pose a new challenge. At the same time, I fear the bookkeeping. So, what am I to do? I certainly won’t move into a more detailed system like Adventure Conqueror King. Are there alternatives to just winging it? Should I simply fall back to the Rules Cyclopedia, using the War Machine, hiring armies using gold, securing allies using boons and favors? Or should I buy Other Dust? I hear that it has a chapter that goes into Groups. Apocalypse World fronts? How much effort is it to run? I’ve heard speak about Other Dust. Anybody else?

To give you an idea of my game, here are some links to my German campaign wiki.

The first section lists the output of sages the players hired; the second section is monsters and the like from lairs as per An Echo Resounding; the third section is other domains taking their turns as per An Echo Resounding; the fourth section is the player domain taking their two turns; the last section is a list of open plots.

I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed and now I need a way to reduce the work load.

Andy Bartlett said:

If your PC domain is growing in power, is it time for some of the smaller NPC domains to fade into obscurity, at least as far as dicing out their actions is concerned?

Kevin Crawford said:

When player domains start to become big fish in small ponds, you generally just want to increase the pond size. Are they the hegemon in their region? Okay—scale everything up, as given in the advice on page 43 of the book. Their multi-location domain becomes a single site on a now-larger mapboard, where their competitors are a relative handful of other equal-sized regional hegemons, with old rival domains turning into single locations with flavor text, an appropriate Obstacle, and no further existence under the domain rules. That’s what I’d do in your shoes.

I don’t know. That would allow me to drop the smaller domains, but the larger domains would continue with the endless lists of assets and units. I think this is the point where I’m starting to like Chris Kutalik’s approach he described in Rethinking Domain-Level Play in the Hill Cantons:

NPC advisers carrying and hiding most of the actual domain business (by being “clicked on”) and presenting decision points that gave players choice without swamping the site-based adventure that is D&D’s main thing.

I’ll have to think of something.

Tags: Sandbox

Comments

Nice work! I’ve been really getting into hexcrawls lately and been working on a starting area for an upcoming campaign so this is right up my alley.

Vincent Frey 2015-05-01 04:15 UTC


Cool. And good luck with the new blog. :)

– Alex Schroeder 2015-05-01 14:52 UTC


Thanks!

Vincent Frey 2015-05-02 03:24 UTC


Back in 2013 I added a comment to this old blog post linking to John Bell’s hex crawling procedure; he also left a comment. Today I saw that he reposted his procedure: A Procedure for Exploring the Wilderness Redux.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-05-07 21:29 UTC


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