Chatting with a friend about Scott’s recent discussion of hex maps at “Huge Ruined Pile” it was pointed out to me that there’s really not a good, step-by-step description of how to use hex maps in a game. Yeah, the reaction you likely just had was the same as mine, but trust me, there’s a heck of lot we take for granted. The early versions of D&D did such a poor job of explaining what it was about that lots of folks thought nothing about removing EXP for treasure, wandering monsters, or not tracking the passage of time.
So, just to be complete (or anal, take your pick), I’d like to go through the process here of building and using a hex map, integrating it with creating and running a campaign. I’m going to try not to skip stuff and take it for granted, but if anything is unclear or just vague, feel free to call me out on it.
Now, you could just toss hexes entirely, but like square grids for dungeon maps, they do help organize and simplify mapping for you and your players. This is vital if you’re doing a hex-crawl style game like a West Marches campaign. Keeping things nice and regular simplifies everyone's lives. Especially since a hard-core hex-crawl is going to do all sorts of things to mess with the players’ maps already.
I guess I should back up here and explain what I’m talking about. A hex-crawl is like a dungeon crawl without walls. You’re outdoors, moving from hex-to-hex, mapping the wilderness, fleeing from (or occasionally fighting) monsters, and looking for treasure and dungeons to loot. Players can (and will) move in any direction. The big challenge for them is judging how far they can get on their supplies (and, in this case, supplies mean hit points and spells as much as they mean food and water). Misjudge the issue, and they could end up expiring before returning to safety.
The fun is the joy of exploration, of overcoming the open-ended challenges of natural terrain, logistics, and risk-to-reward balancing. It’s not for everyone, and some are just as happy to go straight from the tavern right to the dungeon (Ptolus is largely based on this simplicity). But it adds a whole new dimension to your typical dungeon-based play that offers players all sorts of extra flexibility and choices, and generally, that’s a great thing in an old-school game.
Next time, we’ll talk about scale and terrain.
UPDATE:And it’s just been pointed out to me that the original West Marches game didn’t use hexes! Xp Ben Robbins apparently felt that hexes make people think they’ve fully explored an area when they’d filled in the hex. True, but I’ll stick by them; they make all sorts of things much easier. We’ll get into more detail on this later.