Friday, September 09, 2011

Hex Mapping Part 14: What do I See?

Whether you’ve opted to be a traditionalist and allow your players a few levels in the dungeon, or just decided to throw them straight into a hex crawl, eventually you’re going to have to deal with what, exactly, is in these hexes that we’ve mapped out. Six-mile hexes made sense in terms of long distance travel. In terms of what someone standing on the ground can see, however, they are absolutely absurd.

Our hex map is a gross abstraction. This is where you see the greatest divergence between a hex crawl and a traditional West Marches campaign. In a West Marches map it’s very important to mark minute details of the terrain since that is how the PCs are going to navigate across it. It’s very much a matter of moving from the river to the old, twisted oak, past the toppled menhir towards the ragged ridge.

Hex crawling is not like this at all. The basic unit of time measurement in hex-crawling is not the round or the minute or even the hour, but the day. The scale is not about searching for lost children or combing through forests to find a hidden shrine. It is more on par with the movements of armies, the interactions of nations, and the journeys of explorers.

Your hex map is a tool for improvisation but it cannot answer the question, “What do we see?” It can help you answer that question, and that’s exactly what it’s for. But it’s only a help. The DM of a hex crawl needs to be ready to fill in the fine details from the gross generalizations.

So what can be in a six-mile hex? Doc Rotwang turned to his own neighborhood to answer what could be found in a one-mile hex. I’m going to turn to history for my example. Specifically, what existed in Sherwood Forest?

We have a fairly good idea of the boundaries of Sherwood Forest because the term “forest” was more legal than botanical in medieval England. Using the 1232 borders (unfortunately many years after the death of King John, and so probably after the notorious banditry that would’ve inspired the legend of Robin Hood) we can see that it was roughly 6 miles wide and 24 miles north-to-south. This makes it almost perfectly fit four of our 6-mile hexes stacked atop each other. And what could a traveler in 13th century England expect to find in Sherwood Forest?

According to our map, the following: fourteen towns and villages, three abbeys, five hunting lodges, and three castles. Hardly a deserted and desolate place, even when not harboring a band of Merry Men.

This, then, is the other beauty of the six-mile hex. It’s literally big enough for you to put damn near anything you need in it, from a hidden bandit camp to a lost castle everyone forgot was there. The gross details we’ve plotted on our map are the things that are obvious: the large communities, the dominant terrain, that sort of thing. If you suddenly need a pond or a strange outcropping of mystical crystals, or the pillar of a cranky, misanthropic living saint, there’s more than enough room in each hex for you to include it. Suddenly dropping in a mountain with a 100-foot carving of a skull in its cliff-face might be a bit much, but short of that there’s lots of room for improvisation, the inclusion of new material (like a recently purchased adventure module), or whatever your random tables generate.

Next time, we’ll talk about more about random tables, since they’ll be your best friends when it comes to spicing up the PCs’ journeys across our hexed terrain.


richard said...

...and then there's the 30 mile hex and the 72 mile sea-hex, both of which seem more appropriate to American West and Atlantic exploration* than wandering around the settled world. I've just been toying with 6 mile hexes on the Greek islands and it actually works quite well for seacrawling there, but as you note, you'd clearly need a different scale for dealing with any individual island: nobody on the ground really thinks in terms of hexes.

* which, BTW, is what I think D&D's "true" home environment is (notwithstanding all our previous discussions about what period D&D is supposed to be and all that).

richard said...

...and then I went back and started reading your whole series. Sorry about the irrelevant comment.

trollsmyth said...

Richard: No harm and no foul. :) I went ahead and added in a link to the earlier post where I committed to six-mile hexes and why.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link to Sherwood Forrest - I'd just been wondering about how many hex maps it would fill. :)

While I like the look of hex maps with icons, I think for most of the games I run the 1 square = 300' format is probably a lot more useful.

trollsmyth said...

Stuart: My pleasure. I was quite pleased when I stumbled across it, and it fit perfectly what I wanted to talk about.

Yeah, hex maps are really about gross overland exploration and travel. They work great if you want to really eat some miles, and are not so hot if you're looking for a more intimate understanding of and interaction with the terrain.