So, most people know that the premise of the hexcrawl is pretty much a central and fundamental factor in a "sandbox" style campaign. The sandbox being, a world within which your PCs are free to explore, plunder, and do with as they wish at their own discretion. Now, I could go on in another entire direction here discussing the elements of the sandbox as a whole, but right now I'm just focusing on the fundamentals of a hexcrawl and the basic elements to start one.
There are hundreds of posts on forums and blogs that go into much greater detail into the fine art of designing a hexcrawl and world building than what I will offer up here. Rob Conley, for example, has a fantastic series of posts going in depth on world building and designing your hexcrawl campaign worlds. Even if you don't plan on using his method, I'd still highly recommend having a read through because there is a ton of valuable information in those posts. There are others as well to be sure, and chances are if you're reading this, you have your own ideas of the best ways to go about designing a hexcrawl. By no means is the method I am suggesting, or the advice I am offering the ONLY way to design such, it's just MY way of doing so. It works for me. Maybe it will work for you as well.
As I noted in my first entry, the first step is to draw a map. Sounds pretty simple. If you're like me, however, designing great maps can be frustrating. I've drawn hundreds over the years, and never seem satisfied with the results. There are all sorts of theories that go behind world building and terrain placement relative to regions, etc. I'm just going to keep things simple for this exercise. You might opt to sketch out a rough drawing of your map on a scrap piece of paper beforehand, or maybe you just want to wing it. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I'm going to focus on designing the hexcrawl using the least amount of effort initially. If you're like me, you already have a busy life, and while designing campaign worlds is a great way to spend your time as a hobby, you don't want to spend countless hours on world building and writing up histories and details about far away and distant lands your PCs might never encounter. One basic rule of campaign design for me: focus on the immediate areas/regions my PCs will be engaged in prior to each session.
So, let's get right down to business then. The first step is to get the initial hex map ready for where you're going to start the campaign. You can either print a blank one out and draw in the details yourself, or use a program like hexographer to do it on the computer. In this exercise I'm going to just use hexographer. Now, mind you, it will take some time playing around with this to get the full use of the program, but the free version is an excellent utility for mapmaking and comes highly recommended.
In the first step, we'll start out very basic here. Enough to get your wheels turning and start getting you ready for that first session. Whether you printed off a map, or are using hexographer, or any other utility, you always want to start your mapping for the campaign from the center most hex. This way, as your players explore in whatever directions they might choose, you have plenty of room to go in and add features to your already existing map.
To make things simple, let's simply start out with 7 hexes, with each hex equal to 6 miles. One center hex, and 6 surrounding hexes.
|7 starting hexes|
|Our original hexes with some areas for the PCs to explore|
04.04 Windholm - Small fishing village located along the Southling River. Population 80. Ruled by a town council of elders led by Sumerus Halfhand (LG hf9)
Of course, the above is simply an example. You want to write out as much detail as possible in your notes. You might want to consider drawing a map of the village, or just doing a short write-up of the major locations your PCs are likely to encounter (inns, taverns, etc.) and the NPCs they are likely to interact with. No need to get too crazy with the details though. It doesn't matter if Farmer Goldenwheat has a bag of 10 silver pieces hidden under a hay pile in the barn. These things are simply filler and can be made up in the game as you go. Focus on the important stuff, and go from there.
In the next post, I'll talk about fleshing out the areas for your party to explore, getting them to learn about the areas, and a bit about traveling to them.