Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hexcrawling and Its Fundamental Use in Old School DnD Part 3

Previous entries: Part 1, Part 2.

In the last entry, I discussed creating the first 7 hexes including the starting location (usually a village or city, but could be any civilized area/feature) which is in the center, and at least 3 interesting locations outside of the starting location to explore.

Our starting map with 3 locations to explore

So, this next step requires a little bit of prep time, but don't spend too much time on any of the 3 locations (unless you have the time to do so, that is).  We know we have some sort of tower in hex 04.05, a ruin in 05.03, and a monster lair of some sort in 04.03.  This is the time for some brainstorming.  If you've already taken the time to think of some places/NPCs your PCs are likely to encounter in the starting village (inns, taverns, local lords, sages, etc.) now is the time to start tying them into the surrounding locations.

Why do the NPCs know about the monster lair?  Perhaps it is the home of an ogre who has been pillaging the farms of Windholm at night?  Maybe the spot of a local group of bandits who have been hijacking merchants passing through, effecting the commerce in the village.  Obviously these are quick and simple ideas, but they are presented to give you an example.  Find some way to tie these locations into your starting location.

Jot down some starting notes on each location based on their hex:

04.03 - Lair of Hedgemog the Ogre (stats here in parenthesis)  Has a group of hobgoblins working for him (stats for hobgoblins in parenthesis).  At night Hedgemog wanders countryside (50% chance the PCs might catch him in his lair at night).  During the day he sleeps in his lair and the hobgoblins protect him.

Now, if you have the time, you might want to draw out a quick map of the lair, key it with monsters, traps, etc.  And you'll need to do this for at least the first level of each of the 3 locations, but no more than the first level of each location (if it has multiple levels).  If you're pressed for time, try any number of free dungeon generator tools out there to get a layout for each location quickly, then key it up yourself.

The idea in the sandbox and/or hexcrawl is that the players have freedom of choice to go where they want and basically do what they want (and suffer the consequences therein), so you're going to want to ensure there is incentive for your PCs to want to explore at least one of the areas you've prepared.  There are any number of ways to get your PCs going.  Often most campaigns kick off in the common room of a tavern.  How will the PCs know of these locations or learn of them?  Why should they want to go there?  Perhaps they are approached by an NPC offering payment to retrieve a MacGuffin from one of these locations.  Or perhaps they just hear about one or more of them as prime unexplored locations ripe for plundering via rumors in the town.

Rumors are a great way to get the ball rolling in a sandbox, and in my opinion, offers the PCs the most flexible freedom of choice in what they choose to do.  I would start off with 10-12 rumors with half of them being either completely false or only half-true, while the other half are completely true.  Place them on a chart, and roll for one while they are in the tavern in the first night.  If they actively seek out rumors, roll a die (d4 or d6, subtract reaction adjustment but no less than 0) to determine how many rumors they hear from various occupants of the town.  Roleplaying these out can be great fun as well, and really bring the world alive for the PCs.

The key here is making them WANT to explore places you've prepared.  If you don't make them appealing, chances are your PCs can wander off into areas you haven't really prepped yet, and then you're completely flying by the seat of your pants.  Sometimes this can prove to be just as fun, and to be sure, there will always be a certain level of improvisation that goes into a sandbox or hexcrawl game anyway.

In the next post, I'll discuss topics relating to getting the PCs there (i.e. the actual crawl) from constructing random encounter tables, determining movement, weather, etc.


  1. Enjoying this series very much, Robert! Keep them coming!

  2. Thanks, man. Glad to read that someone is enjoying them. Pretty basic stuff to most old-hat grognards probably, but I was hoping maybe some not too familiar with starting a hexcrawl and running one might be able to take something useful from these entries.

  3. I have never run nor played in a hexcrawl/sandbox campaign, so I am making the rounds reading as much as I can.

    One issue that has come to mind every time I read about starting a new hexcrawl campaign is that you are told to focus on the immediate area (an idea with which I completely agree) but that means that there is no knowledge of anything that lies more than 6-12 miles from the starting town.

    How much of the terrain should be revealed to players at the beginning of such a campaign? For example, I live in Arizona (Phoenix-metro area). You can see mountains at various distance in every direction from my front lawn. The nearest one is 20 miles away. If I were to head east from my house as an adventurer, I would know there is a mountain there but not necessarily how far away it lies.