Hexcrawl High: Might say he found the key for every hex

So as per my previous post I’d decided to go with a hexcrawl for my next D&D campaign (I’ve also clearly decided to run with the Rocky Mountain High thing as well). But as I also mentioned, I’ve never played or run a hexcrawl before so I was going into this largely blind. So as with every problem in modern life I turned to the internet for the answer. How could that possibly go wrong?

Well, apologies for betraying your expectations and that set-up, it didn’t go terribly or even amusingly wrong. There are a lot of resources out there for how to run a hexcrawling campaign. Whether this is due to them being perennially popular or as a result of the OSR movement I can’t really say. Nor do I honestly really care. What it meant was that there was plenty of information out there to help me set up my campaign. Honestly in the simplest terms its, well, very simple. Pick a region of the world. Make a hexmap of it. Populate the hexmap. Give a blank or partially complete map to the players and give them a reason to fill it. Have the world react. Boom. A simple five step program, so you know its at least seven steps better than being a recovering alcoholic. Sadly for my own perennial affliction, laziness, there was a bit more involved in each of these steps than my “executive summary” would suggest.

The first stumbling block was to pick a region of the world. I was tempted to use the post-post-apocalypse fantasy world I came up with for my (very) short Runequest 6th/Mythras game. But I still had a bit more work to do on that. Perhaps more pressingly I’d been planning to transplant the urban campaign I was thinking off to the Forgotten Realms and had used that as an excuse to pick up the Swordcoast Adventurer’s Guide so it seemed best to set the hexcrawl somewhere in Faerûn. Which turned out to be a bit more difficult than you’d think. The problem with using a campaign setting that’s thirty one years old is that even the back arse of beyond likely has an entire sourcebook dedicated to how many tonnes of dirt its shit farmers dig each year. Chult seemed like a good prospect. But the upcoming, and rather fun looking, Tomb of Annihilation is set there so that seemed out. Most temperate regions are too tightly populated to allow the kind of kingdom building I wanted to leave open to the PC’s if the campaign lasted a while. After casting around for a while, and turning to a weekly questions thread on Reddit, I decided to set it in the Bloodstone lands. But then expanded that selection to set it in the Cold Lands. Later when I realised how big a hexmap actually is it turns out that I in fact set it in the border region of one of the three lands which made up the Cold Lands.

The Cold Lands seemed like exactly what I wanted, not very well populated and not very well-developed. I wanted to stick to canon as much as I could. Now that I write that I don’t know why. I’ve never had a problem warping settings to fit my needs before and none of my potential players are experts on the Realms. I suppose it’s the curse of using an established setting, you can get caught up in making sure everything’s “right”. However as I pieced together the information available on the countries that made up the Cold Lands it seemed like I’d have no choice but to change things up. I’d be using Damara as the patron or sponsor for the PC’s, having it serve as something of an analogue for Brevoy from the Pathfinder Kingmaker adventure path. But its current political set-up, last mentioned in the 4th edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, didn’t work for me. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a tyrannical despot on the throne as much as the next person, but for what I wanted I needed a more stable ruler. So this lead to the timely assassination of poor old Yarin Frostmantle. I decided to bring back the original royal line, largely because I have a love hate relationship with their family name. Anyhow, the new ruler of Damara is Liandra Bloodfeathers. The “crawl” itself was always going to take place in Vaasa, largely because in the political sense it doesn’t exist as a country. It was recently (well three centuries) reclaimed from the Great Glacier and the only thing like a kingdom it has had was when a liche raised an army of its monsters. Perfect for some rough and ready exploration action. Well perfect until I read the Vaasa entry in the 4th edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. Fucking Witch Knights. Shitting up the place by taking over the country. That wouldn’t do, no sir, that wouldn’t do at all. So the Witch Knights are still there, along with their new town/city Telos. But considering they draw their powers from the body of Telos (which is shockingly in Telos) I’ve decided to rule that their power only stretches so far so they rule a big chunk of lower/central Vaasa but for the moment can’t move far beyond that. I also split up their lands into twelve sections radiating out like clock faces from Telos. Just because I wanted to.

Now with all this research I’d come across a few different maps of Vaasa (I’d also dug out my copy of the first edition Forgotten Realms boxed campaign set). The only really big difference was the presence of a lake in its north west corner. Well that and the name of its major river. I decided to go with a mix of the various maps, most pertinently the lake was in and I’d be using the most recent name for the river. The lake was in because I wanted to place my specific hexmap where it was. So a few hundred words and a day or two later and I’d completed the first step in the five step program I mentioned above.

The next step was/is making the hexmap. How hard could this be you ask? Surely you just grab some hexpaper and scribble in some terrain types? Ah you poor innocent fool. Why, you haven’t even considered the central issue of how big your hex should be. Will you use an even or uneven number? Why does it matter? Dont you even care about how you subdivide your hexes! The classic Judge’s Guild scale ranges from the “campaign level” of 5 miles per hex to a regional level of .2 miles per hex and down to 42.24 feet per hex for the local level. Each larger hex is subdivided by smaller hexes 1/25th the size of the larger hex. Or will you use the 5th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide scale of 1 hex = 1 mile for province scale or the kingdom scale of 1 hex = 6 miles? Unsurprisingly there are a lot of people online who have STRONG OPINIONS (TM) on which size of hex you should use and even the orientation of your hex map. Though regarding orientation, what kind of godless monster wouldn’t use horizontal? So I read various articles, in defence of the six mile hex, or the one mile hex or how it wasnt the size of the hex that mattered but how you use it. I also read forum posts on the matter, discussing preference, objective fact and the wonders of our six-sided master. One interesting metric I came across was a GM who preferred a hex map that the players could travel across in a ten-day. That resonated with me for some reason so that’s what I went with. As I didn’t want “too many” hexes to have to populate I decided to go with a six mile hex for the basic scale map. I figured ~120×100 miles would do that job. So just 20×18 hexes. For some reason the numbers 20 and 18 stuck in my head. But not the result of that little equation. It wasn’t until considerably later that I realised that gave me 360 fucking hexes to populate. More on that later.

Next was making the actual hexmap. Which honestly wasn’t very hard at all. I simply found a high res map of the Forgotten Realms that had a map scale and used that map scale to cut out a 120×100 mile block in the appropriate place. I then used that block as an underlay for making a hexmap in Hexographer. Hexographer is a nice little piece of software, the only caveat is that while the free version is fine for making basic maps it feels like the pro version would really be the way to go. Unfortunately I don’t have the cash to throw thirty quid at a program that I might not use more than a few hours a year. So I’ll just have to make do with a basic but functional map. It was then that I realised the map I had just made was sort of literally just for me as the players would likely not see it, at lest for some while. So I had to quickly put together a map showing what the players would have seen at the start of the campaign. I didn’t like how Hexographer does rivers so I ended up tarting up the map in photoshop and the (huge) players version is shown below. Actually I’m going to drop the res on this as I didnt realise quite how massive it was until I went to save a JPG.

Haha, well fuck me, I did that map a few days ago. But as I was re-sizing the map above I wanted to check where I got the high res underlay. A quick google image search and I found a map of Vaasa I havent seen before. So now I have the 1st edition campaign set map of the area, the 2nd edition campaign set map of the area, the 2nd edition Bloodstone Lands sourcebook map of the area, the 3rd edition Campaign guide map and the fourth edition map. All of which are fucking different. And now this saucy new map. Well this may call for a revision as the newest map I found is more detailed and has a few interesting additions. Even if it changes the shape of the country.

Anyway with the hexmap completed I was done with the first two steps of the five step process I facetiously outlined above. The next step, “Populate the hexmap.” is proving to be the hardest and is the one I’m still in the middle off. I actually jumped ahead a bit to step four and have a reason for the player characters to fill out the map. So I’m stuck at populating the map (which can and has led to me going back to revise or add details to the hexmap). However we’re creeping up on two thousand words so I’ll leave the exciting details of the “Populate” step for the next post.

Vent your spleen