Hexcrawl High: They say that he got crazy once

Well it’s been a month since I last posted about the D&D campaign I’m currently playing. In that month we had two more sessions and then unfortunately the archenemy of adult hobbies, scheduling, reared its ugly head. But we’re resuming play this Thursday. Assuming we can play regularly then I think by the end of October we may be ready to transition to the “second stage” of the campaign I had planned. But now I’m not sure if we will.

When I talk about the second stage of the campaign I’m not talking about the four tiers of play that D&D 5th edition suggests. No, I’m talking about my initial inspiration for this sandbox campaign, which was to have the PC’s try out some kingdom building. The campaigns initial hook/quest is that the PC’s need to take care of the bandit problem in the area. Once they’d done that their sponsors would back them creating a town and new “kingdom” in the area.

Now it should be said that at the end of the last session we held that two-thirds of the PC’s were unconscious and all of the PC’s were in the captivity of the bandits. But I’m sure they’ll turn that around. So why have I cooled on the idea of kingdom building? Primarily the mechanics. As prep I spent a day or two last week looking through extant kingdom building systems. There’s the kingdom building system for Pathfinder which premiered in the Kingmaker adventure path and was then revised for the Ultimate Campaign Guide, and which is available free on Pathfinder’s SRD.

This was the system I’d originally planned to use but when I sat down to really read it a lot of problems became apparent. First is the problem that Pathfinder’s setting assumptions are tied into the rules and the idea of magic item shops and such don’t jibe with the 5th edition rules nor the campaign I’m running. The second, and perhaps larger problem, is that it’s very involved. It takes a fair amount of book-keeping but most of that is going to be done by one player, which leaves the other players twiddling their thumbs. Also, based on the Traveller campaign I ran last year my players aren’t the biggest fans of fiddly book-keeping. Pathfinder also uses a different hex scale than I do, though that’s a minor issue. I could probably cannibalise elements of the system into something lighter and usable but at that point I might just be better making my own simple system.

Looking for a simpler system I dug out Reign and gave its Company System a re-read. In theory you can just lift this system and use it with another game. But if you do so you still need to teach the players the basic mechanics of ORE/Reign as the company system uses them and re-reading it just brought up my old issues with the Company system which is that the interface between PC and Company scale actions is extremely “hand wavey” which for me sort of defeats the purpose of it. I also read Birthright for AD&D, Border Princes for WHFRP, Legends of Anglerre and a few others. But much like poor old Goldilocks I can’t find one that’s just right.

At the moment I’m thinking of using the system from Legends of Anglerre because it’s very simple which means it won’t take much time away from the “real” meat of the sessions. Other options on the table are just hand waving it and the option that’s the most work is to make my own variant of Pathfinder’s. Or use it to justify buying and re-skinning Suburbia.

Regarding the campaign itself, I think it’s going ok. I mean the players getting beaten isn’t ideal but I don’t think they felt it was unfair as it arose logically from their actions. Beyond what the PC’s have been doing I’ve been trying to nail down or inject more hooks into the setting but I’m running into what I like to think of as the paranormal romance problem. While a fantasy setting this is still supposed to be a sparsely populated wilderness area, there shouldnt be NPC’s with “!” floating over their heads just wandering everywhere. But at the same time as it’s a sandbox the PC’s can, will and have simply miss(ed) adventure opportunities. So I need to cram in more stuff. Even if it feels to me like there’s too much stuff going on.

Though “stuff going on” is another issue. There are NPC’s doing stuff and as time passes if the PC’s don’t interfere that stuff is going to get done. Which is grand. But a lot of these long-term plans were initially created with the idea that kingdom building and its accompanying downtime would extend the timescale. But if we don’t bother with kingdom building I might have to compress these plans which feels like a bit of a headache.

I don’t want to seem like I’m just complaining, some of this stuff is a headache but most of the time its fun thinking about it and I’m really liking how what the PC’s are doing or not-doing, both of which often take me by surprise, is changing the setting and inspiring me to nail down stuff that was just tentative hooks.

We “upgraded” to an A3 version of the hexmap for the players and its working a lot better, as the DM I’ve found Onenote to be a handy, if not revolutionary, tool. I’d probably use it for any campaign going forward.

Vent your spleen