[OSR] Hexcrawl sandbox procedures

edited February 2014 in Story Games
I've recently discovered the concept of a hexcrawl through the web - it's completely unknown in my face-to-face gaming circles. It sounds fun! There are tons of good resources online to help GMs create hex-based sandbox worlds, lots of them aimed at a minimum of preparation designed to give the GM lots of evocative starting points to improvise from in play. Here's one I liked, in case anyone is interested.

But there seems to be much less about actually running a hexcrawl once you are playing. This is classic RPG textism - the actual in-play procedures are almost all implicit and passed around by playing with other people. I can make guesses at what other people's play looks like, but it will probably just end up with me porting my own assumptions from other games. So, I appeal to Story Games: First, do you know of any existing texts that would teach me how to referee a hexcrawl? And secondly, if not, how about you tell me something off the top of your head?

Some specific things that I'm interested in that don't seem to be mentioned in the texts I've read:
  1. Is the hex map a "GM secret" - like a dungeon map might be? Do the players then map as they go along? Or is the whole world, with all its labelled towns and dungeons, revealed at the start?
  2. I was thinking of including published modules as scattered adventure locations in my hex map, and letting the PCs pick up rumours from the few days travel away. But a lot of modules assume specific terrain types, and a 6 mile hex isn't a large area. Even with tens or hundreds, I wouldn't expect to see much climate variation, realistically. Do people just hand wave this and have much faster changes in climate ("Oh look, the desert next to the farming area")? Do you have extremely long journeys through hundreds of hexes? Do you restrict yourself to one or two climates? Do you have long "non-hex" journeys been fully mapped out areas?
But a general overview of procedure would be good.


  • 1) When I've done this, the hex map was "secret" even from the GM. Or at least it was randomly generated as the party entered each hex.

    2) I think we've played with 20-mile hexes which sort of tightens up the world. It's also a reasonable day's travel distance when conditions aren't terrible. (OK, maybe a 20-mile day is optimistic in wilderness, whatever...) And I think there is some handwaving of too-fast terrain changes. Just like the world you're exploring is more dense in craziness than it really ought to be, just to keep making things interesting for play.

    a) Party starts in a known location.
    b) Party decides which hex to enter next.
    c) GM determines what's in that hex. (This may take a few minutes.)
    d) GM determines if and how the party encounters something based on what's in that hex.
    e) GM describes what the party experiences as they travel to roughly the center of the hex, assuming normal travel direction for the party.
    f) Party does stuff. (This is exceedingly open-ended, of course, it's an RPG.)
    g) Stuff gets resolved. (More stuff may ensue.)
    h) Assuming the situation stabilizes, the party has at least sort of mastered the hex and finds themselves once again in step a. They may also have retreated from the hex which either led them into step a in another hex or perhaps into a new hex which leads them to step c.

    Is that the level of detail you're looking for?
  • 1st edition actually covers this kind of thing, or starts to...it never really panned out, although Greyhawk was designed for exactly this style of play. It never got supported though.

    Quick answers to your questions, then I'll add a few thoughts of my own.

    1) Your choice. Many GMs will reveal a very rough map to players, essentially a sketch map. Detailed hex maps are secret until the players map them. This may be exhaustive (especially if they are trying to settle/conquer a megahex) or much more cursory (noting ruins, basic rivers, etc, which is often more playable). True wilderness areas are very unlikely to be already mapped in a medieval setting.
    2) Yes, many people do that with their modules. Also remember that even a six-mile hex does not have uniform terrain throughout, with a few exceptions. You may well encounter a smallish swamp inside a forest, for example, or a hundred acre wood on a plain. Use common sense; this may even be a story trigger. For climate...well, the base rule is that a degree of latitude (north or south) is equal to about 70 miles. Philadelphia is at 40 degrees lat in the US. Therefore, weather reports for it can be used as a hand-wavy extrapolation. Places like London are warmer than they should be because they're on a warm ocean current; you can thus make some fudges as necessary in your cities. Unless a player is a meteorologist, they will have no idea. Use other cities for other climates, using distance from Philly to identify the cities. The real system is the optional weather system published in Wilderness Adventures (1st AD & D), which I recommend highly. Lots of rolls, but if you do a page or two of them beforehand, it makes an awesome difference.

    The best game I was ever in involved hexcrawling through Greyhawk as we played 2e's Fate of Istus, which took place all over the world. So there would be a long journey to the next step, etc. This game was totally awesome...and I suspect in hindsight it made Fate a lot more awesome than it actually is.

    Our GM typically handled long journeys as follows. He'd prepare a rough route beforehand, noting what latitudes we'd pass through, and then occasionally design a few set-piece encounters before hand. He'd drop these in to his taste or according to a random die roll. He'd also work up a few sets of random encounters to have ready to hand and use them when the die said so. We generally made about thirty miles (one hex) a day, and might expect none, one, two, three, or even occasionally more encounters based on the terrain factors. (Damn you Suss Forest!) Don't forget the joys of night encounters too :) Or that loooots of things like to eat horses...

    We generally didn't pause much on our travels, and so probably marched past all kinds of notional dungeons and lairs. But it was OK. Had we been exploring, he'd have had to do a lot more detail work, but remember, our pace would have been much slower, perhaps balancing things a bit. (Getting through a hex is much faster than poking around in it looking for trouble.) Nowadays you can do all this with random generators and a bit of tinkering, so I really don't think it'd be a big deal.

    One thing that makes the hexcrawl come alive is narrative immersion. Periodically drop in a sentence or two about the setting. "You emerge from the trees to see a small sunken meadow. A sudden shaft of light through the clouds bathes the place in a sickly bronze glow. It may rain soon." Do this fairly often so PCs don't expect a monster to jump them every time you open your mouth. Also drop in dressing...a massive worn stone head lying on its side by the trail; a cracked fountain built around a spring; a tiny scrap of faded mosaic, which might signal a ruin nearby or just be a mystery. This is a huge reason to use the weather tables, PITA as they are. It will really make the PCs feel they are *there*.

    If they're doing "true" sandbox, just setting out into the unknown to get into trouble, you may need to make more detailed maps beforehand. Remember, though, random generator with tweaking is your friend. Done properly, it should take them a while to be satisfied with a single hex. And remember too, this activity is VERY DANGEROUS. There are no real "levels" in the wilderness. You turn the corner and see a band of giants, you'll have to deal with them somehow, even if you're only ready for goblins. Done judiciously, this can control player actions without railroading or any semblance of coercion. Then they put a big red X on their map (and you do too...now they have something to work toward/come back to).
  • ChristopherWeeks is taking the "lazy DM" approach, which is highly effective depending on your tastes/group's style of play. It gets games played, most importantly.

    If you haven't read the famous West Marches thread, I think you may find it very inspiring and entertaining.

    I'm an overprepper, something I'm cutting down on. I like drawing sub-megahex maps (if a megahex is 25 miles across, it will be made up of 5 5-mile hexes, or 25 1-mile hexes, depending on your template). It's at least the illusion of greater control. So I might prep four or five of these around the party's starting point...much less work than it used to be in the old days, and then keep adding hexes as I have time or the party wanders closer to them. If I need to slow them down, I might put a bigger dungeon or ruin somewhere they are likely to run across it, or of course they might hear about it somewhere. They may stay busy with that for a number of sessions, giving me the time to at least sketch out other directions, rumors, etc.
  • My procedure from our latest campaign in short was quite simple, as I attempted to balance a boardgame-like aesthetic with various realistic considerations:
    - Hex width of ~6 miles or so, with the assumption that even the canonical referee map might not necessarily contain perfect geographic information.
    - The referee preps the geography and provides mostly empty hex sheets for player mapping, with major landmarks, roads and such indicated to whatever degree seems reasonable. I like to prep each hex with population density, hilliness of the terrain, major roads and rivers; the traditional scheme involves plains vs. forests vs. deserts vs. swamps, which I don't find that useful for e.g. European terrain. (Makes much more sense if you're emulating American geography, note.)
    - An ordinary daily march is three hexes, with a few extra by forced march possible; one hex less in hill country, one hex less "through underbrush", one hex more along major road, one hex less with heavy encumbrance. Mounts do not increase daily march by default, but they increase carrying capacity and make forced marches much easier. (The assumption here is that ordinary hex-to-hex travel happens along country roads or trails that add e.g. 20% or more to real travel distances. "Underbrush" means slogging through your stereotypical fantasy swamp and such clearly difficult terrain.)
    - Each day weather and such ancillary details are randomized according to referee's currently preferred procedure. Snow on the ground is again one less hex of travel distance, heavy rains indicate constitution checks, etc.
    - Upon entering each hex the referee makes a random encounter check, 1/6 chance. The type of encounter depends on the location. The same check is made for every 6 hours spent in a single hex. The encounter particulars may come out of suitable tables or whatever, depends on the groundwork laid for the matter.

    All this stuff can be found in the game texts themselves as well, though. Mentzer red box, for example, has pretty clear explanation of the basics, I think.
  • Oh, a word about scale as well, which Martin specifically asked about: for me it's pretty natural to have lo-level adventures occur in a relatively small geographical area, so that the adventurers don't need to do much expensive travel to shuttle around. I might say that longer journeys are often mid-level concerns (with the understanding that we partly recognize the mid-level play's arrival by the fact that players choose in fact to undertake longer journeys). Thus it's not an immediate concern at the beginning of the campaign as to where an entirely different, exotic adventure might be set.

    Later on, when our campaign started expanding from fantasy-Holland, first to the Holy Roman Empire, then to Italy and Eastern Europe, and to distant colonial lands, I used two strategies for coping with the distances: one is to shift scale as necessary to use e.g. 30-mile hexes for mapping larger stretches of ground for which we don't need as much detail, while another is to utilize separate mapped "theaters" of action, with travel between the theaters hand-waved (or simply proceduralized in some other manner; hexcrawl is not the only way to move around, after all).

    I'd say that if the campaign was about serious travel around a mostly well-known world, then I wouldn't use hexcrawl as the primary procedure. For example, a network of trade cities with stretches of wilderness in between, connected by caravan routes, might be a very viable sandbox for even low-level play; characters might accompany caravans (perhaps as caravan guards, if they're typically martial mercenary adventurers) and skip from town to town even right from the beginning as adventuring opportunities dry up or characters establish enemies in individual locales. In that type of campaign structure I'd find it natural to prep a freeform map of the trade network, with a distance (or a vectored distance / travel difficulty value) indicated for each leg of commonly used route. Then I might set up just a bit of hex action around each individual town as campaign moves into new places, perhaps just a couple hexes around each town in case the players have reason to get out into the wilderness. This way my mapping efforts would result in several very small hexcrawls (like, a dozen hexes each) connected by linear routes that use a different travel procedure from the normal hex-by-hex used locally.

    Ultimately the good reasons for using hexes are all about boardgame aesthetics and the usefulness of gamifying the exploration with simplifications; there's no reason not to use real distance measurements on a map without hexes, it's just simpler and in some ways aesthetically satisfying to ping the map hex by hex. Players like to be able to add in a new hex on their map as they come close enough to discover basic terrain information or similar about it, and it's fun and easy to e.g. explore places hex by hex, making a single search roll for each hex, or whatever. Also useful to abstractly pretend that it's sufficient to know which hex you're in at a time (instead of arbitrary precision), and to have all the various hex-based abstractions of distance, time and other logistical matters at hand. It's often said that hexes are used because it's easy to calculate distances with them, but frankly that's something I could do better with any old measuring stick on a scale map; the real strength of the hex is as a hook for mechanical gamifying procedure, where the hex maps acts as a sort of a game board.
  • edited February 2014
    A friend of mine uses 2-mile hexes when he GMS, and he tracks resources and threats in each hex entered.

    The minor part: a hex that has been "harvested" for whatever it had (herbs, fruit, timber, etc.) can't be harvested again for a certain amount of in-game time.

    The major part: once a hex has been "pacified", the GM rolls half as often for wandering monsters on it.

    This is a "random encounters in a single extensive dungeon" model (in this case the dungeon is an island), as opposed to the "random modules on a map" model. They're similar on the sandbox level, but very different in how fights and other encounters are strung together (as some modules get pretty linear).
  • Thanks - I don't have much to come back with. These are helpful answers at a useful level of detail. More questions if and when they occur to me.
  • Why do we even bother with hexes, actually? It'd be closer-to-life and logistically just as complex to generate a "real" map and have players plot an intended course and roll for encounters, getting lost and difficult terrain. It's much more reasonable, I feel, to say "we'll follow the path towards the mountain and enter the forest here at its southern tip," than it is to abstract that out into hexes. Or am I missing the point?
  • Hexes are mostly a quantification tool: it is much easier to handle spatial relations with hexes than without. This simplicity can then cascade to help with more complex quantitatives; even if it is relatively simple to measure or estimate distance between point A and point B, that small loss of simplicity in dropping the hexes multiplies into much more hassle when you're solving a logistical problem involving points A, B, C, D and E, five donkeys, three carts full of hay, and a road network compromised by a muddy spring. With hexes you have a simplification upon which to attach further abstraction.

    Basically, what I said above.
  • For me the quantification tool lies in the encounter tables. You can only encounter so much in X or Y amount of travel. Really, my proposed alternative would just use landmarks - players would have to be aiming at specific landmarks - as the measure of travel and the quantification process; then it's the same as with hexes in quickly estimating the time that journey would take, its costs and encounters on the road before agreeing with players.
    So not a "real" map quite yet, but one with all the landmarks of a hex and the expected travel times between each. Points-of-light style play, maybe? That said, there's really not much difference in the two in my eyes - I suppose hexes make it easier to denote the passing of time for the players, which I certainly struggle with.

    Is there a precedent in sea-hex sandboxes? I'm curious as it if there is any procedural difference to sailing on a hexmap than to overland travel - I've been playing too much Wind Waker recently.
  • People seem to do seafaring hexcrawls occasionally, yes. I don't see why it wouldn't work, certainly a quite valid topic.

    Regarding defining spatial relations with waypoints and a web of points of interest, that's well and good for lightweight travel setups. However, when more time is spent on the logistical, exploratory and survival aspects of play, it is often necessary to have a high degree of freedom and a neutral board upon which the players may act. A landmark scheme suffers in this context for being necessarily teleological: the referee has, while setting up the map, determined what things are important and what things aren't. It is not uncommon in hexcrawl play for the players to find meaning in completely unexpected places, which is not possible if action occurs in a predefined web of predefined points of interest.

    Aside from that issue, though, a web is very feasible. I've got this 19th century D&D campaign at planning stages where global travel is handled in this way.
  • Sounds reasonable - I take your argument about teleology.

    I'd love to run a Viking-themed 1000AD sea campaign. 19th Century sounds hot though, get some 20,000 Leagues/War of the Worlds action in there. It'd be awesome to expand the Into the Odd dungeon crawl rules into a sea-based Hexmap; hunting on mysterious islands for alien beasties.
  • Potemkin, you might like to look at the adventure / setting Weird New World. It potentially treads on sensitive colonial issues as it is a thinly veiled European explorers in the lands of the inuit. However, it is a mostly sea-based hexcrawl and probably wouldn't take that much work to adapt to Viking explorers among the Skraeling (Thule). In any case, might give you some ideas for handling sea-based hexcrawls.
  • Thanks Charles!

    Hm, there's a colonial aspect to a great deal of comparatively innocuous stuff. I think if you reasonably portray "foreign" cultures and locales with a healthy respect for the historical past and human dignity there's no reason it can't be part of play.
  • edited March 2014
    I think the Odyssey is the original hex crawl, and it's sea based.
  • we do quite a lot of sailing on hexes. here is my random encounter chart.

    The neat thing to me about boats is that they effectively zoom out one level—you can cover roughly as many 24 or 30 mile hexes (depending on the ship) in a day as a person on foot covers in 6-mile hexes, so you just check encounters based on the big ones instead. I have the whole region mapped out in 24-mile hexes and I drill down and prep a 6-mile hex when the players announce that they are making a voyage for a particular purpose, and going inland looking for something. Since we play real time (1 week = 1 week) I generally have time to get these things ready on demand.
  • we do quite a lot of sailing on hexes. here is my random encounter chart.
    "Sea birds." Pfft, what kind of encounter is that? "A grizzled Albatross perches on a granite spire. The crew take it for an omen, reduce retainer morale by 1."

    But seriously, like your method here. I've ben playing Wind Waker and reading the Voyage of the Dawn Treader so my players might see more sea than they ever did saw.
  • I had a hankering for an old-school dungeon crawl back in October as an antidote to the Pathfinder/Dungeon World campaign I'm running, and decided to do it as a play-by-post. I wanted to generate everything (or as much as possible, anyway) randomly, then use logic and my imagination to tie it together into a sensible whole. I went back to the seminal Wilderlands of High Fantasy books and read up a lot on how other people run hexcrawls before arriving at my current approach. After reading up on a lot of OSR rulesets, I settled on Adventurer Conqueror King.

    Here's the procedure I've been using:

    1) Generate the world map using donjon's fantasy world generator.
    2) Choose a region of the map to be the frontier area where the campaign would occur.
    3) Use the civilization and pantheon generators at Chaotic Shiny to get a starting point for the dominant culture.
    4) Use The Welsh Piper's hexcrawl methodology to zoom-in on the starting region and each adjacent region and determine major sites of interest.
    5) Write a paragraph about each major site with an eye toward tying them into their physical context and regional history, allowing new ideas to emerge.
    6) Choose a base of operations for the PCs.
    7) Start playing.
    8) Rely upon a host of random generation tables whenever anything needs fleshing out.

    This is obviously not a low-prep approach, but a major part of the appeal of a hexcrawl for me is in building a world from randomly-generated components, and it satisfies a major creative itch. To that end, after much pdf-purchasing and reading, these are my go-to tomes of tables:

    D30 DM Companion from New Big Dragon Games
    D30 Sandbox Companion from New Big Dragon Games
    Cities from Midkemia Press
    The Mother of All Encounter Tables from Frog God Games
    The Mother of All Treasure Tables from Frog God Games
    The Tome of Adventure Design from Frog God Games
    Fan-made weather tables for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

    I also wrote up a master wilderness encounter table that incorporates incidental things like equipment breakage, environmental details, and notable landmarks into the usual monster encounter stuff.

    An example of how I used these resources: the PCs returned from their first foray into the wilderness. Each time they move through a district in their home-base town, I roll on the encounter tables in the Cities book. Many of these encounters result in narrative color or no notable event, but in this case, I rolled "Pilgrim hiring escort for holy quest," and then rolled "cave" as the goal of the quest. Then I used the D30 Sandbox Companion to roll up the NPC pilgrim's details (gender, personality, etc.). Because it's a frontier region and the pilgrim is looking for a cave, I decided that his deity is the goddess of the wild (already penciled in from initial pantheon generation). One of his random personality traits is "has visions," so I decide his goddess comes to him in his sleep and tell hims that he needs to go purify this cave in the wilderness on her behalf. So he tells the PCs all this, offering them gold to act as his escort, and they debate whether he is a lunatic or not before agreeing to the job. Once they agree to the job, I spend a little time fleshing out notable sites between their home base and location of the cave, and use the Tome of Adventure Design (an amazing book!) to generate some details about the cave itself.

    Trying to do all of this at the table would be a big challenge, but it's perfect for play-by-post. I can take the time I need to generate stuff, give it more thought than I would be able to do in a face-to-face setting, and then write it up as a narrative. The next face-to-face campaign I run will likely be some kind of hexcrawl with more participatory world-building, and this experience is helping me figure out how I might streamline the process to keep play from bogging down at the table.

    If you're interested in seeing how it has played out so far, you can read the thread here.

  • edited March 2014
    Sea hex crawl kit

    Harn has a good sea crawl book, I think it's called Pilot's almanac.
  • What I really want is something that gives me encounters and wandering monsters for different terrain types, any thoughts?
  • @Potemkin forgot the link to the sea hex crawl tables. Added it above.
  • edited March 2014
    @Potemkin, the above-mentioned Mother of All Encounter Tables is meeting my own needs in that area -- encounters are categroized by climate and terrain type. You may want to check out Wilderness Hexplore Revised, which is based closely on the old Judges Guild approach and includes old-school encounter tables by terrain.
  • edited March 2014
    Various versions of D&D have wilderness encounter tables by terrain, but—I feel like I am doing something wrong if I ever am using a by-terrain chart rather than one made for the specific region involved. The random encounter chart is one of the most powerful descriptives tool you have.

    I have used parts of that wilderness hexplore document however for good purposes. But be aware that there are big assumptions built into it about the kind of landscape you are creating and you may only become aware of some of them after you are deep in.
  • borland

    My players have been working to improve their scouting technique for identifying neighbouring hexes. Also using speak with animals and levitation to get a longer view. One of them disappeared into that lake that now bears his name, for a year and a day bewitched by random-encounter nixies.
  • That's a quite nice map. Very similar in feel to what our groups turn up when we go hexcrawling.
  • Various versions of D&D have wilderness encounter tables by terrain, but—I feel like I am doing something wrong if I ever am using a by-terrain chart rather than one made for the specific region involved. The random encounter chart is one of the most powerful descriptives tool you have.
    Totally agree on that. The way I do it is, I use a generic encounter table until they've had half a dozen or so encounters, and then use those encounters to help define the region further. Each random encounter demands a lair for the creature encountered, so I place those, and then gradually develop the "web of life" for the area building off of the encounters rolled. So it's a bottom-up approach, but the goal is still to give the area a particular flavor. After a certain point, if they roll up something too far off from the ecosystem that has been developing, I just tweak it to make it fit.
  • That map makes me want to play!
  • I hope this isn't too OT, but since much of this thread is about random encounters, I was wondering if anyone ever rolls on additional tables when rolling up an encounter with a monster.

    Things like: mood, agenda, current situation, plot device, etc.

    I know some encounter tables include these as entries in the main table, but I was thinking one could get more bank for their buck by having multidimensional tables to create an effectively "infinite" amount of combinations.
  • Some of those are ground trod upon the three sort-of built in subtables: surprise, reaction, and treasure/lair. Beyond those I generally go case-by-case because it's not worth dicing things that won't matter. But if the players ask their random encounter about another npc or an ongoing concern I'll roll an internal reaction check to see if there's a relationship (or I'll draw a conclusion based on the world-building that's already happened: like if these are giant ravens up here in the northern isles they are more than likely working for the Rook of the North Wind).

    As my players level up and become more globetrotting a big part of their landscape is already expressed by loose relationship maps that are primarily determined by 2d6 rolls so this is just more of the same. If your prep is light to start with, your random encounters become important all the more easily.
  • I have returned with more questions! I haven't had much time to devote to this recently, so forgive me for the slow progress I am making on resolving the basic issues at hand.

    I'd like more help with random encounters. I want the random encounters to fit to the world, the region, the circumstances, and I also want to have a strong dose of other people's ideas, rather than just exploring the kind of content I come up with. Therefore, a mix of my own ideas and published materials seems like a good plan.

    Some questions:
    1. How long are your random encounter tables normally? Do you just have a handful for a region or huge tables with hundreds of items or something in between? Why?
    2. What are good existing resources of random encounter tables? Jason, above, suggested the Mother of All Encounter Tables, which has good reviews and is obviously a great resource at only $10. However, I have already spent a bit of money of this campaign's prep so far, and given that this is an experiment that may not be continued if doesn't work with my playgroup, I'd rather keep to free resources for now.
    3. How do you blend your own ideas with random encounter tables? I don't want to have to write up new tables for each region; I want a low-prep method.
    Also, @Eero_Tuovinen, I believe you once said (in one of the many threads...) that you at the time didn't have formal tables - you were just using the random event generation part of your brain - obviously tricky for maintaining hygienic play. Is this a thing you have continued to do, or was it only for short period? If you have, could you describe how you go about this? Do you prefer/disprefer this? Are you using this for the Grey Sands campaign?
  • I'm relying on pure improv less, but it still comes up regularly. The Grey Sands IRC game for instance, where I've been GMing some hexcrawling portions, has mostly relied on improvised choices on my part.

    I explained the basics of my method in IRC the other day. To put it succinctly, my method relies on building a quick list of likely, obvious encounter possibilities in my head, and then randomly filtering through them. The goal is to create results that are mostly obvious and make sense in the context, but also range towards the unexpected, and maintain variety.

    In practice what I do is, I choose a single potential random encounter, and then roll a 50/50 check to see if I may accept that as the event to occur here. If not, then I imagine another alternative, and do the same. I continue until the coin allows me to use the idea. The logic in this procedure is simply that I am most likely to think of obvious and reasonable ideas first, and exotic and unlikely ideas last (this wouldn't necessarily be the case, but this is what I intentionally strive for when using this technique), so this way 50% of the time I end up running the most obvious and ordinary encounter that happens to jump to mind. This also maintains hygiene in that even at my most subjective I can do no more than put an undeserving encounter on top of the pile, from whence it'll still get discarded 50% of the time. So even if I subconsciously (or consciously for that matter) wanted something to happen really hard, the dice are still the final arbiter.

    I can't say that I strongly recommend this method for extensive hexcrawling, as it tends to produce somewhat subjective (and occasionally predictable) results. It's fine for short-term minor improvisation, and I recommend it for when you just have to fill in some time at the end of a session or something like that. The method also has some advantages in being organic, varied and imaginative in comparison to more mechanical alternatives. Overall, though, I would recommend that a GM less lazy than I am should rather use real random encounter processes instead of just improvising stuff :D

    For your purposes, I recommend the following light yet powerful random encounter table procedure that I've developed for my own use:
    1) Divide your hex map into regions that you want to share a feel; each such region will get their own random encounter tables.
    2) Create five ordinary random encounters for each region; three common ones, two slightly less common. These will be 85% of everything encountered in random encounters. No unique encounters here, although if some encounter no longer makes sense for some reason, replace it with the next most common thing encountered in the region.
    3) Create a special encounters table for the region. It consists of "an encounter from the past of a PC or the party", "an encounter from the closest dungeon or neighboring region", and at least one region-specific special encounter. This is the appropriate place for encounters relating to specific individuals or places, as well as rare encounters that are nearly one of a kind. The special encounters table will mostly consist of unique encounters that you remove when they've been used. Generally you'll want to make it so that you have at least three entries here all the time: the loose string from the past events encounter, the roaming encounter from some other encounter table, and the local weirdness thing that gets replaced with a new one if and when the adventurers find whatever it was.
    4) When using the tables, you first roll on the ordinary encounter table on a d6; results 1-5 are as written. If you roll a 6, then you that means you reroll on the special encounters table. You randomize between however many entries there are on that one.
    5) When the probability of some encounter has been greatly heightened, such as when the PCs are trying to bait a specific type of animal to appear, or when the orcs have specifically invaded this region and are thus in almost every bush, just roll a 50% chance prior to going to the tables to see if instead of the normal encounter they instead get the special of the day.
    6) If a given region sees a lot of use, feel free to expand any particular entry on the main table into a subtable instead. Like, replace "Stirges" with "dangerous animals", and then create a subtable that has more options in addition to the stirges. Or switch from a d6 table to a d8 table, to make room for a couple more entries. The tables for each region are intentionally compact here, though, so don't just add stuff because you feel like you got to have everything that could possibly make an appearance be on that table; it's better to cycle things in and out rather than have a hundred entries, to establish a more interesting and relatable environment.

    I personally think that the above method, while still being manageable even on the flight, provides a pleasingly boardgame-ish feel for the proceedings. It also contains some relatively powerful features, such as the ever-present chance of an old ally or enemy appearing, and the chance that a local dungeon's exotic monster population expands its territory into the wilderness. Players will also like mapping the extent of such encounter regions; the adventure geography will feel more important and interesting to them if they know that the Black Hills and the Flint Hills have somewhat different encounter profiles, instead of both using the same "hills terrain" table.
  • edited April 2014
    I have a random generator that I've been tinkering with off and on for years at this point. It spits out tables like the following in whatever quantity I need:

    2 intelligent battered string
    3 crab with spines or plates
    4 wildling on the path to egotistical boatman settlement
    5 abomination drug-addled trapper
    6 (something from an adjacent hex that you want to be common)
    7 lizardmen with translucent-black-blue tools
    8 (something from a different adjacent hex that you want to be common)
    9 abomination surrounded by insect minions
    10 leech antagonized by bloodhound
    11 Ooshojoobijoob the mint horned slime
    12 hydra

    2 unusually-sized peacock
    3 It is abnormally cold here.
    4 hostile politician engaged in a ritual
    5 an intimate liaison between lordly brewer and prostitute
    6 (something from an adjacent hex that you want to be common)
    7 artist worshiping a ogre
    8 (something from a different adjacent hex that you want to be common)
    9 obscene abomination
    10 albino hostile politician
    11 animated figurine of weasel
    12 strange ambiguous stone-worker who know your names

    2 intelligent green-violet paint
    3 furred abomination
    4 troll toad
    5 You are surprised by (roll again)
    6 (something from an adjacent hex that you want to be common)
    7 juvenile shambling mound
    8 (something from a different adjacent hex that you want to be common)
    9 a young eagle follows the party
    10 worm-buffalo
    11 worn, orange-tinted, feather robe, cursed and difficult to be rid of
    12 monkey with spines or plates

    Obviously, the color implicit in them is a little gonzo. Also, because having things phrased properly for all combinations of clauses is a tricky problem, there is a fair amount of in-use GM improvisation to make sense of things. For instance, what does "abomination" mean? Is "unusually-sized" giant or tiny? Is a "troll toad" the toad of a troll or a chimera of sorts or what? The generator doesn't presume to answer all things, it assumes the GM can handle the improv. And occasionally it still generates nonsense though that's much less frequent than when I was first building the tool.

    I also play with these where many of the results are only going to happen once and then be replaced by something reasonable to encounter more than once, unlike e.g. "albino hostile politician".

    I very much prefer to roll on a curved distribution because it tells me more about the place. Martin, you mention wanting the encounters to fit the region. My approach is to let the region arise from the tables. And you can see, of course, that my 6 and 8 results help to build regional contiguity. But certainly not as much as an actually intentionally-developed system would.

    And finally, you don't see any here, because I just generated these three hexes for this conversation but an option that can appear in the table is "a for-real dungeon module adventure thing" which causes me to whip out a published (or at least worked up in advance) adventure (Keep on the Borderlands, Dyson's Delve or a one-page thing that I wrote up a year ago for another game...) and plug it into the hex.

    ETA: I also generate a table for each hex that gives ideas for what might be happening when players return to it as a known place like:

    1 A small band of foreigners is dying of starvation here.
    2 A snow-storm has blown up.
    3 enormous ants are a serious nuisance.
    4 A swarm of centipede is preying on this locale.
    5 A magic-storm has blown up.
    6 Dead livestock lay covered in flies.
  • edited April 2014
    So, this isn’t quite hexcrawling per se but I’ve got a project rolling around up in here that involves some hex-work and heavy reliance on events tables – the discussion so far has given me much food for thought but any more directed advice would be appricated.

    Basically the concept is a kingdom administration game that rehabilitates the war-game aspect of OSR back into my day-to-day play. The play is a little abstracted right now but I imagine each player would have a noble PC that would be their authoritative avatar in the game (“Duke/Duchess” seems about right at the moment) who have a limited number of agents (retainers in the language of D&D) such as knights, courtiers, spies and sages who can be sent off “into the field” so to speak to conduct the business of ruling the kingdom of which each player has a share. Nominally there is a “king” role and I’m not sure yet whether the king is an NPC, a DMPC or a player’s Duke elected to the throne by the others at the start of play. The spirit of the game is one collaboration but with space enough to allow for PvP jostling without players quitting the table.

    As you might have anticipated the scope of this idea requires an initial hex generation stage as each player assembles his duchy, a region within the kingdom. It seems likely that the entire breadth of the kingdom would be known to its rulers (aside from those areas outside any travel links at all, mountainous highlands, deserts, oceans etc) so there’d be quite a lot of hex-building from the get go. Is there any recommendation you’d make as to constructing tables for interesting, populated regions?

    Hexcrawling comes back into it with the assumption that the world continues outside the Kingdom’s boarders – each game month/season there might be a chance of some foreign development (diplomats, raiders, traders, invaders, allies and rumours from abroad) even if the players are totally self-involved in governance. Ultimately though I’d be interested in leaving players the option to survey a foreign region, raise an army and invade. Would hexcrawling as an army (as opposed to a dozen-strong party) involve a different set of exploration tables? I imagine bumping into a bear is less worrying if you happen to be travelling with 10,000 armed men.
  • Last sunday I had my players lead an army through an hexcrawl; it's almost the same as with players, though positioning here considers groups of people (divisions, individual teams, etc) instead of separated players. You can have players lead different groups inside the army and asking them for reaction only when the random encounter affects their group. For example, the bear wouldn't actualy come out of his lair or perhaps will run away at the sound of a whole army, but will probably fight to death if cornered by a small group. If there's a PC on that group, the encounter goes as usual. If not, an officer appears to inform a PC that X group found a bear and either won or sustainned 1d6 casualties. I also let players use several diferent NPCs inside the army, which helped a lot to make it feel like a full living army instead of PCs surrounded by a bunch of extras without initiative.

    I'd say, use your regular encounter table less (since most animals will just run away at the sound or a marching army) and use organized enemies more like a guerrilla with hit and run tactics focused on stalling the PC army or stealing/destroying/poisoning their supplies.
  • What scale hex were you using? Did it make for meaty hexing?
  • edited April 2014
    2km hexes and I gave them 10 hexes for movement per day. Most probably it's completely unrealistic that an army would barely complete 20 km on 8 hours of daylight, even if they all went at the speed of the slowest foot soldier, but the players didn't actually care for realism, since they had to fight on each of those 10 hexes we played that day :P
  • Doesn't sound that unrealistic to me. Definitely in the right ballpark. Much depends on the size of the army group, as well as the quality of the roads, quality of the logistical train and so on and so forth.
  • edited April 2014
    Here’s the last wilderness encounter chart I wrote up.

    What I knew going in: the Forest of Borland was invented by a player on the spot during a negotiation back in 2011 when I was putting the first bits together of what would eventually become this campaign (almost-every-weekly games started in Feb 2012). Another player had already told us about Eye-trees in the local forest, which is a way sweeter name for Treants, and this person told us a story about the time that he had seen such beings in the Forest of Borland. Or Borlan. Not sure tbh.

    I also knew that, on the map, it was east of our british and vikingish places and not far from a big place that I had loosely penciled in as northeastern europe, given a German-sounding name by players but in my mind a little bit of an “all the Russias” flavour. I figure maybe these places were once part of the same empire before it split up. Tsars are cool.

    So I wanted to make an encounter chart for the cold woods at winter, inspired by that link, and by you know, Peter and the Wolf, as well as the eye-trees.

    My first pass, 1d12:

    1–3 - wolves (warg, winter, or were)
    4 - eye-trees
    5 - woodcutters
    6–7 - trolls/ogres
    8–9 - great cats (based on an encouter I had rolled off the default swords & wizardry charts the week before, when I was unprepared, and also there is totally a cat in Peter and the Wolf amirite: wild cats, displacer beasts, leucrotta, lamia, manticore)
    10 - hags (obvs we need some sweet witches)
    11 - terrified villagers
    12 - lost children

    But this was just notes. I knew that there was a better version. I changed it to a 2d6 table, threw in some purely event-based encounters, and spread it so that I could roll at -1 in the clear areas near villages, and +1 in the dense wild bits of forest. The players were attempting to find a great oak tree, the likes of which we don't even have in the world anymore, to build an unusual longship to travel the skies, so I knew that there was a good odds that their adventure would be driven by searching hexes for what they were looking for. It played out quite differently than what we did with Eero the other week, because they have all kinds of crazy abilities like talking to birds and levitating to the treetops and asking God where to look. So they found it.

    But I wrote up a very complete chart and look forward to the next time I get to play this area. * = see below

    2d6 (+1 in heavy forest, -1 in farms, +0 in light forest and hills)

    1–5: Men
    1 - farmers
    2 - ugly villagers
    3 - lost children
    4 - men on a quest*
    5 - woodsmen (1–3 woodcutters, 4–5 huntsmen, 6 an old man / 1d6-1 in number + 2d6 dogs if hunting)

    6–7: events
    6 - unusual natural encounter*
    7 - thick snow or brambles

    8–13: monsters
    8 - animal monsters*
    9 - ogres (1-3 ogres, 4 ogre magi, 5 trolls, 6 roll twice)
    10 - eye-trees
    11 - hags
    12 - the dead
    13 - faerie folk (would be * but I already made this table separately long ago


    1 - 1d6 inept brothers looking for something to win the princess' hand (level 1d4-1, they are out of their league out here)
    2 - 1d6 mean brothers (level 1d6+1), similar quest, who stole their younger brother's silver (he's probably a magic-user level 1d6 tho, he'll show them in the end)
    3 - a Knight and his retinue
    4 - a small group of outlaws
    5 - large group of outlaws
    6 - roll again and roll another encounter, maybe it's a fight

    Unusual Natural Encounter
    I'ma keep this one secret still but it has wild mundane animals and old altars and mysterious stuff and bones and…

    Animal Monsters 2d6
    Cats, wolves, birds, something special at 12. You know.

    What's not here: most of my random encounter tables sometimes produce dragons or roll on an all-purpose list of unique characters of this part of the world (I cross them out and replace them with someone new when they get used). This place is a little different I guess, and is a fair way from the area where they know anybody. However, if they were near certain places I would interpret the hags or huntsmen as being specific groups, or the elves and birds too. And there's something on that unusual natural encounters chart that could involve these things.

    Also, should have included more bears. If play returns here again I will revise.

    There's lots of encounters already written into hexes on the map section I blew up to 6 miles, too.
  • edited April 2014
    OK, I tried out something like Eero's technique (high / low roll is a d6 die of fate sort of thing):

    Twisted Hills
    1. High roll wolf hunter, low roll starving wolves
    2. Small group of outlaws (neutral). High roll a camp, low roll hunting.
    3. Patrol from Lug’s Tower. Brutish thugs. High roll hunting down outlaws, low roll think PC are outlaws
    4. ‘Monks’. High roll pilgrims to Marr’s Eye, Low roll fanatical druids
    5. Cutthroat Bandits. On low roll have set an ambush for party.
    6. Special
    1) Encounter from the past of a PC or the party [to be specified in an actual game]
    2) A roadside way house on an unmapped road (unscrupulous landlady working with Bandits)
    3) The lair of the cutthroat bandits
    4) An undead (high roll) or demon (low) travelling to or from the House of Obscene
    5) A conjurer who needs blood to entice his uncouth spirits. Daytime: his tower. Nightime: attacks party.
    6) Roll on table for nearest adjacent region
    It wasn't written with any particular campaign (or even map) in mind, but I did use some In a Wicked Age oracle results to guide me. For not very much work I quite like it. In fact I like it enough that now I want to make a set of these tables and only then make a hexcrawl map and setting based on them.
  • Seems good to me. And yes, no need to make the map first, particularly if you bolster each region with a list of "points of interest" - things that need to get on the map in play. Lug's Tower and House of Obscene, for example.
  • edited April 2014
    Ok, what do you make of this, gang? It's 20 minutes work off the top of my head so I'm fairly certain it's got huge problems. The Fortune thing is generic roll adjustment to mark the shifting... well fortunes of your army. I think it's fairly self-explanatory but if you want me to go into it I can.

    Roll 2d6 [+ Fortune] when you lead an army into hostile territory.

    [-1 or Lower] The next negative event to occur is the straw that broke the camel's back. All but the most loyal desert you in huge droves and your forces are lost. Your return home is dangerous and humiliating. Investors will want repayment in full and your political support has slipped away.
    [0] – Horns sound and a great cry goes up! The enemy is on you, my lord! You are ambushed by The Enemy in full force with your army in disarray. Historians record your strategic blunder with relish.
    [1] - You’ve located an Enemy fortification. (Roll Low) They’re well stocked and intent on either weathering a siege or sallying forth to engage your forces if they try to move past the region, or (Roll High) They’re undermanned but resolute in their defence and will only concede the fortification if there is no chance of holding out for reinforcements.

    2. – Enemy outriders harass a section of your forces (1d6) and (Roll Low) inflict 2d10% casualties before slipping away [-1 Fortune], or (Roll High) inflict 1d12% casualties but are either broken or captured by quick counter-manoeuvres [+1 Fortune]
    3. Enemy Scouts have spotted your forces while they camp. Either (Roll Low) they slip away unbeknownst to you and inform their masters of your current location [-1 Fortune], or (Roll High) your men spot the spies and raise the alarm.
    4. Your scouts return with tall tales of improbably high numbers of well-equipped Enemy troops nearby hunting for your forces with war-banners unfurled. Word quickly spreads and 3d6% of your forces desert you.
    5. Some terrible weather or terrain has ensnared your forces. You won’t be able to continue or give battle effectively for 1d6 hours. [-1 Fortune]
    6. General bickering and poor communication today has left your marching orders in tatters. Men move in poor order at a bad pace, consistently arrive late and report sparsely.
    7. The Sun shines on you, my Lord! Marching conditions are good and the roads are clear. Onwards!
    8. Your forces come upon a shrine or other auspicious location or occurrence of significance. A sign! God is with us! [+1 Fortune]
    9. Your forces come across an Enemy supply train of war materiel. Either, (Roll Low) there is enough food and equipment to stopper any supply problems for the moment, or (Roll High) there is enough food and equipment that your forces are flush and morale is high. [+1 Fortune]
    10. Your scouts have come upon an Enemy encampment. Either, (Roll Low) your scouts were spotted and the alarm has been raised with the Enemy ready to give battle in 1d4 hours, or (Roll High) your scouts slipped away unnoticed and the Enemy is unaware of your proximity.
    11. Your outriders report they met any enemy force and harassed its progress. Either, (Roll Low) there were many outrider casualties and only a few men return to give their report or (Roll High) the Enemy has been thrown into disarray and will not be set for battle for 1d4 hours in addition to sustaining some casualties. [+1 Fortune]
    12. A Enemy messenger arrives! In accordance with The Charter you are respectfully invited to parlay with the Enemy commander at some neutral location. Either (Roll Low), He or She wishes to arrange the time and place you will do bloody and decisive battle, or (Roll High) He or She is willing to do battle but is open to reasonable alternatives and diplomatic entreaties – perhaps more senseless bloodshed can be avoided?
    [13] – The Enemy commander contacts you directly. Either, (Roll Low) He or She wishes to negotiate peace and has no taste for further combat, or (Roll High) He or She has been disillusioned by their current Ruler/Ideology offers you their fealty instead! If you accept they pledge themselves- and any that are loyal to them - to you until the end of your campaign.
    [14] – The trap is sprung! You’ve managed to spy the Enemy in some compromising position and may seize the opportunity to engage to your great advantage. Songs of your strategic genius are sung in taverns and halls for years to come.
    [15 or Higher] After much searching it seems that is no real organised military opposition in this region. Peasants and Lesser Nobles fall to their knees at your approach, begging for mercy and favour.

  • edited April 2014
    I once ran Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa setting for friends over Google+.

    During one session I had a giant mutated dinosaur named Kaiju stomping around the hex map.
    Here's a revised version of the procedures I came up with for him:
    When Kaiju is encountered in a hex, place his token there.
    Roll for surprise to determine if Kaiju is aware or unaware of the party. If Kaiju is aware of the party, roll a reaction roll to determine if Kaiju is hostile or indifferent toward the party (Kaiju is never friendly.)
    If Kaiju is unaware or indifferent toward the party he moves up to 3 hexes in a random direction at the beginning of each day.
    If Kaiju is aware of the party and hostile he moves up to 3 hexes directly toward the party's current location at the beginning of each day.
    Kaiju leaves a path of destruction through every hex he moves through. The hex becomes irradiated and all forests and fields are burned. Food and potable water can never again be foraged from that hex. If there was a human settlement there, Kaiju kills 1d% of its level 1 population automatically and named NPC's must make saving throws vs. death to try and survive.
    If Kaiju passes through a hex inhabited by men of chaotic alignment, all the surviving men will worship Kaiju and follow him.
    Lawful men will deal damage to Kaiju if they are armed with alien weaponry.
  • I'd reccomend everyone to turn your random tables into a deck of cards; it's even faster to handle than rolling all dice at once and consult the tables in order. You can place more cards of any item of the table you want to have a higher ocurrence. Also draw as many cards as you want if you want more things to happen at once or if the previous one didn't made sense, instead of re-rolling the same dice. We had a great fast-paced hexcrawl in this fashion, where everything was created as players arrived to the spot.
  • I love cards, but the big problem I have is: card A is "bloody" "sword", card B is "rusted" "cleaver". I can have a bloody cleaver or a rusted sword but I'll never have a bloody sword. I can have two of each card in the deck, but the probabilities are still off and that won't scale if I have a *bunch* of stuff on the card...
  • edited April 2014
    That's why I only use them as inspiration, and not take them as they come all the time. If I'd draw the card with "bloody" and "sword" on it, and both words fit the scene, I kick out the rule of choosing only one of them. However, I'd say that you'd probably would do better if you don't cram more than 7 tables on the same deck, maybe 5 color coded words for easy readability, or 4 words on each side and a pic on the center of the card. Or you could use hex cards. ; )
  • @Potemkin,

    That's a pretty cool chart, and I like it very much in principle. Great stuff!

    My only reservation is about how adaptable it is to existing factors. For instance, once we establish that there is a fortification somewhere, or that the enemy has a certain type of tactic (lots of sweeping light cavalry making hit-and-run attacks), or that you've cut their reserve lines... it might become harder to use this table. Likewise, would you have to make different tables for different types of enemy and different wars?

    I could be wrong, though. That's just what comes to mind immediately; I'd certainly try this one in play myself, the basic ideas are excellent.
  • Potemkin, your table needs more disease. Well, at least one entry. Dysentery, plague, and so on were major factors affecting medieval military campaigns, from what little I know.
  • edited April 2014
    I'm pleased it reads well. I love the conceptual weight of charts (random tables, event procedure? What's the term we're using here?) and how they distribute fictional impositions into play in nice chunks. Love making them, too: the structure reminds me faintly of having to write sonnets and haikus in school. Cutting down a perspective on the world into 10 punchy events appeals. There should really be a master directory of all OSR tables online... an Encyclopædia Chartannica?

    The Army Campaign Chart is heavily abstracted and its use is really only to replicate a campaign of fortune: marching into unknown but hostile territory and pushing your luck. How many battles will you have before you have to return home? This sort of blind crusading probably fails to replicate the real movement and objectives of an army but strikes me as totally high fantasy in a war-quest kind of way.
    "What is over there, man?" "An Elf castle, my Lord." "Very good, we attack at dawn!" - As you can see, it's all a bit blood thirsty and senseless. The Enemy is very abstract, only defined when stumbled upon by the player (that is to say that I hadn't planned as a DM to position castles and maneuverer unseen armies - rather, just give the player an empty section of hex and let them go wild). The chart emphasises the importance of scouts and good reconnaissance which, at this level of abstraction, is tantamount to activating a table roll without exposing your precious army to any danger. It would be very easy to alter the flavour to invoke the sandstorms and thirst of a desert crusade or a horrifying, mud-strewn 60-year campaign across northern Europe.

    If I were to actually use this chart in some kind of Kingmaker game I'd probably designate the size of an Enemy territory, its general terrain and its the total strength of its forces. Each time there was a military victory I'd tick down on the number of enemies (or maybe an abstracted level of resistance?), eventually meaning that the opposing forces are broken and you can claim your new land. This of course means rolling on a hypothetical "Occupying Unfriendly Territory" chart - the best results in which being that you are perceived as ruling fairly and win the people's love. The worst being that you are constantly beset by clandestine attempts to destabilise your shit (Robin Hood appears here).

    Ultimately I'd like to refine it into a lovely machine that both saps an army's strength (and sends the player back home in shame) and replenishes its men and resources (letting them push on) - depending on the roll. A perpetual campaigning machine.

    I feel you, Kurisu. I'm going to get to work on a second chart that's a "Spoils & Horrors" table that gets rolled every week/month in the field to show the various colourful treasures and diseases an army on the road might accumulate.
  • With the Fortune modifications, I got a very nice Heroes of Might and Magic vibe from it.
  • I need to play with the Fortune economy but I like the idea of players rolling on a table and knowing that they're up against it if they have low fortune. Adjusts expectations as well as results. The granularity of High and Low colour roles as digital variation on a single result so push what a "single roll" can convey and improves the utility of the table without much additional thought.

    I have only the vaguest pre-adolescent experience of being exposed to a Might and Magic video game. I think if I actually played it now then my appreciation would be shattered - HoM&M seems highly romanticised to me, both in terms of setting and the actual process of play. It was pretty much a hexcrawler, right?
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