Sunday, December 27, 2015

Battle of the Hexes

So a fairly recent discovery of mine has been the concept of the Hex Crawl.

The term "sandbox" in an RPG context refers to the idea that the players are in charge of wherever their campaign is going to go. Much like a child in a sandbox, they are in control of the play—it's up to them to grab whatever they find interesting and run with it, thus defining the game's agenda. As a GM, though, you have to be prepared with a load of potential scenarios for the PCs to encounter. If they choose to go North but you serve them the exact same thing you would have served them if they were going to go East, then that's not really a sandbox.

A certain technique for preparing a large-scale campaign setting like this is to divide a region up into manageable subdivisions. A hexagonal pattern became the standard, perhaps because it naturally tessellates. I'd be interested to know the history of it... Anyway, you populate these divisions with interesting landmarks or encounters. Therefore, if the players want to go to a certain hex on the map in order to follow a plot hook, then they may encounter other interesting things along the way. They may even abandon their original intentions altogether.

Now, my first encounter with the hex crawl was actually plotting out my own subsector for a Traveller campaign, where the subsector is a pattern of 1-parsec-wide hexes (1 parsec = 3.26 light-years). I wanted only a few star systems to be defined, because of the "feel" I wanted for the game. Basically, I wanted jump travel (the week-long process of travelling to a different star system) to be limited to one hex only, because in the setting I was envisioning.

In the game, certain renegade researchers were on the verge of discovering how to make jump travel go even farther, which would be similar to the way Traveller works by default. However, humanity was economically stretched to a breaking point after the exploration of the systems that were within easy reach turned out to be relatively fruitless. Therefore, the PCs' story is taking place amidst a backdrop of a conflict between those who are hopeful that technology will bring humanity's salvation and those who are fearful that it will spell its doom.

Sound interesting? Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. But it definitely doesn't sound like much of a hex crawl, like I imagine many Traveller campaigns end up being.

Now, contrast the above with the Palladium Fantasy game I'm playing in. Our GM will probably disappointed to know that I've forgotten the original thing we were supposed to find—I think it was a lost city in the mountains to the northwest of our starting point. (I've lost the notes from that first session.) Anyway, in our first curveball maneuver, we befriended a goblin and got him to be our guide. We lost him overnight in a seemingly abandoned watchtower, and have traced his captors to some sort of ancient temple. We discovered last session that he eventually became spider food.

However, we were the ones who decided that this goblin was the thing that we were going to follow. We could have easily decided to stay the course and seek out this lost city. We recently added another player to our group, who is playing a ranger. He's hunting a summoner who is also supposedly in our current location. We might go after him or something else might pop up. Since our GM has repeatedly called the game a hex crawl, it would not surprise me in the least.

Lastly, I'd like to mention the Carcosa setting book, published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. The book was recommended to me by a fellow RPG player during our discussion regarding morality and in-game conflicts after a game we were playing. The reason being, sorcery rituals in the Carcosa book all involve human sacrifice, and potentially other gruesome NSFW elements. For this reason, the supplement has gained some notoriety. However, a good chunk of the book consists of descriptions of hex contents in a massive catalog of the planet. Many describe various population centers, some describe monster encounters, and some outline where you can find material components for those nasty sorcery rituals.

If I were to run a fantasy campaign again (and I really want to), I would probably scrap my idea of intricate world-building in the way I've done before. I mean, it remains an option, but the randomness and elegance of generating a world in a series of interlocking hexagon-shaped building blocks is at once both amazingly simple and remarkably effective.

In closing, please check out the following links that have helped me learn about hex crawls. Also, please comment with your experiences running hex crawls, or with links to more hex crawl resources.

Run A Game: The Hex Crawl
Lorekeeper0: Hex Basics series
Welsh Piper: Hex-Based Campaign Design
Bat In The Attic: How to make a Fantasy Sandbox
The Alexandrian: Hexcrawl

1 comment:

  1. I'd also recommend taking a look at Jason Lutes's Perilous Wilds. It's for Dungeon World, but it's what I use to improvise a hexcrawl.