A friend asks how I hexcrawl.
This is how I hexcrawl:
First of all, determine the scale, both time- and space-wise. This is important because of how finely grained is your adventure and setting. I normally use 6 exploration turns per day, of 4 hours each. If 3 are not spent for downtime (camp and nosh), characters take some damage or penalty. My hexes are anything between 24 miles and 1 km (or 1000 yards). In general all these numbers are profoundly opinable but the procedures are based on my (mixed bag of) traveling, orienteering, navigation and sailing experience.
At dawn and evening, more or less frequently depending on whether you are exploring Scotland or a place with sensible, normal, non-crazy weather:
- Determine weather. I normally roll 1d6: low means weather is bad, high it’s clear. If you have a table for your campaign or season use that. Why weather? Bad weather means bad navigation and bad movement. If you have no idea, follow this table (GLoS is how far it allows you to see geographical features):
- horrible horizontal rain, GLoS 1/2 mile.
- rain, GLoS 1d3 miles
- fog, GLoS pretty much nothing
- cloudy and hazy, GLoS 2d6 miles
- sunny, GLoS 2d6x4 miles
- so sunny, taps aff, GLoS 4d6x4 miles. Roll again: on a 6, GLoS 4d6x8 miles
Then, each turn:
- determine line of sight. Fill in all the terrain types in hexes that the PCs can see. This is super-mega important, and please forget about all the bullshit about “how far can a character see at a given height” that you see every 2 months on the internet. In real life, unless you are by a very calm the sea with a super-clear weather, three things are going to impact on visibility in a much harsher way:
- vegetation. If characters are in a forest, they don’t see any other hex unless they get on top of the canopy. And they won’t see much of anything unless it’s within a few hundred of feet, depending on growth. Chances are they won’t find any location in a forest hex unless they’re hunting for it or know where to find it. You can see forests probably miles away.
- weather. Fog and rain will reduce LOS to more or less nothing. Haze will often reduce LoS to 6 miles or less, which is convenient because it’s a hex for most of you people. With a crystal-clear weather you can spot mountains easily tens of miles away, possibly even a hundred. Corsica is visible from Monaco in the right conditions.
- height and orography. Photons go in a straight line. Photons are magic, but don’t go through soil or rock. In general you’ll see every geographical feature around you unless the line of sight is blocked by other geographical features or shit weather or vegetation.
- in flatland you can see forests from a few miles away. That’s convenient if you use 6 miles hexes. You’ll also see anything that borders it. You’ll also see all higher ground behind it (up to GLoS), and forests on it.
- If you are on the hills, you can see all the hills around, plus the mountains, and you got some amazing line of sight on lower ground, unless it gets blocked by other high ground or weather.
- same for mountains. You can see forever from there. Except if the weather is horrible. Or other mountains block the line of sight. Or if the mountaintop is forested (been there, it’s incredibly annoying).
- Landmarks. You should have landmarks, because they ground the locations. volcanoes, humongous trees, lakes, pillars of golden light, lakes, mountaintop monasteries. Consider making them a smidgen more visible than they ought to, especially in really shit weather, so to give a sense of “yep we’re definitely going somewhere” and “yep i saw that monastery before” and “I thing they must have phat loot in that monastery” and “I really wish that monastery was within fireball range”. Landmarks attract PCs like magnets.
- Movement: now, let PCs move. 30 miles a day on paths for a small group of medieval people way fitter than your usual nerd is totally achievable, 15-20 on hilly ground (cue the West Highland Way) and probably woods and generic broken-but-not-too-awful terrain , 5 for swamps. Horses add 60% movement on hills and plains. Mountains… it’s complicated. In general if you go in the valleys you can easily do 10-20, even 30, but going against the grain is a pain. And maybe not doable. Be generous and allow 6 miles, or 1d6-1 miles a day, and make horses save or die. In any case treat paths as not worse than 10 miles a day. At any rate, that’s the daily movement rate for 3 exploration turns (12 hours), so divide it by 3 to find out the miles per turn.
As for rivers, I add anything between 1d4 and 1d20 miles as “cost” of crossing a river (find a ford, bridge or make a raft), depending on the size, weather, season and geography.
Oh, in an unexplored forest characters not following a path will get lost and drift somewhat. Same for heavy rain or fog. Why? Navigation in these conditions is more or less impossible. Be inventive and exhilarating.
- encounters: you need to decide how trafficked and dense with bullshit the area is. The West Highland way, roll for a random encounter every hour. The road between Manchester and Liverpool, just roll encounters. There will definitely be peasants bringing produces to merchant towns and cities. Remote forested mountain valley, maybe roll twice a day. If you prefer you can have a flat chance (1-in-6 or 2-in-6) or have it varied. Make up your mind, this is very much the best way to characterise your wilderness: wilderness encounters have meaning. Wolves have meaning. Goblin hunting parties have meaning. That dragon you see flying over your head has meaning. You’re invading their turf. They will eat your face. Add also a “edible” encounter so characters can fight for forage: I found out hunting in RPGs is really, really fun for my players.
The encounter will happen at a distance depending on the line of sight. Just remember that it gets hard to understand that a person is a person after less than a mile. Also, ambushes happen all the time.
That’s it. Rinse and repeat until you reach your destination or all PCs die.