This weekend, my brothers and I got together for the long weekend and I took the opportunity to try my hand at a hexcrawl game. We had limited time to work with, so I told them to keep it basic and make characters with whatever background they wanted, as long as it gets them to this town looking for adventure in the wilderness. The game itself was essentially the same idea as the Western Marches campaign I’ve heard about, though I’ve never read up on it specifically. Adventure is to the west, retirement is to the east, and in the middle is a town you can spend your money at, brag about your adventures, and prepare for new ones.
Setting up the game took a lot of work on my part. It’s the kind of work that’s done once and can be used over and over again, but as this was my first game it all had to be taken care of. I used Hexographer to build my map, following the guidelines of Welsh Piper. I really wanted to use the one-page hexcrawl encounter system from Roles, Rules, and Rolls, but I didn’t have the time to hand-key even a significant portion of my hexmap, and I wanted to incorporate non-combat encounters. So instead I used a multi-table setup recommended by Pencils and Papers — I had a d20 table to determined if there was an encounter and what type, and then sub-tables for Combat, Location, Sub-Quest, and Special encounters.
Making those random tables took the bulk of my effort. The Welsh Piper guidelines make building a hexmap really easy, and the Pathfinder core rules have a lot of information for how to put together encounters (so my Combat table had entries like “2d4+1 Goblin Warriors”), but I haven’t really found any good advice or suggestions on what a Random Encounter table should look like, especially not for non-Combat encounters. Sub-Quests were probably the hardest, but possibly because (for time’s sake) I was restricting myself to one-line hooks. “Lay the Dead to Rest,” “Explore the Ruins,” “Stop the Mad Wizard.” This also kept it general enough that I could build details around them during play, so that no two “Stop the Mad Wizard” quests necessarily felt similar, let along the same.
After all that I found that there were a few systems I wanted to have that I didn’t have any good notion for. How to move around the map was pretty easy: I remembered reading a post on Pencils and Papers about movement points and went off what I remembered from there. My group had a Dwarf so their speed was 24 miles in a day, so they got 24 “movement points” to spend. I kind of wish I’d thought to look over that post again before playing, though — I gave plains a move-cost of 5 and pretty much everything else a move-cost of 10 and i like the better granularity that P&P offered (which I guess he inherited from Brendan – who was riffing off Delta? I kind of love all the cross-pollination I’m finding). Anyways, I decided that you paid the Movement cost when you tried to leave a Hex. I rolled for an Encounter whenever the group entered a Hex, and they could pay half the exit-cost to “search” the Hex and get another encounter roll.
Two systems I didn’t have that I wanted were a method for getting lost (and a similar method for finding your way again) and a system for foraging. The latter, foraging, got preempted at the table by going with Pathfinder’s rules on the subject from the Survival skill (though I did vary DC based on terrain). The Alexandrian hinted at what sounds like a really great hexcrawl system that included a mechanism for getting lost, but as far as I can tell he’s never posted the details. The P&P/Brendan/Delta posts have a notion of getting lost based on Survival checks, and I spontaneously settled on a very similar system, with Survival for getting lost and Geography for finding your way again. Still, I feel like I want something more-defined than that.
The game went off really great. We had an Elven Ranger, Half-Elf Cleric of Gorram, Halfling Cleric of Pharasma, Human Fighter and Dwarven Druid. They heard rumors of a dragon in the woods and met the sole survivor of a group who were apparently attacked by giant ants. They got lost in the forest a few times, found a magic spring that got them drunk (the elf is the only one paranoid enough to not drink) and finally happened upon a dragon hunter who they joined up with to slay a Green Dragon wyrmling. The cool thing is, I never planned on that happening when I seeded the rumors about the woods, I just wanted to warn them that dragons were on the table for Forest encounters.
My favorite scene of the night came about thanks to some odd behavior by a player and my inclination to say “yes.” Early on the group met a travelling merchant, and the fighter spent a bunch of time going through his wares while the others asked him for rumors about the wilderness. He finally decided that he wanted to buy a shovel, and then proceeded to make Perception checks at every opportunity, looking for “anywhere that looks like there might be buried treasure.” I let him make the rolls and fail to find anything interesting, until he rolled a 1 on his check. I decided that he found something recently buried that turned out to be a goblin grave under an oak tree. Another of the players asked if goblin typically buried their dead in caskets, and the Ranger (who’s favored enemy is Goblins) rolled Knowledge and recalled that some tribes of goblins bury certain of their dead under oak trees as a sign of deep respect. None of this was planned (I didn’t think they’d question a goblin in a casket), and now we’ve determined that they desecrated the grave of a goblin king. (I found out later that all my players thought he was digging up another traveler’s latrine pit…)