Tag Archives: wilderness

Bricks and hexes

Hexes have a cartographic advantage over grids in that the center of a hex is equidistant from the centers all six adjacent hexes. In contrast, on a standard graph paper grid diagonal movement is more efficient than moving in a cardinal direction, assuming a destination other than cardinal-adjacent (that is, other than due north, due south, due east, or due west).

Recently I noticed that squares in a brick configuration are topologically similar to hexes in terms of adjacency. Each brick is adjacent to six surrounding bricks.

Bricks, however, are much easier to sketch than hexes.

To see another way how bricks are similar to hexes, consider the following image and imagine the orange brick overlay moving right until the center of the bricks is superimposed over the center of the hexes.


(This post is groundwork for another idea. To be continued!)

Trade and arbitrage

Traders must invest in trade goods, which are an abstract resource costing one bank note (1000 coins) each. Trade goods must be purchased with bank notes, which requires a bank relationship. Nobody is going to entrust their merchandise to a group of vagabonds with a sack of coin. Each trade good requires a wagon and team, making it obvious at a glance the approximate value of any caravan. For simplicity’s sake, the cost of wagon and driver is subsumed into the cost of trade goods.

Arbitrage gained is equal to the number of random encounter checks due to travel braved for each unit of trade goods. If the journey was not perilous, characters other than adventurers would already be moving goods. Upon reaching a destination market, the party gains a return of 50 coins in exchange for each point of arbitrage.

For example, a party with three units of trade goods that faces four random encounter checks accumulates four arbitrage points. This translates to a return of 200 coins on each unit of goods, yielding a total of 3 (trade goods) x 4 (arbitrage points) x 50 (arbitrage return) = 3 x 200 = 600 coins, which must then be divided among the party and is treated the same way as treasure. The way I usually run wilderness travel, each hex takes one day to traverse at standard overland speed, with one random encounter check (1 in 6 chance) per day and one per night. This means that the “cost” of the above example return is 3 bank notes worth of capital (3000 coins) and 6 random encounter checks. Increase either the capital invested or the distance travelled and the return increases proportionally.

There should probably be some limit to the amount of trade a given town or stronghold can absorb, but that can be handled by common sense and ruling. Return can be adjusted for goods that are particularly in demand if desired, though this requires slightly more settlement elaboration on the part of the referee. Perhaps tags per settlement for goods exported and imported would be enough to support this added level of detail. I vaguely recall An Echo, Resounding and Dungeon World (the steading system) to have some related ideas, so perhaps they can be mined for approaches to managing settlement information.

Solipsistic hexes

Landscape by Nicholas Roerich

Landscape by Nicholas Roerich (source)

Starting from the idea of distance may not be the most productive way to approach either running or mapping the wilderness. This is counterintuitive, because measurement and mapping are so tightly linked conceptually. However, a graph of locations with adjacency (sometimes called a point-crawl recently) seems like too much abstraction. As an attempt to navigate between these two extremes, consider the following system, which I have been using in my Vaults of Pahvelorn game.

Hexes don’t have any determinate size at all. They are abstractions built around three things: sites, travel time, and landmarks. Sites are the locations (towns, dungeons, towers, ancient battlefields, etc) within a hex that can be visited. Sites are either obvious or hidden. One day of travel allows visiting any obvious site within the current hex or within an adjacent hex (this is “moving through hexes” mode). A day may also be spent to search the current hex (which provides a chance of finding a hidden site). Or, to rephrase it in more game-oriented terms, players get one “move” per wilderness turn, which can either be moving to an obvious location within one step or searching the current hex for hidden locations.

Travel time is probably the most controversial aspect of this scheme. One day per hex, irrespective of anything else. Travelling to an adjacent hex allows characters to interact with any of the obvious features of that hex (such as stopping in a town). Exploring a hex provides a 1 in 6 chance to find one of the hidden sites. Any site found is determined randomly, unless the characters are looking for something specific, in which case chance might be weighted in that direction based on if the characters know something about the location they are looking for (“the tomb is by a stream”). A hidden site is treated as obvious if a knowledgeable guide or accurate map is available. The relative locations of sites within a hex are usually not important, and are determined randomly or arbitrarily as needed.

Landmarks, in addition to large obvious features of the current hex, include large obvious features of adjacent hexes. This provides players with information so that they can make meaningful choices about where to go. Most of the time, characters should be able to tell the basic terrain type of all adjacent hexes, though occasionally local terrain will prevent this (such as wandering at the bottom of canyons, or journeying through a very dense forest). This should be clear by context, and limitations are often easy to overcome (such as by climbing a tree).

Each day spent in the wilderness necessitates a random encounter check, as does each night. This is a 1 in 6 chance, but can be adjusted per-hex (based on terrain type or general danger level). It is perfectly functional to stick with the 1 in 6 chance in general, for simplicity’s sake. If an encounter is indicated, I sometimes roll another d6 to see if more than one encounter might occur (a 6 on the second die) or if the encounter will involve more than one NPC group (a 1 on the second die). In the second case, “more than one NPC group” means that the PCs encounter two other groups that are already engaged in an encounter themselves. The exact probabilities for the rarer occurrences are not important as long as they are impartially determined and remain uncommon.

Exploring off the beaten path carries with it the risk of getting lost. There is no chance of getting lost when following a known route, such as a road, but in other cases the chance is 1 in 6 (or greater, of course, depending on the situation and terrain). In game terms, getting lost means wandering accidentally into a hex adjacent to the one intended (determine which randomly). This can happen either during movement toward a known site (if a path is not followed) or during searching for hidden sites.

By implication, the “real” size (whatever that might mean) of a predominantly mountain hex is smaller that the size of a plains hex (because you can travel much farther on plains than on mountains). What this does is pull the wilderness into a loose mesh similar to a point-crawl, but with more enforced structure (as there will always be six adjacent nodes at any given location).

Just like in the dungeon, the default rate of travel assumes caution, resting occasionally, and so forth. Journeys are purposeful but not forced marches. This mode engages all the standard rules (mounts not dying on you, standard getting lost chances, standard encounter chances, standard surprise chances, standard encounter distances). If a group wants to throw caution to the wind and make like a bat out of hell to their destination, more than one hex may be traversed in a single day of travel, but chances of mishap are be greater. Roll or pick any number of possibilities from the following list:

  1. One encounter check (with increased chance) per hex traversed
  2. Mounts must save or die when destination is reached
  3. Increased chance of getting lost (if appropriate)
  4. Guaranteed attention from bandits (haste implies value)
  5. Guaranteed pursuit from origin location (haste attracts attention)
  6. Force retainer morale check (“I didn’t sign up for this garbage”)
  7. Otherwise obvious landmarks or sites go unnoticed
  8. Increased chance of being surprised during encounters
  9. Decreased encounter distance
  10. Penalty to encounter reaction rolls

Alex S. uses a similar one day per hex method, and his post helped lead me to my current method, though I do not expose hexes directly to players.

Current hexcrawl procedure:

  1. Roll for weather (2d6 reaction roll with cosmos)
  2. Move or search?
  3. Day encounter check
  4. Lost?
  5. Describe travel, note obvious sites and landmarks
  6. Resolve any day encounters
  7. Camp procedures? (establishing “default” procedures is reasonable)
  8. Mark off rations (I always forget to do this — bad referee!)
  9. Night encounter check
  10. Resolve nocturnal encounters


Hexenbracken Original

Hexenbracken Original

Not that I’m under the delusion that anyone that reads my blog doesn’t also read Zak’s, but I still feel compelled to post about this. Zak found this old hex map I put up but never used. I created it using the procedures from Victor Raymond‘s Wilderness Architect (which can also be found as a pair of articles in Fight On!, issues two and three).

He then prompted arbitrary people on Google Plus to stock it, democratic-like. The result can be found here (Google Docs spreadsheet) thanks, I gather, to Random Wizard. That’s right, almost every single hex has something interesting (that’s more than 600 keyed hexes).

From Zak’s summary post:

The Hexenbracken was created hex-by-hex over the last few days by a ton of people on Google + and Despite a certain amount of democratic noise that you’d expect from anything like this, I can say with my hand on my heart that it has a smaller percentage of stupid things in it than any other hexcrawl product I can think of.

The map, by the way, is in the public domain.

Hexenbracken with Gygaxian Democracy

Hexenbracken with Gygaxian Democracy — key

Alexandrian Hex Crawling

Justin Alexander has been putting out some posts on hexcrawls. Here are some links:

They assume the 3E skill system, but are still interesting reads. For comparison, see my old wilderness movement costs post (which is really just a slightly simplified version of the B/X wilderness movement system).

In particular, his concept of “watch” seems like higher temporal resolution than I need. What I have been doing is one encounter check per day (with a die roll to determine time of day). This is pretty much as specified by the original Expert rulebook. There are also rules for discovering fixed features through exploring hexes rather than moving through them (like searching a room for secret doors in a dungeon). It is also possible to notice some fixed features without searching form them.

Justin also left this provocative comment on one of the posts:

If you find yourself starting to worry about where the PCs are “in the hex”, you’re doing it wrong.

I need to think about that more. Should the hex be an atomic measure of wilderness space? It has a pleasing absolutism to it. It does remove the idea of zooming hex levels, but perhaps that is unnecessary complexity anyways.

Wilderness Rumors

One of the major draws of a sandbox campaign is that players get to choose their own paths. But in order to make informed choices, players need setting information. There are two major ways of communicating such information: 1) setting documentation and 2) learning about the setting through play. Option 1 is also known as the infodump; published setting canon belongs to this category. Unsurprisingly, I favor the second method, but it does sort of beg the question: if you need info to play intelligently, and you gain info only by playing, does that mean that you must play stupidly to begin with?

You could take a hybrid approach, which I suspect is actually the most popular in the wild. Something like: read this small infodump, and then learn the rest through play. And I’m certainly not against some amount of background info (though it does have the tendency to grow once unleashed). However, under the principle of restricting preparation to elements likely to affect the game directly, there is a traditional structure that can be used: the rumor table.

It seems to me like we already have an integrated rumor table without any extra work required: the stocked hexes. You just need an impartial way of deciding which areas you want rumors to be about, and (optionally) their truthfulness. I’m not sure that much actual utility is gained by seeding false rumors (as is usually done in old modules), but it is easy enough to roll for truth if you so desire (maybe 1 in 6 rumors are false or misleading). Here is the method I am considering.

Rumors (d6):

  • 1 – 3: current hex
  • 4 – 5: adjacent hex (roll again for direction)
  • 6: farther hex (roll again for direction and for distance)

Optionally, in the case that a 6 is rolled for both farther hex and distance, you can have the possibility of a rumor from even farther afield. Here is one way to do this. Roll a d6 to “confirm” the far-distance rumor, and then another d6 for the actual distance and add it to the previous distance. Continue this process as long as you roll 6s on distance rolls. Or stop at the edge of your stocked hexes.

When PCs enter a hex, roll for one rumor automatically, no matter what the characters do. This information may be conveyed in any way you like, via encounter, dream, whatever. These may be framed in whatever way works best for your particular group (some ideas include: leads, quests, and direct encounters). I imagine the appropriate number of leads will vary by group.

Additional rumors can be uncovered by PC action. Maybe roll d6 more times, and maybe adjust that result by charisma or intelligence as appropriate to the context. For example, if the PCs are in a tavern, charisma is probably more relevant, but library research might use intelligence.

Example uses of the rumor system:

  1. Rumor roll: 3. Select a rumor from the current hex.
  2. Rumor roll: 4. Adjacent hex. Roll for direction: 3 (southeast).
  3. Rumor roll: 6. Farther. Roll for direction: 2 (northeast). Roll for distance: 6. Roll for even farther: 6. Roll for additional distance: 3. So, the rumor should be taken from 9 hexes away to the northeast.
In a separate G+ conversation about encounter tables, a similar method (but for random encounters) was brought to my attention (I had seen that one page dungeon before, but didn’t notice the random encounter method). See here too. This seems like a nifty way of doing encounters too, and I’ll probably consider it more when I get to the post on random encounter tables.

Hex Stocking Interlude

Aplus of People the with Monsters left a comment on one of my recent posts:

For another example of how one dude handles wilderness, I just make a short table (12 or 16 entries). The players tell me the direction they are heading (I do have terrain figured out beforehand, but nothing else) and I check each hex for a random encounter. Most of these encounters are lifted from Carcosa, so they have a lot of underlying depth in a sentence or two, and are also easily modified to suit near any campaign.

This is a really interesting approach. It lies somewhere between having nothing other than terrain and rolling wandering monsters and keying up hexes statically. In computer science terms, this method is somewhat like late binding. I see several advantages: one, less material is needed; two, the referee can be surprised along with the players; three, you end up building a setting through play gradually rather than all at once prior to the game (compare to the character build versus development through play game styles).

There are several things that I want in a hexcrawl that are not supported by the Aplus method though, assuming I am understanding it correctly. I would like the direction chosen by the players to matter regarding more than the terrain type. Assuming that there is only one list of encounters in play, it seems like you would have the same die roll no matter which direction was chosen. It’s not exactly the same thing as a quantum ogre, but it does seem to preclude information gathering beforehand.

Unless information gathering, in addition to actual travel, is grounds for determining hex contents. In other words, things start to exist only when you look at them, and researching rumors and travel are both ways of “looking at” hexes. That sounds promising, but I suspect it would fluster me at the table, so I still think I would prefer to precompile. Also, I’m really bad at taking notes during play, so I fear that I would end up losing much of the richness created at the table. (I really think good session note taking is one of the most valuable referee skills, and I’m terrible at it.)

There are two other little subsystems that I have been working on (for future posts) which also require having some hexes set down beforehand. The first is autogenerating rumor lists based on the contents of adjacent hexes. Yes, it’s about as simple as it sounds, but I added a few complications to decrease the predictability somewhat. The second is creating relationships between the contents of different hexes. For example, the wizard in the tower in hex A might be interested in capturing the creature in hex B or taking vengeance on the fighter is settlement C. I don’t really have a system for that yet, but I’m working on it.

All that being said, I like the Aplus method and think it is very practical, especially for people like me who probably tend to make the perfect the enemy of the good. I may try it the next time I want to get a game going with minimal prep. It did also make me step back from the systems that I had been working on and ask myself what I was gaining from the amount of work I was doing, which is useful to do periodically.

Hex Stocking II

Recall: 1-2 monster, 3 trap, 4 special, 5-6 empty. Yes, differing chances for treasure too, but ignore that for now. Translating these possibilities into wilderness terms:

1-2 lair, 3 hazard, 4 special, 5-6 empty.

What are these things? They are subtly different than the dungeon equivalents, so here are some definitions.

  • Lair: a place where monsters reside. Probably counts as a small dungeon, and may sometimes connect to the underworld. Examples: goblin caves, bandit fort, zombie graveyard.
  • Hazard: something that is potentially dangerous, but only if PCs interact with it. Examples: lava flow, quicksand, time-stopped wizards mid-duel, town where everyone was killed by a disease, magical radiation.
  • Special: something with interesting utility, unlikely to be directly dangerous (though don’t underestimate the power of creative players to make anything dangerous). 50% chance that a special is a settlement. I wish I had a better word than special for this category. Non-settlement examples: wizard’s tower, oasis, dimensional gateway, healing spring, antigravity zone.

If followed rigorously, this system will result in hexes with at most one interesting feature. Frequency is variant, since one third of all areas will probably be empty. A six mile hex is a big area though, so I would sort of like the system to provide the possibility of more than one result per hex. So, new rule: Keep rolling per hex until you roll a 5 or a 6. Each result rolled will be progressively more hidden or off the beaten path. Basically, I see a hierarchy of obviousness regarding hex contents:

  • Impossible to miss: if you enter the hex, you are aware of it. If you are following roads, then anything on the road is of this category. Examples: a mile high tower on a flat plain, the smoke from an army’s campfires, New York City (probably doesn’t fit in a 6 mile hex, but you get the idea).
  • Standard: some chance in 6 of discovery. If you’re just trying to move through a hex, you still get a passive chance of discovery.
  • Less: some chance in 6 of discovery, and you must proactively spend time exploring the hex.
  • Least: like above, but lower chance of discovery.

This “obviousness” hierarchy is still something I’m working on. The similarity to secret door systems is not lost on me, but I haven’t decided exactly how it should best be systematized yet. I also feel like I read something similar to this somewhere, but I’m not sure where. Also, in case it’s not clear, the default level of obviousness is standard, not impossible to miss.

If there are dangerous things (hazards) and interactive things (specials) there should also be a category of things that are interesting but not so interactive, right? Otherwise, I suspect the hazards and specials will start to feel too common, even if you try to improvise other details at the table. Dungeon stocking systems often have the concept of dungeon dressing; thus, we need wilderness dressing too. Since fluff is crunch, the dressing might still be of use to creative PCs too. My first thought for this was an independent roll per hex, with a 2 in 6 or 3 in 6 chance of added dressing. Like the general hex stocking step, keep rolling until you get a negative result. So, the majority of hexes will not have a dressing element, but a few will have more than one. Hopefully this distribution will feel organic and keep players guessing. Examples of wilderness dressing: abandoned farmhouse, small canyon, half-buried dinosaur skeleton, crater from a past explosion.

To summarize the system as I see it working now: for each hex, roll 3d6 (each die being a different color would probably be convenient). Die 1 determines the main result (lair, hazard, etc), die 2 determines the treasure, die 3 determines if there is dressing. Die 1 and die 3 are each re-rolled until they come up negative, determining ever more hidden hex features. For each result, the relevant subtable is consulted for details about type. I see these tables as a mixture of generic elements that can repeat and unique Vornheim-like entries that are crossed off and replaced with something else once rolled. Monsters are determined by rolling on a terrain-specific table. Treasures are determined by monster hoard type (if part of a lair result) or the standard dungeon “unattended treasure” table (maybe? I haven’t thought this through yet). In the future, I might do some table consolidation, so that fewer die rolls are needed, but I want to leave the various rolls separate for now to preserve the probabilities and make it clear where results are coming from. Also, I don’t think the number of dice required can by much reduced if I want to support a variable number of features and dressing elements per hex.

Hex Stocking

I’m in the process of trying to come up with a random hex stocking method that works for me. My point of departure is the traditional dungeon stocking method:

  • 1-2 monster (3 in 6 chance of treasure)
  • 3 trap (2 in 6 chance of treasure)
  • 4 special
  • 5-6 empty (1 in 6 chance of treasure)

In the context of wilderness stocking, “monster” would be interpreted as a lair or dungeon, “trap” as a hazard of some sort (or perhaps an abandoned ruin that is uninhabited but still dangerous), and “special” as everything else (including, probably, settlements). Each of those categories could have a subtable or set of subtables to determine the type of lair, etc. I want to keep the system as simple as possible, but I think I need more than this for inspiration, because I don’t find myself actually finishing a stocking process. That’s a sign to me that I need more help from the tables.

One thing that is blocking me is how settlements interact with the stocking. I could just place the settlements, and then stock the areas between them, but I kind of want the generator to do that work for me. It seems that there are really only three or four meaningful settlement sizes for my purposes here. Stronghold, town, village, and isolated settlement (outpost, traveler’s inn, farmstead, etc). Maybe half of the special results would result in some kind of occupied settlement. Ruins would be covered in the monster, trap, and empty (when with treasure) results on the main table.

I don’t care much about things like logical food supplies (I can come up with after the fact explanations), but I do sort of like the idea of graduated civilization and wilderness. Here is another place where three or four categories seem appropriate: civilization (town, fortress, etc), threatened ground (the border between civilization and wilderness), and wilderness. There is a mathematical choice to be made regarding how this works: should the stocking roll be independent or related to results in adjacent hexes? If the process is independent, then we can infer the level of civilization (and thus danger) from the resulting distribution, which will end up being regular.

If it is dependent, then the process would be more like an organic outgrowth from some seed hex (probably the starting town), which would have some chance of going down in civilization level and some chance of going up. The chance of civilization level decreasing as you expand outwards would probably be greater than the chance of civilization level increasing, resulting in a setting that is dominated by wilderness (and thus adventure opportunities). Victor Raymond uses a system like this to generate terrain type in his Wilderness Architect series of articles in Fight On! (issues #2 and #3). He places settlements by determining random direction and distance from the starting settlement.

So, to expand the the “4 special” hex result:

  1. Trick (magic statue, etc)
  2. Settlement
    1. Stronghold (50% chance includes another settlement)
    2. Town
    3. Village
    4. Outpost

The meaning of this table (based on expected values): 1 in 12 hexes will contain a settlement, and 1 in 48 hexes will contain a stronghold. Following the DCC recommendation of 100 miles square, I am considering approximately 16 x 16 six mile hexes, which is 256 hexes (and also compatible with my ideas on hex zooming). Overall, such a wilderness would have (approximately) 86 lairs, 86 empty hexes, 43 specials (21 of which would be settlements) and 43 hazards. How does that distribution look? One thing that does not seem quite right is that an outpost is just as likely as a stronghold using this scheme, but on the other hand this will lead to around 5 strongholds on the map, which seems to be about right (especially if they are of varying levels of power and influence). Also, the “monster” result would include things like bandit forts and the towers of evil magicians.

Any ideas welcome.

Wilderness Movement Costs

Earlier this month, Delta wrote a post about wilderness movement rules in AD&D. I like the idea of modelling wilderness movements in terms of a budget (based on mode of locomotion) that can be “spent” to enter adjacent hexes. (This is also the way Fourth Edition does tactical movement.) The important conceptual work is all in Delta’s post, but I want an easily gameable set of rules that I can apply to my 6 mile hex maps based on the B/X wilderness movement rules (the relevant references are Labyrinth Lord page 45, the Expert rulebook page X19, and the Rules Cyclopedia page 88).

The base budget is calculated by doubling the normal “inches per turn” movement rate. So a standard human movement rate of 12 translates to 120 feet per turn and 24 miles (or 4 hexes) per day of clear ground. Each movement point ends up being worth one mile of travel on clear ground, which is nice.

Locomotion Mode Movement Budget
Human, unencumbered 24
Human, lightly encumbered 18
Human, heavily encumbered 12
Riding horse, unencumbered 48
Riding horse, lightly encumbered 36
Riding horse, heavily encumbered 24

(See the LotFP encumbrance rules for what it means to be encumbered.)

Terrain Examples Movement Cost Becoming Lost
Easy road
0 in 6
Average clear, city, grasslands, trail *
1 in 6
Moderate forest, hills, desert, badlands
2 in 6
Difficult mountains, jungle, swamp
3 in 6

* There is no chance of getting lost when following a trail if the trail is well-known.

Delta suggests that for added realism different modes of transport might have modifiers when moving over some terrain types (he gave the example of cavalry over mountains). I agree, but I’m not going to systematize that. I think individual rulings for specific situations will be good enough. These calculations are all behind the screen, so players will not be thinking in terms of movement budgets. At least, that’s how I foresee this. We’ll see how it works in practice.