The Alexandrian

Go to Part 1


Hexcrawl - Hex

1 Hex = 12 miles (center to center/side to side) = 7 mile sides = 124 square miles


A watch is the basic unit for tracking time. A watch is equal to 4 hours.

Determine Time Within a Watch: To randomly generate a particular time within a watch, use 1d8 to determine the half hour and 1d30 to determine the exact minute (if necessary).


10 ft. / 3"
15 ft. / 6"
20 ft. / 9"
30 ft. / 12"
40 ft. / 15"
1 Hour (Walk)
1 mile
1.5 miles
2 miles
3 miles
4 miles
1 Hour (Hustle)
2 miles
3 miles
4 miles
6 miles
8 miles
1 Watch (4 Hours)
4 miles
6 miles
8 miles
12 miles
16 miles
1 March (8 Hours)
8 miles
12 miles
16 miles
24 miles
32 miles

Consult the table for movement per hour, per watch (4 hours), or per day (8 hours).

Hustle: A character can hustle for 1 hour. Hustling for a second hour between sleep cycles deals 1 point of nonlethal damage, and each additional hour deals twice the damage taken during the previous hour of hustling. A character who takes any nonlethal damage from hustling becomes fatigued. Eliminating the nonlethal damage also eliminates the fatigue.

Mounts: Mounts carrying riders at a hustle suffer lethal damage instead of nonlethal damage.

March: A character can march at walking speed for 8 hours between sleep cycles.

Forced March: For each hour of marching beyond 8 hours, a character must make a Constitution check (DC 10, +2 per extra hour). If the check fails, the characters takes 1d6 points of nonlethal damage. A character who takes any nonlethal damage from a forced march becomes fatigued. Eliminating the nonlethal damage also eliminates the fatigue.

Mounts: Mounts carrying riders in a forced march automatically fail their Constitution checks and suffer lethal damage instead of nonlethal damage.


Normal: No modifiers.

Hustling: Characters are assumed to be moving quickly in any watch during which they hustle. Navigation DCs increase by +4 while hustling.

Tip: For each hour that characters hustle during a watch, you can simply add their movement per hour to their total movement for that watch.

Cautiously: While moving cautiously, characters are purposely being careful. Movement is made at 3/4 normal speed. The chance for any non-exploratory encounter is halved. (If a non-exploratory encounter is generated, there is a 50% chance it doesn’t actually happen.) Navigation DCs are reduced by -4 while moving cautiously.

Exploring: While exploring, characters are assumed to be trying out side trails, examining objects of interest, and so forth. Movement is made at 1/2 normal speed. The chance for encounters is doubled.

Note: It is possible to move cautiously while exploring. Apply all rules for both modes of travel (including both movement modifiers).

Foraging: While foraging, characters move at 1/2 normal speed but can make a Survival check once per day. On a successful check, the character has gathered enough food and water for one day. They can provide food or water for one additional character for every 2 points by which the check result exceeds the DC. The DC is determined by the terrain type.


The type of terrain modifies the speed at which the character can travel.

  • Highway: A highway is a straight, major, paved road.
  • Road: A road is a dirt track or similar causeway.
  • Trail: A trail is like a road, but allows only single-file travel. A trail in poor repair requires a DC 12 navigation check to follow.
  • Trackless: Trackless terrain is a wild area with no paths. +2 to Navigation DCs.

Forest (sparse)
Forest (medium)
Forest (dense)
Tundra, frozen


Cold or hot climate
Giant terrain
Leading mount
Poor visibility (fog, darkness)
River crossing
Snow cover
Snow cover, heavy
Storm, powerful

Poor visibility also increases the DC of navigation checks by +4 and forage checks by +2.


The distance cited on the tables is the average distance traveled. The actual distance traveled is 50% to 150% (2d6+3 times 10%) of that distance.

Characters can ascertain the actual distance traveled with a successful Survival check made at the Navigation DC of the terrain. On a failure, they assume the average value of the distance traveled.

Note: The purpose of this rule is to make accurate mapping more difficult. (You could actually adapt a similar rule to dungeon exploration in order to make accurate mapping of the dungeon environment more difficult, although the resolution time involved might be prohibitive.) Take 10 is an option, so experienced explorers will never have any problem accurately gauging how far they’ve traveled.


Movement on the wilderness hex grid is abstracted. In order to determine if a party has left a hex, you must keep track of their progress within the hex.

Starting in a Hex: If a character starts movement within a hex, it requires 6 miles of progress in order to exit any face of the hex.

Optional Rule: You can choose to bias a starting position. For example, you might see that a river flows near the western edge of a hex. If the PCs start traveling from that river, you might decide that it only takes 2 hexes to exit through the hex’s western face and 10 hexes to exit through its eastern face.

Crossing Hex to a Far Side: It requires 12 miles of progress to exit a hex through one of the three faces on the opposite side.

Crossing Hex to a Near Side: It requires 6 miles of progress to exit a hex through one of the two nearest faces.

Back the Way We Came: If characters deliberately double back along their own trail, simply reduce their progress until they exit the hex. If they leave back through the same face through which they entered the hex for any other reason (by getting lost, for example) you can generally assume that it takes 6 miles of progress to exit the hex unless circumstances suggest some other figure.

Hexcrawl - Tracking Hexes

Go to Part 3: Navigating the Wilderness

This material is covered by the Open Game License.

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24 Responses to “Hexcrawl – Part 2: Wilderness Travel”

  1. Shoe says:

    I know this has NOTHING to do with your current article series whatsoever (which is awesome BTW), but have you/are you planning on picking up the Margaret Weis Productions Marvel Heroes RPG that just came out? I’m curious to hear our thoughts. Your reviews usually mirror my own opinions and I am really reluctant to buy the game. The Cortex System seems really REALLY disassociated and I HATE systems composed of almost entirely disassociated mechanics.


  2. Keith Paxton says:

    Very nice.
    I’m prepping for an E6 Pathfinder campaign, and I’ve always been heavy on the overland travel aspects. I will be borrowing your ideas for Watches as well as the Modes of travel and their general consequences.

    I noticed that your chart excludes the 50′ travel rate (for horseback), and that you have a 3/4 speed mod for leading a mount, and I would be interested in the reasoning behind that. I’ve always simply dropped travel rates down to walking speed if PC’s are unable to ride (or dropped rate down to pack animal speed if any of those are being led).

    I am also curious if you have any mechanics for river crossing. In the past, I simply decided if a particular location was fordable, but now I’ve been considering standardizing it and creating a table to use for determination if a particular river location is fordable. It woud have something like three classifications for the ford/crossing itself (easy, difficult, dangerous), modified by river size and time of year. Of course I’m lazy and would rather use an existing (reasonable) mechanic if I can find one :)

    For my type of gameplay, I’ve included getting lost as part of random encounters and simply ignore the result or re-roll if it doesnt suit the situation (same as I do for any encounter). Getting lost consists of wandering around within a hex and a loss of overall travel time. A successful survivial check indicates that only an hour has been ‘lost’, a failed check means that a half day has been lost (now a watch).

    Thanks for sharing your ‘secrets’, I think my GM’ing will be improved from my time reading your articles.

  3. John says:

    For a genuinely dangerous ford, I’d be inclined to have every person and pack animal make a DC 15 swim check as part of the crossing, with failure resulting in 1d6 nonlethal damage and another try, and unconsciousness or failure by 5 or more meaning they’re washed away and/or drowned unless appropriately heroic measures are taken.

  4. Melan says:

    I wonder, doesn’t this level of mechanical coverage diminish the elegant simplicity of hexcrawling? I understand the preference for a level of objectivity in setting movement rates, since movement is the mechanic that sets the pace of environmental interaction in this structure, but this much simulation strikes me as actually moving away from an actual hex-based approach towards a vector-based one. Which, based on your preference to make it player-unknown, is of course logical, since from the POV of the players, it might as well be vector-based.

    My approach in hexcrawls leans towards a more game board-like treatment of the wilderness, with movement speed pre-calculated and abstracted into “moves”. This gives me a simple 3*4 matrix differentiated by terrain (light, medium and hard) and modes of travel (foot, mounted, slow ships and fast ships), where conditional modifiers simply move you from one field of the matrix to another. For example, if a mounted party has a daily movement speed of 2 hexes over medium terrain (such as foothills or forests), a road would reduce terrain difficulty to light (3 hexes), while a heavy blizzard would force the party to proceed afoot (1 hex).

    This is a more abstract “fits on an index card” understanding of the game structure, and obviously, it isn’t player-unknown. Dividing time into “watch” and “march” periods is a good fit for this system as well; I already use watch periods to roll for random encounters if the party is camping in an unsafe location.

  5. Yahzi says:

    I have to agree with Melan; this seems a bit more fiddly than you usually do. I like Melan’s game-board analogy; as much as I want to make my players get lost in the wilderness, I don’t know that I want them to get lost inside a single hex.

    For effects I was thinking more like steps on a condition chart than HP damage. But of course that puts high levels on a more equal footing with low levels. I’m just worried that at low levels, you can’t have an army of 0th levels debilitated by weather; they’re either full-on or dead.

  6. Jack says:

    I’ve been using a player-known, “boardgame” style hexcrawl mechanic, and I can’t *completely* understand wanted to have the players engage the world, rather than the board. There’s a lot more book-keeping here than just saying “you guys can move two spaces”; but book-keeping is kind of the DM’s job. I’d be curious if it slows gameplay down, though — as it is, my group only has a few hours at a time to play and we rarely get through more than a handful of hexes.

  7. Seth says:

    If the rule make accurate mapping harder, are you leaving it up to the players to draw their own maps for terrian and for dungeons?

    If the players are in charge of drawing their own maps like classic D&D, isn’t that a dissociated mechanic? How would the character’s mapping skill come into play? How else could it be done? Setting up a projector rig and visually sharing the map?

    Sometimes the map is treated like an in-game object and if the party losses the map, the DM takes their map away and it is down to the player’s personal memory to navigate.

  8. Jack says:

    “If the players are in charge of drawing their own maps like classic D&D, isn’t that a dissociated mechanic?”

    Erm, how is the player’s choice to draw a map in any way dissociated from the character’s choice to draw a map?

  9. Justin Alexander says:

    @Melan: I wonder, doesn’t this level of mechanical coverage diminish the elegant simplicity of hexcrawling?

    I’m not really sure what the “elegant simplicity of hexcrawling” is supposed to be. You seem to be equating it with “counting hexes”, but the reality is “counting hexes” isn’t part of OD&D, AD&D, or the Wilderlands. While I’ve seen a few people experimenting with “count the hex” methods of movement online, the vast majority of hexcrawling has always calculated movement rate first and then used that to determine progress on the hexmap.

    I can see the potential elegance in the “count the hexes” method of calculating movement (and actually experimented with it). But since I’m specifically trying to avoid having the players treat wilderness exploration like a boardgame, there wasn’t much mileage in that for me.

    I also found that, realistically speaking, most of these “count the hexes” methods completely abandoned any relationship to the extant D&D mechanics for movement.

    With that being said, this post does feature a very robust calculation of actual speed:

    1. Determine base speed.
    2. Add forced march (if necessary).
    3. Apply modes of travel.
    4. Apply terrain by type.
    5. Apply conditions.
    6. Perform actual distance traveled calculation.

    Virtually all of that can be stripped away for people who don’t want to deal with that level of detail. If all you want to do is use base speed, pick a direction, and count off progress you can do that.

    Most of the terrain stuff is just a transplant of the 3E rules.

    The modes of travel were developed through play: Players want to be able to say things like “we know there are goblins around here, so we’ll take precautions to avoid them” and “I’m pretty sure the lost city is around here somewhere, let’s start really canvassing the territory”. Building those into the movement mechanic keeps the resolution loop for travel streamlined.

  10. Justin Alexander says:

    @Keith: There’s a whole separate movement table for mounts. I’m planning to post it, but the table formatting is actually thwarting me in WordPress so I may need to rebuild it.

    The 3/4 speed mod for leading a mount is there for a couple reasons:

    (1) There’s a separate chunk of mechanics that basically says “it’s not easy riding a horse over a mountain”. There are several types of terrains and conditions where people in the real world would generally get off their horse and lead them. And leading a mount in such conditions will actually slow you down compared to whatever your normal base speed would be.

    That system is mostly broken, though, and I haven’t fixed it yet. So I won’t be posting it as part of this series.

    (2) Based on my research, people riding on one horse while leading a separate pack horse tended to travel slower because of the complications/realities of the second animal. So this entry is still used to modify the speed of any party that is using pack animals.

    Re: River crossings. No special mechanics. I spent a few weeks futzing around with mapping fords and crossings onto my maps. Then I spent a few weeks futzing around with specialized mechanics for handling crossings.

    Then I gave up on all that and went for the easier solution of the 3/4 movement penalty for any watch during which a river is crossed. This represents the time lost from either traveling to the nearest ford and/or swimming across (depending on circumstance).

    If PC travel tended to involved covered wagons, I’d probably go back in and work with river crossing mechanics again.

    I use a similar mechanic for entering or leaving a canyon (although I vary the penalty depending on the size of the canyon).

  11. Yahzi says:

    How did you decide on 12 miles as a hex size? I.e. what are the pros of that size over say, 8 or 4 miles?

  12. Keith Paxton says:

    @Yahzi – I was curious about this too.
    Personally I use Campaign Cartographer and have 3 scales of mapping. I found a nice system at that showed me that each hex can be subdivided easily by 5 hexes. My continental scale is 50 miles per hex, my primary ‘hexcrawl’ map is the regional scale which has the 50 mile hexes subdivided into five 10 mile hexes each. When I really want to detail an area, I’ll zoom to a single 50 mile hex and further subdivide each of the 10 mile hexes into five 2 miles hexes. Another resource that can be really helpful is ‘free online graph paper’

  13. Jack says:

    To build on Yahzi, does your system work funny if you have different sized hexes? I imagine it doesn’t, just adjust the numbers for “how far to leave a hex.”

    A second question, we know you’re hiding the hexes from your players, but how much of the rest of the system (watches, Survival rolls, how to find their way again, modes of travel) do your players know? Do you periodically ask them for a “discover you’re lost” roll, or do you just wait for them to say, “I think we’re lost, can I check that?”

  14. Justin Alexander says:

    @Jack: Nothing breaks down mechanically if you’re using larger or smaller hexes, but I haven’t actually done extensive playtesting so I’m not sure in terms of actual table management and interaction.

    One possible difference would be the mechanics for getting lost. With a larger hex, for example, your “I’m lost” circle would be larger. OTOH, the odds of increasing your veer within the hex (and thus tightening the circle) would also be larger. I’d have to run math to figure out whether those would largely balance each other out or not.

    @Yahzi: If you get much larger than 12 miles, the hexes become “howling wildernesses”. For example, I live in Minnesota. Minnesota is 86,000 square miles which translates into 700 12-mile hexes. That sounds like a lot, but that really boils down to a 26 x 26 hex map.

    If you bump that up to 30 mile hex, each hex is 780 square miles. Now the entire state of Minnesota only has 100 points of interest.

    To give some context: Minnesota has 800+ cities. Modern Minnesota is a lot more densely populated than the areas I want to run exploration hexcrawls, but it gives you some idea of just how barren having only 100 points of interest in an area of that size would be.

    As you get smaller than 12 miles, OTOH, you run into a few of problems:

    First, your keying becomes exponentially more difficult. Remember, I want at least one location keyed to each hex. If I even halve the size of the hex, I’m quadrupling the number of hexes I need to key.

    (For example, the map I did for my OD&D open table is 16 x 16 hexes (256 hexes). If I wanted to cover the same territory with a 6-mile hex map, I would have to key 1,024 hexes.)

    Second, sight lines. With 12 mile hexes, people passing through the center of the hex can’t see neighboring hexes. With 6 mile hexes, they can. Any smaller than that and the PCs will usually be able to see one or more hexes into the distance.

    By keeping sight lines “in the hex”, you minimize the amount of information you need to process as a DM to figure out what they can and can’t see.

    Third, travel times. A light horse in D&D can got 48 miles. Even if they’re traveling through terrain that halves their movement, a party can churn through four 6-mile hexes per day. If you’re working with a 10 x 10 map and start the PCs in the middle of it, the edges of the map are only a day’s ride away. (And if the terrain is more favorable, the PCs will go shooting off your map in half a day.)

    A 12-mile hex doesn’t necessarily create a huge wilderness on that 10 x 10 hex, but it at least lets the PCs ride in a straight line for a couple of days without exiting your prep.

    Why 12 instead of 10 or 14? Partly travel time, as well. In OD&D and 3E, movement tends to break down into 12 mile chunks for a single day’s march.

    In addition, with a 12-mile “campaign hex” you can break each hex down into thirty-six 2-mile “region hexes”. That’s actually a pretty good scale for local overland travel and adventuring. (For contrast, the overland map in B2 Keep on the Borderland is about 1 mile across from top to bottom.) If you use a system similar to the Campaign Hexagon System at that point, you can keep “zooming in”.

    (I’ve never actually done that. But hypothetically it looked useful when I was figuring out what size hex to use.)

  15. Yahzi says:

    “sight lines”

    That’s an excellent point that I just discovered myself. I’m working on a hexcrawl system and finding your stuff very inspirational. My system looks quite different, but I’m not sure that in practice it plays out differently.

    I was working with 8 mile hexes; that seems just far enough to say you can’t see the next hex, and it means a normal person can walk 3 hexes. As for keying each hex, I intend to have a computer do that, so I don’t really worry about having to do too many. 😀 But I am reconsidering 12 miles.

    Oddly, 10 mile hexes are right out. Even 10 mile squares seem the wrong size. How strange is that?

    I am struck, though, how much sense a square grid makes if you’re trying to hide the structure from the players.

  16. Yahzi says:

    OK, I have another question. 😀

    I know D&D helpfully provides base movement rates, but that is for tactical combat. In the real world, human beings are the masters of endurance travel (it’s the only thing we beat the animals at!). So people on horseback don’t actually travel faster, they just do it in more comfort (and with more baggage).

    How do you feel about the idea of a single base rate, for everybody? Does that stray too far from the D&D base mechanics, or not provide enough advantage for horses? Or does it not provide enough penalty to people clunking around in armor?

  17. Brendan says:

    Counting hexes is sort of how I do it:

    All this is still on the referee side though. My players never see the hex map, and it doesn’t feel like a board game at all.

    Interestingly, line of sight into adjacent hexes is exactly why I chose 6 mile hexes. I want the players to have the info in order to make a choice about what direction they want to head towards.

    You’ve probably already seen this, but if you haven’t, check out this ode to the 6 mile hex:

    I also find it interesting that you abstract away things like river crossings by decreasing movement rates. I generally require my players to roleplay out how they overcome any obstacles like that, unless they are flying or something.

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  20. ConfusedDM says:

    Can you explain the speed and distance chart? Specifically, I don’t understand what the 10’/3″ column represent. If it matters my group and I play 5e, which is where I assume my confusion comes into play. To that end, would the DC’s you reference in other parts of this series translate easily to 5E? It looks like they would (Ie. “Compass direction” survival DC 12) would be of “moderate” difficulty in 5e, which seems reasonable, but I’m not sure what version you are playing if it should be considered easy or hard instead. Thanks for all of your advice on this site, I’m finding it incredibly helpful

  21. Justin Alexander says:

    First number is 3E base speed. Second number is OD&D base speed (which is measured in inches because it was based on a tabletop wargame). 5E shrunk the distinctions between character speeds, but you can probably just look at the 30 ft. / 12″ column.

    I believe the DCs here should be fine for 5E. They’re all in the range that 5E handles well.

  22. Chrysophylax says:

    Why is the navigation DC for jungle lower than for dense forest? The movement penalties are harsher, so it seems unlikely that jungle is less dense.

  23. Phil says:

    I’ve been reading over this guide and plan to use some of the concepts for my upcoming West Marches hexcrawl game. I appreciate how comprehensive the guide is. I’m trying to make a map of the terrain before placing hexes on it (working on graph paper is much easier for drawing – however, on a separate note, maybe you have some thoughts on whether or not it’s better to start making the map on a hex grid right away). The players will be exploring an undiscovered frontier on behalf of an imperial power, with a frontier town as the home base, and I want them to feel like they’re traversing a realistic landscape.

    My question is whether or not your maps have uniform terrain per 12 mile hex, or if the terrain is decided on a different scale? Can you have multiple terrain types in a single hex? Part 1 of your guide might suggest that the answer would be no, especially if you’re not using nested hexes, but that’s not made explicit. However, if the answer is yes, I imagine this would make calculating movement more difficult and less desirable for the GM, and that’s the issue that I wanted to focus on since realistic terrain might vary across a less uniform scale than 12 miles per hex.

    I’d like to know whether you think it would be too complicated to accommodate your rule set for a map with terrain types that don’t align with the hexes. Suppose you had grasslands, hills, and forest in a single hex (let’s assume trackless by your table), and in one 4-hour watch, the players would walk through 2 or all 3 terrain types.

    First, under your rules, would a patch of forested hills be possible, and if so would the modifiers stack manipulatively? E.g. 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4, therefore at normal speed the 30ft. speed party would move 3 miles (1/4 of base) in a 4 hour watch.

    Second, if the party moved from plains to forest within the span of one watch, would you then have to parse out how many hours they spent on each terrain type to calculate? E.g. there are 6 miles of plains followed by 3 miles of forest; the party moves 2 and 2/3 hours to cover the planes (would be 8 miles base, but 3/4 modifier on trackless plains means they moved 6 miles); afterwards they move 2 miles in the forest (1 and 1/3 hours would be 4 miles base, but 2 miles on trackless forest which is 1/2x movement). Considering all the calculations you’re already making with the movement rules, do you think something like this would be too complicated to be worth the trouble for the DM to calculate every watch? It seems like this wouldn’t alter the way calculations are made at all, just make them a little more granular.

    I realize this is a dense question but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject whenever possible. Let me know if you need any clarifications. Thanks in advance.

  24. Phil says:

    Correction: “First, under your rules, would a patch of forested hills be possible, and if so would the modifiers stack MULTIPLICATIVELY*? E.g. 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4, therefore at normal speed the 30ft. speed party would move 3 miles (1/4 of base) in a 4 hour watch.”

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