The Alexandrian

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Organization of campaign material is always an interesting topic for me, and I don’t think there’s enough discussion of actual, practical methods. (As opposed to the idealized theoretical stuff you usually see published in advice books.) Although I’m constantly learning new tips and techniques, I’ve also found that no two campaigns ever use the same methods of documentation: Even similar scenarios will often have unique characteristics that benefit from a different approach.

In the case of my Thracian Hexcrawl, I maintain four “documents”:

(1) THE HEX MAP: This is 16 hexes by 16 hexes, for a total of 256 hexes. (If I had to do it again I would either go with a 10 x 10 or 12 x 12 map: Coming up with 256 unique key entries was a lot of work. But I had some unique legacy issues from the pre-hexcrawl days of the campaign that resulted in a larger map.)

(2) THE BINDER: This contains the campaign key. It includes 2 pages of background information (current civilizations, chaos factions, and historical epochs), 8 pages of random encounter tables (one for each of the six different regions on the map), and a 100 page hex key.

(3) THE FOLDER: Each document in this folder details a single location. These are locations with a key that takes up more than a single page and/or any location which requires a status update (because the PCs have visited it and shifted the status quo).

(4) CAMPAIGN STATUS SHEET: This document is updated and reprinted for each session. It’s responsible for keeping the campaign in motion. At the moment, the Thracian Hexcrawl campaign status sheet includes: A list of current events in Caerdheim and Maernath (the two cities serving as home base for the PCs); a list of empty complexes (which I reference when I make a once per session check to see if they’ve been reinhabited); the current rumor table; details about the various businesses being run by PCs; and the master loyalty/morale table for PC hirelings.

Of these documents, the most difficult to prep is, of course, the hex key itself (along with the folder of detailed locations). I spent two weeks of hard work cranking out all of those locations. But the up-side of that front-loaded prep is that, once it’s done, a hexcrawl campaign based around wilderness exploration becomes incredibly prep-light: I spend no more than 10-15 minutes getting ready for each session because all I’m really doing is jotting down a few notes to keep my documentation up to date with what happened in the last session.


My general method of prep — particularly for a hexcrawl — is to originate everything in a state of “status quo” until the PCs touch it. Once the PCs start touching stuff, of course, the ripples can start spreading very fast and very far. However, in the absence of continued PC interaction things in the campaign world will generally trend back towards a status quo again. (This is something I also discussed in Don’t Prep Plots: Prepping Scenario Timelines.)

This status quo method generally only works if you have robust, default structures for delivering scenario hooks. In the case of the hexcrawl, of course, I do: Both the rumor tables and the hexcrawl structure itself will drive PCs towards scenarios.

The advantage of the status quo method is that it minimizes the amount of work you have to do as a GM. (Keeping 256 hexes up in the air and active at all times would require a ridiculous amount of effort.) It also minimizes the amount of prep work which is wasted. (If you’re constantly generating background events that the PCs are unaware of and not interacting with, that’s all wasted effort.)

It’s important to understand, though, that “status quo” doesn’t mean “boring”. It also doesn’t mean that literally nothing is happening at a given location. For example, the status quo for a camp of goblin slavers isn’t “the goblins all sit around”. The status quo is that there’s a steady flow of slaves passing through the camp and being sold.

Go to Part 10: Stocking the Hexes

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10 Responses to “Hexcrawl – Part 9: Four Documents of the Hexcrawl”

  1. Snarls-at-Fleas says:

    Great series. Thank you very much!

  2. Inaki Lind says:

    Fantastic series and very useful. Thanks for taking the time to put this all down and organize it so cleanly. Very much looking forward to the next part.

    I’m using your ideas and others from ACKS to put together some ideas into a hexcrawl right now.

    As an aside, what is the status on L+L? Are the artists and editing still causing delays?

  3. Justin Alexander says:

    Re: L&L. Still dealing with art issues. I’m making a final attempt to get the art I’m contracturally obligated to include in the books as backer rewards; if that fails with a third set of artists, I’m going to start talking to those backers about refunding their money so that I can move on with the art I have.

    I’m hoping I’ll have something to report in a general update sooner rather than later. But everything has been pretty much road-blocked, so there’s been literally nothing to report.

  4. Jan says:

    Usually I’m a really structured guy and love working structured. But when it comes to applying structure to RPG scenario I seem to fail. I find it difficult to image using your method described in an at least similar way. Hopefully I’ll learn to apply it while continuing to read the series, because I want to dm a hexcrawl at some point in the near future and I love those simple structures that focus on making your live as a dm easier.

  5. James says:

    Did you really create a unique description for all 256 locations on the map? Wow!

    Were there not locations that were effectively identical / very similar? E.g. two hexes of forest that are part of the same forest. How did you handle that sort of situation?

  6. Justin Alexander says:

    @James: Large conceptual groupings like “that’s the Old Forest” are covered by terrain type and regions.

    Any given hex within, for example, the Old Forest is huge: 124 square miles. There’s plenty of room in there for dozens of interesting places; limiting yourself to just one is the artificial constraint.

    A dungeon, a monolith, a ziggurat, a grove of burnt trees, another dungeon, a bandit camp, an ogre’s shack, a cairn, a pond with giant frogs, a magical portal… Yada yada yada.

    When inspiration ran short, I used a variety of techniques to keep the creative juices flowing. A simple one is to just roll on a wilderness encounter table and then combine with a treasure generator. For example:

    (1) Roll 1d8 to determine column on the AD&D “Sub-Arctic Conditions” encounter. Rolled 6 for “Mountains”.

    (2) Roll 1d100 with result of 65. That’s giant owl. 2-5 appearing; generate a result of 5.

    (3) Giant owls have treasure type Q x 5, X. Rolling those I get 1 miscellaneous magic, 1 potion, and 1 gem. Rolling on the sub-tables I get a black pearl (500 gp), potion of human control, and amulet of life protection.

    Okay, we’re in the Old Forest. So let’s try something like this:

    A giant tree, over 80-feet wide at its base and towering several hundred feet in the air. Around the base of the tree are a number of strange carvings, intermixed with primitive pictures of owls. Anyone performing an owl call near the base of the tree will cause a hidden door to open, allowing passage into the hollow center of the trunk.

    Within there are four giant owls on perches. For an appropriate tribute, these owls can each cast augury once per day.

    For a much larger tribute, they will have the supplicant remove their arms and armor. Then one of the owls will clutch them by the shoulders and fly them to the upper eyrie where they will be placed before the Eldest Owl. The left-eye of the Elder Owl has been replaced with a black pearl and it wears an amulet of life protection. The Elder Owl will answer questions as per a commune spell, but he is also completely enamored with physical beauty: If someone of particular beauty (Charisma 16+) presents themselves, he will use his potion of human control in an attempt to enslave them.

    That should do it. So now we can move onto the next hex. (Which will apparently have hippogriffs.)

  7. Justin Alexander says:

    The other option, of course, is to simply pillage, loot, and steal. For example, I own an almost complete run of Dungeon magazines. Not every Dungeon adventure is appropriate for keying a hex, but a lot of them are location-based (or contain locations that can be ripped out).

    For example, let’s flip open Dungeon #65.

    (1) “Knight of the Scarlet Sword”. This adventure details the Village of Bechlaughter and the magical silver dome in the center of the village which serves as home to a lich. Use the whole village or just use the dome.

    (2) “Knight of the Scarlet Sword” also contains the Caves of Cuwain — the tomb of a banshee. Another location that can be used as a key entry.

    (3) “Flotsam” is a side trek featuring a couple of pirates who pretend to be legitimate merchants; they lure people onto their ship by offering legitimate passage and then rob them on the high seas. Not hex key appropriate, but what if the PCs found this ship — and its weird, seemingly crazy crew — just sitting in the middle of the forest. Might be workable: Make it a witch’s curse or a strange haunting. Or just crazy people.

    (4) “The Ice Tyrant”. Heavily plotted adventure, but you can start by ripping out the fully-mapped Lodge and placing it along any convenient road that needs an inn.

    (5) “The Ice Tyrant”. Also contains a map for a Sentinel Tower occupied by evil dwarves.

    (6) “The Ice Tryant”. Finnally, the Keep of Anghanor — guarded by a white dragon and containing a bunch of bad guys.

    (7) “Reflections”. A side trek involving a cavern where a will ‘o wisp has imprisoned a gibbering mouther.

    (8) “Unkindness of Raven”. Location-based adventure triggered by stumbling across Crawford Manor while wandering through the wilderness. Plop it in.

    (9) “The Beast Within”. Location-based adventure triggered by stumbling across a werewolf’s cottage in the wilderness.

    And there you go. One random issue of Dungeon and you’ve got 9 hexes keyed. Pick up a dozen issues and you could probably key a full 10 x 10 hex map entirely from the magazine.

  8. Keith Sloan says:

    Great series — I look forward to trying out a lot of your techniques in the not too distant future!

  9. OtspIII says:

    Are you going to talk about how you make the encounters themselves? I’m working on a hexcrawl myself right now and my big source of uncertainty is distribution of threats, treasure, and flavor. How many goblins show up when you roll ‘Goblins’ on the Encounter Table? Do you tailor the number appearing to how dangerous the zone is supposed to be in general or do you stick to the statistics listen in the books?

    Also, to what degree do you control the amount of treasure placed? The campaign is a hexcrawl centered around a megadungeon, and although I’m confident that the megadungeon’s got a good balance of risk and reward throughout it I’m swinging somewhat blind trying to figure out both how deadly to make my encounters/locations, how dense my lairs and dungeons should be in relation to my landmarks and settlements, and how much treasure (and by extension, XP) should be findable that isn’t just part of natural monster treasure types.

  10. Ролевое КБ имeни Карандаша и Бумаги | #Теория — Александрийский Hexcrawl, ч.9: Документирование кампании (перевод) says:

    […] Оригинал статьи вы можете найти перейдя по ссылке. […]

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