The Alexandrian

Go to Part 1


Okay, we started by filling the map with every ounce of creative thought we had. Then we started recklessly stealing everything we could lay our hands on. But we’re still staring at empty hexes. What now?

Now we need to get our creative juices flowing again by rapidly injecting fresh ideas that will break us out of the dried-out box our thinking is currently trapped in. There are a lot of ways to provide this stimuli. A simple one I used was to simply roll on a wilderness encounter table and then combine the result with a treasure generator. For example:

(1) Roll 1d8 to determine a column on the AD&D “Sub-Arctic Conditions” encounter table. I rolled a 6, so the result is “Mountains”.

(2) Roll 1d100 with a result of 65. That’s a giant owl. According to the Monster Manual, giant owls appear in groups of 1d4+1. I roll and generate a group of five owls.

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

Okay. The hex I’m looking at is 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.

CALL OF THE OWL: 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.

COUNCIL OF OWLS: Within the tree, four giant owls sit on perches. For an appropriate tribute, these owls can each cast augury once per day.

UPPER EYRIE: For a much larger tribute, the Council 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 Elder Owl.

THE ELDER OWL: The left eye of the Elder Owl has been replaced with a black pearl (500 gp) and he 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.

Now we can move onto the next hex. Using the same procedure I generate a herd of wooly rhinos. They aren’t interesting, so I skip them and roll again. This time I get a gynosphinx with 4,000 platinum pieces, a potion of plant control, a bag of beans, and wearing a platinum belt studded with six black sapphires (worth 3,000 gp). What do you make of that?


Regardless of how you’re stocking a hex, you should keep your mind open to other locations that the current hex suggests.

For example, you’ve got a necromancer in a crystalline spire who’s served by a bunch of goblins he’s charmed by writing arcane runes on the inside of their eyelids and then sewing their eyes shut. Where’d he get the goblins from? Maybe there’s a village of them living nearby. They protect a tree that bears a single, bright red fruit each year. The fruit has magical properties and each year the necromancer comes to claim the fruit and take away goblin slaves.

Or you’re keying a grotto that a bunch of bandits are using as a hideout. Turns out these bandits have longbows of remarkably high quality. This is because they’re trading with a one-eyed troll who lives in a cave that can only be accessed through a green crystal which thrusts up through the forest floor: Lay your hand upon the crystal, say the magic password, and the crystal becomes intangible. The troll is a master bowyer.


Finally, be willing to walk away from the project and take a break: Watch a TV show. Read a book. Flip through some unrelated game manuals. Power up the PS3.

Give your brain a chance to breathe and your creative batteries a chance to recharge.

This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a comprehensive catalog or definitive technique for keying a hexcrawl. It’s just what I happened to do while keying the Thracian Hexcrawl.

Go to Part 12: At the Table

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17 Responses to “Hexcrawl – Part 11: More Hex Stocking”

  1. Snarls-at-Fleas says:

    The more I read your Hexcrawl series the more I like it. Thank you very much, you’ve given me lots of ideas.
    Now excuse me, I have some hex to stock… )))

  2. Lior says:

    You should also be open to the possibility of an “empty” hex. The adventurers will have fun even if they can’t find anything, and having an implicit promise that every hex contains something unusual makes for a more predictable world.

  3. Justin Alexander says:

    @Lior: Read the whole series.

  4. S'mon says:

    On ’empty’ hexes – I think the key-every-hex approach is good for larger scale maps; eg my 15 miles/hex Wilderlands campaign, or it would work well for 12 miles/hex maps too. IMO it starts to feel a bit cramped when you get down to 6 mile hexes.

    The Yggsburgh campaign uses 1 mile hexes, with no attempt to key every hex – that’s how EGG keyed the Eastmark, and I took the same approach in developing the County of Kallent, 75 miles south of Yggsburgh ––mP-oBLHuz4/UDyTJy7yv4I/AAAAAAAAAZU/gg1OEJbRO38/s1600/Castle+Kallent+environs.bmp
    1 mile hexes have several advantages – it’s an easy number to count distance, it is large-scale enough that a lot of detail can be shown directly on the map, and as PCs can often see several miles around, it allows for a lot of information – if they say “We look west” you are never at a loss. I find that for hexcrawling it’s a good idea to scale it so that the PCs can see their adjacent hexes (in the absence of obscuring terrain, fog etc).
    With 6 mile hexes, what the PCs can see is determined by whether they are in the centre of the hex or near the edge, there is much less guidance for the GM.

  5. Sir Wulf says:

    Another way to add “depth” to the results of random tables is to layer tables of different types and origins. As an example, the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets have a table for determining how random encounters react, indicating whether they attack, threaten, bargain with or befriend the PCs and suggesting reasons why. While that table is meant for random encounters in a city, it could also be used to suggest likely reactions for wilderness encounters.

    To take Mr. Alexander’s less-than-interesting wooly rhinos as an example, I might find that they threaten the party because they don’t like the party’s clothing. That suggests to me that some other attire might draw a different response. Perhaps a local humanoid tribe has befriended the creatures and those clad in local furs and skins can approach with relaive safety.

    “Properly” misused, the NPC personality tables in AD&D’s Dungeon Master’s Guide can inspire creative insights about creatures that wouldn’t normally be described with a detailed personality. A “friendly”, “energetic”, “soft-hearted” tyrannosaurus rex might gently herd adventurers toward its nest, where its young are learning to hunt…

  6. Justin Alexander says:

    S’mon: “IMO it starts to feel a bit cramped when you get down to 6 mile hexes.”

    When you scale the map, you’re also scaling the scope of the journey and, therefore, scaling the importance of what you’re mapping.

    For example, if you’re keying Greyhawk-style 30 mile hexes, then you’re saying “this is the most important thing in 800 square miles”. If you’re keying a 3-mile hex then you’re saying “this is the most important thing in 8 square miles”.

    So if you’re keying a 30-mile hex map you’re not going to be including things like the cave lair of a dire bear. If you’re keying a 3-mile hex map, you will be. And not just because you can, but because your choice of doing a 3-mile hex map instead of a 30-mile hex map is saying that you’re interested in dire bear lairs.

    It’s certainly possible to imagine regions where an area of 8 square miles doesn’t actually contain anything of interest or navigational import. (A barren desert, for example.) But if you’re getting lots of empty hexes, then I would argue that you’re mapping at the wrong scale.

  7. Lior says:

    @Justin: I have read the whole series. By an “empty hex” I simply mean one that only contains what you’d normally expect. Does your campaign world have the equivalent of a magic tree with magic owls within a day’s journey of every point on the map? Rather, in good land there will are probably several villages in every 15-mile hex, but you probably aren’t prepping any of them just like you aren’t prepping specific mountains or the precise topography.

    Indeed as you say in response #6, whether every hex will contain something special depends on the scale.

  8. Justin Alexander says:

    Lior, I’m afraid you’ve misread post #6 and apparently skipped Part 8 of the series.

  9. S'mon says:

    “When you scale the map, you’re also scaling the scope of the journey and, therefore, scaling the importance of what you’re mapping.

    For example, if you’re keying Greyhawk-style 30 mile hexes, then you’re saying “this is the most important thing in 800 square miles”. If you’re keying a 3-mile hex then you’re saying “this is the most important thing in 8 square miles”.”

    Yes, I agree with that. I think I too need to go back over posts 6-8 as I too don’t really understand the rationale for having something (other than terrain) in every hex, unless the hexes are very large such that only a few will be crossed in a day’s journey.

  10. S'mon says:

    OK, I’ve gone back over every entry, especially 8 – – but I cannot find any place where you give a rationale for keying every hex with a location. Is there a reason beyond OCD? >:) I did try to key every hex in the 15 miles/hex Wilderlands/4e sandbox I ran last year, but I eventually had to give up, and the material I did produce frankly did not see very much use compared to material generated in play or introduced as a reaction to player activities. With the 1 mile/hex ‘Nahm’ Labyrinth Lord sandbox I’ve been running this year, I did not attempt to key every hex, I merely scattered a bunch of dungeons, villages etc over the map – this was a lot quicker, and seemed to work better.

  11. John says:

    For my own use I’m working on a random generator which produces progressively harder-to-find landscape features, ranging from “major city” to, say, “invisible, intangible teacup handle hanging from a spider’s web high above eye level” as the PCs investigate a given hex more thoroughly.

    Maybe I should have a blog.

  12. Inaki Lind says:

    Would love to see Part 12 of the series.

  13. Calvin says:

    Any plan for part 12 or beyond?

  14. Rob says:

    Just a bump about part 12. Just came across this series, and it is very valuable info.

  15. Justin Alexander says:

    Part 12 of this series did not turn out the way I thought it would. It may still happen, but if it does I’ve got to completely reinvent my approach to it. (Hence the long wait.)

  16. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Hi Justin,

    Thank you ever so much for this series. While I am currently running a campaign, you have inspired me to begin work on a hexcrawl for our next one.

    Is there any intent to finish up part 12, or have you moved on to other things?

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