Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dynamic Hexcrawl Required Reading: Outdoor Survival, Volume III & The Ref Sheets/Hexagon Legacy

In talking about hexcrawls, it makes sense to go back to the very beginning, doesn't it? Thankfully, in the past few decades, there's been tons of research on the history of D&D and lots of examination of its development, so that folks like me can look back and point out "oh, that's where that came from" with less and less work. And so, as we look back upon the formation of the idea of the hexcrawl, it makes sense for us to look back at the origin of the gaming hobby to see where this shizz came from, right?

By now, I think most of us are aware that back in the white box days, OD&D was written to use Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival board game's playing board as a map. But that's not the entirety of the truth. In Volume III: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, Uncle Gary writes:
"Off-hand adventures in the wilderness are made on the OUTDOOR SURVIVAL playing board (explained below). Exploratory journies, such as expeditions to find land suitable for a castle or in search of some legendary treasure are handled in an entirely different manner." 
Then we get some rules for reinterpreting the Outdoor Survival map in a D&D context before coming back around to explaining how exactly "exploratory journeys" are to be handled. But before we get into that, let's talk about the first part. It seems that Gary's idea for an "off-hand adventure" isn't "serious exploration," The implication of the "here's how to use the OS map" section is that things are to be generated on the fly, as play occurs.

Which is exactly how I do it. Once again, Gary (and Dave, can't leave him out!) got there first. Go figure. Well, except for the fact that Gary is using a predefined, static map that came from another company. Something that DIY rpg enthusiasts today would call a "hack." Yep, he did that first, too.

The section on "REFEREE'S MAP" (ie, the "entirely different manner") is really quite light on detail of how to generate the eponymous map, but we know that it's supposed to be done on hexpaper (natch) and is supposed to use a scale of "about 5 miles." One neat little detail that I had never noticed before (but is super-sweet and is making its way into my ACKS game) is the rule here about rest.
"Rest: All creatures must rest after six days of movement. Rest must be at least one full day."
The "REF's MAP" section quickly fades into the "how to crawl" portion of the text, which is well and good, but I was hoping for more gems of advice.

So, if it were 197X and I were looking for expanded detail on something in whitebox D&D, where would I turn (other than my own imagination)? Fuck yeah, Judges Guild.

I've talked about Judges Guild before. I can't stop. I'll admit that I'm less of a Wilderlands guy, though, and more of a "the random stuff that JG made for D&D" guy. Case in point is the next focus of our required reading segment: Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets. I've talked about them before and I'll probably talk about them again, but I can say with a very high degree of confidence that no other single classic text -- not even my much-loved 1e DMG -- has more throw-away info and useful random tables until Richard LeBlanc's d30 companions (don't worry, I need to talk about those, too) were it not for one other Judges Guild publication: the Campaign Hexagon System. Yeah, with a name like that, it's pretty much a "gimme," right?

The Campaign Hexagon System presents a series of exceptionally useful charts for generating random terrain and terrain elements, settlements and such. Ready Ref Sheets contains much of the same material, but is far more useful for generating city-based adventures on the fly. The CHS uses "generate as you go" sort of methodology for determining even the terrain type of each hex, meaning that no one, not even the DM, knows what the map is like until it is created during play. This, to me, if great; I'm not likely to work this way completely, but it's great. Any tool that assists in your improvisation as a DM and encourages it at the same time is right up my alley. The "generate on the fly" methodology isn't just for terrain, but it also helps with designing ruins and lairs dynamically, too. This is what the CHS and RRS are designed to do, and they do it well..

I find it interesting -- and somewhat illuminating -- that while I found the step-by-step instructions in the Cook & Mentzer Expert sets to be very well-worded and thoughtful, giving the DM a very clear idea of how to go about making his own "wilderness area," the one I myself use has more in common with earlier materials from the OD&D era, despite the fact that I never had any experience with OD&D until long after I had my Expert influence. If you haven't checked out the Judges Guild material, waste no time. Not only is this stuff important from a historical standpoint, but it's damn useful from a practical game standpoint.

One last note: a modern successor to the Campaign Hexagon System can be found in the Wilderness Hexploration Document [found here], apparently compiled by a Red Box New York user named "Jedo." No current official pdf version of the CHS exists to the best of my knowledge.