Dynamic Hexcrawl: The Origin Hex

Now that we have our first seven 24-mile hexes blocked in, let's look at the center hex or, as I like to call it, the "origin hex," since much like on a Cartesian plane, this is the "0,0" point for our sandbox. We can worry about actual naming schemes later because, honestly, they're not going to matter until you know a bit more about your sandbox.

Zooming In

In the last step, we decided on the general layout of our first 7 hexes. The "this large area is generally like this" of them. Now, we're going to zoom in on the Origin Hex to detail it more closely. We'll be switching from 24-mile hexes to 6-mile hexes, so we're going to pick up our first super-useful resource. +Richard LeBlanc of New Big Dragon Games has created a series of useful blank hexmaps that are going to make this whole process... possible. First, go to RPGNow and get this:


The map that we're primarily concerned with is the 4:1 Hex Crawl Worksheet on page 2 of the document. Look at that. It's a thing of beauty, no?

In the Scale area, we're working on a scale (still) of 24 miles for the large hex and 6 miles for the small hex. You've got 16 full hexes (when you count partial hexes as their appropriate fraction) of canvas to paint on in one 24-mile hex!

Feel free to fill in as much of this map (and the lines on the worksheet) as you like, but remember that there are a few things you want to make sure you include somewhere in this larger hex:

  • A starting settlement. Think about the guidelines we talked about in the "First 7 Hexes" posts and use them here. Personally, I recommend starting small so that the PCs can "graduate" to a city adventure in a few levels (especially since they'll be flush with loot to be bilked out of and otherwise spend in "the big city").
  • A dungeon. You may even want to include a few. Here are some thoughts:
    • A basic, starter dungeon can be good. Something like Quasqueton or the Caves of Chaos, particularly in that they've got a finite end point, after which the PCs have "graduated" and can move on to other dangers. 
    • A megadungeon can be great, especially if there are other dungeons in the area as well. The good thing about a megadungeon is that, in a hexcrawl -- dynamic or not -- the megadungeon can be walked away from and people can move on and do something else. They may even return to the megadungeon in their own time. It's nice to have an option like this in a sandbox, even outside of a normal megadungeon-centric campaign.
    • You could do multiple short dungeons of the "side trek" variety. For these, it can be great to check out Moleskin Maps or Dyson's Dungeons on RPGNow. I use these things fairly frequently to generate short, on-the-fly dungeons of this nature. They're good, bite-sized nuggets of adventure that can see the party through an evening's adventure. If you use these, be sure to populate your hexes with them fairly liberally. 
  • Ruins! These may be a dungeon -- or tied to one -- but nothing gives your game a sense of history like the players tromping around inside the remnants of the sorts of stuff that used to be there. Remember to apply your aesthetic to these: this is an opportunity to reinforce what it feels like for the characters to be active participants in their environment. 
  • A looming threat. Again, this can be a dungeon. It can also be a lair. It could be stronghold. Whatever shape it takes, it's another opportunity for you, the DM to immerse your players in the aesthetic of the setting. If this is a threat, what is it threatening? How does this threat manifest for the common people? For the folks in charge? For the PCs? Most if not all of those questions should have different answers. The threat should be a present one for the PCs as well as the other folks as well. 
  • A legend. Again, tie this to other stuff as much as you see fit or don't. This is here less to accentuate the stuff we've been talking about so far and more to, again, get across what the area is like by showing the players (and yourself, really) what the people in this area choose to believe in. After all, people could stop retelling a legend, right? 
Once you've got all that stuff in its place, you can finish up filling in that little hex map at the top. Here, things can make as much or little sense as you want. Just apply your aesthetic in broad strokes to sort out what the terrain is like and where the things you've come up with for it are. But by now, you should be detecting a theme: your best choice at all junctures is the one that (a) provides your players something to interact with and (b) reinforces your aesthetic. A key here is to be as varied with your aesthetic as you can be to avoid beating your players over the head with it while at the same time managing to communicate something about what your actual aesthetic is. It's tricky, but I'm sure you can get the hang of it. Soon, I'll have some examples for you of how I do stuff like this. 

My favorite part of these sheets -- other than the hexmap at the top -- are the random encounter charts. Guess what we're going to talk about next time?