What I want, and what I envisage, is a hexmap revolving around interpersonal space rather than physical space. Instead of the players exploring a geographical area hex by hex, with encounters and events taking place as they go, in the Relationship Hexmap they explore a network of interpersonal relationships instead.
The key to this, as I see it, is that it has to retain the elements of what makes a hexmap work when you're using it for a D&D-esque sandbox. It has to be loose, it has to allow for random events, and (crucially) the GM shouldn't have any preconceptions about what will happen.
This last point is probably the most important. What I like about a fantasy sandbox is that, although the DM has set up the basic framework and scattered the thing with interesting locales, it's as much a voyage of discovery for him as it is for the players. This means that, although there needs to be some pre-existing information on the contents of each hex, it should be as vague and nebulous as possible until the players discover it.
Maybe it's best to give a physical example of what I'm talking about. Here is a small relationship hexmap that I came up with this morning when I should have been working. (Something about drawing it using paint's "crayon" feature appeals to the inner child in me.)
First off, an explanation of what all the pretty colours mean:
- Blue blobs are actual sentient entities that have agency in the game world. Each could represent an individual, a gang, a corporation, a cartel...really anything that could forge communicative or personal links with another blue blob. For the sake of this hexmap, I'll call them "people", but remember this could refer to one person or many people in one unit.
- Red lines represent a strong, positive link between two people - basically, where an alliance, agreement, or mutually benefecial relationship exists. It could be love, it could be a military alliance, it could be a free trade agreement - anything you can think of.
- Orange lines represent contact. Simply, two people linked by an orange line have had some sort of communication with one another, whether regular or not. It could be they've just had one interaction in the distant past, or it could be that they're in regular email contact but the relationship is not positive enough or close enough to be "red".
- Yellow lines simply represent awareness. The two people are aware that the counterparty exists.
- Arrows are used to indicate whether contact, or awareness, is one way. Yellow and orange lines usually work in both directions, but in some relationships one party is always contacted by the other and not the other way around (a spy who recieves communiques via encrypted SMS messages, for example), and sometimes a person can know about another person without the same being true in reverse. Arrows indicate this.
- Black lines represent hostility. They are the opposite of red lines. Here, an antagonistic relationship (open or covert) exists.
So how does all this work in actual play? The answer is that I'm not sure yet, but my basic thoughts on how it might break down are as follows:
- First, the GM draws up the hexmap in a random(ish) way, as I did this morning. I haven't decided on who any of the blue blobs represent yet, or why their relationships are the way they are. I just had fun with crayons.
- Second, the GM picks a number of the blue blobs and gives them a personality, history, and description. It doesn't have to be all of them, and in fact, it shouldn't be. Around half will do. This is the equivalent to the way in which a D&D DM draws up a hexmap but only details what's in some of the hexes - the rest will come as and when it is necessary.
- Third, a handful of the blue blobs/people are selected as the locus points at which the PCs could "start" the campaign. As with a fantasy sandbox, there needs to be a beginning point, but it would be too restrictive to select one blue blob/person and say "You know this guy and he tells you [x]" (although the Mr. Johnson routine is fine if you're into that sort of thing). I imagine that most Cyberpunk sandbox campaigns begin with the fixer-types using their streetdeal skills to find contacts and rustle up jobs. This could give them a number of different "leads" (each being a separate blue blob).
- Fourth, the immediate relationships (orange, red, yellow, black) around those locus points are fleshed out in a bit more detail.
- Fifth, the GM puts in some "other interesting information" relating to each hex. I imagine this introducing some sort of temporal element to the process. For instance, you might write that on Day 5 of the campaign, Person 0402 will attempt to assassinate the head of Company 0503. Or, on Day 8 of the campaign, Person 0307 will be contacted by Person 0402 in relation to Gang 0607.
- Sixth (and this is hazy) there need to be random tables changing the nature of the relationships on the map. At various points in time, the GM needs to be rolling dice to find out what is going on on the map irrespective of what the players are up to. I'm picturing a table of stuff like "relationship deteriorates because of X" or "communication breaks down because of Y".
- Seventh, profit.
Anyway, more on this to follow as I ruminate some more.