Thursday, 29 March 2012

Being an Illustration of the Contents of 1-Mile Hexes Through Examination of Divers Locations in the British Isles

How much adventure is contained in a 1-mile hex? Usually, more than you would think, although it depends very much on the context. Here are a series of illustrations - screen grabs from google maps of various locations around the British Isles, each approximately 1 square mile (at rough and ready estimates).


This is Canterbury, an ancient town in the South East of England. Here, as you can see, 1 square mile is enough to contain the entire old town (the oval shape of roads in the centre of the map, bounded in the West by the yellow ring road and in the East by Broad Street and Lower Bridge Street). The old town was encircled by huge walls built during the Roman era and maintained throughout the Middle Ages (and still present in places today). It contains, amongst other things, one of the largest and most famous cathedrals in Britain, numerous other churches, the town hall, the old 15th century library, a vast number of pubs, shops and restaurants, and several museums. Outside of the old town are two railway stations, wooded areas, plenty of houses, recreation grounds, and a university. Clearly, in this 1-mile hex the question is not where adventure could be found, but where it couldn't be.


This is an area of quintessential English countryside, in Somerset. There is a small village in the North East corner - a row of houses along a road - and several farms. While it looks relatively empty, each of those fields is divided by a hedgerow, and the land is flat, making visibility difficult. Travelling across this area would be fraught with tension as, effectively, you would never be able to see more than about 100 yards in any direction at any time, and more often much less.


This is a wooded area in the Forest of Dean, in South Wales. This is, I think, what much of Western Europe would once have resembled - mostly forest, with tracks and roads criss-crossing it, and the occasional glade where trees have been cleared for grazing or firewood. Even though the area is small, it is easy to get lost and even easier to stumble across dangerous wild animals, nefarious forest denizens, and god knows what. The glades would be dangerous to cross, as you would be exposed and plainly visible to onlookers. Naturally, the forest could hide openings to tunnels, ruins, abandoned camps, dead travellers, and so on.


This is Coquet Island, off the coast of North East England. It contains the ruins of a medieval monastery and a lighthouse, and is a refuge for seabirds - there are 18,000 puffins living on it. Clearly, the monastery could be haunted, be the entrance to a dungeon, or whatever else, and the nesting seabirds don't have to be puffins - they could be something more valuable or dangerous.


A Loch, in the Highlands of Scotland. This is rough, barren landscape - not a tree to be seen anywhere, or a scrap of cover except for heather and the folds of the land itself. Here, encounters would take place at a distance, as parties would be able to see each other plainly at great distances. At the same time, adventuring parties cross the area would be completely exposed to, perhaps unexpected, aerial attack. The Loch itself is dark and forboding; does it contain a Watcher in the Waters, the spawn of some ancient god, a forgotten plesiosaur? 


A stretch of open coastline on the island of Tiree. Note the airstrip in the North West - not very D&D. There are some tiny hamlets in the West, but the main attraction is of course the bay: a perfect landing point for vessels. Traders, vikings, colonists, explorers?


This is the Southern edge of Loch Ness, in Scotland. Fort Augustus guards the canal which links Loch Ness to other waters further south and allows boats to travel all the way from Inverness, the only city worthy of the name North of Aberdeen, with Fort William, the other major settlement in the Highlands. Fort Augustus itself is small, but includes notable attractions, not to mention a series of locks which control river traffic on the canal. To the East is the rough coast of Loch Ness itself, forested and dangerous.


This is the true wilds of the Highlands, in Assynt, one of the most sparsely populated areas of Europe. This is harsh, remote, and unforgiving landscape, infested with midges, roamed by wolves, bears and who knows what else. In the South West is a deep forest of primeval Caledonian woodland; in the North East is a river with streams flowing downhill into boggy marshland in the North. Cross this wilderness at your peril.

If 1-mile hexes ever feel too small, or you find yourself leaving them blank on the map, think of this post and refer back to it in your mind, and give yourself a good sound spanking for ever having been so foolish.

17 comments:

  1. I haven't been back there in years and I recognised that first picture at first sight.

    I like your description of the visibility between the hedgerows; it's easy to forget how even a few innocuous inches of foliage can make things more uncertain and potentially dangerous.

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    1. I think that's the wargamer in me. Norman bocage and all that.

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  2. Great timing - I've just been playing around with Hexographer, and now I know that I need to think smaller.

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    1. I plan a post on why the 6-mile hex is too big.

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  3. Solid. You should to a companion post on 5 (or 6) mile hexes.

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  4. Canterbury may have the highest per capita concentration of roleplaying campaigns anywhere I have lived. Plus, the abandoned causeway and railway tunnel that runs past the mysterious ten foot dent in the earth.

    Also, that airstrip is for hippogriffs.

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    1. I forgot you work at UKC. I've actually just applied for a job there.

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    2. I know I was disappointed to return to Brighton to find that all the game shops had closed down while I'd been away and moreover, despite the presence of two universities, the gaming scene also seemed to have withered, whereas I was spoilt for choice in Canterbury.

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  5. @Roger - Hmm, your don't want to be on the flight path of Hippogriffs!

    @Noisms - Great article! I think you've "illustrated" your point very well indeed (sorry, bad pun).

    Just a follow up comment on your section about forests/woods (Forest of Dean). It depends how far back in time you want to go as to how heavily wooded Western Europe was.

    You would be surprised how early we suffered deforestation. See section 4 of my article for details on this -> http://chivalry-and-sorcery.com/2012/02/20/campaign-world-constructiondesign-part-3-balance/

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    1. That's an interesting post, thanks. Although I think we all prefer the idea deep forests covering the land in our D&D games.

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    2. If I was running a D&D campaign set in a pseudo-Western Europe I think I'd make it pre-1066 in social development.

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  6. I had a similar revelation last year zipping through the Greek islands in a fast ferry: the entire Odyssey plays out in a few 6 mile hexes.

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  7. Great post! I've been working on a small-area map loosely based on the real-world geography of where I live, so this is really timely.

    Looking at something as simple as a six-mile walk, which you would usually hand-wave away, you start to realize "holy shit, that's actually a lot of ground to cover...all KINDS of stuff could happen". I'm definitely going to slow down map travel whenever I next run a game.

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    1. Six miles is a lot of walking, especially over rough ground. In a mountainous region it can easily be a day's travel. And the folds of the land can hide a lot of "adventure".

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  8. It really is amazing how big a square mile is. The car age has really separated people from understanding space from a foot-based point of view.

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    1. Not just cars, simply paved, well drained roads. I walk two and a half miles to work, and two and a half miles back. If I had to walk on tracks, cross ditches and streams, and trudge over fields and through copses, I think I'd probably find a job closer to home.

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