Today I got up nice and early and did this hike:
As you can see - the blue squares are 1 mile squared - I walked roughly 6 miles. This took 3 hours with fairly frequent stops for photos and a few detours. If you also count stuff that was within striking distance of my route, you could say that this morning I made a preliminary exploration of a 3-mile hex. And this, a fairly desolate and isolated spot with ostensibly "nothing" in it in the grand scheme of things, contains more than enough adventure to last several sessions of game time. Let's see what I discovered:
The path from (1) to (7) on the map runs parallel to this shelf of rock:
This heugh, as they're known in these parts, runs for a good 400 yards at least, and all up and down its length are these cracks. While all of them look shallow, it doesn't take much imagination to think that they could extend down, deep down, into networks of tunnels far below the surface.
Past the heugh, we're crossing some pastureland and then quickly into woods (heading West on the map).
Consider how dark those woods are and think about what might be dwelling there. And look at the fox skeleton. That doesn't have to be a fox - it could be anything. A manticore. A person.
And then it's off across wide open, windswept spaces, heading north towards (2) on the map. Look at those grassy tussocks - which could hide anything, including ambushers lying close to the ground. And look at these bogs and rivulets - every dozen yards or so you have to stop to figure out how you're going to get past one of these impromptu barriers. What might be living in them, in a D&D campaign world? What might creep up on you while you're gazing at the ground looking for somewhere dry to place your next step?
From here, we travel east, to points marked (3) and (4). To our left is a deep wooded valley - completely still and dead in mid-winter. It could easily be haunted, or the home of outlaws or evil spirits. There is supposed to be a 3,000 year old burial mound somewhere around here; my best guess was the mound you can see in the middle distance on the third picture down. I'm not entirely sure about that, though. And there's also a holly tree here, completely out of place. Around its feet are stones - it was clearly placed here long ago for some symbolic purpose. As I stood looking at it, a very spry old man suddenly appeared from behind it to have a chat about the weather, looking for all the world like some wizard or shaman (though the effect was spoiled by his nice blue North Face jacket).
Now it's through woodland and the shore of the reservoir, through point (5). What is the significance of that boulder for the local druids? What lurks in the depths of that lake? The plaque attached to the tree is placed there in memory of a regular fisherman. Imagine a carving, commemorating a local hero, or signifying a warning... See also the buildings in the distance. Looks almost like a fortress, or perhaps a wizard's citadel?
The final leg takes us south and then south-west, heading past (6) and back to (7). What at first glance seems like featureless moorland (almost prairie) turns out to be anything but. There are sinkholes and spring where water trickles up from underground, a copse of trees in which there are deep, hidden clefts couged out of the ground, and then - all of a sudden - a vast quarry, blasted and barren, looking almost like the surface of Mars. What is in those sinkholes? What lies among the trees? Who made the quarry, and what lives in it now?
This is just a 3-mile hex. More than enough to detain a party of PCs for some time if they choose to spend some time exploring it. And bear in mind, all I did was walk in a big circle in the middle of it. I can hardly be said to have exhausted the potential adventure sites within it. And this is just a random, mundane chunk of rural England.
The world is big, and sometimes quite staggeringly complicated.
These hex posts are a delight.ReplyDelete
A corollary of the point you make about how much can fit into a three-mile hex is that there's lots of room for different societies of sentient beings to co-exist - especially in an sparsely populated ancient or medieval(ish) setting, and if there's a balance of nocturnal and diurnal populations. The Wild and all its perils can exist very close to the 'points of light' provided by civilisation.
Tolkien, through Strider, sums it up well:
'“Strider” I am to one fat man who lives within a day’s march of foes that would freeze his heart or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly.'
And that's all before one considers the multi-dimensional possibilities of Faerie ...
Yes, definitely. There are three very distinct terrain types - woodland, open moor, and pasture - which could all house their own different socities.Delete
I've been working on something similar. I grew up in a rural area of New England, without a tv, and consequently spent a lot of times outdoors. A five-mile hex is HUGE. Covers the entire mountain near me (if I center the hex on the peak, the border is about a mile from my house/where I grew up). People, particularly in the US, have lost the human scale of travel and either lost or never knew the human scale of development (substituting instead the automotive scale). I completely understand this, but it makes for...a lack of versimilitude in mapping and setting design.ReplyDelete
Yes, no doubt about it.Delete
Nice photos. This is also my backyard for walks in rural Northumberland.ReplyDelete
Are hexes the best format for wilderness exploration? On your hike, you stuck to a path. I imagine the natural thing for any exploring party would be to follow existing paths as well. Even in situations where man-made paths don't exist, I would think people natural follow natural patterns like waterways, valleys, and paths made by beasts.ReplyDelete
So instead of three-mile hex, perhaps the area you hiked would be better represented by a pointcrawl with three or four locations connected by a path, travel times between the locations, and a list of random encounters.
I don't know how you could represent such a landscape with a traditional hexcrawl map - it wouldn't take into account the level of detail or the terrain very well. Maybe that's the point and for a more abstracted game it would work, but I'm skeptical it would be good for the type of thing you've described.
I think hexes are useful for long-distance travel. So ideally you would have a mix of pointcrawling within hexes, and a hexmap for the larger scale, I think.Delete
I think these thoughts are part of why Ben Robbins chose a "vector" map instead of a hex map for his West Marches game. He may not have gone for the feature density shown above, but his thinking was definitely that a hex map leads one to one feature per hex and also leads to contrived navigation rather than following trails or setting off across a wilderness towards some landmark.Delete
Now there is a difference in the settled population density. West Marches is a true wilderness so there wouldn't be much in the way of trails beyond game trails (which would be more oriented towards going from lairs to watering holes or migrating from feeding area to feeding area).
On the other hand the density and type of natural features may serve as a reminder that navigation will have different challenges than maybe expected. The heugh can either be a navigational aid or a navigational challenge depending on if it leads in the general direction you want to go (aid) or you need to cross it (challenge). Of course as noted, it also may serve as the placement for a site of interest in which case, instead of trying to find a site on a featureless expanse of heath, one simply must seek the heugh and then once it's found, traverse it's length looking for the site of interest. Similarly explorers will follow valleys and ridge lines, streams, and such in search of their goal.
I wonder whether in the end the answer is to base your campaign map on a real world map - obviously changed in terms of content and locations but at least physically modelled on something real.Delete
I tried that for my Yoon Suin campaign, I found a nice trekking map of the Anapurna region of Nepal to use for the Mountains of the Moon. Even there, the modern map had more villages and roads than maybe fit a fantasy campaign, though the detail was awesome.Delete
Finding a detailed map of a wilderness would be challenging.
I think about this kind of thing when I'm hiking on Dartmoor sometimes.ReplyDelete
One thing I suppose is worth bearing in mind is that living within an area for a long time is a little different to merely travelling through it. If there's a manticore around, it's likely that the PCs will pass through without encountering it at all. But if you live there, you're sure as hell going to come into conflict regularly, as it ranges the area looking for food.
Another thing is that landscapes seem to vary in 'density' significantly. On the steppes of central asia you can see trouble coming from miles away. Empires can become very large because of the ease of travel and the ability to subdue a population. Hiding and conducting a guerilla war is hard when someone can see your campfire and ride you down on horseback. Whole populations are recorded in China and a generation later they're causing trouble in Ukraine.
In wooded or rocky terrain, though, the topology of life and culture is all scrunched up. When I was a kid I took a wrong turning walking the hundred metres back to a picnic area and got lost in the woods for hours. In the mountain valleys and islands of Papua New Guinea, every 15 mile square has an entirely different language (on average). Travel is harder, conquest is harder, things can hide better.
Population density seems to have a similar effect, interestingly. Densely populated places have more history packed into each square metre. It's going to be easier to hide a person in a city than a village. There's less need to travel when you're trading with the town down the road instead of having to trek across the wilderness.
The UK is neither vastly open nor lightly populated, so I imagine there's a lot more 'stuff' per square mile here than in many places. Just in terms of ruins, cowpaths, orchards, drystone walls and general historical detritus. D&D seems more based on the American West model than the Medieval England one, despite the trappings, so perhaps the vast distances and empty-feeling landscapes are appropriate.
Yes, I think that's fair enough, although you'll get a lot more natural variation in an untouched landscape like e.g. the American prairie than in a densely populated one which is mostly sculpted by, and ironed out by, humans.Delete
What an amazing post! Thank you for this. Sending a link to my players, who spent an hour on their first group foray out of town last session.ReplyDelete
I really enjoy these posts. Unfortunately I have never as a DM been able to transmit the powerful effect of experiencing cool scenery.ReplyDelete
It is almost impossible I think - the main thing I aim for is just to have lots of stuff going on in any one space.Delete
I was in the Chilterns at the weekend - the rapid changes of terrain as one climbed and descended across the ridges was something. To say nothing of the circling red kites and startled pheasants.ReplyDelete
This is something to consider for hexcrawls, perhaps. Not 'What monsters do you encounter?' but 'What animals do you startle?'.
Yeah, definitely. I came up with a random table of startled animals once but it eventually felt samey - "You startle a pheasant!" is not all that different from "You startle a grouse!" or whatever. You need more interesting ideas and for some reason I just didn't have many.Delete
I think the trick here is not to use startling animals as encounters (because unless you're hoping to catch some game, they aren't consequential), but as atmosphere: "As you cross the heath, you constantly startle pheasants" or as an explanation when a stealth roll fails "As you sneak up on the enemy outpost, you startle a brace of grouse, a guard looks in the direction and spots the gleam of the sun reflecting off your sword". This way, they become part of the atmosphere without dragging the game down.Delete
I've been wrestling with some of these issues on my own (different environments; pointcrawl vs hex) and the best I've come up with is a breakdown of environments & encounters therein AND a hex description that contains the points of interest. So hex 3 has light forest, road, and shallow swamp environments (see descriptions for info) and X, Y, Z sites/features.ReplyDelete
Yeah, that works. So a hex isn't just one thing but a variety (which is more realistic).Delete
I love posts like this. Also, gorgeous landscape!ReplyDelete
I remember living in Sheffield, there is definitely a weird otheworldly vibe to the landscape, even where suburbia is encroaching on the moors.ReplyDelete