Tuesday, July 22, 2014

First Post - An Exploration of Hexes

I've been exploring hexes. Specifically, I've been exploring which hex scale I would like to use in my next Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG session.

A little background. My players (currently numbering 7 players each session), completed Sailors of the Starless Sea in two sessions. I then sent them back to their home village. The town celebrates, they level up, and a few months later their home village is utterly destroyed. They are the only survivors.

Now I will send them out on a bit of a hexcrawl which will give them a choice of paths, each path ending in one or the other module (right now I'm thinking path's might lead them any of the following: Perils of the Sunken City, The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, and maybe The Secret of Bone Hill or Keep on the Borderlands.) I've located my campaign in one corner of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. I bought the original version of Wilderlands of High Fantasy, Map 1 - City State Region, and the Ready Reference Sheets on DriveThruRPG for around 11 bucks. I figure this is a good deal for something I hope will encompass my entire campaign with room to spare.

Anyway, I'm deciding on a hex scale for my hex crawl, and I've been doing a substantial amount of research. This is my research and reasoning for my final pick.  I'm listing the most popular scales, making brief comments and providing links to smarter people than me and their reasoning for picking those scales.

The end goal  is to find a hexscale that I can use for most everything if I can help it. I understand why others might want to use subhexes and subsubhexes, but I'd like to avoid doing so if possible. I just want an effective fun hexcrawl with as few additional prep steps as possible, and dealing with subhexes strikes me as a more additional work. I might occasionally use larger size hexes on paper to draw pretty pictures of trails and such, but I'm not worried per se how many hexes might fit into those zoomed hexes.  Those "bigger" hexes will be the same scale as the smaller hexes.

Less than 5 miles per hex - Rob Conley at Bat in the Attic likes 3 to 6 miles. He mentions this http://batintheattic.blogspot.com/2010/05/musings-on-sandbox-campaigns-hex-size.html. I don't think most people use such small scales for their entire campaign settings but I could be wrong.

5 miles per hex - this is the "official" scale of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. This seems fine for a regional hexcrawl or a hexcrawl with a high density, but the 5 mile scale of Wilderlands was, I've read, an accident and it makes, in my opinion, everything crowded and not very wild. As one commenter noted "15 miles/hex of course - Bledsaw's original scale. The maps work at that scale; they do not work at 5 miles/hex as you get 15,000'+ mountains less than 5 miles wide, and many other problems like nowhere near enough agricultural land."

6 miles per hex - The argument for the 6 mile hex can be found at http://steamtunnel.blogspot.com/2009/12/in-praise-of-6-mile-hex.html. They are excellent arguments. And for some people, they will probably win the day. For me, a lazy dm, none of them convince. I'm too lazy to care too much about how far away the horizon (it's a few miles, a few more if you climb that hill over there), or exactly how many miles through a specific corner of a specific hex is (either you've made it through the hex or you haven't in a day, everything else is hand wavy) and I certainly don't care about the number of furlongs in a farm. If you wants lot's of detailed horizon distances and stuff, and less hand-wavyness, this is probably ideal for you.

8 miles per hex - The scale for Mystara. Looked a little bit, but I couldn't immediately discover the specific reasons why it was picked. I'm going to wildly guess that it was chosen because it divides evenly into 24. Lots of people like 24 mile hexes.

10 miles per hex - This http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4wand/20131211 post at Wizards suggests that 10 miles per hex is, according the "World Builders Guidebook", the original "kingdom scale" Also it divides well into 30 mile hexes, another scale often used.

12 mile hexes - This is the scale Tim Shorts at Gothridge Manor likes http://gothridgemanor.blogspot.com/2009/12/building-wilderness-hex-for-sandbox.html. Pathfinder uses 12 mile hexes.  Probably my second choice...for many of the same reasons.

15 mile hexes - The original original scale of Wilderlands of High Fantasy (based on 5 leagues of 3 miles each).

18/20 mile hexes - Does anyone use these? Kind of a no mans land.

24 mile hexes - One of the most popular. The original D&D Expert Set used 24 mile hexes I think. More recently, Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) uses 24 mile hexes. Traditionally very popular.

30 mile hexes - Greyhawk used 30 mile hexes. Both 24 and 30 miles are often quoted as how far a person could walk on level ground in a day. (I question this on many levels, mostly outlined below)

Which did I pick? 15 miles per hex. Why? (reasons in no particular order, and some of them are really fairly silly reasons I admit, but I still did put thought into them):

1. The original Bob Bledsaw scale. I'm hoping maybe the godfather of hexcrawls knows something I don't.

2. A league is an awesome flexible measure for roleplaying games because it is not strict distance, but how far a person could ideally walk in an hour. Five leagues seems a goodly number of leagues.

3. If in fact someone could walk 20/24/30 miles in a day on a nice level trail, then the average hike on even somewhat varied terrain or twisty trails must be much less.

I've done a small bit of research on what fit, well provisioned modern people expect to hike in a day on somewhat challenging terrain, and 15 miles seems like a kinda sorta good average measure. Various discussions of the Appalachian trail I've perused state that 15 miles is a reasonable number for a fit person in the first month and seems the kind of in between number between starting out and getting conditioned. See http://hikinghq.net/book_long_distance.html and http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php?71285-Mileage-per-day. Lewis and Clark mileage was about 9 miles per day (based on the fun facts at http://www.siue.edu/MLTE/Thematic%20Units/Lewis%20and%20Clark/lewis_and_clark_fun_facts.htm) but they were doing plenty of other stuff.

Granted, this means that 15 miles of actual distance does not equate to 15 miles of straight line distance, so I wouldn't expect the average walk on a windy trail on moderately difficult terrain to completely cross a 15 mile hex at its widest point. But, I imagine that much of the time a trail is not going to necessarily bisect a hex at its widest/longest point so hopefully this all evens out.

4. 30 miles per day seems a good measure of horse travel, and that works well with 15 mile hexes. At again, leagues, they work for horses too, right? Sort of? A horse league? Double league?

5. I feel like many discussions about hex travel think about essentially getting through a hex in a straight line measurements. No one, and I mean no one, gets through a hex in a straight line. On the other hand, I want most of my trails to go *somewhere* and not meander aimlessly in giant mazelike squiggles around the edges of hexes. A 15 mile hex seems a good compromise on how long most somewhat normally meandering trail but not abnormally straight trail might take that isn't otherwise detained. Keep in mind, my 15 mile hex is actually 5 leagues which is a flexible measurement, so getting across on a meandering trail in a day, equivalent to some actual amount of 10 to 20 miles (5 variable distance leagues) of walking distance, seems good.

6. My favorite reason - I believe every decent dm wants their players to visualize the space they are crossing or moving into. There is one city, I would argue, that everyone in the *world* has some visual picture of, whether from movies, photographs, or by actually visiting. That is New York City, in particular Manhattan. Manhattan is approximately 13.4 miles length and takes an average person walking average speed about 4 to 5 hours to walk from bottom to top in a straight line on super perfect modern roads (this time fits perfectly with the concept of a 3 mile league by the way). If any hex is in the least bit useful, visualizing it seems a good thing to be able to do. Imagine walking the length of NYC. Now imagine if you were walking the same distance, but the streets were not so nice and level, and you had to have occasional stops for food or whatever, and if the course was somewhat meandering course with occasional climbs and maybe a bit of a frolic central park. That is your average journey through one of my hexes, 1 day, 15 miles. Voila! Easy to imagine.

7. Bottom line, as a lazy DM, I want something I can say to my players you skip/walk/jog through the hex in one day, or you do other stuff and don't..maybe occasionally some combination which I'll figure out on the fly. 5 leagues in one day I think works for that on a reality level and in the sense of being good size for various map features, plenty of space for wilderness, not too small where I have to put a zillion hexes down if all they want to do is travel in a few days time between x and y and not too big where my players will spend days in one hex if they don't want to. (Again, I don't want to subhex and megahex if I don't have to, hexes or familiar 5 x 5 foot squares, don't give me more work!)

P.S. I'm sure I've missed many good arguments. Also, I've been likely doing this stuff for far less time than probably all of the above posters, so I may be full of you know what.


  1. Nice! Yeah, being able to visualize what you're talking about and explain it to your players is vital. 15 mile hexes should work fine.

    Myself, I prefer six-mile hexes. With 15-mile hexes, you'll be able to fit a whole lotta anything in them, which will be great if you're using any sort of random encounter tables.

    Also, I thoroughly approve of being too lazy to lose, and look forward to reading more from your blog.

  2. Good reasoning, however, for exactly those reasons I use 5 mile hexes because you can then say in any given day the players have had really rough terrain (only moved 1 hex), rough (2 hexes), average (3), or road/horse movement (4-6). Also it is more plausible to stock encounters one to a 5 miler than one to a 15. However, I suppose you could turn that around and say that very rough terrain takes 3 days to get through a 15 mile hex, etc.

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