Hex Crawl Advances

Mapping by hand really brings back that Old School feeling.

I took the liberty of rolling up the next ring.

After this, I’m only rolling for the hexes as the party enters them. Should be entertaining. I’ve already rolled one hex from the Paraelemental Plane of Mud, two jungle hexes, and and a random desert hex. Mapping by hand really brings back that Old School feeling.

The Hex Map Round 2
  • (Home) The quiet town of Dunbury Glen and its immediate surroundings before they were flung across time and space.
  • C3 Mountains. Dungeon here.
  • D4 Forest
  • D6 Wasteland. Elementals present.
  • C7 Plains/Grasslands. No roads.
  • B6 Fresh water.
  • B4 Plains/Grasslands.
  • C1 Grassy hills
  • D2 Forest
  • E3 Mud from the Paraelemental Plane of Mud. Elemental Chaos!
  • E5 Eerily cold, some trees, some grass
  • E7 Forest
  • D8 Jungle
  • C9 Grassy Hills
  • B9 Jungle
  • A7 Fresh water.
  • A5 Desert/Sand
  • A3 Jungle
  • B2 Grassy Hills.

So far, the group has explored enough to discover the 6 hexes directly around Dunbury Glen. They have not, however, run into sentient beings or any signs of civilization yet. They made a note of the dungeon in the mountains north of town, but decided to come back later. They are currently working their way Northeast through the forest at D4.

Thank you for stopping by. More fun tomorrow. I appreciate you!

1d12 Reasons Ships Drop Out of Hyperspace

Drive breakdown! Somebody missed something during the last maintenance cycle. The part that broke requires replacement.

Sometimes the Jump Drive shuts down mid-run.

Roll 1d12 to find out what went wrong with the long jump.

  1. Uncharted, unexplored planet! Group may wish to reconnoiter.
  2. Hyperspace particle waveform cloud. Ship must travel through regular space to get through the phenomenon.
  3. Life forms detected! A large life form or cloud of life forms that live in space.
  4. Another spacecraft in distress. Just close enough to cast a hyperspace shadow.
  5. Wreckage from a battle. May be pretty old.
  6. Pirates with a hyperspace shadow generator. Prepare to be boarded!
  7. Drive breakdown! Somebody missed something during the last maintenance cycle. The part that broke requires replacement.
  8. Binary star gravitational well.
  9. Astrogation malfunction! The drive is fine, but the computer controlling it has malfunctioned. Reprogramming requires skill and time.
  10. Hyper-intelligent cosmic energy being.
  11. Rogue comet or planetoid. Unmapped, unsurveyed chunk of ice, a moon or planet flying through space.
  12. Black Hole! Still time to maneuver out of it.

For use with any space RPG. Have fun with it. Thank you for stopping by.

DCC RPG: Hexcrawling Around.

Your characters are everyday villagers, or maybe even young, budding adventurers in a run of the mill medieval fantasy village of Dunbury Glen. Dark forces have been at work, unseen in the background for years in the quiet farming/fishing village.

Welcome to my thought exercise/solo roleplay hexcrawl to start defining my new campaign world.

Hand drawn. Colored pencils. Starter map. (Already has a coffee stain.)

A Little Background: Your characters are everyday villagers, or maybe even young, budding adventurers in a run of the mill medieval fantasy village of Dunbury Glen. Dark forces have been at work, unseen in the background for years in the quiet farming/fishing village.

Black stone obelisks appeared in the fields and on the river bank. No one knew where they came from or when. It was if some great dark hand planted them during the night while everyone slept.

Then one day, it all changed. In the early dawn hours just before everyone would normally rise to do the daily chores, the entire village and much of the surrounding area was ripped from the very ground and flung across space and dimensions, possibly even time itself.

The PCs at first find themselves waking up to this strange new world. Everything is askew from the village’s abrupt landing in the new environment. Livestock and pets are behaving strangely. Crops somehow look different. We are definitely not in the proverbial kingdom of Kansas any more.

Things are just getting started. There are many questions to answer and ground to explore. We’re just beginning to uncover the mysteries.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

First Step: Dealing with the DCC Character Funnel. The characters’ lives have just been turned upside down when some unseen force wrenched the world that they possibly grew up in out of the ground and planted it millions of miles away. This makes it easy for the characters to have come from almost any walk of life waking up in this new reality.

The first and most obvious mystery will be the swirling dark portal at the center of the town square. It contains a dungeon suitable for 0 Level characters that will unlock part of the mystery regarding what happened to the village. Upon surviving, the characters will receive their 10 XP and First Character Levels.

At the Judge’s discretion, would-be adventurers can face trials and tribulations elsewhere, possibly just running around the village checking on friends and family in the wake of the disaster. All kinds of secrets lie within Dunbury Glen itself, including the “who” and “why” of what happened to the village. Eventually the group may wish to explore the mysteries surrounding the obelisks and assist the village in recovery.

However, the emergency town meeting held by the local baron and the village elders will take precedence over much of the day’s proceedings. The second way to proceed with the Character Funnel will be in the form of volunteers to explore the immediate surroundings outside the village. At first no one will be allowed to travel more than one day (A single hex) in any given direction. A hex will be worth 10 XP regardless of the encounters within, assuming the characters survive.

Please note there are only so many pack animals and mounts available to start. Certainly most horse owners will NOT want to part with their animals. If nothing else, the various animals are still panicky from being moved abruptly by unseen magical forces. The characters will all be on foot to begin their journey.

The third potential character funnel will come in the form of NPCs the characters know asking for help and support in the early days living in the new environment. The village could randomly come under attack from any number of threats, causing the 0 Level characters to come to its aid. The group should be rewarded accordingly in conjunction with their efforts.

Time to break out the 12-Siders.

Step 2: Random Tables and a Map.

To be continued…

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you. Lots more to come.

Fantasy TTRPGs- Starting a Dungeon

Dungeon crawls. Why do they exist and who would build such a thing?

Giving the dungeon, and the module, a backstory.

Whether I’m creating a typical five room dungeon or a massive underground mega sprawl, the first question that always comes to mind is: why? And the why actually goes both ways. Why would anyone in their right (medieval fantasy) mind want to build the complex, possibly underground at all? Furthermore, why would a group of characters want to go into a dank underground complex full of terrible traps and drooling, slobbering monsters?

Now, not every dungeon adventure the party is going to face is necessarily underground. It could be a hedge maze, an old manor, a shipwreck, or something even stranger. The question always remains, why is it there?

Who built it and for what purpose?

Not every dungeon is built for a reason. Some occur naturally. But every dungeon is inhabited for a reason. (Or worse, abandoned for a bigger reason.) I mean, every creature needs a home, right? Even drooling, slobbering, scary monsters gotta live somewhere.

But a true dungeon, a real stereotypical fantasy underground complex, springs to life with a legitimate reason of some sort in mind. I find it important to decide on a cause before I start construction so I know what the centerpiece of the place is going to be. Bear in mind, a truly huge dungeon would take thousands of man hours and gold coins or lots of magic in order to build it safely. Guards and traps are extra, of course.

Then we come to the who. Sometimes it’s obvious from my GM/DM’s perspective that said BBEG or villain needs a cool lair. Sometimes (Out of character) I need a particularly deadly place to stash some epic loot the party might need some time down the road. Other times yet, it’s just for flavor, like a sidetrack or incidental.

The builder’s in-character motive always comes to mind as well. Maybe it’s a tomb full of stone soldiers constructed in memory of a forgotten general. Perhaps a power mad necromancer needed a secluded place to build his golem in peace. (Darn villagers with their torches and pitchforks…) It’s possible a well meaning group of beings long ago wanted to seal away a gate to their realm. It could be the lair of an innocent Ancient Red Dragon that just wanted to keep it’s modest filthy lucre mountain safe before he can donate it to the orphans. Maybe a group of well meaning good samaritans wanted to seal something truly horrific away forever and throw away the key. Still another reason might be to bury a powerful artifact away from those who would abuse its power.

These are mere examples. We could go all day and night coming up with cool reasons to build a dungeon. The history and lore should play an important role in the next step: getting the player characters in the door. To be continued…

Fantasy TTRPG: The ‘Why’ of Dungeon Crawling.

One of my favorites is the group stumbles onto the thing completely by accident through a buried entrance or random hole in the ground. “While doing your character’s business off the trail, he stumbles into a hole and plummets 30 feet into (dungeon room number 1.)”

I like to give players a reason for their character to enter the spooky underground maze of despair and certain doom.

Picking up where we left of yesterday. Why would anyone in their right mind enter an underground complex full of locked doors, deathtraps, and horrifying foul creatures of every sort? Okay, beyond the motivation of, “We’re perpetually angry thieving murder hoboes looking for the filthy lucre mountain to steal.”

What is the hook of the dungeon going to be? What can I put out there to get at least one player, if not the whole group motivated to go traipsing down into The Lair of the Vampiric Devil Dragon? What logical reasons could there be for wanting to cheat death? Okay, aside from it being a fantasy game.

The two most basic kinds of motivation: Intrinsic or Extrinsic.

We’ll start with the complicated reasons- the intrinsic kind. Maybe the group wants to rescue someone. Maybe the lost component of someone’s backstory lies within. Perhaps the lich that built the place is someone’s great grandfather. In extreme cases, it might be to keep some really frightening thing from ending the world. Whatever the intrinsic reason is, it’s something motivated by the characters themselves.

By comparison, extrinsic reasons are pretty simple. The group has a reason to believe wealth, fame and fortune lie within. They’ve been promised a great reward for braving the depths and retrieving the MacGuffin. Gold and magic items top the list of extrinsic motivators.

There’s always basic curiosity and dumb luck.

All of us veterans know some hooks by heart. For example: a ragged looking wizard stumbles into the inn with a map in his hand. He falls over dead in the middle of the group’s table, dropping the map in the unsuspecting rogue’s lap after muttering something about an ancient curse.

One of my favorites is the group stumbles onto the thing completely by accident through a buried entrance or random hole in the ground. “While doing your character’s business off the trail, he stumbles into a hole and plummets 30 feet into (dungeon room number 1.)”

Last, there’s always basic curiosity. Rumors abound at the inn about a miner’s discovery of a door covered in an ancient, unknown dialect. The cleric’s order recently unearthed a series of forgotten vaults underneath their oldest temple. Why is the humble town of Tristram suddenly under siege by hordes of demons and undead? Who lives in the Death Fortress on Skull Island? There might be some sick loot in the old ruins at the top of the hill.

Whatever the reason, good luck to you and your players. Thank you for being here. I appreciate you!

Creating Worlds

But here’s the kicker- you don’t need all of that. Even in a completely random game or fictional environment, location is just another plot element.

The Multiverse is HUGE!

I’ve been playing space games since around 1982. I grew up watching Star Wars and Star Trek. For the longest time, I’ve thought about the vastness of space.

There are billions of stars out there. There are billions of planets around them. Now, those billions of planets, there are billions upon billions of moons. By this logic, how many of them support life of some sort? It staggers the imagination.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Want to go another step deeper? The human eye can only perceive maybe 3% of what’s actually out there. Take any “regular” planet and add the onion layers of dimensional energy beyond human sight. Then include the notion of time and alternate timelines.

Whew! Now we’re pretty deep in this particular rabbit hole. And I’m only talking about ONE planet! What else is out there?

We humans haven’t even explored a vast amount of Earth. That’s the “normal” realm. Imagine the amount of those myriad onion layers of dimensions can be explored within the sphere of one planet.

Did I really just go there?

Yes, build rockets and warp engines to go explore. Sure. Hyperspace is potentially one of those onion layers of energy I was talking about above. Traveling at speeds beyond mere human comprehension is one of the great mysteries we struggle to overcome in fiction and real life.

Once we get out there, and we discover a new planet, it’s going to have all those facets to potentially explore on top of whatever sentient three dimensional creatures we might encounter.

So the next time you’re writing about “strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations,” just remember that we’re talking about an infinite source of adventure and wonderment. Please also remember not everything in the Universe is determined to kill, probe, or eat humans.

Ha! I bet some of you thought I wasn’t going to bring this back around to fiction. I’ve seen so many RPG sourcebooks and charts try to simplify planet creation. I mean, yes you literally can roll dice all day and determine populations and weather patterns. I’m sure Traveler probably has an entire sourcebook dedicated to it.

But here’s the kicker- you don’t need all of that. Even in a completely random game or fictional environment, location is just another plot element. GMs- save yourself the headache and just describe it the way you want to fit it into the story. I mean, unless you really are worried about how many milliliters of rain fall on the opposite side of the planet from where your characters currently are. (Not trying to squash anyone’s fun here.)

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you! Take care. See ya soon.

Sandbox vs Structured

I don’t think this is a matter of better vs worse as much as preference. Please do what works best for you and your group.

Is it “Railroading?”

About a month ago, I had a discussion with someone about using a more open-ended story structure when writing RPG adventures. We came to the consensus, as many have in the past, that it’s probably better to treat one shot adventures (modules) as a closed structure like a play or a novel. Now, that’s okay for published works. But what about other events?

I used to run literally everything as a closed structure, only to hear comments about “getting run over with the plot wagon,” or “being tied to the railroad tracks.” I take it with a grain of salt at conventions because, again, that’s how they’re supposed to look. At home it’s kind of a bitter pill to swallow sometimes.

Yes, I have certain plot points I prefer the party would get to. Looking at my upcoming Power Rangers RPG series, I have a mix of both styles. Some episodes are going to be pre-planned, especially the two and three part season opener and finale along with some episodes scattered throughout. For everything else, there are random tables and asking the players what they want to do.

I think a certain degree of more structured adventures has its place in campaigns. Dungeon crawls are usually laid out A to B to C and so on. It all usually leads to that boss fight on Level 3 of the dungeon. Or at least back in the day that’s what we did. Nowadays players are somehow more sophisticated? Sometimes I’m still down to break down a door with an axe and smash an orc in the face with a mace. Dungeon Crawl Classics and other OSR games are truly grand for this playstyle.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Choo Choo! Plot train comin through!

I also think it’s okay for new players and very casual players to experience a more structured playstyle. My family group falls into this category. My kids are new enough to gaming and their characters are new enough to adventuring, that the structure keeps things flowing along. My wife is a very casual player, and will go along with just about anything as long as we’re having fun.

My wife has managed to derail campaigns in the past. Her druid cast Comet Fall on a mill that my BBEG Vampiric Ancient Black Dragon happened to be sleeping under. Um… during the day. <poof!> Days of planning up in smoke. She makes good snacks for the group, though. Lol! I couldn’t exactly deprive the group of the victory. They were smart enough to find it without being discovered.

Ironically, the Dungeon Crawl Classics game that I’m planning is going to be mostly sandbox. Actually, I’m doing it as a Hex Crawl. Yes, there will be some premade dungeons and those are structured.

I wanted to add some good old flavorful exploration to my DCC game. Maybe they’ll run into some dinosaurs and other hazards normally found outside of a dungeon along with way. My main focus was to set a game in unfamiliar environs so the group has to explore. Survival will depend on it . They’re going to be in a completely untamed and unexplored (by them) world. As a GM, I’m not even going to know more than a hex or two at a time what’s going to be there.

Example of explored Hex Crawl area.
As I plan to “wing it.”

I think a lot of us in the community have determined a mix of both is best.

Okay, I could possibly be wrong. A lot of it depends on your group, too. If you’ve got a group that’s been together for ages, there’s a lot more leeway in what you can get away with. For example:
DM: I want to start a new D&D campaign on Thursday night at 5:00. (Let’s pretend there are no schedule conflicts…)
Player 1: Forgotten Realms?
DM: As usual.
Player 2: Standard character gen? 4d6 drop lowest. Reroll 1’s.
DM: You know it.
Player 3: Can I play a Warforged Druid Circle of Cenarius WoW homebrew?
Rest of the Group: Groan!
DM: Do we ever say yes to this?
Player 3: Regular Elf Druid, then?
DM: Yup.
Player 4: Got anything planned for adventures yet?
DM: Nope. Don’t need to. Lemme see all your backstories first.
Player 5: We doing a Session Zero for this one?
DM: Anything change since the last Session Zero?
(Everyone looks at one another.)
Player 5: Don’t think so?
DM: Awesome saucesome. Please have your characters and backgrounds ready next Thursday. See you at 4:30. Please bring chili fixins.

DMs with a steady group have an easier time running on the fly than pugs or one shots at conventions for example. They can build off of player character backgrounds. They can improvise. They can even pull out old material and rearrange a few things. A DM with a steady group can even do something off-the-wall occasionally like dropping the group into Ravenloft, and not get too much static for it.

If the group doesn’t know one another, Session Zero is pretty much needed if the group is going to go awhile. My sense of humor is pretty raw and a couple of my children might not have a language filter for example. My DM shenanigans might not run as well with some new players, so I try to stick to published mods early on with new players until we get used to each other.

Otherwise, my group who knows me will be on the lookout for crazy good homebrew artifacts, one PC being the designated harbinger of doom, and at least one person in the party becoming my pet weird luck magnet. That’s only a small part of it. Wait until I say, “Roll a d12…”

Established groups know they can mess with major global events in a campaign world and there will be ramifications down the line. Entire storylines might change. Certain well-known canonical characters might disappear entirely. It’s easier to flex and bend when people in the group aren’t likely to correct the DM on canon, too. Plus, my group knows me and my disregard for Spellhintster and Fritz the Drow.

My default advice is always do what works best for you and your players. If practically running off of a script is your jam, then by all means. There is no wrong way to RPG, and anyone who says otherwise obviously needs to examine their own choices. Some styles and techniques just work a lot better than others. Find your flow with your group and have lots of fun even if it’s a one-shot at a convention!

Please, stay healthy. Stay hydrated. Have fun this weekend. See ya soon.

Hex Crawl Adventures

This style of play isn’t for everyone, but one thing I recommend for players and GMs/DMs who get burned out on the same old campaign world is to drop the player characters onto a brand new planet or sub-plane/demi-plane after an adventure or two in the old world. Much the same way the mists of Ravenloft used to abduct entire groups of adventurers, the PCs could literally just wake up in a new world and have to explore to try and find a way home, if they ever want to go back.

Exploration at its most fun!

Many gamers from back in the day probably still remember the old Expert Set adventure, Isle of Dread. Which is now reprinted here as a deluxe hardcover. My copy came with my original Expert D&D Blue boxed set. I have spent hours pouring over this module. I love it for its simplicity and charm. Not to mention several terrifying adventure sessions running around dodging dinosaurs and cannibals.

Without too many spoilers, X1 Isle of Dread sets up as a shipwreck. Or at least that’s my preferred way of running it. From there, the PCs have to salvage what they can for supplies, pick a direction, and start exploring. Assuming they have time to choose wisely because they’re not being chased by something. Thus, for many of us, began what is now commonly referred to as a “Hex Crawl.”

Small Hex Grid

If you’re running a game, this can be a fast way to put together a campaign world on the fly. Or, for a completely random campaign of fantasy adventure, you can literally roll as you go or roll for any blank surrounding hexes next to the one the party just entered.

This style of game is a hoot because the person running it doesn’t necessarily even know what’s coming next. Personally, I recommend rolling for the adjoining hexes at the end of the session just so the GM can prep accordingly. That, and some landmarks are going to be dead obvious to the group, especially if they can get a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area.

I’ve seen all manner of distances applied to hexes from one mile to ten miles across or more. Some people like to draw on them with colored pencils or mark key land features for future reference. If you’re running a game based on random hexes, you can also have tables for encounters in any given terrain type, or even preset adventures for when the group enters “X” hex space. Ruins are a great example.

Example courtesy of Shieldice Studio’s Realm Fables: Hex-Worlds

This style of world generation is also very useful if designing your own campaign world, especially if it’s set in a time before modern or magical global cartography. (There’s an adventure seed there for someone- Imagine a mage’s guild whose entire job is to teleport to random places, make a quick map, and teleport back before they get eaten by the locals…) I use this generation method myself because I don’t want to give away the whole map at once. Usually, I have a page of the larger hexes as my starting campaign map and then make more map pages as my group ventures out from their current hex.

I usually have some vague, general idea of where I want them to end up and what’s around it, but I certainly don’t have the whole thing lined up all in one week. That’s one distinct advantage homebrew worlds have over premade settings. The group can legitimately say, “We don’t know where we’re going yet. No one has been there yet as far as we know.”

How do I (h)explore if my group is in a premade world?

This style of play isn’t for everyone, but one thing I recommend for players and GMs/DMs who get burned out on the same old campaign world is to drop the player characters onto a brand new planet or sub-plane/demi-plane after an adventure or two in the old world. Much the same way the mists of Ravenloft used to abduct entire groups of adventurers, the PCs could literally just wake up in a new world and have to explore to try and find a way home, if they ever want to go back.

Once they’ve been transported from the old familiar maps they may be used to, the group is going to have to become somewhat more resourceful. If you think about it, food might not look the same. There are no familiar landmarks to go by. Heck, the stars aren’t going to look the same, if there are stars. Different planes have different rules. Maybe there’s perpetual day or night. Maybe there’s no metal as far as the locals know. This makes exploration one of the most valuable pillars in any RPG where the group is engaged in a hex crawl.

One word of caution for using this style of play- You may wish to limit certain types of magic if you’re going to have a good hex crawl. At low levels, it’s not a huge problem. Teleportation can be a regular game wrecker for hex crawls. So can certain divination spells. Even basic flying can get out of hand if the GM doesn’t find a way to reasonably limit it. (Freakish thunderstorms, flying monsters, antiaircraft flora…) Obviously technology can make things rough on the GM and super easy on the party. Look how far humans got with just a telescope and a few simple navigational tools here on Earth.

The nice thing about dropping the group onto a whole new world is they can hex crawl for a few sessions or the rest of the campaign. I do recommend if you’re going to turn the game into this style of play that it be mentioned before characters are made. Obviously someone’s 100 page backstory is going to deflate completely if they’re no longer anywhere near those places and events mentioned therein. Artificers, Clerics, and druids are going to be extremely useful or completely hosed depending on where they end up. It’s also a good time to introduce any major rules changes the GM might wish to impose due to the new environment. Please make sure everyone is on board before the hex crawl begins.

Hope this little foray into the worlds of hexcrawling was useful. I may drop another article similar to this one down the line explaining how to set up the random tables with more examples of adjudicating a hex crawl game. Have a great day. Take care. Game on.

%d bloggers like this: