Master the Art of D&D Exploration with HexCrawls!

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Master the Art of D&D Exploration with HexCrawls!

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a Hexcrawl?
    1. Hex Gridded Map
    2. Managing Travel Time and Resources
    3. Facilitating Exploration Aesthetic
  3. Choosing the Hex Size
    1. Benefits of a Six Mile Hex
    2. Abstraction of Distance
    3. Factors Affecting Travel Time
  4. Determining the Map Size
    1. Balancing Campaign Prep and Player Exploration
    2. Recommended Map Size
  5. Hex-Oriented Exploration
    1. Layout of the Map and Important Locations
    2. Creating Random Encounter Tables
    3. Reflecting Faction Activity on the Map
    4. Immersive Interactions with NPCs
    5. Double Encounters for Added Excitement
  6. Key Locations and Predefined Encounters
    1. Placing Key Locations Randomly
    2. Examples of Key Locations
    3. Reinforcing Faction Goals
    4. Enabling Exploration through Quests
  7. Balancing Main Plot and Hexcrawl
    1. The Importance of Overarching Plots
    2. Hexcrawl Enhances Quest Line Events
    3. Scaling Faction Goals with Party Level
    4. Modifying Goals Based on Player Actions
  8. Conclusion

What is a Hexcrawl and How to Make Exploration Interesting

Are you a Dungeon Master who wants to take your players on an epic journey through an open world filled with exploration? Look no further than the hexcrawl, a powerful tool that can bring life to your Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaign. In this article, we will delve into the essentials of a hexcrawl, discuss the best practices for its implementation, and explore how it can make your D&D exploration more interesting and engaging.

What is a Hexcrawl?

A hexcrawl, in its simplest form, is the use of a hex gridded map to help Dungeon Masters (DMs) manage travel time and upkeep consumable resources. By dividing the map into hexes, the DM can accurately determine the distance and time it takes for the players to reach their destination. This structure not only provides a sense of realism but also serves as a reminder for random encounters, changes in weather, and proximity to interesting locations. Additionally, stocking the hex map with predefined encounters or adventures keeps the players engaged as they explore uncharted territories.

Choosing the Hex Size

One of the key considerations in creating a hexcrawl is determining the size of the hexes on the map. While there is ongoing debate about the ideal hex size, a six-mile hex is often considered the sweet spot. This hex size allows for easy division of a full day's travel and does not overwhelm the DM with excessive preparation work. It is important to note that the exact measurement of the hex is less significant than the time it takes to travel through it. Different types of terrain may affect travel speed, such as plains or grasslands allowing for three hexes per day, while rougher terrains like hills or forests may limit movement to two hexes per day. By considering factors like road travel, force marching, or horseback riding, the DM can adjust the travel speed accordingly.

Determining the size of your map is also an important aspect of creating a successful hexcrawl. While the size can vary based on your preferences, it is essential to strike a balance between reducing campaign preparation work and facilitating player exploration. A 20x25 hex map is a suitable option as it can fit onto a standard sheet of paper while still providing enough space for meaningful exploration. At six-mile hexes, this map size equates to an area roughly the size of Ireland or South Carolina, offering ample room for adventure.

Hex-Oriented Exploration

Now that you understand the basics of a hexcrawl, let's explore how to make your hex-oriented exploration come alive. Start by laying out your map, marking the locations of important towns, cities, roads, and relevant dungeons or adventure sites. This provides a solid foundation for your campaign design. Next, consider the important factions or powerful NPCs that influence the story and identify their respective seats of power. These factions will play a crucial role in shaping the narrative of the hexcrawl.

Creating random encounter tables is an effective way to populate the hexes with interesting content. These tables should reflect the geospatial gaps between factions and encompass the creatures, business activities, and regional commerce prevalent in each hex. By quickly brainstorming dangerous creatures, the region's resources, and the interactions between factions and the players, you can fill the encounter tables with immersive encounters. Make sure to include an entry that reflects the neighboring faction's current activities to inspire encounters aligned with the ongoing campaign.

To enhance immersion, friendly NPCs met along the way can provide information about nearby factions, interesting locations, or rumors about their activities. By interconnecting the world in this way, even seemingly mundane encounters, such as meeting a mushroom hunting herbalist, become meaningful and engaging. Additionally, incorporating the possibility of a double encounter adds excitement and unpredictability to the game. By rolling twice on the encounter table, players might stumble upon a trapped herbalist cornered by dangerous beasts, presenting an intriguing scenario for them to navigate.

Key Locations and Predefined Encounters

Key locations serve as predefined encounters that act as focal points for your hexcrawl. These locations should be roughly a day's travel apart from each other, drawing inspiration from popular video games like Fallout and Skyrim. To determine these key locations, roll a d20 for each hex on your map. Any result of a natural 20 signifies a discoverable key location. With a twenty by twenty-five hex grid, you will typically have around twenty-five locations for preplanned encounters. Don't let the thought of creating so many locations overwhelm you. Remember, not every key location needs to be elaborate. Some can be as simple as an abandoned hut or a cave with a hidden treasure map.

As you populate your hex map, don't forget to include the lairs of dangerous monsters encountered in random encounters. For instance, the wyvern's roost can be a valid key location, adding depth to the world you're building. Additionally, consider the aftermath of two encounters interacting to create interesting and unexpected key locations. A wyvern and a hunter encounter, for example, could result in a ruined hunter's hut with signs of a fierce battle, providing players with clues about the wyvern's presence.

Reinforcing faction goals through key locations is also crucial in driving the main plot. As the players undertake quests that align with the faction's objectives, they will be led to various locations on the map. Much like in Skyrim's College of Winterhold questline, where the Dragonborn must traverse the vast Skyrim landscape in search of artifacts and knowledge, scattering quest-related items across the map encourages exploration and enhances the overall experience of the hexcrawl.

Balancing Main Plot and Hexcrawl

One common misconception about hexcrawls is that they lack a main questline or overarching story. However, this is far from true. A well-crafted hexcrawl can provide the perfect backdrop for an engaging main plot. In fact, the hexcrawl system enhances the feeling of time passing and adds a sense of urgency to the quest line, similar to the time-sensitive quests found in the first Fallout video game.

One way to maintain an overarching plot is by giving the DM an event schedule to follow throughout the hexcrawl. This schedule can include specific milestones or deadlines that the players need to meet in order to progress the main story. By using the hex-based time tracking, dungeon masters can more easily replicate the pressure of impending doom and create a sense of urgency.

Factions within the campaign can also scale their goals as the party levels up. Consider the demon cult from earlier as an example. At lower levels, the cult might be searching for a child of a specific bloodline. But as the party grows stronger, the cult's objectives can evolve, and they may seek a ceremonial dagger or even attempt to bring forth a demon army through a hellish portal. This scaling of faction goals keeps the plot dynamic and ensures that the players are constantly engaged.

Furthermore, if the players disrupt or stop a faction's activities, the goals can be modified, leading to new encounters and challenges. This adaptability allows the plot to evolve based on player actions, providing a sense of agency and rewarding the players for their choices.

In conclusion, the hexcrawl is a powerful tool for DMs to create exciting and engaging exploration experiences for their players. By understanding the essentials of a hexcrawl, choosing the appropriate hex size and map dimensions, designing key locations and random encounter tables, and deftly balancing the main plot with the hexcrawl, you can create a world that feels vast, interconnected, and ripe for exploration. So grab your hex map and embark on an epic adventure with your players, filling each hex with discoveries, dangers, and unforgettable moments.

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