Hex Crawlin'

My HelgaCon was book-ended by hex crawls.  I started out Friday night running a game of Warhammer FRPG (2nd edition) with a nautical theme that involved the group plotting the coarse of their boat on a hex-map of the Empire’s coast, and ended with a game run by Delta using the OD&D suggested Outdoor Survival board (pictured to the right).  I find myself very intrigued by the practice, and have now introduced it to my home campaign.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me start with Friday night.

The Warhammer game essentially started with a vague idea that a nautical themed game might be fun, as there are lots of careers to support it.  I ended up with six characters: a Navigator, Mate, Engineer, Physician, Marine Sargent, and Journeyman Wizard.  The plot was simple: travel from point A to point B on a large map, at the end of which would be a large battle.  I wanted to introduce a couple elements: I wanted some stuff on board ship that I generally thought of as “Trouble Within”, like a skaven infestation, sabotage, mutiny, etc.  I also wanted some ship to ship combat.  And I wanted some top level thing to wrap these up together.

What I came up with was the macro-level map hex-crawl.  The players had a marker on the map that they could move a certain number of hexes each week, with bonuses for good navigation or crew command rolls.  Then I had a whole bunch of charts for random encounter generation, with different stuff and different chances based on whether they traveled along the coast or cut across large bays by going “into the deep”.  The charts included entries for the trouble within stuff, which I ran as just straight-up Warhammer with more detailed maps of the ship’s decks.  It also had entries for enemy ships for which we used a stripped down version of Dreadfleet to adjudicate.  And one entry that bridged the gap: a sea monster (could be fought at from range with cannons, when it comes in close it’s time for regular Warhammer combat).

All in all this game went reasonably well, though it was difficult keeping tabs on the pacing.  At first we zipped through the weeks as encounter checks failed and the players made it halfway there with no problems.  Then they hit a snag: a saboteur broke their rudder.  There was some nice roleplay elements there, a quick combat on the decks, and then a trip to port to fix their rudder.  At port they learned a certain area was rife with pirates, which they decided to risk, and then were promptly beset by pirates, which they decided to evade, only to be attacked by the sea monster.  Finally they made it to the end and faced off against two enemy pirate ships blockading the town they were trying to reach.  While it was fun, I can’t help but feel the entire thing felt a little rushed and out of control.  I kind of suspected at the time this format might make for a really cool long term campaign, but was perhaps ill-suited for convention play.

Fast-forward to Sunday, after a Saturday full of more standard dungeon-crawl style games.  Delta ran a game of OD&D on the Outdoor Survival board with a simple goal: collect 100,000 sp.  I think this suited the hex-crawl style a bit better.  We were allowed to explore the area at our leisure and I felt like the players were more responsible for setting the pace, as we had to find or not find the money in the time we were allotted.  We didn’t, by the way, but came reasonably close at around 60,000 sp.  There were several good fights, some perhaps silly moral debating over whether to sack a castle (one one hand, they were Lawful, on the other, their leader tried to extort our most powerful magic item from us), a fight in the woods against a bandit army, and finally an awesome raid on a castle full of thieves.  All in all I really enjoyed the crap out of this game, and when I got home I immediately pulled out my LBBs and my copy of Outdoor Survival to figure out how Delta did it.  Turns out, with very few changes from the text.

All this got me thinking about my own home campaign.  Actually, the way we do travel across the wilderness isn’t too different from how the LBBs tell it.  I have a hex map in my binder, which is not exposed to the players, but does give locations of towns, castles, and dungeons with interposing terrain.  The players describe to me where they want to go, and I plot their course for them, rolling for random encounters all along the way.  The only real difference here is the fact that the players don’t get to see the board.  So I started asking myself, is that a good thing?

Maybe if my players had the map to look at, they’d be encouraged to go explore the further reaches instead of just sticking to the roads.  Maybe they’d try to find clever short-cuts that lead them to discover areas they’ve never heard of before.  And ultimately, maybe having them control the tracking of movement through the world would make it one less thing I had to do myself.  I was starting to like this idea.

So at last night’s game I proposed it to my players, and they generally seemed in favor of the idea.  I printed up a large size version of the map and we were off.  Well, not really, last session the players just reached a dungeon they were trying to get to, so we spent the entire session with the marker on a single hex as they explored the dungeon.  Still, it was actually a really good session, and it may be another one or two before the players decide it’s time to hit the road again.  When they do, I’ll be sure to report how that works out for us.

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