The Story So Far
The characters have escaped a life of servitude and criminality in Ka-Adun and travelled south along the Usuldarum River on a boat bound for the city of Hodrin. Set upon during the night, the vessel falls prey to a Jikegida hunting party in search of warm-blooded hosts to incubate their young. Outnumbered, the characters flee overboard and swim across to the north bank. Although injured and tired, they decide to push on through the night and find a settlement as soon as they can.
The Set Up
The map in the Worlds Without Number pdf is good enough for a regional overview of the Gyre, but not quite granular enough for the current situation, so the first thing I needed to do was draw up a map of the local area. I used the province scale hex paper found on the Blog of Holding, and scribbled down some terrain features, trying to stay as accurate to the larger map as possible.
Alas, my artistic skills leave a lot to be desired, so having finished my hand drawn outline of the south Llaigis borderlands, I looked for some software that might be able to polish it up a bit. I decided to give Wonderdraft a try and after a few hours of randomly pushing buttons and waving the mouse about, I ended up with a reasonably satisfactory offering. Something wasn’t quite right, though. After some procrastinating and a lot of faffing about, I realised what was wrong and adjusted the scale of the map to make the empty space a bit larger. The nations on the regional map seemed quite small to me, and I prefer a lot more wilderness in my games.
At this point I realised there were a few features I had placed on the map that should probably be fleshed out before play begins. If I knew what lurked in the Adeng Hills, Martok Rise, and Surgo Woods, I would better understand the entire area. Context would add a bit of verisimilitude to the game.
Worlds Without Number provides an overabundance of random tables for this type of world building, so it was a perfect time to give them a go. Grabbing one of every die type, I rolled on the One Roll Terrain Feature Table for each bit of terrain, obtaining the following results:
The Adeng Hills are sparsely populated, save for a settlement of escaped criminals, outcasts, and bandits. Brigands such as these come from all over Llaigis, drawn by the lure of freedom and the safety such a remote location provides. Nothing more than a small camp at first, the settlement has grown in the last few years and continues to swell, even beginning to accept some of the hardier refugees from Emed-Dar. The area is dangerous, and life is tough in the hills, the flora and fauna of the region likely to kill the unwary or unprepared. To add further complication, there is a powerful Working hidden somewhere in the vicinity, and it is causing the Legacy to warp and mutate everything nearby. Unique Blighted are common in the hills, as well as strange creatures and odd magical phenomenon.
Over the last century, Martok Rise has seen a rush of people settling in the area, mainly refugees fleeing the southlands and the expansion of the Anakim. Small settlements are common in the higher areas, and people eke out a sparse living here, content to be left alone. Ancient burial sites are unsettlingly common, although the locals tend to steer clear of these as they are dangerous and seem to grow deadlier by the year. Undead stalk these catacombs, creatures brought back to life by a grim and terrible entity that dwells deep beneath the hills, an ancient artificial mind that has begun to awaken after aeons of slumber.
The Surgo Woods is a relatively peaceful area, apart from one solitary danger, a powerful beast that stalks the area. The Leaden Gorgon is a merciless creature, and over the years has proven impossible to kill. Despite this, there is a small community on the outskirts of the woods, a settlement built up around the harvesting of Steelwood, a unique species of tree that has only ever been found here. The magical material is abundant no longer, but the community endures. Everything living in the vicinity seems to be unnaturally tough.
The Hex Crawl
In recent years hex crawling seems to have undergone a mini renaissance after a couple of decades of falling by the wayside. Or maybe I’ve just noticed it more. Regardless, mechanical systems for exploration have been disappearing from TTRPG rulesets for a long time and I find that sad. Wilderness adventuring has always been one of my favourite parts of gaming, and whilst hex crawling can be somewhat abstract, I still consider it an excellent way of scratching that particular itch. With this in mind, my characters’ search for a settlement will be treated mechanically, rather than narratively. They will take this journey one 6-mile hex at a time.
As to the specific procedures, ask ten gamers how to run a crawl and you will get ten answers. Blogs, supplements, and other online resources all have different methodologies regarding exploration. There is no point worrying if you are doing it properly, because somewhere, somebody will think you aren’t. The important thing to remember is stay consistent and have fun.
For the way I want to explore the map, I’ll need to work out what the weather is like, work out any random encounters, and see if the characters come across any points of interest on their journey. Since I have no GM to place things ahead of time, this will all be done randomly as I play. I’m going to start out with the simple exploration rules in the Worlds Without Number pdf, and then add a few rules I’ve seen used on the Tale of the Manticore podcast because quite frankly, it’s awesome.
Stealing from TotM, at the start of each day I’ll roll 1d20 for the weather. The higher the result, the better the weather. Common sense will need to be applied when interpreting this roll.
According to the WWN rules, I should roll for encounters twice, once during the day and once during the night. As this is a dangerous area, a d6 should be used for this, and a roll of 1 will indicate an encounter of some kind. If I want any more granularity, I can always roll 1d12 to work out the exact time of the encounter in any given 12-hour period.
For every hex my characters travel through, I’ll roll a d8 to see if they have come across any points of interest. A result of 1 or 2 will indicate they have, and I’ll then use some of the WWN tables to work out what has been found. Deviating slightly from those rules, my default assumption is that every 6-mile hex has at least some sort of interesting feature within it, and if the characters take the time to fully explore the entire hex instead of just passing through it, they will automatically find whatever is there. If the map starts becoming too crowded, I can either drop this assumption altogether, or switch to the Filling In The Blanks document, as it contains a variety of very minor features that will thin out the density of map locations.
Traditionally, hex crawls also contained the possibility of getting lost. I can emulate this by having the characters make a group Survival check once per day or per terrain change, the difficulty dependant on the terrain type. A failure indicates a deviation from the intended route.
Finally, looking at the map, there is a natural break in the landscape that would make the area a point of ingress for invaders from the south. Therefore, it is fairly likely that a major town would be close by to defend against this, so I will also roll an additional d8 in certain hexes to specifically determine the placement of that town.
All this prep work done, and I think I am now ready for the characters to start exploring the world.