Pathcrawls

We are now resuming our irregular schedule.

I’ve never been friends with the idea of hexcrawling. Lots of people fill the term with all kinds of different meanings as long as there is at least one hex map involved somewhere, but to me it always carries the clear meaning of being the same concept as dungeoncrawling, translated from dungeon rooms to wilderness hexes. Which means the players are going from hex to hex, color in the new hex on their map as the terrain type they discover, and ask the GM if they see anything that they can check out. Like the player map for The Isle of Dread.

Some people will say that hexcrawling is much more than that, but there’s plenty of people around who strongly assert that every single hex should have something in it to discover, so the idea is there. That just doesn’t sound very fun to me, as it easily turns into wandering around aimlessly waiting for something to happen. I also think it breaks the believability of the world as a 24 square mile area is massive and you could spend month exploring just a single 6-mile hex without ever spotting a cave, statue, or tower that is somewhere between the hills and trees. As I outlined in a previous post, I think it is much more plausible for PCs to find new sites when they either have instructions for how to reach them, or they are visible from a road or river the party is travelling on. In many ways, this is simply a pointcrawl. But there are various things about the pointcrawl map as originally proposed that I find inconvenient for how I want to run my campaigns. Where do you put boxes for new sites that are added to the world as a consequence of players tracking randomly encountered creatures to their lair or base without messing up the map? What if players decide to take shortcuts through woodlands or swamps where there are no roads or rivers to follow? These issues can be quite easily fixed without really overturning the whole system, so consider this a tweak on pointcrawl maps.

First thing is to draw the map for the area in freehand with no grid. (Even the hexmaps I posted recently started that way before I added the hex grid.) Primarily coastlines, mountains, rivers, lakes, and swamps, and such things.

Second, add the major settlements, strongholds, and ruined cities to the map.

Third, draw the roads that people build to connected these settlements.

Now that we have the main rivers and major roads, as the fourth step, add any other sites that people in the area might have discovered already and could give the players instructions on how to find them.

Fifth, add the secondary paths that connect these sites to the main roads and rivers.

Now we know all the paths through the region that parties are likely to travel on. As the sixth step, add sites that could be spotted by simply traveling on one of the primary and secondary paths.

Seventh, mark paths that connect those tertiary sites to the road and river network. Since characters can see those sites from the road, they don’t need any kind of trail to follow. Just keep it in your sight and move towards it. Depending on the granularity you want with distances, these can even be marked as being right on the trail from which they can be spotted.

Only now comes the step to add a hex grid to the whole map. This hex grid is not to divide the wilderness into segments, but simply as a visual aid to easily estimate the length of swirling paths as they meander through the environment. If you’d want to, you could just note the distances between two points next to the path of the map and remove the grid again if you’re working with a digital map. Back in the day, the 2nd edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting box had a hex grid printed on a sheet of clear plastic at the same scale as the maps in the box for just that purpose. I think any print shop would still be able to make such a sheet for you if you have an apprpropriately scaled file of a hex grid on a USB stick.

The advantage of making a wilderness map like this is that I can easily add more dots and more lines to the map, and since the map is based on physical geography instead of a flow-chart abstraction, I can determine the length of any new path easily by counting the number of hexes it passes through. If the players say “You know what, we get off the trail here and just keep heading straight south until we reach the river and then follow it downstream to the town”, it’s trivial to figure out the length of the path, though it would be something you’d have to purely handwave on a default pointcrawl map.

Which might of course be a complete non-issue for many people. This is simply my method that I am using to get the mix of abstraction and precision that I find ideal for my campaigns.

kaendor7_4c.png

Yeah, I’ve run out of smart titles for these a while ago. A topographical map of the current version of Kaendor with 30 mile hexes. The smaller one being the region I intend to use for the exploration sandbox campaign I am currently working on.

The Lands Beyond the Mountains have been the realm of the asura for thousands of years and greatly avoided by the mortal peoples of the great river valley in the east. When the first explorers crossed the few mountain passes 300 years ago, they found the cities and citadels of the asura falling into ruin, abandoned centuries ago. Shamans and witches journeyed to the West to search for the arcane secrets left behind in the empty ruins, often returning with new magical powers. But one day great clouds of poisonous ash came rolling down from the fiery peaks, burrying the narrow passes. In the decades that followed, the fierceness of the ash storms became reduced in power, but the mountains were haunted by ghouls and more terrible horror. Only within the last generation has it become possible to cross the mountains again, but only the foolish and the desperate make the journey to the West in hope for a new life.

The latest map and an updated overview of Kaendor

My old computer has been reaching the end of its life and the backup I am using now just doesn’t have the power to handle the large file sizes I usually like to work with, so for the time being I am limiting myself to basic layout sketches without trying to make them look pretty as handouts for players. I also decided to limit the scope of this map to just the part of the continent that I actually need for planning my next campaign.

30 miles per hex, 900 miles by 1800 miles.

This area actually covers a good 90% of all the content that I have already created for the setting. There’s still the far northern lands of Venlat where the white skinned and white haired Kuri live under the rule of Maiv the Witch Queen, but I am quite happy with that being a far off distant land that has no direct contact with the main civilized region shown on this map.

Senkand

On the east side of the map is a huge valley between two mountain ranges with a total size roughly on the same scale of France or Spain. I think that’s as big as I can go with the main city states (maked in red) still having meaningful regular interactions with each other. The eastern mountains and highlands are the lands of the Yao mountain people, while the great plain in the center of the valley is the lands of the Murya sorcerer kings. The woodlands north of Senkand are the home of the Fenhail tribes.

This incarnation of Senkand takes a lot of inspirations from Dark Sun, but instead of a barren desert its environment is more like Northern Spain and southern France, with the mountains being comparable to the Pyreneese and the Alps. In earlier versions of the setting it used to be more like the coasts of Greece and Southern Italy, but in the process of downscaling the city states considerably to make a more wilderness focused setting, I decided to drop the Mediterranean port city model (which is more a think of Antiquity) with the river valley structure that dominated in the Bronze Age.

I don’t have any specific plans for campaigns set in the east and I mostly want it to be background material for NPCs and factions. Though I think it would be a perfectly playable region that still works in the overall style I am pursuing with Kaendor.

Dainiva

The center of the map consists of a large region of temperate-warm woodlands that are bordered in the east by the mountains that separate it from the city states of Senkand, and in the west by a great river that marks the edge of the known world for most people. This area is what Kaendor was always meant to be about and that is most reflective of the kind of environment implied by the Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert rules. A vast wilderness full of ruins, monsters, and treasures, and only a few scattered villages and forts.

Dainiva, as well as the forests beyond the great river, were once the realm of the asura who ruled there for thousands of years. Their presence alone was what had kept the various early societies of Senkand from attempting to cross the mountains. But now the asura are almost entirely gone, and the lands of Dainiva have been abandoned for many centuries. The first people to cross the mountains where Murya shamans and witches seeking the occult secrets of the great asura kings. They brought back great amounts of esoteric knowledge about other realms and demons that became the basis of sorcery, but many of them stayed in the lands beyond the mountains to delve deeper into what the asura had discovered before them. Whatever they found, something covered the peaks of the mountains in clouds of poisonous ash and made the few passes crawl with ghouls and other undead horrors. For many generations crossing the mountains was all out impossible, but over time clouds of ash become more rare and the undead only rarely seen. Slowly Murya from Senkand resumed making the crossing into the lands beyond the mountains, while further north some Fenhail and the occasional Yao made the journey through the forest. Most of the people who came to Dainiva and settled down had fled from Senkand for one reason or another, which greately affected the kind of society that developed in the west.

The woods of Dainiva are home to scattered villages of rarely more than a few hundred people, often surrounded by wooden palisades or build on top of defensible hills and cliffs. Hunting is just as much a part of daily life as farming and great amounts of tools and weapons found by local traders have been imported from the East. The woods are also filled with ancient asura ruins, as well as the lairs and tombs of the first sorcerers.

Beyond the Great River

While the woodlands of Dainiva are a barely explored frontier, the lands on the western bank of the great river are a completely unknown wilderness. Rumors are that those distant forests are still ruled by asura kings, the mountains swarming with dragons, and that ancient gods are walking among the trees. But in truth almost nobdy ever returned to the taverns and trade posts of Dainiva with any proof that they actually had made it to the other side.

Mapbashing

Every model builder should know what kitbashing is. Why isn’t mapbashing an established technical term among map makers?

While I was working on a new map layout for Kaendor that better reflects some design changes I’ve decided on, I was comparing notes with other mappers and noticed that on my scale reference Europe map, that the Adriatic Sea had almost the exact dimensions as the narrow sea in the middle of my sketch, and Italy was a close match to the mountain range I want to put to the West of it, if you just rotate it a little bit. On a map of Europe, there’s something very close to any geographic shape I had in mind, and so I just kept cutting out more pieces from my reference map and cutting and rotating them until it looked like this. I didn’t even use scaling and mirroring, with is additional options you can use for something like this.

And two hours later, I had something looking like this. I really like this.

Like with my hugely popular technique to make hex maps, I’ve been using GIMP for this. Though I am certain PhotoShop has all the features for doing this as well.

There’s no better way to get more realistic looking shorelines, river systems, and islands than tracing actual shorelines, river systems, and islands. And by using topographical maps like I did with this map, you also get some information about what kinds of mountain formations further inland contributed to creating these shapes.

The Six Lands of the Shattered Empire

A simple map I’ve quickly thrown together because it’s just so much easier to talk about environments and the relationships between regions when you can just point to a picture.

As it turns out, the general layout idea in my head is pretty plain and basic. Which I guess is quite fitting for the central design paradigm I’ve set myself. A world that is designed to support classic dungeon crawl adventures and puts the needs of the gameplay over fanciful explorations of an entire and unique world. This is a layout that does the job. A subarctic valley in the very North, a large expanse of temperate-cool woodlands, a rocky coastal region, large river plains prairie, rugged foothills of a great mountain range, and subtropical woodlands in the very South. The whole area is about 1,200 miles long and 400 miles wide, which is climatically plausible, given that we don’t see what the land is like beyond the edges of the map and what possible wind patterns and ocean currents might exist. The total area is not that big, a bit smaller than all of Northern Europe, and about the size of my favorite reference frame for this kind of geographic layout, the American West Coast between the Pacific and the Rocky Mountains. Though the flat ground between the sea and the mountains is much wider, but I really don’t want to go into the geology of plate tectonics. For a dungeon crawl campaign setting, this is plausible enough.

As it happens, the overall map reminds me quite a bit of the map from The Witcher. Which is probably one of the best examples of really nice worldbuiling with a unique character that only uses the most basic generic components and doesn’t really bother to go into any detail about things outside the scope of the story. Really not the worst thing to have similarities with.