Short thoughts on condensed Hexmap travel in Sword & Sorcery campaigns

As I outlined in my previous post, I really do like the general idea of hexmap travel through the wilderness, but also think that Sword & Sorcery adventures have their focus on the most exceptional events in the travels of their protagonists and don’t concern themselves with the regular day to day stuff, like the majority stetches of long distance journeys.

Reading up again on Chris Kutalik’s great introduction to Pointcrawls, I’ve been considering that system as an option, but couldn’t quite get myself to fully leave the hexmap behind. I don’t really need it for what I now plan to do with campaign I’m preparing, but it still just feels really right to have one, especially since I want to capture a bit of a retro-feel of how I perceived fantasy RPGs in the late 90s. (I’ve even been playing around with a neocities site as a compendium for world information and play reports.)

One thing that is easily done is to draw a Pointcrawl map on top of a hexmap. After which the hex grid basically becomes purely decorative and serves no more mechanical function. While that would provide the useful additional information as described in the page linked above and simplify things for me as GM, it would still not actually do anything to deal with the question of how to play out long distance travel in Sword & Sorcery campaigns. But it gave me the following idea.

The upper path is an example of regular pointcrawl notation laid over a hexmap grid. Going from the blue site to the read site means going through six hexes between them, costing six time intervals to travel through, and perhaps causing six rolls for random encounters.

The lower path shows the same situation, except that the markers for random encounter checks are placed only within two hexes of the blue and red sites.

The idea here is to only have the players actually play out travel on the solid path sections with random encounter rolls, supply consumption, and whatever else your game of choice might include. The dashed section of the path represents a time skip during which the world still turns and the sun rises and sets, and the PCs might even have some side adventure or another, that isn’t of particular relevance to their main tale. Events that didn’t result in meeting NPCs who make later reappearnces or in any of the PCs being meaningfully affected, and their supply situation will be about the same when they reach the other side.  It’s only when they are getting close to the red site again and the path resumes being solid that the whole procedures of covering one segment of travel are being played out again. It still preserves some of the aspects of hexmap wilderness travel, but can greatly reduce the play time of long distance journeys as I am planning for. Any random encounters with NPCs or monsters will happen relatively close to a site where they can have some kinds of effect or connection to the inhabitants of that site. If the players encounter a group of bandits deep in the wilderness, nobody will care about what happed there in the towns they left or are headed to. But if the encounter happens within one or two travel segments from a town, people there might have had problems with the bandits in the recent past, or might be friends of them. The random encounter in the wilderness could very well be quite important to an adventure that happens at that particular site later.

For longer joureys between towns and famous big dungeons, there can also be squares for minor sites to break up thr long journey between the start and destination into multiple smaller adventures. These can also have their own random encounter check ponts near them.

I think this could be a quite interesting solution to having most of the aspects of hexmap travel and pointcrawls on a map that is at continent scale and doesn’t really try to map and describe its whole area at a 6 or 10-mile scale. You do lose a bit of it, like getting lost deep in the wilderness and running out water in the desert while one PC has to be carried. But in a Sword & Sorcery themed campaign, there probably isn’t even the time to spend much focus on these things, so I think it might be a pretty good trade.

6 thoughts on “Short thoughts on condensed Hexmap travel in Sword & Sorcery campaigns”

  1. So the assumption is that the furthest point from civilization provides no threats?

    1. No, it assumes that the things happening furthest away from significant sites have little impact on the rest of the campaign and can be left off-screen.

  2. You should check out the Journey rules in the free solo IronSworn RPG. I use the rules for my own S&S setting and they work perfectly for a point crawl.

    At the start you set a difficulty level for the journey which determines how many successes you need to roll before you get to the destination. The lowest rank requires 3 (Troublesome) successes the highest 40 (Epic). Although you can attempt to try your luck and end the journey sooner.

    This journey track is abstract so can map to distance covered, time travelled or some sense of general progress towards the destination. You can designate the journey as being ‘Dangerous’ or ‘Formidable’ for any reason. Perhaps because the terrain is inhospitable, or the amount of resources required, or because simply the distance being covered.

    Every time you fail or partially succeed on a journey roll a complication is introduced which can result in some kind of scene where you zoom in to the action for a bit.

  3. It’s an interesting project. I’ve been thinking a bit about soaring forests full of talking, club wielding Grizzly Bears (It’s a California thing – Mt. Shasta being the site of New Lemuria according to various 19th century wackadoos), but forests and such are hard in a D&D. I find the wilderness never feels like the wilderness, usually more a train journey interrupted by occasional muggings.

    Without the constraint of the location it’s so hard to provide and produce compelling detail, and I have yet to see a really nice system for weather, creature territories, landmarks/secrets, and getting lost. More then system though I’ve never had wilderness adventures really capture that tension and sense of danger that locations do – everything feels more distant and vague, even with a good referee like Chris K.

    How does one make the wilderness feel alive, important, and immediate?

    Perhaps it might be a use for procedural generation (shudder) or even encounter based design? I think maybe something between UVG’s caravan system and maybe even Wilderness Survival’s exhaustion track? No real idea here.

    I wish you luck and hope you’ll keeping posting your progress.

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