Thursday, May 13, 2010

Musings on Sandbox Campaigns: Hex Size and Scale

Over on Gothridge Manor I made a comment that I thought the 12 miles per hex that Kingmaker use is a too large for mapping a sandbox setting. Roger emailed me to ask me some more detail. So I am turning the answer into a post.

Writing sandbox settings can be painstaking work at time. Even writing tersely the quantity of locales can be overwhelming. My observation that you will have a dozen or so really good ideas and the rest you crib from whatever idea generator or random table you have.

You could limit this but you don't want to make the region so small that the player are able to move past it's bounds in a session or two. Nor you want to make the locale spaced so far apart that and the howling wilderness of the 30 mile hex effect.

I found that making your hexes between 3 to 6 miles to be ideal. If you are using 1/2" hexes on a 8.5 by 11 paper you get a region of 135 miles by 90 miles. It comes roughly to 27 hex columns and 19 hex rows. For that size three dozen locales fit nicely.

Expanded beyond that to the size of a Judges Guild Wilderlands detailing that many locales becomes a bit of chore. Good random tables help as an idea generator.

As for Kingmaker what they did was put something in just about every hex. However they choose to only detail a 6 hex column by 5 hex row region creating 24 locales of varying detail.


Flynn said...

That's smaller than a Traveller subsector... Weird.

I'm essentially using a Traveller sector map and going for about three to four elements per subsector-sized region. I wonder if that's too much, too little, or just enough. I suppose I won't know until I get to see it in play. :)

Thanks for the post,

Daen Ral Worldbuilder said...

I've been musing about hex size for filling out a sandbox myself - I'm considering as small as 1 mile - or even half mile - hexes. Obviously there can't be ruins in every hex - but I'm thinking that there can be SOMETHING interesting in even a half mile hex... But you're right, you have a dozen good ideas maybe, and then it's random tables...

Justin Alexander said...

Interesting. I've been using 12 mile hexes to great effectiveness for awhile now. I like it because it syncs conveniently into daily travel cycles.

Possibly the reason it works for me is that:

(a) I'm not always limited to a single keyed encounter per hex (although exceptions are rare).

(b) I have mechanisms in place for generating non-keyed content in each hex.

So the problem of "vast wilderness" is mitigated, the hex sizes remain usefully scaled to typical movement rates, and I can map a larger area without feeling overwhelmed by the number of hexes (or the size of the map).

Anonymous said...

My interest is primarily in the terminology, specifically, "large-scale" and "small-scale".

You write here: "I thought the 12 miles per hex that Kingmaker use is too large".

If that's the usage among professional cartographers -- that a 12-mile hex map is a larger scale than a 6-mile hex map -- that sounds like something I want to be aware of.

I don't want to make a request for a large-scale map of a region and be disappointed by the results, is all.


Anonymous said...

I use 5-mile hexes. Feels plausible, and movement doesn't take multiple days per hex nor do they zip across the map in a couple days. Most terrain features (forests, waterways, islands, mountains) are 3-6 hexes across with certain very large features (a tundra, three large mountain ranges, two deep seas) at up to 15-20 hexes across. I tend to make such large areas in bands rather than blotches, as they are often barriers to travel and rather empty.

I have keyed locales spaced about 5-10 hexes apart. For searching done in "empty" hexes, I decide whether there is anything there based on the proximity to existing ruins. If close to some other ruins, I'll roll on the ruins table. If not, I might roll on the terrain features table (small lake, swampy area, rocky outcropping, stream, etc). And I ad-lib on those, rolling random things and riffing off what the players are talking about, and my own ideas floating around.

Sometimes the players find the random locale interesting enough to note on their map. If they do, I also note it on my map.

But in the end, if you don't count these minor "throwaway" randoms, but you count only my keyed locales and the interesting randoms, I have about one "feature hex" per 20 or 30 empty ones.

Unknown said...

I've been putting together a sandbox for Stormbringer! (1e) and hope to play shortly. The size of hex I've decided upon is 10 km (which is around 6 miles.) This is primarily to make it easy to track land movement across "normal" terrain (rolling hills, light forest or similar without roads.)

One-half day's travel is one hex.
A full day's travel is two hexes.
Forced march full day travel is four hexes.