Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How I key a Hex-Map

I recently received an email from Nicolo, with a pulp mutants & sorcery campaign "The Doomed Wastelands" which also features further iterations of cactus people, who is an inexperienced DM with little sandbox experience asking advice on filling up a hexmap key.

How I keyed my map went in several stages: procedures

1) The Map. Certain locations immediately suggest and appropriate key entry for the hex, such a landmarks, ruins, and the like.

2) Ripping Off Others Work. I make a list of cool things to put in the map that are usually inspired by something from a fiction, history or real life, and put them where appropriate. When I'm working on a project like this I try to read a lot of good fantasy & sci-fi, comics and the like. This also includes pop culture/literature/genre/rpg "easter eggs". I add to the list when I come across something inspiring in a book or daydreaming.

3) Use the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide Random Wilderness Generation Appendix. I roll for every hex on the ruins/castles/settlements table, and if I get a result I like I put it in the hex. Larger settlements I usually arbitrarily make into ruins, smaller settlements can be outcast camps; fortified stockades; subterranean hidden enclaves and the like, with usually random determination for what kind of man/being inhabits it. For ruins and castles I follow the DMG guidelines for the generation of monster, human or high level NPC and entourage inhabitants.

4) Stock the Dungeon. I treat every hex as a dungeon room, generating it's contents in the same fashion as classic OD&D or B/X D&D.

For monster results I roll from one of several encounter tables from different editions/sources (OD&D; B/XD&D; AD&D; Gamma World; Carcosan Grimoire; etc, determination of which source being random as well), and I try to come up with a "Algolian" encounter from the result, altering the monster as I see fit to make it fit the campaign. Usually such results mean that the "monster" has a lair or building in the hex.

With treasure results there's treasure somewhere in the hex, either monster loot or stashed somewhere.

With trap results there's a hazard, such a spiked pits; areas without oxygen; toxic gases; irradiated water, and the like, located in the hex.

With Trick/Special results theres a wilderness equivalent of such dungeon phenomena, stuff like ability score altering fungi, altered gravity or glowing psychic crystal skull hologram oracles.

5) Roll for a random encounter in each hex, using the probabilities from B/XD&D or the Carcosan Grimoire, and roll from a randomly determined encounter table in the fashion of stage 4 above. I Algol-ize the results or reroll if I don't especially feel the result. I'll use the "%Liar" to determine whether any monsters are lair monsters or just passing through the hex.

6) Repeat stage 5 (and even 4) until the hex key feels dense enough.

I'm down with JOESKY's words of wisdom. Enough hot air blather about the most recent iteration of Carcosa Gate/Porno Gate/et al and more monsters, houserules, and maps!

I've been doing a bunch of mapping lately with my sweet new tiny mapping-box. I've found the combination of a cheap school geometry set; an selection of cheap and high-quality mechanical pencils; an assortment of fine tip to larger markers; a palm-sized pad of graph paper; and a small lidded box to hold it all to be a great asset for dungeon mapping creativity, I'm practically shitting out small (yet actually covering a fair amount of 10' square ground!) dungeon maps. One of the benefits of these small maps is that I can easily stitch them together to generate larger dungeon maps with a nice "inconsistent grain" that also avoids the 8.5"x11" phenomenon of bog-standard dungeon mapping methodology.


  1. I'm in total agreement with Joesky. And I'm totally cribbing your hexmapping methods.

  2. That's basically how I do it as well. I think the key is treating each hex like a dungeon room.