When I started playing D&D, I didn’t pay much attention to hexcrawls as I still didn’t recognize the value of this style of campaigning. When I finally did, about six years ago, and tried to run a hexcrawl, I found the methods described in the usual manuals vague or superficial. Boring. Why was this? Because the wilderness travel presented in those books is only about wilderness travel, not about having adventures in the wild.
So, yes, this is not a wilderness travel method, this is a wilderness adventures procedure.
Looking for alternatives, I came across The Alexandrian method, but it seemed excessively detailed and overwhelming, when what I needed was a system that was simple and easy to use. For a while I resorted to the pointcrawl method, which I still find excellent, but insufficient for certain types of sandbox campaigns, where the hex map is more useful.
For a while I used David Wilkie’s Path Cartograms, which is a good system for both travel and exploration, but not very useful if you want to use a published module with its own maps.
Then I found Keith Hann’s blog, which describes a method I found reliable. Of course, I needed to adjust it to my personal needs. It worked really well, so naturally I kept tweaking, adding procedures that, in my opinion, wilderness adventures should contain, specially if you want to make it analogous to the dungeon crawl method we all know and love.
It isn’t perfect, and that was never the point, but it’s functional and flexible. It has many minute details, but most will only be used rarely, so the actual system is pretty simple, I think. I post it here in case someone finds it useful.
One hex is approximately 6 miles or 10 kilometers from side to side. In one day, up to 4 hexes of easy terrain can be covered, i.e. up to 24 mi. or 40 km. However, some hexes are equivalent to double or triple that of normal terrain (same distance, more time to traverse). Tracking time and distance isn’t an easy task, and it can be overwhelming, but here’s an alternative.
Most of the activities here presented are optional and should only be used when they make the adventure more exciting, not less. The focus is the adventure, not the procedures, but these serve to give the adventure a sense of reality.
Mechanically, and to make it easy, in one day (16 hours of abstract time), a party can travel a number of hexes whose total score is 4.
Forced march: A party can cover 6 hex points in one day. After a day of forced march, the party must rest for a full day. Each day of normal march after forced march, each party member suffers 1 damage and only can heal at half rate until they rest for a full day. Each day of forced march after the first, each party member suffers 1d6 damage and can’t heal until they rest for a full day (animals suffer 1d6 damage since the first day, and maybe die; see Modifiers below).
Example: On a regular day’s walk, a group can cover either a. 4 type-A hexes; b. 2 type-B hexes; c. 1 type-B hex and 2 type-A; d. 1 type-C hex and 1/2 type-B hex (the other half can be covered the following day), or any other combination, as long as it’s 4 points worth.
Current score: Occasionally, the score of a hex will be modified, for example if the party gets lost or decides to explore the hex further. This new score is the current score.
Points reserve: Each day, a party has 4 points to spend in exploration or other activities. Some activities cost a number of points, deducting points from the party’s reserve.
Paved roads: Paved roads subtract 1 point from the hex value, but this benefit can only be taken advantage of once a day (basically, that day you can travel 5 points worth of hexes; or 7 points of forced march).
Dungeon, Town, Ruins: If the players find a dungeon, town, some ruins, or a similar settlement, and they decide to interact with it (to explore or visit), the referee decides how much time has passed. Of course, in a town, the party can simply state they will spend the night or stay there for three days.
Modifiers: The score of a hex can be modified according to factors such as weather, mounts, encumbrance, etc.
Mount (& Teamster): Most mounts might not be able to race through some type-C hexes, so no modifier applies. These modifiers can be applied only once per day, or twice of forced march. After a day of forced march, animals suffer 1d6 damage, and in a result of 5 or 6, they make a Saving Throw or die.
These activities are common while outdoors. They take place during Step 3. Exploration, but the referee can allow them at any time
Animal care: Taking care of mounts and pack animals is automatic if the party is accompanied by a teamster. Otherwise, one player must make a roll to represent this care (feeding, calming the animals, cleaning the horseshoes…) This can be a Bushcraft/Foraging roll (modified by charisma) or a reaction roll (modified by charisma, negatives are added and positives are substracted.)
Chases: Compare the movement rate of the pursuing group with that of the pursued, and the one with the higher value wins the chase (catches up with the opponent or manages to flee). If they’re equal or the circumstances don’t allow for a clear winner, one of the players makes a roll with a 1-in-6 chance of winning (reach or flee, depending); the referee may allow a higher success rate if the players give a good reason.
Climbing: When something is at stake, there’s a 1-in-6 chance of success, modified by dexterity. A failure doesn’t necessarily mean that the character has fallen, it could mean she didn’t find where to grab hold of, or that progress was interrupted.
Equilibrium: When you need to cross a suspension bridge, walk across a narrow cliff or use a tree trunk as a bridge, there’s a 1-in-6 chance to succeed, modified by the PC’s dexterity.
Excavation: With a shovel in good condition, a person can excavate 3 cubic feet (1 cubic meter) in one hour (capacity: 250 gallons/1,000 liters). Improvised or poorly maintained tools can excavate half as much. One hour costs 0.5 hex points, which can be neglected or tracked, depending what’s at stake.
Hiding: There’s a 1-in-6 chance of success of hiding in brush, ruins or terrain features. It’s indispensable that those from whom a character intends to hide are not aware of her presence. The success range may vary according to conditions, it may even be impossible (0-in-6).
Hunting and foraging: Adventurers may choose to hunt or gather food, but must devote the entire day to these activities, and spend 4 points from their reserve. A successful Bushcraft/Foraging roll (1-in-6 chance of success) at the end of the day means that this character has obtained rations for a number of days chosen by the referee (1, or a 1d2, 1d3 or 1d4 roll). Any number of characters can participate in this activity. If there aren’t enough points to spend, there’s only an unmodified 1-in-8 chance to obtain rations.
Open Doors: There aren’t many doors in the wild, but there’s a 1-in-6 chance to remove or bypass obstacles you find in your path, from tree trunks in the middle of the road to fences protected with barbed wire. The range of success might be modified by a relevant ability, if appropriate.
Scouting: It costs one point from the reserve. The scout explores the hex and finds any point of interest the referee wants (or randomly decided) or any situation relevant (a storm approaching, a caravan in the distance, whatever). Alternatively, she finds there’s nothing of interest here.
Searching: 1-in-6 chance, sometimes modified by a relevant ability. It allows finding traps or other hazards, as well as hidden paths, hidden landmarks, treasure, etc. If it takes only a few turns, time can be ignored. In rare cases, and if the search takes long, the party deducts 1 point from their hex point reserve, or adds +1 to the current hex’s score. Also see Tracking below.
Swimming: All characters are assumed to be able to swim, unless otherwise specified by the player. If something is at stake, the player declares her intent and has a 1-in-6 chance of succeeding (modified by dexterity). Failure can mean anything from being swept a few meters downstream to drowning.
Tracking: A specialized searching roll that allows one to find directions, the trail of game animals or people. Tracking deducts points from the party’s hex score reserve equal to the value of the current hex. See Getting lost, below.
Hazards and Dangers
While exploring or traveling, other than monsters the adventurers can face different kinds of dangers.
Damage: If the terrain is dangerous and treacherous, the characters at risk must make some roll to avoid taking damage (Saving Throws or Skill rolls, for example). This damage can be losing hit points, getting poisoned, catching a disease or even dying.
Darkness: You need a source of light. In most cases, carrying a light source prevents taking enemies by surprise. Infravision or dark vision might or might not bypass natural darkness, according to circumstances.
Disease: When exposed to a disease, the referee makes a Saving Throw vs. Poison on behalf of the character. Failure means contagion has occurred. The referee decides the effects of the disease, the duration and the treatment (both Mutant Future and Lamentations of the Flame Princess have good disease examples).
Exhaustion: A day without food or water, a night without proper sleep, disease, falling unconscious, failing a climbing roll, are common causes of exhaustion, the referee can have more. When characters are exhausted, they suffer 1 point of damage each morning and heal at half rate. After a few days of exhaustion (at the referee’s discretion), the damage suffered each morning doubles, and keeps increasing by 1 every several days. To cure exhaustion, characters have to rest for a full day.
Falling: Falling from a height of 10 ft/3 m causes 1d6 damage.
Getting lost: There’s a 1-in-6 chance the group will get lost (this chance can be increased by poor visibility or treacherous terrain). If the referee sees fit, a lost party can find a landmark without spending time or making a roll. If the party moves to another hex, the referee decides which hex they move into. It might take one or more wrong hexes for the party to realize they’re lost. When they notice they’re lost, if they want to find their way, add 1d4 points to the hex’s score. To find their way, there are two methods: a) the party spends the current hex score in hours (automatic success), or b) they make a Tracking roll (a failure means they’re still lost). In either case, the group remains in the same hex.
Starvation: If a character doesn’t consume enough water or food for more than one day, the referee may apply penalties to attack rolls and movement rate, as well as exhaustion.
1. Direction. Players decide the direction in one of three ways.
a) they can move to the next hex and decide again;
b) they can choose a destination and travel in a straight line to it;
c) they choose a specific route from one point to another (not a straight line.)
2. Random encounters. On each hex there’s a probability (equal to its score) that an encounter will occur. If the referee deems it appropriate, this roll can be made a number of times equal to the hex score, or a single roll can be made every two hexes.
When an encounter is rolled, it can happen at any moment during step 3. Exploration.
If a combat encounter occurs, it follows the usual rules for surprise, initiative, reaction and combat.
3. Exploration. During this step, common activities take place.
Exploration: Almost every hex should have at least one landmark or point of interest, or something to interact with, even if only a landscape view. Some should have more. And only a few, none at all. a) When traversing the hex without exploring it, the referee decides if the adventurers find one of these points of interest. b) If the adventurers decide to explore the hex, they’ll find landmarks (they might find them automatically, only spending time, or a Searching roll might be required.) Exploring and finding each landmark will add again the score of the hex. Thus, a type-A hex, instead of 1 point (2 hours) will count as 2 points (4 hours) for one landmark, 3 points (6 hours) for three landmarks, and so on. If they decide to investigate further, venture into a dungeon, or interact with the inhabitants of the place, the referee may simply say that a number of hours have passed and they have to spend the night in the area.
Abstract activities: These are included in the abstract 16-hour travel time; this time includes abstracted activities like taking short breaks, making and eating food, taking care of wounds and injuries, braiding your beard or hair, maintaining equipment, enjoying the view, taking a leak, and any daily activity that doesn’t consume many hours or require great concentration.
4. Camping. Depending on the circumstances, the adventurers may camp overnight, and the referee may make a final random encounters roll if desired, or simply move on to the next day. During camping time, there’s a 3-in-6 chance the party is surprised by wandering monsters. If a PC keeps watch through the night, the chance is 2-in-6. Roll 1d8 to see what time the encounter occurs.
5. Destination. Upon setting camp, or reaching either the destination or the last hex of the day, the character sheets are updated, recording the resources used or acquired (ammo, food, spells), and perhaps the time and distance traveled and any other information, if relevant.
Get these rules as a PDF.
Here‘s a nice song.
Hex map illustration: The Lavender Marshes by Ramanan Sivaranjan