Saturday, March 23, 2013

Thoughts on Designing a Sandbox Setting Piecemeal

You need to start somewhere, right?

I'm seriously toying with the idea of designing my own sandbox setting using Hexographer for the mapping. I think I can grok the software and end up with something that looks decent. I'm not aiming for great, as I doubt my mapping skills hit that height, but decent and serviceable work for me.

I'm kinda immersing myself in hex crawls at the moment - Points of Light, Blackmarsh, Hex Crawl Chronicles from Frog God, NOD, Isle of the Unknown  - you get the idea.

I'm thinking of working in sizes of 5x5 hexes, so 25 hexes at a clip. A sentence or three for those hexes of import.

Now, I want the hexes to be of a size where a 5x5 hex area allows for a decent amount of adventuring, but not so large that the details are lost. 2 miles across? 5? 6 like HCC? Some other number?

What percentage of the hexes should be remarkable? What is considered "remarkable"?

I appreciate any thoughts on this that you feel like sharing :)


  1. You might check out Victor Raymond's "The Wilderness Architect" from FO! issues 2 and 3. You can also find it on the OD&D forums

    1. I had forgotten the 20 mile radius deal. Lots to read. Lots to think about.

      5x5 at 6 miles per hex is 30 x 30 miles - 900 miles square - that's a lot of adventuring ;)

  2. What if it's the literal sandbox that the gods' children play in?

  3. I'd go with 5 miles across, because that recalls to me the awesome Judges Guild maps. As far as the "remarkable" hexes goes, it depends on how you're playing them. Are the PCs going to be literally wandering aimlessly across the landscape, and only encounter such things if they happen to stumble across them? Then I'd make then probably one every 8-10 hexes, making one discovery every 2 days the average.

    On the other hand, if the setting is going to have a mechanism for the PCs to seek out the extraordinary things based on rumors, so they have at least some idea of a direction to go, I'd probably spread it out more.

  4. For a recent campaign I used 1 mile per hex detailed 'trail maps' along the main road, I thought that worked very well: http://smonsyggsburgh.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/regional-sketch-map.html
    It meant I had a lot of detail on places the PCs were likely to go, and didn't waste time on mapping places they weren't likely to go.

  5. I tend to use the 6 mile per hex figure, so that a standard day's travel through non-rough terrain is about 3 hexes/day. I use a standard series of encounter charts once I have determined the players might encounter something randomly. Six mile hexes are pretty big, especially if they are wooded, so it is possible for the players to pass through the hex in one direction and not discover something, then pass through on the return and discover whatever they had missed.

    I use the free Hexographer for my online campaign map and it works pretty well. It does take some playing around with (especially changing fonts for some of the text mark-up) but as long as you remember to save things regularly, it works pretty well for a free service.

  6. There are definite mathematical advantages to a 6-mile hex.

    1. very informative post. Wow! Lots to think of in there.

  7. Base the hex size on the movement rates of the game you are playing. AD&D has outdoor movement rates in multiples of 5 miles / day so 5 mile hexes make sense. BX are in multiples of 3 miles so 6 mile hexes work better.

  8. I recommend starting on an island. Figure out the broad strokes of some vague geopolitical entity that colonized it, and one or two population centers. The rest of the island has to be subdued and civilized.

    That way if you want to expand, you can move to other islands, or to the mainland, but it limits the ability of the party to veer left and strike out for the unknown beyond your preparation.

  9. Erik: Look for Wilderness Hexplorer Revised -- it's a free PDF out there -- basically a retread of the Judge's Guild method for hex generation. That'll give you a good starting point for your own method (though I just use this method) -- it has everything: Hex type, whether the hex has a feature, and then an in-depth feature generator.

    Now that I think about it, I hope this isn't a pirate... Been using it for months and months.

  10. Okay -- looks like it isn't a pirate = it's here:


  11. One piece of advice, specific to hexographer: pick a size (in miles) that you can conveniently divide again in whole numbers fi/when you create a "child map".
    Example. Your standard hexes are 10 miles across, good enough for most areas. You then make a child map dividing each hex in 5, so that each is 2 miles across, and those are good enough for detailed mapping of specific areas: along very known trails, around dungeons, etc.


Tenkar's Tavern is supported by various affiliate programs, including Amazon, RPGNow,
and Humble Bundle as well as Patreon. Your patronage is appreciated and helps keep the
lights on and the taps flowing. Your Humble Bartender, Tenkar

Blogs of Inspiration & Erudition