Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Tiny Sandbox: Final Area Geography

The journey I started a few days ago may finally be getting to the point where I can actually populate the sandbox. Who knew that I'd be so picky about my geography? In any case, this will be a longer post because I'll include some of the "development steps" I went through to end up with the final area map. You may want to look at this post to "get your bearings" as it were.

I initially went with the tiny "one big hex and partial neighbors" sub-hex template because I wanted to build a tiny sandbox. Makes sense of course, but then I realized that I prefer a "wider" low-level area so that my players can start exploring and making their own decisions about where to go right away. I guess the more common approach, the one with "Gygaxian heritage" if you will, is to simply tell them that until their characters have leveled up enough, they must go back and forth between town and the one and only dungeon that's close enough so the trip won't kill them. (How that will prepare anyone, players or characters, for the wider hex crawls later on I do not know.) That meant that I needed a larger area-scale map at 1 mile per hex, covering a larger section of the regional map. Here's the comparison between what the initial area map covered and what the new area map covers:

Coverage of old (left) and new (right) area map.

There's obviously quite a bit more territory now: Instead of roughly four 5-mile hexes we now cover roughly 28! This is exactly what the regional template is made for. I copied an empty regional template and I started by filling in the region-scale type of each hex as the "center hex" in my new area map. Then I copied over the area previously covered by the sub-hex map and marked it with a red boundary (because I didn't want to make changes to those areas anymore). Finally I started filling in the missing pieces according to the campaign design guidelines. Here's an early state of the area map:

An early state of the new area map.

In an effort to once again test how well the campaign design guidelines do in practice, I stuck to the simplest possible interpretation: Fill each whole hex with 9 primary, 6 secondary, and 3 tertiary sub-hexes depending on the overall terrain type on the larger-scale map. After a while I ended up with an area map where only the partial large-scale hexes were missing:

All complete large-scale hexes refined.

At this point I made a post about what I perceived as the problems with following the campaign design guidelines in too simple-minded a manner and we'll get to my modifications in a moment, but first here's the completed simple-minded area map:

All large-scale hexes refined, simple-minded.

To address the problems I had identified I first concentrated on the heavy forests in the south and worked in the new terrain type I had outlined earlier. Going through this wasn't very hard, and I ended up with this area map:

Improvement: The new "heavy forest" terrain type.

That certainly looks a lot better than having "plains" and "hills" show up in the middle of what is ostensibly "heavy" forest. Next I went through all the large-scale hexes one more time and rolled for "wildcards," terrain features that are not common but still possible given the terrain for a large-scale hex. I only got four "hits" here, and for three of them I decided to make them "water" because the map otherwise looks rather dry; for one I picked "mountain" and in the middle of a "heavy forest" hex no less. I envision this as the site for one of the last "low-level adventures" the players might have before setting out into the wider world. So here's the map with wildcards:

Improvement: Three "water" and one "mountain" wildcards.

Of course I could simply have placed more wildcards, but once again I wanted to stick with the campaign design guidelines mostly as written. As for the perceived "dryness" of the map: I'll eventually add brooks and streams and rivers and the like, so things should work out okay. After these two improvements I spent about an hour looking over the geography and "reshuffling" hexes so they make a little more sense overall. I'd like to emphasize the "reshuffling" part: I stuck with the recommended breakdown into primary, secondary, and tertiary terrain types, so turning a "plain" hex into a "hill" required that I turn another "hill" hex into a "plain," at least for interior hexes. Borderline hexes are considered fair game for just about anything anyway, so I didn't have to "trade" those. Of course I am no expert, but this is my final take on the area map after my "careful" reshuffling:

Improvement: Reshuffling hexes overall.

I made one additional change: Notice the "water" hex in the top left? I added that after checking the regional map again, just north of that hex is where the "big lake" starts and I wanted to remind myself of that. It's a borderline hex so it doesn't count against the balance of hexes anyway, which makes the "rules as written" fanatic in me happy.

Phew! I swear I am done with the geography now! Three posts later than initially expected, but heck, it was worth it. I have to congratulate (and thank!) The Welsh Piper for a great approach to the geography of a sandbox, and I highly recommend his approach even if you start off differently, for example with a donjon world map.

I will now switch to rivers, roads, settlements, ruins, dungeons, random encounter tables and the like. Maybe I even get to run a few games in this sandbox soon! Wishful thinking? I hope not...

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