Friday, June 21, 2013

A Tiny Sandbox: Populated Starting Area

I've been working on the starting area for my sandbox campaign some more. Although I said I wouldn't, I did end up changing a few things about the geography. For example I introduced a small-ish marsh/swamp area to partially sink a certain semi-ruined temple into. I also added a bunch of streams/brooks/rivers (and one new lake!) to make it all sort-of work. Here's how things look right now:

Sandbox campaign starting area at 1 mile/hex.

The red outline marks hex 05.05 on the 5 miles/hex regional map I posted earlier. I have not gotten around to updating the larger-scale maps yet, but this is close enough for now. Here's some flavor text for the "populated" hexes (from west to east). Note that I have no had time to edit all of this for consistency yet.
02.13 Hold of The Chaos Cult: A small group of Xinlurgash cultists have established a hideout in this abandoned dwarven delve. They were sent by their main temple (off the area map to the west) to investigate the ruins in hex 10.16 but have not made a lot of progress toward that goal yet. They did, however, successfully recruit several small bands of humanoids (kobolds, orcs, ogres) who for one reason or another decided not to work with the Broken Fang hobgoblins in hex 26.21; their most prized recruits so far are a minotaur and an owl bear.

04.10 The Sunken City: This mist-covered lake hides an ancient sunken city under its otherwise calm surface. The topmost spires of three towers peek out in the center of the lake but cannot be seen from a distance due to the ever-billowing mist. The towers are made out of a strange bluish-green stone not native to the area.

06.03 Village of Tirn (Krak'Vaza, Citadel of Iron): A mining village of about 450 inhabitants with a sizable dwarven population of about 60. Tirn is built around an old dwarven citadel that has changed hands (between dwarves and various humanoid tribes) many times over the centuries. It was last reconquered by the dwarves around 120 years ago. About 80 years ago the dwarves invited human settlers to join them to make up for their dwindling numbers. The village is now ruled by a council of three dwarves and three humans with a mayor that alternates between dwarves and humans every 10 years. The current mayor is Mart Morren, an experienced human miner of about 50 years; Mart will step down in three years. Despite its relatively small size, Tirn has an actual stone wall.

06.24 Hidden Village of Nath'Valin (Lake of Whispers): A small semi-fortified tree-house village of about 80 high elves guards this entrance to the Vi'Valin (Forest of Whispers) which extends to the south. The elves keep close tabs on the Broken Fang hobgoblins in hex 26.21. They occasionally skirmish with the humanoids, but as long as their attention is focused on the human settlers to the north, the elves are not going to take any major action.

10.16 Temple of the Froghemoth: An ancient temple of unknown origin is slowly sinking deeper into this blighted swamp as the centuries drag on. Statues and bas reliefs of strange reptilians cover the crumbling structures that hide a strange conglomeration of lizardmen, yuan-ti, kuo-toa, and worse.

11.08 Caves of Uncertainty: This network of natural caves is rumored to lead far into the depths of the earth. A small group of about 20 bandits is currently using the surface caves as a hideout. They arrived only recently from the north and have not yet attacked any of the merchants in the area.

15.09 Village of Sern: A village of about 500 (mostly human) souls, Sern sits on both banks of the river Url. The village sprung up roughly 40 years ago at the site of an ancient (but perfectly intact!) stone bridge of dwarven construction (complete with small gate-houses on either side which are now used to collect tolls). Sern has two major temples, one to Mielikki (goddess of forests, hunters, and woodsmen) on the south shore and one to Demeter (goddess of agriculture, fishermen, and fertility) on the north shore. There is also a small shrine dedicated to a variety of other deities, mostly frequented by merchants and other travelers. Sern hosts a weekly market where both homesteaders from the surrounding area as well as craftsmen from Sern sell their products; merchants from Sern in turn regularly attend the monthly market in the town of Marken to the north (not on the area map).

16.11 Stones of Sorrow: A mysterious circle of 19 ancient standing stones (each about 12 feet high, 5 feet wide, and 2 feet deep) looms on the highest peak amidst these strangely desolate hills. Travelers have reported frightening wailing sounds emanating from the stones. Some believe that memories of an ancient cult or civilization mourn their own passing here on every full moon.

19.17 Ruins of Parm: Before being overrun by the Broken Fang hobgoblins and their minions last year, Parm used to be a small village of about 150 hunters and woodsmen. Many who survived the attack have volunteered their services to Baron Tembar and Sternbow Keep on the condition that Parm will be taken back this year. The ruins are currently home to about 30 goblin raiders who are still occasionally digging up some useful loot. A small band of 5 human hunters who are too impatient to wait for Baron Tembar's plans to take shape is waging a guerrilla war on the goblins, albeit not very successfully.

20.09 Tower of Brinsaro: The wizard Foranius Brinsaro and his wife Emiliane Sirramor (both human) reside here together with a handful of apprentices and servants. Rumor has it that the tower appeared out of nowhere about 20 winters ago, something the decidedly foreign-looking bluish-green stone it is made out of lends further credence to. A few of the surrounding homesteaders have agreed to supply the wizard with essential goods in return for his protection. Foranius is on generally good terms with the area's population, although his search for new apprentices every four years or so is something few families want to volunteer their youngsters for. Foranius has also helped baron Tembar with the fortifications of Sternbow Keep, a debt the baron repays by stationing four guards from the keep here on a monthly rotation.

22.13 Sternbow Keep: Baron Rinald Tembar has ruled this area for the last 15 years. His father, baron Orland Tembar, came south to carve his barony out of the surrounding wilderness about 35 years ago. The keep is small but well-fortified with both high walls and a sizable moot. The baron's garrison numbers about 60 men-at-arms with 3 sergeants and an experienced captain to lead them. Sternbow Keep is surrounded by a small village of about 60 farmers, hunters, and woodsmen, 30 of which are ready to serve as a militia. About 15 refugees from Parm are temporarily camped here as well; so far they refuse to join the village proper because they want to liberate Parm from its goblin invaders this year. The temple of Tyr located in the keep encouraged the refugees in this endeavour.

26.21 Fort Morr'Runk (Broken Fang): Hobgoblins of the Broken Fang tribe have been rallying the surrounding goblin clans under their banner for several years now. Last year they destroyed the village of Parm, dealing a painful blow to human settlers from the north. Fort Morr'Runk consists of three concentric palisades around a hill with a small stone keep of unknown origin that serves as their headquarters. There are about 500 goblins from various tribes as well as 150 hobgoblins who maintain order by savage discipline. A cult of hobgoblin shamans of Maglubiyet are behind all this, having received omens and visions from their god to lead a holy war against the lesser races.

28.23 Prison of Ilmor'Karanth (Hell of Stone): The old Varmerian Empire decided to dump many of its "undesirables" into this gargantuan prison complex at its eastern-most border. When the empire crumbled to dust hundreds of years ago the prison was simply abandoned. Many strange and dangerous creatures have moved in since, both from above and from below.

29.07 Village of Mirm: A small village of about 50 farmers and horse-traders, Mirm was founded about 25 years ago by Imen Mirm, a female knight who was able to befriend the centaurs who still roam this region. Imen built a small manor keep but had no ambition to rule and swore fealty to baron Tembar instead. Imen breeds excellent war horses and trains those she considers worthy in the art of equestrian combat. Her philosophy of "honoring your horse as you would your brother" strikes many as strange, but the results she achieves are unquestioned and enlightened knights travel far and wide to learn from her.
Note that there are other adventuring sites, quite a few in fact, ranging from small burial mounds to forgotten cellars and the like. I am considering adding a little bit of an "underdark" dimension as well, just in case the players decide to roam deep instead of wide.

I'd appreciate any feedback you may have about what I've thrown together here. In particular:
  1. Did I go over the top with all the water in the map? Recall that the scale is 1 mile/hex, so pretty small. I consider many of the streams I added "brooks" and the like, not "real" rivers.
  2. Should I exchange hexes 15.09 and 22.13, the village of Sern and Sternbow Keep? After I got done I realized that the old baron would probably have built his keep at the border of the forest instead of inside.
  3. Should I add another village in hex 16.02 or hex 27.01 for example? The latter would allow me to add a fishing village, what with the lake right there.
But as I said, all kinds of feedback are welcome. I've never gone this far in putting together a sandbox before, so I am sure I've screwed up a lot of things. :-)


  1. I like the map a lot and it provides a useful go-by for using that system of terrain placement. I particularly like how you created the swamp, using wildcard terrain in the secondary slot.

    As to your questions:
    1. No. At this scale, that looks reasonable. Is there any way to differentiate between brooks and streams? (Line width, color?)
    2. No. The old baron was obviously looking for lumber and rare woods, so placing his initial settlement right among those resources seems reasonable.
    3. Add it to 27.01. While looking over the map I was curious why there was not a fishing village at one of the lakes, so adding one to 27.01 works for me.

    1. Will you add roads/trails between the villages and the keep?
    2. Did you have a method for placing locales or just "what seemed reasonable"?
    3. What is the difference between the two swamp symbols? (I'm unfamiliar with them.)

    Thank you and keep up the good work!

    1. I've tried using different widths for the river/brook distinction but it just didn't look right (yet). Thanks for making the old baron into a resource-hog, that works for me. :-) And yes, 27.01 needs a village and it shall get one; I was mostly worried that maybe that would be too much civilization, but on the other hand that's probably alright since I didn't go for a complete "Borderlands" shtick anyway.

      I'll add a few small segments of actual road, probably dwarven remnants again, but I'll mostly put down trails to make the point that the region is not yet *that* civilized. I didn't roll for settlements and the like, just placed them so they were more in the north as far as humans and dwarves are concerned. And regarding the swamp symbols: I don't know what the intention in Hexographer was, but for me the "marsh" hex is "not as wet" as the "swamp" hex, I just liked going for that variation.