July 12, 2011

Farstead Part Three: Populating the Map

Now comes the fun part of world creation. I get to decide what is going into each of the hexes. One thing I do when populating areas is to give myself a list of things I want in each hex. For the purposes of this hexcrawl, I want each hex to contain the following: a Delve, Snake Note, Mystery and Unique Terrain.

Delve- I want at least one dungeon. Most of these will consist of 2-3 encounters. Dungeon Magazine from WotC and DnDInsider has been releasing a series of short adventures for their Chaos Scar sandbox that all fall within the 1-6 level range. I will be using a lot of these to populate my immediate area.

If you’ve been following the Chaos Scar adventures one theme that runs through them are the Chaos Shards that can be found in various adventures. In the Chaos Scar, these are fragments of a malevolent meteor that crashed in the area. I am going to take the concept of the Chaos Shards and claim that they are the remains of a Primordial that was defeated by the snakes and the Shards are pieces of the powerful being. Twisting modules to your campaign setting can enhance and bring more to the setting than was there before.

If you have read any of these adventures you will note they use humanoids, such as orcs, and none of them use apemen, which is my default humanoid race. This only requires some simple reskinning to make it work. Where a stat block gives me an orc, I keep the stat block and change the name to apeman. When the players encounter this creature it will be described as an apeman, not as an orc, but the stats will remain the same. It all becomes a matter of description. As long as I have a clear vision of the setting I can easily adapt a published adventure and its denizens to one that more readily fits the concepts of this world.

Snake Note- Something that deals with the lost culture of the snakemen. If each hex contains one such item of interest it will slowly help the players realize there was once an ancient culture here. In effect this is a form of foreshadowing as to the overall campaign. The players will realize there was once a culture here that at least venerated snakes. When they start to gain more information on the background it will all tie together and make the world seem more cohesive and whole.

Mystery- I like to add mysterious stuff. These are things that have no ready explanation. I like to do this because it adds a touch of the unknown. In addition, if I ever need these to explain another mystery they are readily available. For example, in one hex I am going to place a table and 6 chairs, complete with place setting for 6. This will serve no function in the campaign or the setting. In the back of my mind I think it will have something to do with the Feywild. What exactly I do not know right now and neither will the players. However, if I ever need a connection to the Feywild for some reason that I was not prepared for I will have something here. In addition, there may come the game night where the table may be used to explain another mystery that has nothing to do with the Feywild. By keeping it a mystery initially I keep my options open. Having mysteries gives my world “outs” wherein I can change things on the fly, while at the same time using things that the players are familiar with.

Unique Terrain- These are interesting things that occur in nature. Personally, I have always been fascinated with distinctive features that occur in nature. Grand waterfalls, faces of old men on the side of a mountain or grand redwoods soaring into the sky make these locations memorable and add a little something extra to the world. These are similar to Mystery, but instead of being esoteric and magical, Unique Terrain is more naturally aligned.

Here is the GM’s map, numbered for easy reference. You’ll note I haven’t numbered the entire region yet. This is because I do not anticipate the characters making it too far right away and I can focus my energy on the closer hexes.

Here is a picture of my excel spreadsheet which is a list of the hex numbers and then what can be found in them.

While this is a sandbox/hexcrawl, I wanted the encounters to be relative to the character’s level. This is not to say that the characters can not run into things beyond their level, but that becomes more a matter of choice for the players. If I populate the areas around Farstead with encounters they can not handle it will quickly get frustrating. Therefore the areas closest to Farstead will be of lower level and the farther outward the characters go, the higher in level the encounters will become.

Therefore hexes 1-6 are geared for level 1. At approximately 3 encounters per hex that makes 18 encounters or enough to level twice. Hexes 7-14 will be levels 2 and 3. Each “layer” thereafter the plan is to have enough encounters for 2 levels; 15-26 = levels 4 and 5, etc.

You will notice not all of this spreadsheet is filled out and there are blanks. I tried real hard to fill in the areas I thought the players would reach first. Sometimes an item is more appropriate to a certain terrain type so I am limited as to where I can put it, so while I have a good idea for an item I might end up putting it into a higher number hex as that hex has the right terrain for that feature. At a later point, I will fill out the rest of the spreadsheet and the world as I have more time. I do not have to have the entire world in place before we begin play.

And that is how I have populated the hexes. I have used readily available resources to allow me to fill the hexes with interesting things quickly. Hopefully I was able to strike a balance between the concepts of the world and campaign, while still using published material.

Next week I'll be wrapping up this series by discussing the system by which I will be running the hex exploration, other specialized rules for the campaign and then how I am planning for change within the setting and campaign. Over the next few days I will be showing the Snake Notes, Mysteries and Unique Terrain.
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