Next I had to decide on scale. How large (in miles) is each hex? To help figure this out I ask myself a few questions.
How long do I want the players to spend moving across my map? Since a day of travel is my default, the real question is, how much ground do I want the characters to cover in a day? I figure, on foot, an average adventurer can travel about 30 miles a day in good terrain; 15 in bad terrain (these are broad assumptions but will work).
Does the hex size create the sense of scale I am looking for? If each hex is 1 mile, how quickly will they have explored the region? If each hex is 30 miles, will the exploration feel tedious? How does this all fit in with the concept of exploring each hex and reporting its contents back to Farstead?
I ended up going with 5 miles being the length of the hex. If we further add sub-hexes within a hex and call each of these hexes 1 mile then a standard 5mile hex has about 28-30 hexes in it, or 1 mile per interior hex. Given that the characters need to explore the entire hex that means, barring exceptions, it will take about 1 day of exploring to fully explore a hex enough to reports its contents to Farstead.
So my hexes are 5 miles wide, which is about 30 miles square (as much as you can get a square from a 6-sided hex). It will take 1 day to explore each hex.
I now did some preliminary mapping, laying out the shoreline and what the characters can get for “free” on their map. It made sense to me that earlier scouts/ships have mapped the shore and its terrain. Also, each hex next to Farstead was mapped. Here is the initial player map.
I want the players to head into the interior of the continent, so I need some reasons to keep them off the shore. They might get some crazy idea to build a raft and do some preliminary shore exploration. They can now do this, but they will have a tough time leaving the shore. The hills to the north and south are in actuality low cliffs. If they really wanted to they could scale them but it won’t be easy. To the north there are also extremely dangerous reefs. The easiest egress into the continent is to head in near Farstead.
This is a way for me to control where the players send their characters without actually forbidding them from making their own directions. I would never want to say, “You can’t go to the north and south along the shore. I want you to explore near Farstead first.” I would rather let them decide this on their own by taking a look at the terrain and making a choice.
There are a couple of different reasons why I want to keep the characters in a certain range of area. One is that I can regulate the levels of the encounters they can run into. Two, it narrows the area I absolutely must develop, at least for the initial part.
From here I need to fill out more of the map. Terrain can be an excellent catalyst for adventures and adventure ideas. Sometimes I just put something on the map with no particular idea of what I want from it. I am in effect planning for an unknown future.
I went with a lot of forest near Farstead as forests tend to evoke dark hidden places. I added a ridge of mountainous terrain (virtually impassable) that separates the map in half. The Heroic tier and part of the Paragon tier will happen on the east side of those mountains. I haven’t bothered to put down terrain west of the mountains as the area won’t be needed for some time and at this point I’m not sure what terrain types I might want later. I like to keep my options open.
I’ve added a crater in the middle of the region. Keeping in mind one of my core concepts (snakes vs. chaos beings) I think having the crater be a by-product of a huge battle would be a nice feature. It will get the players wondering what happened, show them the continent has a life (or history) of its own without them.
I added some lakes and deep forests to add some variety. You’ll notice a volcano in the midst of the mountain range. It currently has no purpose and may never serve one. However, if I ever need a volcano so the characters can throw a magical ring into its fires, I will have already on the map. A lot of times I will add things to a map that I have no function for at this time. If they never get a function then they are just interesting terrain features, but when needed I have ready made terrain features that the players already know about. My point is, don’t be afraid to add something to a map if you don’t have an idea of how to use it right now; it will come to you later.
Next week I will be populating the hexes with actual stuff for the characters to intereact with.