Convergent Storytelling in Elf Games 3: Maps, Hexes, and Regions, oh my!

I’ve talked about how this project has grown in scope, and now it’s time to begin the struggle of forcing that massive scope into something that is manageable. Originally this post was going to talk about my hex map, but I decided that a hex map on its own just was not going to cut it.

Vexing Hexes

Knowing that this game will not have a central plot, I wanted to try to focus my energy on creating interesting locations instead factions or events that will unfold. However, every time I tried to start with a hex map, I found something frustrating or limiting about them. They felt disjointed, redundant, and at times too “zoomed in” for the level of detail I wanted to start with. Further, they were complicating my Domain play goals to the point of making me scrap them.

Instead, I decided to cop an idea from one of my favorite games.

Copyright Amplitude Studios

This is Endless Legend, a 4x game where you are building cities, leading armies, and generally trying to “win” against a bunch of other nations.  What makes it so unique is that instead of just using a hex map for abstraction, the hexes are further sorted into regions. You can only settle a single city per region, and only one player can control that region, but it’s still the hexes that determine special resources, locations, movement, etc. From the perspective of running a west marches style game, I find this very helpful.

Regions, Gather Your Hexes

I wanted a 2 page control panel for each region that would give me some vital information that is universal to all the hexes in that region. This would also help me design distinct areas of my map that can be better themed or support domain play later without a ton of fiddly details.

The region control panel would have:

  • Broad descriptions and threat levels
  • “Key words and phrases”
  • Predominant Environment type
  • Weather and climate tables
  • Harvesting tables for crafting systems
  • Domain play resources
  • Themes and central conflict
  • Understanding world connections and travel possibilities
  • Factions present in the region
  • Encounter chart with signs and behaviors

The Mockup

A rough mock up of a two page spread.
I will never apologize for my handwriting.

it’s messy and just a terrible mockup, but it has all the elements I want at this “level” of detail for when I make the finished product. basically, you can flop open the book to this 2 page spread and there you go, you’re ready to have players run wild in that region.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I do not want an encyclopedia of the world, but instead all the “World building” will be built into the tables. So, if you can read them, you can see there’s a single family settled here, and they’re secretly pastoral, friendly druids. There are some giant toads making trouble coming from a cave, and there’s some foreign agents from a neighboring region here for some reason. What could they be up to?

it’s also got all the items mentioned in my list above, like encounter tables and weather. I am especially happy with the word cloud that I end up doodling in and will definitely be including that in the final design even if other elements change. Hell, I might use it for room descriptions, monsters…everything.

And Then Comes the Hexes

When I finalize this layer of information, I can then start keying hexes with more detailed information. The hexes will be used for session containers and abstraction, so we know where players are at, what happens if they start a massive fire, etc. They will also be used for travel and watch turns which I plan on adapting from Izirion’s Enchiridion of the West Marches.

Each hex might also include:

  • What makes this hex stand out from the region at a glance
  • Landmarks/oddities
  • Environmental Hazards
  • Dungeons/contained adventure locations
  • Special encounters
  • Possible quests?
  •  Special resources or structures for domain play

And Beyond

While doing this, I’ll need to solve how best to log events and facts once they are discovered or locked in by players, create the generic gathering tables for the crafting systems I have in mind, create the gear tables that can be rolled on, make a few wild animals appearing tables for the regions, and then think about an overview document explaining to others how to use this stuff. I am sure I will discover other things as I move forward with this ridiculous idea.

What do you think? How would you present this information? Is there anything I might be missing?

Published by IDDM1DM

Dungeon Master, Educator, father.

5 thoughts on “Convergent Storytelling in Elf Games 3: Maps, Hexes, and Regions, oh my!

  1. This is super cool! How does the crafting table work, is what players craft random? And, what do the icons on the top right area mean, with the sword and mountain and apple? The layout is really nice and would be great for like a hexcrawl guide or zine or something!

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    1. Thank you! The crafting tables are going to for in universe resources that players can gather during a watch turn or with down time. Then they can make items during downtime or sometimes with a camp turn.

      A watch turn is 4 hours and I’m adapting them from the west marches enchiridion. Down time rules are a hack of 5es stuff in xanathars and the 20+ blogs I like. And the camp turn is my invention that’s inspired by darkest dungeon and final fantasy crystal chronicles.

      I think to avoid a complicated and lengthy list of possible items I’ll simplify each resource down a generic benefit like “health”, “guard” etc, maybe type like “plating”, “bonding agent”. It’s not fully formed. It it’s getting there!

      The icons in the top left are for my domain rules. Domain rules are fiddly and unsatisfying for me so I’m thinking the icons will be a good abstraction that represents combat strength of defenders, stone output, lumber output, food output, magical essence output, and economic output. Hexes will be where special buildings or features will be listed, but those six scores represent the “levels” of the region for domain play.

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  2. I rather like where this is going. I love hexes and am looking forward to see how this develops.

    You mentioned Roguelikes ina previous post, are you familair with “Caves of QuD”? It´s style of story generation might serve as inspiritaion for you, as it relies on quick factoids instead of intricate texts.

    My own version of the “region control panel” Is heavily inspired by Ravenloft´s Domaisn of dread, and revolve around “The land, the Folk, and the law” and the last one “the law” is IMO very usefull and frequently neglected as it deals with crime and punishment.

    Soem books that might interest you:

    Since you like old school D&D are you familair with AD&D´s “WorldBuilder Guidebook”? It might have usefull stuff for you, since you mention whenver you try to make Hex maps they seem too zoomed-in, you might benefit froma change in approach, where you go from the macro scale before going to smaller scales. ou change to handling hexes as region seem to be a step towards that and that is oen fo the possible approachs that book describes.

    Gurps fantasy 4th edition is a great world building book that has much system agnostic/Easily adaptable content. It might be worth a read-trough.

    “Renegade Crowns” for WHFRP is a good handbook for creating hex maps focused on small fiefs each dominated by it´s own lord that gives it personality.

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    1. Wow, thank you so much for the references! I have a lot of hours in Qud and it’s one of my favorite games.

      You’re completely right that I’ve neglected laws in my initial designs and now I think it’s needed. Even though most areas are wild, most of them still have a little camp or the like and would have rules. Maybe I need a different layout for cities or settled areas?

      I’ve peruses the guidebook but not the others and will definitely be visiting them. Thank you again for the suggestions!

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