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Short Cut to Remote Gaming Forum (29 Aug 2020)

Since remote gaming has now become a significant part of how we play board games, we have added a short cut to this forum in the menu on the left.

Hex Crawl: RPG or Board Game?

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24 Aug 2020 15:05 #313447 by Shellhead
Some gamemasters are really good at improvisation, and can run a enjoyable role-playing campaign with minimal preparation or investment. I do okay with the improvisation, but have never trusted myself to run a campaign without prep. In fact, I like over-prepping for each session so I have a sturdy platform for anything spontaneous that comes up during play. Part of it is that I tend to run crunchy rules systems, which work more smoothly with detailed prep. My last campaign was D&D 3.5, in the excellent Ptolus setting. More than 95% of our combat was played out on pre-printed maps that I downloaded or otherwise prepared in advance, and I also prepared stat blocks for nearly every possible opponent in advance.

But for the last year, I have been considering possibilities for my next rpg campaign and I feel a strong inclination towards a lighter rule set and more of a sandbox approach. My leading candidate is the retro D&D setting of Carcosa, and it's basically a hex crawl setting that is a mixture of D&D, Gamma World, and Call of Cthulhu. Much of the world is a desolate blend of badlands and desert. There are 13 races of humans that are basically color-coded spell ingredients for summoning Great Old Ones and other mythos monsters. Settlements are typically villages or castles or monasteries, usually led by either a high-level fighter or sorcerer. Once every several hexes, there is a weird or interesting landmark or encounter or location. Due to the unpleasant nature of the setting, I feel that the natural goal of a Carcosa campaign would be to escape Carcosa, and there are a few possible exits.

In theory, I should prep for my Carcosa campaign by preparing some detailed locations or possible adventures, and scheme ways to guide my players in the right directions. Or maybe just run a completely reactive sandbox game, or a combination of the two. But instead, I am wondering if a Carcosa hex crawl might play better as a boardgame instead of a role-playing game. Maybe take an existing game system and distill it down to the basic elements that can play quickly.

When I think back on my Ptolus campaign, I remember that everybody was always excited to explore. We were using wooden tokens on the colorful pre-made maps, and I used loose sheets of paper to cover up anything that the party hadn't explored yet. In a normal D&D campaign, the primary post-fight activity is often searching for loot and dividing it up. In my Ptolus game, it wasn't unusual for half the party to run off in different directions after the fight, seeking to be the next person to discover something interesting. Sometimes, this would lead to the exciting result of the party triggering two different hostile encounters at the same time, or maybe one player found enemies while another player stumbled into an unrelated trap.

So I think that players might also enjoy exploring a hex crawl setting if there was that same sense of exploration. But instead of just giving them a blank map and filling in details as they go, I am thinking of instead preparing Catan-sized hex tiles that they can flip as they explore. And rather than generating a lot of prep material for hexes they might never visit, maybe creating some tables or even decks of cards to generate encounters and locations. That could even free me up to play instead of run the game, and also offer more overall replay value either with the same players or other groups.

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24 Aug 2020 15:43 #313450 by ChristopherMD
Ask your players what they want.

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24 Aug 2020 16:32 #313455 by Shellhead

ChristopherMD wrote: Ask your players what they want.


I have the good problem of having many more potential players than I need, and sorting through them would be a matter of identifying who is interested in the system and setting that I plan to use. If I just asked everybody what they wanted, I would probably see disparate clusters of answers and a few outliers.

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24 Aug 2020 18:40 #313459 by dysjunct
You might want to check out Fria Ligan’s FORBIDDEN LANDS. It’s a hexcrawl with a ton of prepped places (divided into broad categories of fortress, dungeons, and villages). But the prepped places are not in any particular place, so you pick what you think would be fun and place it a few hexes away, while planting some rumors etc.

I did a read through of the PHB here:
rpggeek.com/thread/2116973/lets-read-for...nds-players-handbook

... with a review of the DMG linked at the end of that thread.

Even if you prefer another system, the basics of the hexcrawl are really solid.

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25 Aug 2020 15:30 #313484 by jason10mm
I think a hexcrawl type RPG lets the DM focus on being an OPPONENT to the players versus a facilitator for shared storytelling. The hexcrawl lets the players make their choices, mostly between unconnected spaces, and the DM handles what they find there and can be as brutal as the rules allow. I feel like the expectations of the DM being a player adversary instead of a storyteller are more in line for those games.

Too far into a programmed, rigid system and you get stuff like FFG's Descent (or Road to Legend) with an Overlord player who manages the bad guys but otherwise mostly reads from a script for story beats. So an RPG needs some flexibility, though a minis heavy RPG with tile layouts, lots of templates for ranged fire and area effects, fixed movement and powers for bad guys, and a published script can blur the line pretty easily IMHO.

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