More so than most other tabletop rpgs, “wilderness travel” and hex mapping of the sandbox world is integral to the resurgent old school style of play. In a game where the players can possibly take off in whatever direction they desire, geography holds an even footing with elements like story threads as drivers of fun at the table. Having an easy and logical way to record that visual geography is a key to verisimilitude in ongoing play.
Having been tasked with cartography work for Autarch’s new Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS), I found myself in the delightful position of organizing the game’s hex mapping format that we would use in published material. On one hand, I knew that I would use a type of hex-map among the many used by sandboxing players out there, but I also felt that my method should lend itself to play as best as possible. In short, I wanted to make the type of map sheets I would want to fill up and detail myself if all I had was just a pencil and an eraser and not the crazy gadzooks of watercolor, scanning and photoshopping that I sometimes overdo maps in (see above).
Another concern that I had was with ACKS’ increased emphasis on the middle and high end of play for an OSR fantasy game, the need to “zoom” from local geography to regional and continent geography was self-evident. The higher the character levels that the PCs achieve, the more of the surface of their world becomes their concern. The high end campaign would begin to rely on hex maps as much as the low end adventures would rely on graph paper for dungeon mapping.
So knowing that campaign-usability weighed heavily on my shoulders and also reminding myself of the fact that I was sweating over dinky hexagons of elven glades, I lifted design heavily from previously published campaign maps (Traveler, D&D Gazetteer, Judges Guild) and set about making three different hex maps for use in a campaign that featured three different levels of play.
The first type of map would be the smallest “local” scale containing a grid of hexes that are the traditional six mile size in diameter. This scale would be familiar to most people playing OSR games as the standard wilderness travel hexes that you could get lost in while navigating and encounter nasty wandering monsters in. I wanted these hexes to fit on a letter size page for publishing and also be used by GMs to print and use in their own campaign so I went with a map that was 25 hexes wide and 16 hexes tall. This would make hexes that were roughly half an inch across on the printed page and allow players and GMs to draw their own details in as well as give some room for some pretty map art to be published in any future ACKS campaign or adventure books. Readable details at the local level is what is needed. I also added a larger 24 mile hex-grid over the top to provide an easy way of zooming in and out of the larger map scales shown below. I put coordinate numbering on the small hexes similar to the Judges Guild/Traveler sector maps so any text reference could point to an exact 6 mile hex in the game-world. This resulting “local” size map is roughly 90 miles tall and 150 wide, giving a surface area that can encompass of a couple US counties.
The next standard map would be the “regional” map comprised of four of the smaller “local” maps at. This size map gives a good feel for the DM planning of the relationship between local areas and for mid-level journeys by player characters. The 48 x 32 hex-grid fits precisely into the suggested “starting” sandbox area that many DMs create at the outset of a sandbox campaign. The GM just has to provide the rough geography or fill the hexes with quick icons reminiscent of the old Basic D&D Gazetteer and then pick out one of the quadrants for mapping out the level 1 character’s home base and dungeons at the local scale. This regional map is 192 miles tall and 280 miles wide, giving the total surface area of a typical US state.
The last and grandest map is the “continent” hex-map made up from 24 mile hexes in a 48 x 32 grid. This map is It is roughly 768 miles tall and 1152 miles wide and has the surface area of roughly half of the continental United States. It contains 16 of the region size maps and 64 of the small local maps. It features a coordinate grid so you can effectively specify any small 6 mile hex location on your continent by listing the coordinates of the local map and then the numeric hex coordinates. For example:
Dungeon of Pain – C7-0535
Very nice in a Traveler UPP sort of a way.
In the end, It is all a very modest organization on a simple convention used by players over the last 30+ years but the little extras made a tight system for zooming in and out of the campaign world and it also gave the the right hex sizes for drawing pretty maps for both publication and the play table. It all might be a bit too obsessive by some player’s tastes but we all know in the OSR that rules and standards are there to help player and not hinder fun. So please use and abuse them hexes as you will, they are free to download from Autarch’s website here.