Saturday, March 10, 2012

The "Explorer" Wildlands Campaign and the Campaign Hexagon System

I've long been a fan of the D&D campaign based around exploration, both on a micro (dungeon) and macro (wilderness) level.  No publisher highlighted this aspect of D&D better than Judges Guild, whose Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting was built around the idea that there was a lot of unexplored stuff out there.  Sure, there were cities -- big ones, too -- but there was space.  Bob Bledsaw's crowning achievement (other than the City State of the Invincible Overlord) was the Campaign Hexagon System and its specific implementation in the Wilderlands.

Be assured that the system was more than mere wilderness maps on hex paper.  The first benefit of the system was that it was scalar, taking the DM from large-scale campaign hex maps to individual hex maps of a particular campaign hex to two scales of square-grid map for city plans and small scale dungeon floorplans.  Like a nested Russian doll, the map scales all fit within each other.

The second benefit of the system was that Judges Guild published maps and blank sheets (the Fantasy Cartographer's Guide is simply wonderful) for keying said maps in large, easy-to-use booklets, and provided numerous tables and charts to help DMs populate those maps with terrain, features, monsters, and treasures as needed.

Lastly, Bledsaw ensured that all JG "content" publications actually used the Campaign Hexagon system, and took it to the next level with the inclusion of TWO maps for every wilderness area -- a DM's map and a player's map that was blank, other than coastlines and known features.  Talk about an incentive to explore -- there was a whole map to fill out!  And after that, 15 more in the Wilderlands setting.  For my money, the Wilderlands Setting was the ultimate sandbox for OSR-style gaming.  JG products were at their strongest when providing game aids to enable this style of sandbox play.

I am a huge fan of Greyhawk, but the exploration element and sense of the unknown is largely missing (at least in the aboveground of the Eastern Flanaess).  The Greyhawk setting (and Faerun too, for the most part) is one of nations; the Wilderlands is one of wilderness, and is therefore the first setting that comes to mind when the "points of light" concept is bandied about. 

Sadly, exploration as a player and character motivator seemingly became phased out as the game transformed into one of character customization and battlemat-driven tactical combat.  I honestly can't remember the last time someone actually mapped in a 3.x game.  I wonder if a raised-on-4th-edition player would even understand the point of mapping.

3 comments:

  1. Hmm... I know mapping has been done in 3.x, as in Ben Robbins' Western Marches campaign ( http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/78/grand-experiments-west-marches/ ), but it is true that it's hard to get people into exploring. I've recently been investigating ACKS as a possible solution... it sounds like something which may be to your tastes, as well. I agree that the Wilderlands are a marvelous and terrifying setting; I have only read Necromancer's 3.5 version, and while it was inspiring, it was too much for me to be able to wrap my head around as a DM, I think.

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    1. My knee-jerk reaction is that exploration and mapping work better in a sandbox setting than in an adventure path environment, unless the path calls for exploration ... which would be pretty unusual, given the open-ended nature of exploration.

      I know what you mean regarding the "bigness" of the Wilderlands. It *is* big. But the beauty of it is that you didn't have to worry about populating every hectare of dirt on the map ... ample tables were provided to help you do that, on the fly if necessary. It was also plenty big enough to drop in whatever purchased materials suited your fancy.

      Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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    2. I mean, Pathfinder's Kingmaker AP did indeed call for hex-crawling exploration, so it's been done... but it certainly is the exception rather than the rule in paths. And yeah, exploration definitely works better in a sandbox; Western Marches was arguably the sandboxiest of 3.x sandboxes that I've seen.

      I felt that the Necromancer version did a lackluster job with the tables... the Relics and Ruins table was good, but that was about the only one I remember as being particularly notable. Perhaps I should try to hunt down one of the old JG versions. 'Big enough to drop in published material' is a good point, though - that's something many modern settings lack.

      And certainly!

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