The Evolution of Method

Today I’m going to chime in with a couple helpful tips for those out there writing their own hex crawls. I’ve written more than a few of these suckers, and my usual m.o. was to take a map, divide it in two, and write one half of the hex crawl for one issue of NOD, and the other half for the next, or sometimes with an issue devoted to cities in between.

For the Nomo hex crawl (coming out soon in NOD 31), I had initially meant to use this method, but shifted midway through. It turns out that I was making progress quite a bit faster than normal, and thus doing both halves of the hex crawl in a single issue became a possibility, and one I preferred. There were two things I did differently this time around which I think sped up the process, so I thought sharing them was a good idea.

TIP #1 – Free Association

For most hex crawls, I come up with a general idea for the crawl – a theme – and then draw out the map, generate some random hex contents, some of which I throw out, and many of which I move a round a little to get a good spread, and then I do some research. For an ancient Rome hex crawl, I’ll read through some articles on Roman government, and the legions, and look at Roman mythology and Italian folklore and such to generate some ideas that I can work into the crawl.

This time around, and before I had decided on my theme, I spent a couple hours generating ideas for hex crawls. In this case, I did it by perusing the folks I follow on Pinterest and just free associating the things I saw into things one might meet. I mostly did this to alleviate boredom one night, and if you look at my old Google + posts you’ll find where I posted the results.

Having this list of ideas on hand made writing this hex crawl much easier – it was easier to flesh things out and fit the stream of consciousness ideas into the Roman (and Arabic) milieu of the crawl. Free association is always a good idea when you’re feeling a bit of writer’s block, and it certainly helped me write the Nomo crawl.

Also – I have plenty left over for the next crawl, but will make another attempt at free association before I do.

TIP #2 – Regions

For most hex crawls, I start writing at hex 0101, and work my way down each column. I usually set a goal for myself each night to go through anywhere from 10 to 20 entries. Some randomized contents are thrown out, so I probably write 8 to 16 entries a night. I have no good reason why I’ve done it this way – I just did it without really thinking. I would skip ahead sometimes to write up a city-state or some encounter that I had already generated when NOD was a campaign world of mine, but I mostly just did things in order.

This time, I plotted everything out on a map in advance. I did this because I needed to get the maps to sync up with previously published maps, and to do this dropped them all into an excel document. Having the excel doc right there, it was easy to go through and drop color-coded dots onto the hexes to represent what was supposed to go there – monsters, settlements, dungeons, wonders, etc. With all of these dots, it was also easy to draw circles around groups of them, and then each night to pick one of these “regions” and write up the encounters therein.

Not only did this prove to go muh faster than the old way, I did a much better job of making the encounters more a part of a whole than just a bunch of non-connected things one might meet. I still kept some of those non-connected bits – quite a few, really, because I like the weirdness – but creating connections between encounters was much easier.

So, free association independent of the theme, and regional writing – two evolutions of my method that allowed me to be far more productive. The next crawl covers the entire map below, and so the next issue will be around 130 pages. My next crawl, located to the east of the map below, will hopefully be just as easy to write.

 

A Little Mo Nomo

Yes, it’s another pseudo-lazy blog post. I’ve been busy as a beaver writing the latest hex crawl (and you have to assume a beaver would be incredibly busy trying to write a hex crawl, what with their lack of opposable thumbs – dams and hex crawls require completely different skill sets), and haven’t had time to do much non-hex crawl writing. I’m doing pretty good at this point – about 45 more entries to go. This time around, I’m trying to do an entire map in one issue. In the old days (I’ve been writing long enough I think I can call them “old days”) I broke the maps in two, east and west, and handled each in a different issue, sometimes with an issue focusing on cities in between. If I had done the Nomo hex crawl the old way, I would have been done writing a few weeks ago for NOD 31.

The reason behind this move was not a burning desire to work harder, but rather that I had a request for a Mesopotamia hex crawl, and in preparing to write that, I realized that my version of Mesopotamia, the dread plain of Kisthenes, was next door to my Rome, and that the one would actually make more sense if I did the other first, since there’s some cross-pollination in terms of campaign themes stuff.

Which is a long winded way of saying that this blog post will also feature some material from the next hex crawl. In this case, I wanted to highlight a few of the heraldic designs I’ve made using good old Excel, with the hex entries that go along with them.

Talabar | Stronghold

(I mostly liked this design because it involved making up a silly phrase and badly translating it into an Aramaic font. The final came out pretty nice.)

Atop a dusty, rocky plateau rests a grand castle, a large con-struction with outer and inner walls and towers, brilliant white in the blazing sun and quite noticeable against the reddish backdrop of the desert sands.

The castle is held by the Amirah Marusha zal-Sifi and her small force of 24 archers and 48 light cavalry. The Amira is a lusty woman, seemingly as delicate as a desert rose, but with iron sinews and a blaze to rival Iblis in her belly. An adven-turess, she fought her way across the Crimson Waste and Kisthenes and deep into the Golden Steppe to get where she is now.

The castle is surrounded by a collection of rock-and-hide hovels occupied by 540 goatherds, farmers and artisans. The people are a superstitious lot, and easily spooked. Their ex-istence here is tenuous at best, and the Warudi tribesmen, who resent her intrusion here, have left many frightening warnings of what will happen if she does not quit this place.

The castle holds a chapel dedicated to the goddess Allat. It is overseen by Marusha’s boon companion Uvart (LN human druid 3), a stony-faced woman of Kisthenes, with black ring-lets cascading down her back and a cherubic face with bright, darting eyes.

Rama | Settlement

Rama is a large oasis town (pop. 5,250) situated between two long ridges of red sandstone on a wadi that extends from the badlands out into the Crimson Waste. The oasis has rich soil and many springs, and supports the growing of date palms and herds of sheep, goats and horses. The oasis beyond the town walls is inhabited by 42,000 peasants. The peasants grow dates, figs, pistachios and barley using a net-work of canals first built by the Warudi and improved by Nomo.

The town was controlled by the Nomo Empire for many years and served as the capital of their Varudia province. With the disappearance of the empire, Queen Zabbai has declared her independence from Nomo and her suzerainty over all the Crimson Waste, a claim it is doubtful she can support.

The city has an outer wall of white stone that gleams for miles out into the desert air and five gates, each named for an ancient god of the Iremites, but commonly named for the color of the stone facings – i.e. the Red Gate (sandstone), the Blue Gate (lapis lazuli), Green Gate (malachite), Purple Gate (porphyry) and White Gate (marble). The outer portions of the town are given over to the adobe dwellings of the peas-ants and artisans, while the inner town, surrounded by a second wall (decorative, not defensive) is home to the royal family, government officials, priests and wealthy merchants in service to the queen.

The outer town is divided into four sections, each for one of the clans native to Rama, namely the Katare, Mabor, Malbizu and Mandilar. The clans can be identified by the color and style of their headdress and numerous other signs obvious to the locals. They are antagonistic towards one another, but not openly hostile.

The inner town is divided by a grand boulevard 30 feet wide and lined with 30-ft tall columns of white marble. The street runs from the Temple of Baal (dedicated to Jove by the Nomoi) on the east to the Temple of Nergal (dedicated to Pluto) on the west. At the center of the boulevard there is a great marble victory arch. On the north side of the street are the town’s baths, the Queen’s citadel and temples of Nabu (Mercury) and Allat (Venus). On the south side of the street one finds the building of the council of elders and the great Court of Tariffs, where tax collectors levy taxes and tariffs on visiting and local merchants.

Just outside the town proper there is a tall hill on which is built a fortified shrine of Moloch, who the Nomo had re-dedicated to Saturn while they held the town. The shrine is within a defensive tower manned by Moloch’s six priests.

Located outside the town in the desert is the Valley of the Dead, where the locals bury their dead in tombs. Some are simple caves while others are tower tombs or large under-ground sepulchers. The dead of the poor are cremated in the Temple of Moloch and placed in caves in terracotta urns. The wealthy are mummified by the priests of Nergal and placed in sarcophagi, dressed in their bejeweled finery.

Now that the Nomo have quit Rama, the locals have become fairly xenophobic. Foreign merchants with items to trade are permitted in the city, but not welcomed with open arms, and adventurers and other vagrants are kept outside, staying in one of the small roadhouses established for them.

Rama’s army consists of 9 squadrons of town guards, armed and armored as heavy infantry, under the direct command of Queen Zabbai, and 9 companies of soldiers under the command of Queen’s captain, her cousin Thamaba. The town’s cavalry operate outside the oasis, pa-trolling the desert sands and intercepting caravans to give them the once over before they come closer to Rama.

Ursa | Stronghold

(Some of the locales in these hex crawls are based on real places, and some are based on some idea I had. Many are as simple as “a tower keep of a 9th level paladin”, which require me to make up something to make this paladin’s keep different than the others I’ve already written. In this case, it was boring until I started designing the shield, which was going to have a bear on it – Ursa – but ended up with the double-headed eagle because I accidentally double-clicked it. The double-headed eagle made me think of the Holy Roman Empire, which brought me to the Holy Nomo Empire, etc.)

Pixta Adamia Ursa is a paladin of Minerva who commands a tower keep in this hex. She is gathering together a mercenary army of retired legionnaires and other warriors dedicated to the task of saving the empire by leading an army of loyalists into Nomo and dislodging the emperor’s shade from the throne that an angel of Jove might be placed there in its stead. Ursa is assisted in this task by an ex-Vestal virgin named Caia Spadaea Artia, a veritable she-devil with a sword.

So far, Ursa has assembled 25 veteran legionnaires (HD 1+1) and eight elite cataphracts (3 HD) whom she leads personally into battle. They have sharpened their skills against raiding Warudi, but know their toughest challenges lie ahead.

Ursa is now assembling the elements she needs to conjure a powerful angel. The ceremony requires a set of golden plates that are scattered around the region. These plates, when placed together, reveal the true name of Sabrathan, a plane-tar who they believe can become the emperor of a new Holy Nomo Empire dedicated to all the gods of Law.

Horologium | Settlement

(This is one of the “hex crawl jambalaya” sorts of entries, where I start with mechanical men, and then start throwing in all sorts of stuff from the ancient world that involved mechanical men and try to make something fun to visit. So you get Vulcan’s clockworks, and Talos and then Archimede’s laser rays for good measure. I particularly liked the name Artifex Maximus.)

Horologium is an island and city-state left of Vulcan’s creations, just doing their best to avoid corroding in the salty air. The island has a variety of coastlines, including beaches, harbors and cliffs, and many natural springs.

The city-state is contained in a dormant caldera that still has enough geothermal energy to power the creations of the clockworks. The rim of the caldera is fashioned into ram-parts, with nine towers, each equipped with one of Archimedes’ burning mirrors (i.e. laser ray, deals 2d6 points of fire damage each round it is held on the target; small targets require a hit roll each round).

The automata (pop. 168) are metalworkers mostly, mining metals from the slopes of the old volcano and fashioning it into fine weapons, armor and clockworks for sale. They have a fortified harbor on the north side of the island where they permit non-automatons to dock and take on cargo.

At the center of the city-state is the palace of King Talos, a giant bronze man. Talos is attended by 20 golden keledones, maidens of gold who sing and, when their king is threatened, turn into flailing death bots. Silver and gold watchdogs patrol the palace grounds. The captain of the city guard is called Incubito, a man of steel fashioned in the image of a gladiator, with interchangeable weapon arms!

The automatons worship Primus of the polyhedroids as Artifex Maximus. His high priest is the high scientist Excogitatoris, who fashioned the blazing mirrors and guard dogs.

Mantu | City-State

Mantu is the chief port of Nomo. Few vessels are permitted to pass by Mantu towards Nomo, mostly just imperial war-ships or the pleasure boats of senators and such.

The city is enclosed by a great wall on land, and a smaller sea wall. The walls of the city are greyish green, and embossed every 120 feet by the city’s arms. The city is built on a ring of hills that gradually descend towards the sea. The manses of the wealthy and the city offices are on the high hills, with the middle classes living below them and the lowlands, which sometimes flood, occupied by warehouses, tabernas, flop-houses and tiny shrines to a multitude of foreign gods. The buildings of Mantu have rooves of scarlet tiles, and many feature trellises climbed by vines of wild roses. The city is known for its cuisine, which includes roasted mutton, stews of garlic and fennel and lamb, fried fish, barley soup with fish sauce.

Temples are distributed throughout the city, with the Basilica of Neptune located in the high city. Other temples are dedicated to Salacia, goddess of sea water and wife of Nep-tune, Mater Matuta, protector of mariners, Angerona, reliev-er of pain and sorrow, Dispater in his role as god of wealth, the Aurae (breezes), the Venti (winds), Averruncus, propiti-ated to avert calamity, Hercules and Juno.

Mantu is known for its mines and those occupations related to mining, processing minerals and crafting with them. The traders of Mantu specialize in rare spices from the south. The hinterlands of Mantu are dotted with 49 villa rustica where people herd sheep and miners quarry granite, porphyry, copper and chrysoberyls. Chrysoberyls decorate the staff of office of the legate, who also wears sea blue robes of silk decorated with embroidered white roses.

With Nomo descending into chaos, many powerful families have fled to Mantu. The city-state has hardened its defenses, and there is talk of declaring the city-state independent of Nomo and preparing for war.

The city is protected by cohors I Mantu Nautae, which con-sists of 23 companies of legionnaires, many of them trained as marines, and 5 squadrons of equites. The cohort is commanded by Dux Ailio Cynon Gonzorgo, a veteran of many campaigns against pirates and a key conspirator with the nobles in declaring independence from Nomo (and he’s angling to be named Princeps). The cohort is responsible for protecting the city, patrolling the waterways and protecting the road that connects Mantu to Nomo. The Mantu city guard consists of 9 squadrons of guardsmen.