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D&D General brainstorming on theme/rules for hexcrawl campaign

GlassJaw

Hero
Some background:
- We are a group of 6 players (myself included) of varying levels of experience
- Still playing online/virtual only
- Scheduling is very challenging and session length varies because of real-life, kids, odd work schedules, etc.

So I'm looking for a campaign that supports the following:
- Doesn't matter who plays or number of players
- Each session is self-contained, regardless of session length
- Each session starts at the same place in-game, i.e. the characters can always meet up
- Bonus: supports rotating DMs!

What I'm looking for is an interesting way to explain these "restraints" in-game, even if it's video-gamey. For example:
- Darkest Dungeons: return to the Hamlet after each expedition
- Diablo series: Waypoints and Town Portal always brings the characters back to town

This is no doubt West Marches/hexcrawl-inspired, but the biggest challenge is highly variable session lengths. If the characters travel multiple hexes to a location but we only have time for a short session, I'd like some way to explain (or do away with entirely) lengthy in-game travel times. I know it doesn't really matter (West Marches essentially hand-waves it) but I'd like it to be integral to the campaign itself. So instead of ignoring it, I want to embrace it.

I'll admit this exercise is somewhat to remedy the breaking of my own immersion. But I'm also curious if a unique campaign structure can actually provide immersion as well!
 

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Bawylie

A very OK person
Formalize travel tasks and give rewards for them.
For example, give a speed bonus if the players draw a map, a speed bonus if they blaze a trail, and a speed bonus if they set up waypoints like camps and blinds. Grant a safety bonus by stationing some of the drop-in/out characters at the camps and blinds.

Basically by charting and creating trails they can traverse those pathways faster - lots faster. Double time perhaps because instead of wandering about within a hex looking for safe passage, they optimize a route.
 

TerraDave

5ever
Exploration around a central spot is pretty good. There are easy in-game rationals, has a sort of classic feel.

Each session is heading to a new zone (then getting back quickly for reasons noted by Bawylie). Could be largely self-contained within the larger mission.

You can add in game reasons to regularly return/check in to home base. The only place to get certain supplies; where the leadership is; only place where certain knowledge, specialists are; need to train to level. And of course, if a DM wants to mix it up, then the session could be focused on the home base.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Having the PCs be residents of a new settlement established on a newly settled landmass worked for me in the past.
It establishes that the PCs arent vagrant wanderers and instead are sent out to gather resources that the settlement needs to grow.
- Each session any combination of PCs can
  • Explore the surrounding area (and establish travel routes)
  • identify useful resources (wealth) and gain reputation/influence
  • discovery creature lairs or ‘native’ NPCs
  • find dungeons and other sites to explore
  • help grow the village
  • help defend the village
I did a fun prehistoric game where the PCs were a clan of Cavemen who had been forced out of their home and had to cross the mountains to find a new land which they then established themselves in.
 

HJFudge

Explorer
Some good ideas here. Allow me to lend you another:

The game world was a sprawling empire connected by portals. One day, for whatever reason, the portals failed. Every city, town, and out of the way location was suddenly cut off. People stranded on the other side of a portal miles away from any family. Because the portals were so useful, the roads between towns had largely been unused and became overgrown and rundown. No one really knows what is between towns, for the most part.

So the campaign starts X amount of years after The Event.

Suddenly, again for a reason nobody knows, your PCs have the ability to open the portals...but only temporarily. And not to the same portals that the old maps said they used to be connected to.

They can only enter and go out for so long before being yanked back to their starting point.

The campaign will be a quest to explore what happened to the old locations of the empire, why only they seem to have this ability, and why it broke in the first place.

Anyone who plays in your campaign discovers they have this ability too. This will also explain why they return to their locale after each session, regardless of the length of the session. Each DM can run differing locales and play off each others plot hooks. Each location is a succinct and separate instance. The portals don't just have to transverse distance, they could also allow travel through time...so maybe one DM runs the 'far future after effects' of a location another DM ran a dungeon crawl through.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Don't do random encounters while traveling. Have a bunch of travel encounters available, and allow whoever is DMing to choose to run one or not based upon available time.

Design modular dungeons. The idea here is that you can drop out sections of it if time does not allow for the full experience. For example, the PCs travel across the plains and find a cave. For this you'll have three maps. One is for the final encounter (and perhaps a set up encounter). Time allowing, you can insert another section of caves to be located before the final encounter that provide a few more encounters. Time allowing beyond that, you can have some more cave sections designed to be the first part of the caves and have some traps and guard type encounters.

Design each encounter so that you canup or downgrade it by adding a few extra creatures or subtracting some. If the caves I discuss above are occupied by goblins, it is easy to up and down grade it by adding goblins, wargs, hobgoblins, animals, and other light creatures. If it is a dragon's den you can up or downgrade it by adding spells, making it be asleep to start the encounter, etc...
 

Stattick

Explorer
The city was the last bastion against the forces of evil, and it was about to be crushed by an overwhelming army. But then, some god or archmage or something, saved the city at the last moment. The whole of the city was magically teleported to another world. Some of the enemy forces were too, but with numbers too few to siege the city, and lacking the command structure, they scattered into the surrounding countryside. The city is going to need food, other resources, allies, etc, if it hopes to survive, or better yet, thrive. The being that saved the city has chosen a few capable individuals to go scout this new land, and has given them the ability to quickly scribe teleportation circles, but only these marked individuals can activate or create these circles.
 

GlassJaw

Hero
Some good ideas here. Allow me to lend you another:

The game world was a sprawling empire connected by portals. One day, for whatever reason, the portals failed. Every city, town, and out of the way location was suddenly cut off. People stranded on the other side of a portal miles away from any family. Because the portals were so useful, the roads between towns had largely been unused and became overgrown and rundown. No one really knows what is between towns, for the most part.
Wow this is awesome! Exactly what I was looking for!

I had a conversation with a friend last night explaining this to him and took a little while for him to wrap his head around what I was asking. I'm not looking for rules to explain or account for the travel itself, I want ideas to explain why there is no travel or why travel is really fast. And in the process, does a unique campaign theme arise from that explanation?

In the case of the portal empire, it absolutely does. There is a reason to explore, supports a huge variety of locations, and an overarching goal to work towards.

Some other ideas:

Mad god's prison - The player's are trapped in a prison of some demented god/elder thing/omniscient being. It changes the world on a whim to torment the players or simply for entertainment. Primary goal is to survive but they eventually begin to find clues on how to escape.

Myth Drannor (WandaVision-inspired) - The planar/chaos magic of MD starts to seep out and expand. A contingent of wizards from across Faerun has banded together and restored the mythal enough to temporarily raise a protective field to slow the advance. They are looking for adventurers to enter MD and find clues to the source of the spread. The air is now toxic and poisonous, limiting the time you can spend within. Rewards given for recovered artifacts.
 

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