D&D 5E Hexcrawls/wilderness adventures


First Post
I'm using 6 miles hexes since that's a two hour travel at normal pace. So, 4 hexes a day average and 12 two hour blocks for encounters. We tested 12 mile hexes and 6 four hour blocks for encounters but it resulted in far fewer encounters and barely scratched the surface of our test map.

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Magic Wordsmith
For mine I'm using 30-mile hexes for a couple reasons: (1) It's a one-shot and we need to get it done in one session and (2) It's likely the PCs will be moving at a fast pace more often than not.


This is a draft. I intend to add one more terrain type to the map. The crash site and barbarian horde is shown as is the Wandering Inn, a safe haven that roams the map randomly.


I tried running overland exploration with satellite maps and it didn't work very well, so I'm making more traditional maps with Hexographer.

Does this look like it would be fun to explore? It looks pretty empty, but they're only 1 mile hexes. DMG says a half dozen monster lairs across 50 miles. This is about 30x40 miles.

You can definitely have more than 6 monster lairs in a 50x50 = 2500 square mile area.
6 monster lairs in a 50 square mile area (5 x 10 miles) seems high but not outlandish
especially if they're man-sized or smaller; it mostly depends on what they eat and what the food
supply is like. A big dragon might have a 900 square mile (30x30) or more hunting range,
but most creatures will have much smaller ranges. Hunter-gatherer humans & similar man-sized humanoids likely have a density between about 1/sq mile (though much lower in extreme desert) to 10/sq mile (very fertile areas like the Pacific Northwest of N America). Mixed herder/hunter types
will have a higher density; Small creatures like Goblins can be much higher, for 3' tall
creartures 8 times as many, while Large creatures like Ogres will be much lower - a creature weighing 5 humans will likely need 5 times the hunting range. Farmer density goes from about 10/sq mile in barren areas like the Scottish Highlands to 100/sq mile and above, medieval France 118/sq mile, can be much higher with intensive rice-paddy agriculture.

I used 1 mile/hex maps in my Yggsburgh game, based off Gygax's 1 mile/hex map in
that book, which covered a 50x50 mile area. That works really well for getting to know
an area in depth, which makes sense for settlement/colonisation. Gygax has a campaign's worth of monster lairs and dungeons in that area. :)
Doing a new map every 2-3 adventuring days seems excessive, at the very most I'd do 1 map
per Tier. Eg you could do a 1 mile/hex map for levels 1-4, 3 miles/hex for levels 5-10,
10 miles/hex for levels 11-16, and 30 miles/hex continental map for levels 17-20.
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No flips for you!
I'm building up a hexcrawl campaign, and I've had some thoughts on scale. Scale has a number of issues, many of which have been touched on here, and you need to answer some questions about what you want out of your hexmap to determine a good scale fit.

(A note about hexagons and measurements. When I refer to the size of a hexagon, I'm referring to it's 'flat-to-flat' size, ie, how from from the center of a face to the center of the opposing face. This affects how you determine the area of a hex, which I find useful in considering scale. A 1 mile hex has an area of about 0.87 sq miles, a 6 mile hex has an area of about 32 sq miles, and so on. Area can be estimated by using 3.464 x sqrt (d/2), where d is your flat-to-flat distance. If you use a measurement of hexes for each side of the hex, they get much bigger (a 6 mile on a side hex has an area of roughly 77 sq miles, frex).

To begin, you need to decide how much realism in exploration you want to have. I'm not talking about survival here, but actual exploration. Being flat, hexmaps don't provide the rich views that actually traveling across landscape provides, but taking those things into account can add extra complexity that may not suit your intent. Sight distance is such a factor. A good rule of thumb is that you can see (or be seen) 1.2 miles x sqrt(height). This means that your average adventuring party, on flat ground, can see between 2 and 3 miles away (halfling to 6' human). Making a hex much bigger than twice this means that a party traveling through even a completely flat and clear hex could not see all of the features in the hex. Add woods or rolling terrain and this gets much, much worse. Further, players should be able to see mountains and other tall landmarks from far away (a 10,000' mountain range is visible ~ 120 miles away. A good hill (150' above surrounding terrain) extends sightlines to ~15 miles. This can add a great deal of extra complications to a hexcrawl, as a party may be able to see much more of the map than the hex they are in or, alternatively, much, much less than the hex they are in, if you're taking into account more realism in sight.

This leads to the question of whether or not such additional realism is worth it. I'm taking a hybridized version, where I apply a simplified sight radius to hexes and features. Firstly, to be clear, I'm working in 1 mile hexes (this would changed based on bigger hexes). Each terrain type has an associated number assigned, with forested hexes being zero, plains and similar clear terrain being 1, hills being 7, and mountains being 50. Being in a hex allows you to see into surrounding hexes of a lesser rating up to a distance equal to the rating. (These are smaller than reality because I'd rather cheat on the side of less revelation than more.) Example: standing in a forest hex means you cannot 'see' into adjacent hexes. Standing on a hills hex would allow you to 'see' over up to 7 plains or forest hexes distance, but not past an adjacent hills hex. A forested hills hex would be the same as a forest hex. Standing on a mountain hex would give a tremendous field of view (and a good reason to maybe climb those mountains). You can see points of possible interest in adjacent hexes that you could see into with an appropriate check for those features (example, a ruined keep in an adjacent plains hex would be immediately visible, but a goblin cave hidden among some scrub brush might have a DC 15 or high perception attached to it. Otherwise, having visibility to a hex would only reveal it's dominate terrain features (hills, forests, etc.).

Some terrain features may have an associated visibility rating as well, such as a 100' tall tower with a rating of 5, meaning it can be seen from up to 5 hexes away.

The second issue with considering what scale you want to work with is how you plan to use your map. If your concept is exploration with a focus on thoroughly exploring an area, say to pacify a region for settlement or if small resolution features such as caves are important, then I'd recommend going with a smaller scale like 1 mile hexes. If you're mostly using it for overland travel, or for exploration between fixed points that need to be discovered, then a large scale is appropriate. Generally, if using a larger scale, you need to abstract out many things and just handwave the idea that they can find the bits you want them to in a 30 sq mile area by walking through it at a normal pace once. I've done this in the past, and it's perfectly valid to do this, but you should recognize the reduction in realism. If your plan is for a gritty hexcrawl, that may be too much reduction for your needs.

On the other hand, small scales can be quickly traversed, meaning you need to extend your maps while larger hexes won't require this. Still, a 6 mile hex leaves a lot of space, and even big D&D apex predator types rarely need a 30 sq mile territory to live well, so if you go with a larger hex size, don't be afraid of packing many or even most of the hexes with interesting things. For example, the typical wolf pack has an average territory of about 15 sq miles. That's enough room for two packs in a single 6 miles hex. Wolves also claim a far larger territory than they need, so they make a good rule of thumb for larger predator types. Figure about 10 to 20 sq miles for active hunting animals and about a 1/3 of that for more intelligent creatures to about that for small tribes. A troll may be perfectly happy with about a 5 sq mile range, but a goblin tribe probably needs about as much area as a wolf pack. So don't be afraid to pack in interest into larger hexmap scales.

I've never played or Dm'd a hexcrawl before, but this thread really got me thinking about how it might work. I was bored at work and started jotting down these notes:

Overland Journeys and Exploration
- Provide hex map with only major settlements or known points of interest
- PC's choose the route, and DM compares route to a master map that has all the dungeons, ruins, and monster lairs on it
- If PC's come into hex with a location in it, skill check may be required to find it (Depends on terrain and visibility)
- Roll for random weather (harsh weather calls for survival checks: Do PC's get lost?)
- Roll for random terrain obstacles (cliffs, raging rivers, gulleys, etc) depending on terrain (or once every 2-4 hexes?)
- 15+ on a D20 and roll on a % table for specific terrain obstacle
- quick skill challenges, with either minor setbacks or dangerous consequence (takes more time to cross the river vs being washed away by the river and smashing into a log jam
- If DC 10: 1-5 dangerous consequence, 6-9 minor setback
- Award XP for overcoming the obstacles
- Exploring a hex requires a group skill check (Nature, Arcana, Perception, Investigation) depending on terrain and visibility
- If in open grasslands, and heading toward ruins, PC's will eventually find it, so no need for skill checks
***Is there another way to make finding locations more fun/organic?***
- Can see things off in the distance in other directions if close enough
- Roll for random encounters if 15+ on D20, once every short rest, and twice every long rest (Or per X number of hexes?)
- Depending on how close to lair/dungeon/ruin, increases/decreases likelihood of encounter

Resting & Rations
- Short rests: 1 hr. In inclement weather (i.e. hailstorms, torrential rain, extreme temperatures), PC's need to pass a constitution check to gain the benefit
- Long rest: 8 hrs. If caught in nasty weather, a survival check is needed for making/seeking out shelter. If none is available, PC's need to pass a constitution check or gain a level of exhaustion
- PC's need to buy/gather enough food and water to make the journey there and back

That's all I got so far, and a lot of these will probably change or be completely trashed. Any thoughts or criticisms are welcome.


Magic Wordsmith
That's all I got so far, and a lot of these will probably change or be completely trashed. Any thoughts or criticisms are welcome.

I think the key thing to bear in mind with this (and really any other kind of adventure) is not to rely too much on process because it can often remove the impact of the players' decisions from the equation if you're not careful. If there is to be a process to follow, it should have many decisions points and trade-offs in my view.


I ran this last night, it was fun :D We played for 3 hours and they gathered rumors in exchange for jokes, interviewed several miners, travelled 25 miles over 2 days, had 3 fights with goblins and wildmen, tried to track goblins but lost the trail, forded two rivers, discovered an ancient wose chief burial mound and slipped down a muddy hill in the rain. It was a bit clunky but not too bad for the first time using the system--similar to the first time running a dungeoncrawl where you're counting squares and rolling for wandering monsters every two turns, having torches go out every six turns, etc. My players said travel felt gritty and arduous and reminiscent of an old school first person videogame RPG like Might and Magic, which pleased me. I'm almost there, just need to nail down a few more things.

I used this for encounter checks:

Encounter check each hour when travelling, and every 4 hours when resting.

1-3: Encounter
4: Deviation of course 60° left
5: Deviation of course 60° right

1: Monster of nearest lair
2: Tracks / spoor of nearest monster lair
3: Monster / tracks of second nearest lair
4: Wilderness Hazard
5: Special
6: Roll twice

Wilderness Hazard: Choose based on terrain type, or roll for weather change.
[I need some wilderness hazards. In a pinch making something up with a saving throw + DMG trap damage works.]

Special: 3-5 unusual, one-off encounters that tell a secret about something else on the map or the history of the area. Repopulate this list as depleted.
[The wose chief burial mound was on this list. Really like these as random encounters rather than placing like a hundred of them on the map before play.]
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Any particular reason you chose 1-mile hexes?
I'm interested in the answer to this question as well. What does it do to the pacing/ feel of the game to have 1 mile hexes vs 8 or any other value used?

I chose the 1 mile hex because its the gritty option in the 5e rules--1 mile hexes and hourly turns. I'm using the rules pretty much as written; there are a few spots where they need to be expanded/rationalized but they're a good base. At first I thought that was too many turns per day, but now that I've tried it I like it. It's nice to use miles-per-hour as movement-per-turn. A day in-game seems to take about an hour real-time, which feels like a good fit with overnight short rests. I think 1000yrd/1 km hexes would work even better...might be worth switching over.

I'm going for something like the wilderness adventures from old TSR modules, like the area around the Caves of Chaos, Bone Hill or the Horror on the Hill, where you would get like a 250yrd grid over a contour map. I was always disappointed at how poorly those played so I am revisiting that concept as a small-scale hex crawl. I have the DM map secret; the players explore and make their own map, if they so choose.

@S'mon you've convinced me to put more lairs on the map. It squares with my experience running it--I was surprised at how little of the map they explored. 1200 square miles is a lot bigger than I thought, especially when much of it is forest (!)

@Ovinomancer good post! I like your system for visibility. I was thinking of something similar; Hexographer has elevation ratings for different terrain types but its buggy and I couldn't get it to work correctly. Visibility is the most difficult aspect to handle in play but its essential for feeling like you're outdoors rather than an outdoor-themed Danger Room.

@iserith That's a beautiful map.


A tip: to describe things in 6 directions, use 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 o'clock. This just came to me recently; I wish I'd thought of it when I was running dungeons with diagonal passages.


First Post
Interesting. Did you have a "plot", or was it just exploration? This is what I've struggled with. I'd love to make it simple like that, but I'm reworking a module that has some plot points (since that's what the group preferred).

Right now my system is to check for the entire day at once. Roll 12d6 (one per 2 hours) with 6 being an encounter (so, about a 17% chance). Then 1d4 for the half hour. So I know how many encounters they have and when they'll occur, but not where they'll be or what the encounter is. So, at the encounter half hour, I roll on the encounter table. Encounters are split 50/50 between places and creatures/events. If the check was a place, it was whatever corresponded to the hex they were in (all locations are keyed); if it was an encounter, they rolled on the table for monsters, weather, NPCs, and so on. If they were resting it was automatically an encounter. I also had a special condition roll - lair, tracks, or wandering for monsters; friendly, hostile, indifferent for locations.

My preferred would be something easy like 1d8+d12 on the encounter table while traveling, and 1d8 while resting (with the 1, only possible while resting, being something special like a plot related dream), but I'm not sure how to work plot related encounters in to that.

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