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Rules Index | GM Screen | Player's Guide

Chapter 3: Subsystems / Hexploration

Designing a Hexploration Map

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 170
The best way to map the area is with a hex grid. Each hex represents a discreet area 12 miles from corner to corner, which can be traveled across and explored in about 1 day even by slower-moving groups. Hexes track the distance the party travels while exploring and define the bounds of certain types of terrain.

When designing your hex map, it’s best to have each hex represent one primary terrain type. This doesn’t mean that’s the only feature of the land in this hex, but it is the predominant type and represents the challenges of traveling across and exploring that hex. You can also give your hex other elements: a river or a road might snake through the area, or it could contain a castle, cave, village, fort, or some other type of encounter setting. You can quickly draw your map using just a few colors, some basic symbols, and letters or numbers for reference.

But this is only the start. This detailed map is your GM map, holding all the secrets for the PCs to discover. Give the players a blank map that they can fill in as they explore the wilderness hex by hex. The more they explore, the more their map will look like yours.

Populating Hexes

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 170
When populating a hexploration map, keep in mind that you have little control over which areas the players choose to explore first—or if they’ll explore those areas at all. Because hexploration leads to nonlinear, player‑guided play, consider providing hooks within encounters and sites for them to explore in several directions from their starting point. You can provide some direction by presenting jobs like exploring a site on behalf of an NPC, escorting travelers, delivering goods, or scouting a region for a local noble. This typically leads to a set encounter (see below).

Set Encounters

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 170
Even a sandbox adventure has a story or is the setting of multiple stories. Set encounters, be they just a simple encounter or an entire adventuring site, can serve as important beats in the story behind the PCs’ exploration. These are typically the points on the hex maps the PCs are searching for, and the discovery of one set encounter will often incorporate story points that lead to the next.

Random Encounters

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 170
You can instill additional danger into your hexploration by including random encounters, whether they take the form of interesting features, natural hazards, or creatures native to the terrain. It can help to create a series of short lists in advance, each including a mix of three types of encounters: harmless, hazards, and creature encounters. Then create tables to randomize the results, or simply pick whichever encounter you think would work best for your hexploration narrative when these encounters occur (as described in Random Encounters on page 173). It’s often easier to create a list by terrain rather than for each hex. The forest hexes could have their own random encounter list while the plains beyond have a different list, possibly with some overlap.

A harmless encounter is just that: the party is in no danger from it. Harmless encounters can be opportunities to flesh out the world with interesting bits of set-dressing, like a shrine on the side of the road dedicated to a minor god, opportunities for the party to interact with other travelers, or simply interesting or noteworthy moments on the road, like a distant and dazzling electrical storm.

Hazard encounters can include those located in the Hazards section on pages 520–529 of the Core Rulebook and pages 77–81 of this book, primarily the environmental hazards and haunts. You can also create your own hazards using the rules found in Building Hazards on page 74.

Creature encounters can use the creatures found in the Bestiary, or you can create your own using the rules found in Building Creatures on page 56.

Plan your hazard and monster encounters with a degree of flexibility so you can tailor them to the PCs’ current level, perhaps by creating a lower-level encounter and including notes on how to scale it up. Alternatively, if you want to run a more challenging or open-world hexploration, don’t adapt to your players at all. Make a variety of encounters, some of which are so powerful that the correct tactic is to flee. You can even create a chase to make the escape exciting (see Chases on page 156).


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 171
While each hex should have a predominant terrain type, your terrain can come alive using the info in the Environment section on pages 512–519 of the Core Rulebook. A hex might also include a river or road. These can cut through the terrain, making it easier for the PCs to travel through the hex, so long as they follow the path. Additionally, each hex might have special features like resources and secrets (see the Types of Terrain sidebar on page 172).

Generating Random Hex Maps

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 171
If you’d like to create your map randomly, begin by selecting a hex on a blank map as the starting point. Then decide the type of terrain for that starting point or roll it on Table 3–4: Random Terrain Type. From that point onward, let the players decide which direction they travel. If they enter an unexplored hex, generate that hex by rolling 1d20 on Table 3–4 and Table 3–5: Random Terrain Feature to determine a type and element for that hex. Apply common sense when producing terrain in this way. Unless magic is involved, it is unlikely a patch of arctic ice would appear in the heart of a desert—though figuring out a way for that to occur could lead to an interesting encounter or subplot later on.

Table 3–4: Random Terrain Type

1d20 Result
6–7Aquatic (lake, sea, or ocean)
14–20Match the previous hex

Table 3–5: Random Terrain Feature

1–3Landmark A feature of some significance that distinguishes the hex as noteworthy.
4–6Secret The hex contains a secret the party uncovers upon exploring the hex.
7–9Resource The hex contains some valuable resource appropriate to the terrain.
10–20Standard A standard representation of the terrain type.