Hexcrawl Review: Source of the Nile

February 10, 2013


The Congo River snakes through jungle, then savannah, then into the mountains where Dr. Livingstone was found

Talysman has lately been writing brief summaries of some of the existing hexcrawl generation systems. He won’t be reviewing the Source of the Nile system, so I’m here to grab that baton…

The Source of the Nile hex generation system

The SotN rule book actually contains two hex gen systems. They are virtually the same except one is card-based and the other chart-based. For the solo campaign I conducted a couple years ago, I used the cards because they provide a little more detail and seemed faster. In a nutshell, the system involves drawing a series of cards (or rolling on several tables) to determine the hex details…

2 of the 108 cards used to generate the map of Africa

2 of the 108 cards used to generate the map of Africa

Draw a card to determine if the new hex will be a continuation of neighboring terrain or not.  See on the cards where it says “Terrain” followed by two numbers?  Basically, if either of those two neighboring hexes are already generated, this new hex matches the terrain type of that neighbor.  Otherwise the new hex is of the indicated type.  What ends up happening is that the number of “already-explored” hexes surrounding a new hex increases the likelihood that the new terrain will match a neighbor.  If the new terrain type doesn’t make sense, adjust according to a few simple rules. For example: desert and jungle can’t be neighbors…so the new hex is changed to savannah/veldt instead.

Draw more cards to determine natives, special discoveries, and water features. Due to the focus of the game on exploring Africa’s waterways, additional complex rules govern river generation. Sans the river rules, the system would be streamlined enough for improv RPG hexcrawl play.  As is, it’s maybe too fiddly for that purpose.

The hexes generated are about 100 miles across and the game turns are a month long, so larger scale than what most RPGs use, but I think the system would work just as well at a smaller scale.

Pros: Makes sensible maps of satisfying complexity and detail, with neighboring hexes strongly influencing terrain type of a new hex.

Cons: Tailored for large scale Africa terrain but system could be generalized.  Crazy complex river gen rules…

Flowchart for generating rivers!!!

Flowchart for generating rivers!!!

Regarding rumors

SotN also has a basic method of incorporating rumors into the map:  Eight markers are placed on the blank map at the beginning if the game. Four are blank (false rumors) and four indicate legendary discoveries (King Solomon’s Mine, Lost Tribe, Lost Civilization, and Dr. Livingstone).

Here’s a special rules supplement for SotN that includes an additional rumors system when Dr. Livingstone is found. The concept could be adapted to RPGs. The basic idea is that specific rumors come from specific NPCs.  When creating an NPC, make note if any areas on the map that the NPC may know something about. When the players meet that NPC, add the NPC’s knowledge to the map, perhaps in sketchy details only.

Another idea I had for rumors in an improv map gen system dates back to when I was thinking of ways to use Magic cards with D&D.  Use different stacks of land cards to randomly create different regions on a map and when a rumor is told about some specific place, put that card into that stack.

For example, say you have a region on the map called Habadabump that consists primarily of forest and mountains. The DM makes a stack of mostly Forest and Mountain cards. When the players hear a rumor of the Howling Mine in Habadabump, the DM adds the Howling Mine card to that region’s stack. So the players know the general direction to the mine, but not the exact location. When exploring Habadabump, eventually the Howling Mine card will be drawn.

Regarding starvation

Bonus secttion…because Telecanter posted about simple survival rules the other day.

In SotN, rations are only consumed when hunting fails. Hirelings desert if they aren’t fed.  Explorers (i. e. the PCs) get sick if no food is available and must be carried by hirelings (except the hirelings have probably all deserted!).  If you are fortunate, you can crawl back to a port city.  Or you can try your luck with the natives.

In Isle of the Ape, Gygax’s take is similar to SotN (not surprising since Gygax played SotN)… Lack of rations can lead to disease instead of direct HP damage. Disease then causes Attribute damage, which eventually leads to death (when attributes reduced to zero) if not treated. One thing I like about this is how Cure Disease, Create Food, and Purify Water spells can directly overcome the harsh conditions, but not Cure Light Wounds.

My preference is to not meticulously track supplies.  Whenever a food shortage event occurs, movement rates are reduced by half.  Basically, a food shortage doesn’t kill directly, but indirectly due to the increased number of encounters inherent in a slower movement rate. Death comes in adventure, not in emaciation.


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