Published hexcrawls and hexcrawl creation resources
Fundamentally, a hexcrawl is nothing difficult or mysterious; it’s simply a systematic way to represent wilderness exploration and travel in roleplaying games. As the name suggests, it involves tracking the movement of player characters on a map divided by a hexagonal grid. This way of doing things, derived from the conventions of board wargames, has been a familiar feature of RPGs since the hobby’s inception. Most old-school (and old-school-style) systems provide specific rules for incorporating hexcrawling into play.
However, it appears that running a hexcrawl is an intimidating prospect for many GMs, as evidenced by the countless questions posed in internet RPG communities. This is due, in part, to the misconception that a hexcrawl, rather than being a convenient way to handle travel, is a completely separate mode of play requiring enormous amounts of preparation, elaborate rigid procedures, and a good deal of esoteric knowledge. (What is the best method of tracking resources? How do you generate weather events? How much content should be planned ahead of time, and how much left to random chance?) This is exacerbated by the fact that there has never been a single authoritative source describing how to run a “proper hexcrawl”, but rather a multitude of approaches and opinions.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge in managing hexcrawls is that they are fundamentally linked to the concept of sandbox-style play. There is usually no overarching narrative to guide the characters from point A to point B; instead, the players are expected to freely roam the map, choosing the directions and actions at their leisure, with no specific end goal in mind. This aspect can be difficult for both the GM and the players: how to keep everyone engaged when unlimited freedom can be overwhelming?
An introduction to a list like this is not the place to give detailed advice. Anyone interested in learning more about the inner workings of hexcrawls and best practices for designing them should read the following excellent articles:
- How to Make a Fantasy Sandbox series by Robert Conley (Bat in the Attic)
- Hex-based Campaign Design by Erin D. Smale (The Welsh Piper)
- Hexcrawl series by Justin Alexander (The Alexandrian)
- The Dirt Cheap Sandbox and Hex-crawls: A Simple Guide by Gábor Lux (Beyond Fomalhaut)
- Just Three Hexes by Michael Shorten (Chicagowiz’s Games)
- Hexcrawl Checklist by Prismatic Wasteland
The following list may appear to be a disorganized jumble of all sorts of hexcrawl-related products: it includes both complete, ready-to-play hexcrawl modules and campaigns, as well as tools or guides to assist GMs in designing and running their own hexcrawls. However, there is a good reason for including all of these items on one list: each category complements the other. There are very few published hexcrawls that are so comprehensive that they wouldn’t benefit from some external content or procedures; on the other hand, these modules generally include rules and advice that can be useful in isolation from the specific worlds they describe. That is why I recommend that anyone interested in running hexcrawl adventures take a mix-and-match approach and select the most appealing pieces from the menu below.
This list has a significant overlap with my more general list devoted to GM toolkits and various resources; check it out if you’re looking for even more ideas!