Nod 36 – Halfling Civil War!

By John M. Stater
Self Published

This first issue of NOD for 2021 visits a land of halflings torn by civil war, introduces you to the halfling saints, and brings you Table Top Soccer.

This 95 page magazine uses about 75 pages to describe a hex crawl in the lands of the halflings, currently waging a civil war, along with a few of the borderlands nearby. It’s a great setting, a real D&D supplement, and I have no fucking idea how to use it. 

A disclaimer: I like to think I understand how a few things work. Not just pushing the button, but understanding how the burron works, what it does, why you would do it, and the deeper implications of pushing The Big Red Button. But I don’t know SHIT about about some of my favorite things, like running sci-fi adventures and … hex crawls. I don’t understand how to run them and thus I am only conjecturing.

So, a HUGE fuckign hex map. HUGE. 74 pages of hex descriptions, four or five to a page, a paragraph or two each. That a METRIC TON of hexes to explore and of things going on in the halfling lands. Oh, and their borders, the barbarians (Fuck them! Also, I just finally got Civ6, so I’m currently in a Fuck The Barbs! mood) that prowl them, and so on. There’s so much going on that I have trouble wrapping my head around it. More on that later.

I’m starting to see some patterns in things. We’ve got halfling places, usually involved in their civil war, which comes off as mostly gentle with threats of violence. Then you’ve strongholds, places where some powerful NPC hangs out with their band of supporters. THis might be a master thief and their hobgoblin minions in the mountain complex, or the nomad barbarian encampment fishing on the river, or any of a dozen different examples. Then you’ve got the intelligent monster encounter. Cloud giants playing in a stream, hill giants charging a 5cp toll to cross a flooded area, cyclopeans working in underground caves. These can be kind of good (rough house bully cloud giants, who are still good guys) to neutral (cyclopean forgers) to bad guys (gnoll raiders) … all of whom are generally presented in a such a way that makes talking a least a possibility. You’ve also got beasts, both magical and mundane, in hexes, as well a decent number of nymph, dryad, pixie, nature spirit encounters. And you’ve also got freaky deaky shit, like an endless series of short cliffs to climb, or historical landmarks like a monolith with carvings about some historical event. And a smattering of “realistic” gonzo, like a crashed jetpack and a teleportation platform to an alien Predator ship. It’s packed full, and, I’d guess only one in six hexes is described. 

It’s fascinating. I love  it. Well, as a travelogue, like a Lonely Planet guide. As a D&D thing? Well …

I don’t know how to run a hex crawl. I’ve been collecting links on my forum for a future book on how to write and run a hex crawl, but that doesn’t mean I understand it yet. It feels like there are three ways. First, it’s an adventure. You wander from place to place, there are little hooks and things in one hex that lead to another hex. Second, it could be a setting. It’s just a place and you have “normal” adventures in it that the DM comes up with and/or inserts. The hexes are just local color for the DM to use as fodder while traveling or downtime. Third might be Wanderers, where the party literally just wanders from hex to hex getting in to trouble as the DM riffs. This last one strikes me as having even more motivational issues for players than a normal D&D party or megadungeon. Maybe there’s some other way to run a hex crawl. I don’t know.

How does Nod 36 stand in relation to these three ways? If you just want to wander, without context or continuity, then you’re ok. Have at thee. 

As an Adventure, I think this is lacking. The linkages between hexes are few and far between. There is an occasional cross-reference, but they are few and far between, not because Stater is a hack but more because there are NOT linkages. One place doesn’t really lead to another. (With a few notable exceptions, like the jetpack hex and transporter pad hex, for example. Trace the trajectory of the pack to find the pad.) Also, there’s the setting issue.

As a Setting it would be great, but you’d need to put in a lot of work, or, I would anyway, to get a really top quality experience. This would apply also to the thing as an Adventure, since the Adventure would take place in the setting. The thing lacks overview. While there is a general discussion of the history (Fascinating! And it makes sense! I’ll gush on this later) and political climate, its just general. The very first hex has a hag, mostly harmless, that is the stuff of boogyman tales in surrounding villages. But you have to read the hex to know that. And then make a note somewhere, or remember, to include it while you are running the villages. Or the barbarians and the Crazy Guy leader of one tribe, or another having a big Holy Mammoth celebration gathering.  You WANT to drop these things in to a game. To get the party going. To add context. To add continuity. Same with the civil war and whats going on. It’s written and presented as a Wanderer style, where you just trip over things.

IF you put the work in, and takes notes, and put together those things, digging through a couple of hundred hex descriptions, political trees, local color and so on, and then make a bunch of notes, flowcharts and reference sheets (of which this has none) then you would have a MAGNIFICENT setting. So much so that, if those were present, we could all have a great time buying this and running a HUGE D&D-spehere game, a shared experience for all online players. I mean it, this is a GREAT setting. Easily housing an entire campaign. If you can figure out how to use it. I’m excited and apathetic at the same time. I have a million things to do, would I ever find time to put in the work to use this? 

I doubt it. But it would be SO rewarding if I did. No, no Best or Regerts, because I don’t know what the fuck I am doing or how to review it. I REALLY like it. I just don’t know what the fuck it is or how to use it and maybe I just like it as a travelogue … which makes me nervous that I like it as a READER, something I LOATHE.

This is $4 at DriveThru. You will never find a better bargain than an issue of Nod. And it has a real cover also, with real cover art! Nice! The preview is just the first few pages though, and shows you nothing of the writing style of the hexes you’ll encounter. A page or so of them would have been nice, in order to make a buying decision of what you are actually purchasing the product for.

Great backstory, and short, about Powerful Ancient Elves, raising the lands to get rid of the locath, ancient towers and ruins, ild elves as the remains of religious sects and wood elves as those that found refuge in hunting lodged thousands of years ago when the elf god punished all elves. Nice Age of Magic thing without getting too detailed. Makes sense.

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28 Responses to Nod 36 – Halfling Civil War!

  1. Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

    I am in the same boat w hex crawls. They are good inspirationally, but definitely need broader linkage elements and interactive depth between locations- I think both people and places flowcharts should be a huge help. Heck, I still haven’t figured out how to effectively run hot springs island even though it’s pretty well done and has effective online generators- there is some mental connectivity element that is very passive with hexes that doesn’t click with me.

  2. Daniel says:

    Yeah, I simply don’t *get* hex crawls. It feels pointless to me, wandering from hex to hex. And I’ve never found a hex mechanic that I like. “Ok, you wake up… [roll] it’s raining… [roll] you search for food… you go to the next hex”.

    Actually I’ve never found a travel mechanic that wouldn’t turn into a waste of time and dice rolls.

    But I do love NOD Magazine and Stater’s writing. You could turn every single hex description of his into a good adventure.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I run HEXCRAWLS all the time. Bryce notes stater is one of the best.The advice you give on major people and places flowcharts is amazing and I would love that. I think a one page major NPC listing page would also be good. Something even HSI Fails I use nod. The hexcrawl is the world and I seed adventures I want to run on various hexes and seed them.The hexes provide the connective tissue and acts as an aid for me based on the players to create a world for the table. Its low prep and it works great. Hopefully that makes sense Bryce, try it it works I promice.Lowprep

  4. Stripe says:

    Here to be another “I’ve never ran a hex crawl but have a lot of rules indexed and pages bookmarked” guy.

    I’ve played a couple sessions of a game that used fairly vanilla ’83 Expert Set hex crawl rules and the Outdoor Survival map and it was . . . I don’t know. Not as satisfying as I’d like.

    It wasn’t better than a point crawl with random encounters. It didn’t feel like I was exploring. More like we were just hopping the hexes to get from Point A to Point B.

    I played a few sessions of Gavin Norman’s Dolmenwood. I felt like I was exploring, but again, it also wasn’t more fun or interesting than if we just went from the town to the dungeon.

    I did not like Hot Springs Island’s method of hex crawling in actual play. I know it’s popular and reads great on paper, but felt—to me as a player in an actual game of >5 sessions—that my decisions and actions weren’t half so important as secret GM rolls on a travel table.

    It didn’t feel like travel. It felt like being on a rollercoaster where we can try to go north and end up south—but we’re trying to follow a river or coast line or ridge of mountains so that’s basically impossible.

    So, I’ve never ran one. Played in a few, but the hex crawl aspect of game play didn’t really pan out for me. It’s just like a pile of rules and stuff but none of it ends up actually improving the quality of the game.

  5. Dave says:

    On hexcrawls – its just a map, right? If you run D&D with an overland map, that’s how you use it. Start with a dungeon,and go to overland when the players need to travel, or you can start seeding rumors and hooks for location destinations.

    If you’re not running D&D with a map, I see the disconnect, but I didn’t think that many people did that.

  6. Dave says:

    Distinct from interconnectivity, I judge products by how much prep work I have to do to run the encounters, adventures or hooks simply as they are set forth. For instance Qelong -which I otherwise liked well enough to run as a full campaign years ago, and I still recommend on its other merits- lacks maps for several major keyed locations. So every GM who runs it is going to have to work those up. And if every GM has to work those up, it seems like something the designer really should have taken on.

    It seems there’s an urge among adventure writers to be the idea guy, then say “my work here is done.” But the more I need to prep a map, or detail an encounter, or stat up an NPC, the less likely I am to run something published, over just making up or rolling up my own.

    I can’t tell from the review – how does this hexcrawl do on that scale? Again, separate from the interconnectivity or having to outline the connections, just the details of encounters?

  7. How does anyone who’s played D&D for more than 5 minutes not know how to run a God damn hexcrawl?

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree, not sure where the confusion comes from. Also not sure a hex-crawl is an ‘adventure’ per say, but rather a setting full of ‘adventure sites’; hex-crawls are exploration play at its best: Why do we travel to the north? Coz its there.

      NOD is awesome.

    • samurguybri says:

      I’m 49 and have played since I was a wee bairn. I saw Isle of Dread back when I was a kid, thought it was too complicated and that the setting was lame (Back then I like Tolkieneqsue and urban low fantasy like Thieves’ world) and said nope! I’ve played since then and never ran a hex crawl. We just played in the wilds without a rigid system. We weren’t too into resource management or getting lost and all that, but it was dangerous as far as a hostile environment and encounters.. I’m gearing up to start one soon, and I love the idea of it and the work I’m putting into it, but the heavy lifting at the beginning is pretty big. My next hurdle in it’s development is all the interconnectivity: locations, people maps, references. I keep working on because I’m excited about the prospects of exploration

  8. Anonymous says:

    Brycebros . . . /ourguy/ is a brainlet . . . it’s over . . .

  9. Reason says:

    A hexcrawl with a purpose is an adventure- travel far away to Mt Doom & do the thing there. Hex crawl provides all the adventure & distraction & adds depth to the world experienced along the way.

    A hexcrawl without a purpose is the same as a sandbox setting. DM can seed “regular” adventures in it. The hex plots keep bubbling along. If players latch on to a hex activity, it changes things & they slowly see that. It’s a slow burn. A certain type of player will realise they can use Hex 7a to influence events in Hex 4b, then it can really start driving events for a while. But return to background depth if pc’s do other things.

  10. TJS says:

    Two things about Hexcrawls:

    1) They really need each hex to have a short blurb at the end of each Hex to show links. Eg. The villagers here tell stories about the evil hag in hex #1.

    2) Going back and forward in a book to check hexes is a pain – and it’s doubly a pain in a PDF. It feels like the ideal format for presenting a hexcrawl is some kind of hyperlinked wiki, although I don’t know how you would monetise that.

    • Anonymous says:

      Gabor has best hex advice,read the main stuff like cities Andrus restastheycome up at the table as a player dominated play aid.

  11. John says:

    Where published hexcrawls tend to fall down for me (although NOD is a bit better than most in this regard) is not being actionable enough. That is, a hex description should be sufficiently concise and with the right critical details that when the players enter the hex I can easily improvise the adventure on the spot – THIS is the situation, THESE are the moving parts, THIS is the treasure to be gained or other motivation, THESE are the impediments, and here are a few details you can spin off into something larger. That’s how I write hex crawls for my own use, but published ones all too often give a “big picture” overview without providing any of the grit that’s actually needed to run it. It’s easy to connect up lots of disparate bits and pieces into a more cohesive whole as the campaign goes along, but it’s a lot of prep work to actually write gameable details for all those meanderingly-described crystal cities and fey villages and unmapped dungeons. I use published hexcrawls as inspiration for my own, but I’ll never run one until someone releases one that’s usable at the table as-is.

    • Anonymous says:

      This guy hexes. This is the real shit. Its how you Wilderlands, Nod and Gabor. Uber low prep. Keeps a gm fresh and player focused.

      You cant do this with Wotc or Pizo hex writing

  12. Anonymous says:

    Let me be the first to say new Bryce review made my day.

    I know its tough to write but know your work means a lot to so many people

  13. Knutz Deep says:

    If Daffy Duck taught us anything it’s to never push the Red, errrr Wed Button. Never push the wed one.

  14. Where do i find older NODs? DTRPG only goes back to 20something.

  15. Arparrabiosa says:

    This is how you understand, prepare and run a hexcrawl:

    • Ienjoy reading hexcrawls for inspiration depending on the product, but i don’t think hexcrawl products themselves are useful at the table. For example, it’s easy for me to look at a hexcrawl, get some idea, and then riff off of that myself. It is easier for me to do my own hexcrawl (with or without prep) since i have the mindmap to do so and can fill in the blanks however I want and simply keep notes to expand upon. Products and running them are very flat because it is very hard to translate a mindmap to paper, and hexcrawls need to be able to do that to have them be run as an adventure- otherwise it’s much more a campaign setting. I also think that a more innovative format might work wonders for a hexcrawl (a map with embedded links or pop-ups that give you the depth that is needed for each hex and can also show the connectivity to other hexes. Heck, you can add other visual media if you choose to), than your traditional hex numbering and description system

  16. howardjones777 says:

    There’s great Hexcrawl stuff going down these days.

    For one that seems fully functional and pretty much playable at the table with only a little prep, check out the Runewild — I’m pretty sure Bryce reviewed one of the adventures designed for the setting. He’s also reviewed some of the parts of the Rosethrone hexcrawls, which work really well. I’ve been running Runewild, and slipping bits of Rosethrone into it, and having a grand old time. All kinds of interactivity, hexes leading to other hexes, things to get interested in, etc.

    And of course there’s Hot Springs Island, which looks great, although I haven’t yet run it.

    As far as hex crawl creation, Sine Nomine has some great stuff in Red Tide and An Echo Resounding and probably even more in the upcoming Worlds Without Number, vast portions of which are available as a free download. I pledged for the hardback, so I’ve got the PDF, but since I pretty much hate reading long stuff on PDF and have been busy, I’m just waiting to read it and glory in its goodness later this year when a real world object arrives on my doorstep.

    I love reading hex crawls. I can’t run them nearly as fast as I can read them, of course. In the last couple of years the percentage of decent ones has at least quadrupled.

  17. howardjones777 says:

    …I should have added that I ran a campaign for years based off of Staters Winter Woods hexcrawl. I had to put a TON of work into the thing as far as cross references and stuff, and add more cool hexes, but it was a wonderful start. Years worth of gaming in just that one Stater hexcrawl.

    I wrote up my love for it and a couple of others over on my blog here, if anyone wants more details:

  18. Hi Howard, thanks for the links! Oddly, I was reading through Runewild and the Rosethorn Hexcrawls and would love your thoughts on how you combined the two.

    • howardjones777 says:

      They’re both quite good, aren’t they? I don’t play 5E, but the Runewild is so well done… doesn’t feel like typical 5E stuff.

      Short form of it is I pop in pieces from various pieces of hexcrawls from Rosethrone into the larger Runewild hexcrawl. I’ll try to type up a larger description of what I’m doing at some point this weekend. Maybe in the forum would be a better place.

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