By James Andrews & Kent Willmeth Dapper Rabbit Games OSR "Low to Mid Levels"
Welcome to the festering swamp. The odd bog. The Seeping Slough. A weird swamp hex-crawl adventure that will have players exploring a dangerous location that contains two dungeons, a village, several unique characters, monsters, and whimsical filth.
This eighty page hex crawl describes a nineteen hex swamp with two dungeons with about a dozen rooms each. A classic minimal hex crawl with a little weird and icky swamp thing going on, it lacks a more detailed summary as well as a motivation for exploring … as all hex crawls do. But, as a classic hex crawl in the same vein as Wilderlands … nicely done!
Hex crawls are their own thing and I’m not capable of reviewing them well … or that anyone else is either, their being so few examples of the genre. Their design is directly related to the way the DM and players will interact with things. Generally, this means that the appropriate level of detail for a hex crawl is quite a bit less than your typical adventure. Hexes tend to be zoomed out situations rather than encounters. You need enough (flavorful) information to present the situation that it will have the potential energy that will drive player action to interact with. The classic would be something like some weirdos have X and Y. By stringing the player actions together you get a kind of emergent play plot in a sandbox. This tends the tope version of sandbox … where the party may not have much motivation to explore beyond what they give their characters … perhaps a kind of gleeful desire to get ahead and poke at things with a stick. We’ll get to that in a bit.
You get nineteen hexes. Each is two miles wide. Each has a little table with six entries; if you append an hour searching the hex then the DM rolls on the table to see what you see. Monsters, situations, NPC’s. In addition, each hex has its own six entry wandering monster table. Each of the encounters and the wanderers gets about a paragraph to describe it, in a large font. This is supported by a “disease table”; the party rolls to catch a disease each night they stay in the swamp, a con check IIRC. Failing gives you a disease, twenty to roll from, and if it progresses too far then you get a mutation. The mutations are sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, and generall weird. Like you no longer have blood. Or your head falls off but you are still alive and can eat/drink/talk normally. So … weird … with a touch of the gonzo in it. That’s it. There’s a village in one hex and the two dungeons, one the lair of a witch and one the insides of a dead colossal creature. Now get out there and shake your asses and make it look good!
This suffers from the bane of all hex crawls … why? Why move from hex to hex? It is absolutely the case that it is up to the player to motivate their PC, but the DM, and thus designer, is not off the hook. There should be SOME pretext for moving about. If only “GOLD!” An inciting event, for example. But in this we only get, I think, a single throw-away sentence that the Witch could be the reason the reason for exploring the swamp. And without anything else it’s left solely up to the DM and players to solve this, the primary problem, with ALL hex crawls.
Issue two with hex crawls is the nature of their encounters. You want situations more than static things. You’re looking to build connections between the various things going to drive the players, as the DM, and as the players to take advantage of and leverage. This is, I think, THE critical aspect of a good hex crawl. And this … well … in most cases it’s better just to keep travelling.
There is a body hung up in a tree. It’s dead and you can loot it. There’s a big crocodile. You sleep under a giant flower, your blood turns yellow. A bunch of weeds with a wizards body at the bottom of it. Some of the encounters ARE linked to each otherl a body in a tree that some other dudes are looking for and their village welcomes you if you bring it home. And, there’s a little NPC mechanic where, when you meet the same NPC multiple times, their situation changes. One guy wants to kill the witch and the fourth/last time to run in to him he’s a zombie now … having met the witch and lost. So, you wander around through an Ed Greenwood museum and maybe get some loot. The number of encounters in which you can leverage towards achieving some other goal seem to be very small. And I don’t just mean intentional linkages, like the dead person in the tree and the grateful villagers. I mean Things Going On To Be leveraged. You want ongoing situations in one area and other situations and resources that the party, by way of wacky PC logic, will try to do something with. And that doesn’t seem to be very present here.
Individually, the encounters are interesting. Sure, I’d love to find a body with a glowing amulet under some reeds, or the lumberjacks who drink, wrestle and eat far too rare meat … (actually, bad example, you might be able to leverage those dudes … that’s a good place, but they NEED something, r rather, the adventure should probabally have them needing something.) Still, the locations are far too self-contained. Now, certainly, not everything needs to be linked, and there is a place in the world for statics, but you need a good mix and I just don’t think that this has it.
Still, I’m fond of this. Housecats that won’t stay dead until you kill them 1d10-1 more times. “A half collapsed stone fountain depicting hunters chasing wolves, who in turn chase the same hunters. It trickles water slowly. Those who drink the water become youthful and healthy in the moonlight.” There’s a whimsy to the encounters, and they don’t feel like de rigeur D&D. I just … I don’t see them working together in order to be able to form a cohesive line for the party to follow, or force. Again, not in a plot way but in a emergent gameplay way. At least … I THINK that’s what hex crawls are about?
This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is broken. I can haz sadz.
BONUS FEATURE! – The Rad Hack
On my wishlist for a long, and you just know I LUV me some Gamma World! It’s got cute art and is … The Black Hack but with mutants and human supremacists. Meh. It’s not like Gamma World is the worlds most complex game, even 2e or 3e (Fuck you! I liked 3e! I think the chart worked better than it did in MSH!) IF a certain GAVIN was listening he’d do an OSE but for Gamma World. That’s the main advantage of this: the simple and easy to reference rules. But, the charm of the setting is lost in the abridged rules, and, the cute art aint enough to get it back.