So last weekend wandering around PAX the one thing I would get excited about if I had the time would probably have been Elder Scrolls V. In my opinion the Elder Scrolls Series is the heir to whatever crown Ultima wore. Technologically it picked up where Ultima Underworld, UWII and Ultima's V, VI, and VII left off - with Ultima V being the Empire Strikes Back or the series (more on this later).
But this is not a review per se of Skyrim. Rather in reading and hearing about it I was struck with an interesting piece of info: The region of Skyrim is roughly the same size as the region covered in Oblivion, which is around 16 square miles in area. Really? 16 square miles is 4 miles on each side. My 6mi hexagon obsessed brain immediately replies: "You realise that's all on one hex." The game is supposed to be epic -and from what I can tell it is- but, the fact that the whole thing would fit in a single hex boggles my mind. So I went and got a map of Cyrodiil the land covered in Oblivion I saw once in my internet wanderings just to see how much adventure (by location) you could cram into less than 1 6mi hex. The map is below, and it is too small to see here, so I suggest looking at it here.
Places designated as cities on this map are actually more like citadels and walled towns- you can actually see their wall outline from the map. And a study of medieval settlement patterns indicates that the distances and frequencies of these in relation to each other is entirely believable. Counting each city area as a single location this map displays 89 caves, 50 forts, 15 Shrines, 16 Inns and Stables, 23 mines, 30 settlements, 31 camps, 12 cities/castles/walled towns, and 50 ruins for a total of 316 or more distinct locations. Granted many of these locations stack into way to lend verisimilitude to a quarter of a square mile. If you start walking and walk for 4 miles in the game it will take you about the same time as if you walked 4 miles in real life. Ad to it all that this is the area surrounding a major city. Also there is a representational telescopeing -a sort of illusion that tricks the video game player into feeling like there is a cast of thousands when there really is just several hundred- but my point is that when played the area seems realistic in the frequency of encounters and the amount of travel someone needs to do in an adventure.
My own stocking of a six mile hex pales in comparison. Granted I don't have buckets of money from a major video game studio and a team of people designing adventure locations- however the OPD contests and similar collaborative efforts in the OSR, not to mention the wealth of relocatable locations published in the tabletop gaming sphere (Dyson Logos alone give you a lot of maps) put similar levels of detail in the grasp of pretty much any DM.
Looking at things like google or bing mapping programs really shows how you could have several adventure locations in just one 5 or 6 mile hex and it be completely believable. This stats me wondering about the implications of a sandbox- perhaps the 1 mile hex might be more conductive. Additionally if a DM wanted to link several worlds in a setting that crosses time and space perhaps all they need do is detail the 6 mile hex around the entry point to that world. The complication arrives when the entry and exit are not in the same place. Certainly information like this makes me rethink the range that adventure needs to be epic and yet still a sandbox.