Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Hexagon: The Symbol of a Renaissance

Why the Hexagon?
If there is one thing that best represents the Old School role playing movement/revolution/renaissance/zeitgeist/community/thing it would be the hexagon. D&D used hexes. So did Traveller. Role playing came out of wargaming and so it was the defacto way of representing the wilderness soldiers, explorers, and characters wandered through. All the early D&D campaigns used them: Greyhawk, The Known World, Blackmoor, and The Wilderlands to name a few. We can clearly say nothing says "Old School" like "hexagon" because "hexagon" says "war game." They work well for maps and breaking up an area to keep track of where stuff is, be it deep space or high mountains.

Where did it come from? Where did it go?
Pioneered for gaming by the RAND Corporation, the hexagon was picked up by Avalon Hill and found its way into the early days of role playing. Hexagons made gaming easier and made movement through trackless wilderness track able. My personal belief is that the removal of Demons and Devils from the game was not a reaction to the religious criticism of the era but rather an attempt to move D&D away from its wargame roots towards the storyteller railroad paradigm it had been drifting towards since the mid 80's. Get rid of Demons, Devils, Sandbox settings, "challenge the player", player-DM cooperative world development and hexagons and you could replace them with proficiencies/skills, railroading adventures, DM PCs, laundry quests imparted by Elminster, and sweet sweet pretentious drama.

What are their uses?
Hexagons are extremely useful for gaming. The right size of hex is great for judging distance. If you know the distance from face to face you can figure out the distance of each edge, the distance from the center and the distance from point to point. This allows you to figure out distance to a fairly decent ball park, especially if a DM uses a hex in hex system where hexes on one scale can be represented by hexes on another. The same system hexes in hex allows for cataloging the game world. If they are numbered a DM can keep a record of what is in each hex. This allows the DM to streamline his resources to develop only the places the players are going to go. The DM only has to provide detail when it is absolutely necessary but the players are not limited to a set path. If you use center to face and center to point you have twelve degrees of movement, not just six. Hexes help to generalize terrain. There are numerous other more subtle uses of the Hexagon.


James Maliszewski said...

Well said.

Steamtunnel said...

I am going hex crazy. There are going to be a few more articles here on specific ways to use them. Hopefully it won't be a month before I get them out.

Nope said...

What are some common scales for hex maps? I've been trying to figure out what scale to use. I've been trying out hex in hex for my campaign map. Each hex constructed of four mini hexes on each of the six sides. Comes out to 37 mini hexes in a single hex I think.

The larger hex is for my world map, and the mini hexes are for my regional maps. I've been stuck trying to figure out what scale to use per world map hex and regional map hex.

Chris said...

@kaeosdad: Judges Guild Wilderlands & Rob Conley's "Points of Light" - 5 miles to the hex
Greyhawk "Darlene map" - 30 miles to the hex
BECMI D&D Known World - 8, 24, or 72 miles to the hex

As you can see there's a lot of variation in scaling. It's probably best just to work with what makes sense for you in terms of travel times and terrain you need covered.

@Steamtunnel: Top stuff mate. I'd never in 1,000 years have suspected we owe the hex to a Cold War-era think tank.

I still maintain however that square grids are the One True Way, and that all vile hexagonalist heretics will be purged. ;)

Rob MacDougall said...

Thanks for the link!

I also just want to say that I had that great Greyhawk map on my basement wall as a kid but haven't seen it or even thought much about it in decades. That little thumbnail you posted of Nyr Dyv and points south just hit my neocortex with a blast of nostalgic recognition that sent me sprawling. :)

Steamtunnel said...

@Rob- Its the sweet spot of the setting. I would wager not counting Living Greyhawk 80% of what is written for the setting is in that area or very close to it.

@kaeosdad and Chris- More to come on just that topic. Hex size and projection are within the next 5 posts. I have been thinking about it for 2 years... I hope its good!