Welcome back, we’re picking up in the Worldbuilding Process from Scratch series. This post is our second installment on transitioning the scope of worldbuilding from the highest level to a higher level of magnification, the region hex, by discussing D&D region hex stocking. So, if you’re new here or fuzzy on what’s happened so far, I suggest a refresher before we dive right into the discussion of Points of Interest and where and how to stock your hex map.
Worldbuilding Process Posts: The ongoing series home with 20+ posts blog series discussing the method and details of how to build your own custom setting for D&D or other tabletop RPG with examples. A great place to start worldbuilding for Game Masters of any stripe, and don’t feel intimidated by the number of posts!
Introduction to Region Hex Mapping: The first installment in our focus on region hex mapping. It provides an overview of the four different hex map scales our worldbuilding process targets and how each level nests into the larger scale. It also has useful information on overland travel pace, diversifying biomes as you magnify focus in your mapping, and mapping existing waterway courses through magnification.
Now that everyone is up to speed, let’s dig into today’s topic. Today we will discuss region hex stocking, what it is, and how to do it. We’ll start by detailing how to classify our hexes to augment how likely an adventure location is to occur. Then we’ll lay out a three-step hex stocking method you can use to fill up your hex maps easily.
Well, let’s get started!
Region Hex Stocking Classification: Heartlands, Marches, and Wilds
Heartlands, marches, and wilds serve as valuable classifications for atlas hexes. Depending on the category the atlas hex falls into, we can determine what sorts of locations and points of interest (POIs) are more likely to appear in the hex, along with the volume of locations and POIs. These classifications will make more sense once we start digging into what each means. Let’s start with Heartlands.
As the name suggests, heartlands represent the bosom of civilization. Each atlas hex with a capital city, fortification, or religious landmark on our map is a heartland. These areas are where civilization is the most developed and humanoid locations flourish. The people here are often subservient and supportive of the landmark location central to the atlas hex. Consequently, there are fewer nature-based and weird threats.
The marches, frontier, and borderlands. Yes, just like ye olde “Keep on the Borderlands.” These march hexes surround a heartland hex and serve as the buffer area, a transitional zone between the more-civilized heartlands and the untamed wilds. For DMs and game masters of all stripes, the marches serve as the Goldilocks zone for D&D adventuring because it offers equal parts civilization, wilderness, and weirdness.
Out beyond the frontier is the wilds, the dark heart of the world mostly unblemished and unseen by civilization. That’s not to say people don’t travel and live in the wilds, just significantly fewer, and those who do may not be… normal. In the wilds lies the fury of nature, strange creatures never-before-seen, and the strange relics of unremembered civilizations long passed from greatness.
Why Are These Hex Stocking Classifications Relevant?
First, they help us determine the amount of POIs in our region hexes. The heartlands are crowded with people and dense with POIs. Meanwhile, the wilds offer long stretches of travel without a D&D adventure location. Of course, traveling the wilderness is dangerous enough on its own, between managing supplies, traversal challenges, getting lost, and random encounters with natural beasts and monsters.
Secondly, as noted previously, a hex’s classification informs what types of POIs are likely to occur. This shift is represented by rolling 1d12 on the 1d20 table, giving the first dozen results a higher likelihood. And the last helpful part of our hex classification system is to tell us about the source or nature of the POIs, some flavor, which is used to help generate more interesting results.
Don’t worry; we will explain that last bit in detail later. For now, let’s dive into an introduction to region hex stocking.
Introduction to D&D Region Hex Stocking
All right, it’s time to put on our gloves and crafting apron so we can fill in these hexes. We’ll be using a three-hex series as an example along the way. Starting on the left is a Heartland hex, in the center a March hex, and on the right a Wilds hex. For the moment, I’ll leave them blank without any topography or biome information so we can focus specifically on the stocking aspect.
To stock the hexes, we’ll be using a three-step system. For each hex, we’ll determine if anything is in the hex first. Second, if so, what’s in the hex? And third, what is the source or nature of the location/POI in the hex? The first two are self-evident, but the last one may be confusing, but don’t worry. It’ll all be covered in good time. So, let’s get into step number one: hex stocking occurrence.
D&D Region Hex Stocking Step 1: Points of Interest Occurrence
The first thing we need to do is determine what type of region we are working with. Is it a heartland, march, or wilds hex? If there’s a capital city, a landmark fortification, or a religious site in the encompassing atlas hex, we know the hexes are heartland hexes. If this atlas hex is adjacent to a heartland hex, it’s a march/frontier hex. And, if neither of those, the region hexes must be wilds. Nice and simple.
Once we determine the classification, make a 1d6 roll to find out if there’s a POI in the region hex. Now, the results of the 1d6 roll are weighted by the hex’s classification. Heartlands are more crowded and have a higher percentage of civilized POIs, Wilds have fewer, and the Marches are somewhere in the middle. You can see the table below.
1d6 Region Hex Stocking Table: POI Occurrence by Hex Class
|1||Roll 1d12 to Stock||Roll 1d20 to Stock||Roll 1d20 to Stock|
|2||Roll 1d12 to Stock||Roll 1d20 to Stock||EMPTY|
|3||Roll 1d12 to Stock||Roll 1d20 to Stock||EMPTY|
|4||Roll 1d20 to Stock||EMPTY||EMPTY|
|5||Roll 1d20 to Stock||EMPTY||EMPTY|
As you can see, heartland hexes have a 5/6 chance of hosting a POI, with half or more of those POIs humanoid “civilized” results because that makes the most sense for the heartlands. Our March region hexes have a 1/2 chance of hosting a POI, so every other hex should have something interesting for an adventuring party to search out or stumble across. Wilds region hexes host a POI 1/3 of the time, so they are mostly empty.
The density of location stocking is also inversely proportional to the amount of those atlas hexes on the map. If you remember from our Atlas Landmark Locations, heartland hexes are relatively rare. But for every heartland hex, we expect up to six march hexes. And then every other hex on the map is a wilds hex. The heartland hexes are few but dense, while wilderness hexes are plentiful but contain fewer POIs. The idea is to simulate how even today, most archaeological ruins are in areas consistently populated by people. Yes, there are ruins and strangeness found in the deep wilderness. They’re just rare.
You can see above that I’ve rolled and added notes in our example for the region hexes that will include POIs. Normally I would also add the Atlas landmark location to the heartland hex. I’ve not done that here because I didn’t want to distract from the focus of our example. But, typically I try to drop this major landmark close to the center of the hex, but you should also consider which of the region hexes make the most sense for the atlas landmark location to inhabit. For example, I probably wouldn’t drop a capital city in the densest woodland section of a tile if there is a perfectly good plains hex I can use.
Now, you may wonder, what do we do about water hexes? If you’re making an Earth-like world, water should cover roughly 70% of the world, and you may need to swap some things around unless you want your world heavily skewed towards underwater adventure!
Water/Ocean Hex Stocking Augmentation
We have a very straightforward alteration for the water-based hexes of our coastal hexes, lakes, and inland seas. Instead of rolling 1d6 for the occurrence of a POI, roll 1d10. Changing the die size will push Heartlands down to a 50% occurrence of a POI, 30% for Marches, and 20% for Wilds. It is important to remember the scale of our mapping when we add a POI to a water-based hex.
For example, what if we had a holding on a lake-based region hex? That doesn’t necessarily mean we have a Kua-Toa Dukedom, though you could. A region hex is almost 70 miles across, edge to edge. Most of that is water, but there can be a shoreline, a promontory, or an island to locate a plain old human castle. Plenty of castles and other historical holdings have been built along banks, shores, and islands to increase their defensive value. Certainly, there’s an appropriate location to slot in a castle or manor house in an area of 4,200 square miles.
However, moving from stocking coastal and inland water hexes to deep ocean hexes, things change a bit. In general, I don’t think it’s worth the time to stock thousands of deep ocean hexes with underwater POIs. Primarily because anything that will happen in the open ocean in a D&D game will be ship-based travel through the hex. It’s not really a destination location, and I find it more helpful to rely on travel nodes and random encounters to create interest in voyages.
If I did want to fill out an ocean hex, perhaps for an island archipelago-based sandbox, I would use the same variant for coastal and inland water hexes but by substituting 1d100 for the role. Frankly, underwater D&D is a pain in the butt, and I don’t want to run much of it. Still, by using a 1d100, there’s at least a slim chance for the potential of something like a Merfolk city while reinforcing that the occurrence is quite rare.
You can also use a similar augmentation for desert region hex stocking if the normal method provides more points of interest in a barren landscape than you feel appropriate.
You can see from left to right the variation of how often POIs appear depending on the classification of the hex. The heartlands are pretty crowded, but we see a nice feathering of results as we move right through the hexes, from heartland to march to wilds. Exactly what we want. Now we need to grab our 12-sided and 20-sided dice to stock these hexes with locations!
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Region Hex Stocking Step Two: Points of Interest Table
In my experience, stocking hexes is more of an art than a science. Over the years, I have seen 1d6 stocking tables and 1d100 tables, and everything in between, with plenty of nested sub-tables to help provide variety. Playing around with several of these resources, I landed on my preference with a 1d12/1d20 table.
Only Twenty Hex Stocking Results?
Yep. I find most supplemental rolls tables miss my personal Goldilocks zone. Some of them are too small, creating a dull pattern of results and burdening me as the DM to devise how to make each distinct as I flesh out the locations. Across the spectrum are the massive tables where the results are TOO specific, and repetition just doesn’t make sense. This issue is something I noted in the recent GM Binder article.
For me, twenty hit the right spot on the spectrum. The likelihood of a repeat result is only 5%. Still, I also wanted the results to be generic enough to make sense when they repeatedly appear across many hexes. Also, it’s important to remember that the PCs aren’t going to explore every single hex you create. They will only discover some of them and engage with even fewer. If I end up with four religious sites in a hex, that’s OK because the party will likely only interact with one or two of them. Each can be a different type of holy site and dedicated to a different deity, making the generic result pretty diverse in repetition.
The table is front-loaded with the most “civilized” results using the 1d6 Occurrences covered above. You can see the specifics of what’s meant by “civilized” below. That means there’s a higher likelihood of settlements, travel havens, worked natural resources, etc., in the heartlands. But, in the marches and wilds, entries are flatly weighted. An isolated homestead is just as likely to appear as a wandering monster or ruin.
1d12/1d20 Region Hex Stocking Table
1 Settlement (1-10k Major City) 2 Holding (King-Duke, 400-1k Village) 3 Religious Site (Major, 400-1k Village) 4 Travel Haven (400-1k village) 5 Crossing (Major) 6 Monster Lair (Appropriate for PC Level 11-16) 7 Meetingplace (Major) 8 Isolated Homestead (Appropriate for PC Level 11-16) 9 Directional Sign (Major) 10 Informative/Warning Sign (Major) 11 Natural Resource (Major) 12 Construction, (Major, Roll 1d10 for Type) - 13 Ruin, (Major, Roll 1d12 for Type) 14 Conflict Area (Major, Tier III Monster) 15 No Trespassing Area (Major) 16 Treasure Rumor (Major, Tier III Hoard/Magic Item(s)) 17 Wandering Monster (Tier III Monster, CR 13-21 as a Solo) 18 Wonder (Major) 19 Remains (Major, Tier III Monster) 20 Hazard (Major)
Detailing Region Hex Stocking Results
As the adage says, “the devil is in the details.” Some people really like rolling on multiple sub-tables to determine what makes one similar result distinct from another. I think they’re a helpful tool, and because of that, I didn’t include many sub-tables here. First, because it would be an exhaustive process. Second, the TTRPG space online is bursting at the seams with high-quality roll tables to cover anything you could want.
I use plenty of supplemental roll tables in my own hex stocking when my brain’s creative juices feel squeezed dry. But, often, what I find more useful are questions to ask myself about the result, prompts to make me think things through, and help me feel out an answer I’m happy with rather than someone else’s roll table line item. A big part of that is Step Three, the POI’s nature, origin, or source. But first, let’s talk a little about what each of the entries on our hex stocking table represents!
D&D Region Hex Stocking Descriptions 1-12
We have twenty relatively common entries to go over. Hopefully, by adding a little detail to each one, you will see how they are a useful jumping-off point for creating an exciting hex map full of surprisingly diverse locations and points of interest for your players to discover and delve. And I think the best place to start with our stocking result descriptions is with the first entry, settlements!
If you recall from the landmark locations piece, we discussed capital cities. These are the major beacons of light in the world, the jewels of civilization. Each capital city for our quasi-medieval fantasy setting starts at a minimum population of 60,000. And with region hexes being the next level of magnification, our notable settlements at this level at cities with a population between 1,000 and 60,000 residents.
It’s easy to randomly determine the population with a 1d60 roll (1d6+1d10). And, because we know the settlement’s population, we can deduce its Buying Power: roughly the availability of adventuring items based on price. Our “BP” is 10% of the population in gold pieces, so region hex cities offer goods and services to a maximum of 6,000 GP. Essentially, D&D parties should be able to procure almost any type of item or service in a city of this size.
Essentially, a result of a settlement at the region hex layer is an established city that serves as a central hub of commerce. If you end up with multiple cities in the same region, it’s important to remember that even adjacent settlements are roughly 60 nmi (69 statute miles) apart as the crow flies. That’s a trek by itself, and overland travel never happens in a straight line. There’s plenty of distance for cities to reasonably coexist in adjacent hexes.
In our recent post about adding dominions to the map, we primarily focused on empires and great kingdoms. So when we come across a holding at the region size, we take a step down. Holdings that show up here should be ruled by minor kings, princes, and archdukes… so the heads of kingdoms, principalities, and archduchies, respectively. They are usually independent, and If you end up with a few in one hex, you get to have fun carving out their fiefdoms! Or, you may determine one or more are subservient to another state in the area either as vassals or maybe as a confederate or independent satrapy.
For help with appropriate titles, I suggest starting with a resource like Cultural Titles Table 2-4 in the Paizo Gamemastery Guide (pg 54) and cross-referencing it with Wikipedia’s surprisingly in-depth information on administrative/noble titles worldwide.
Accompanying the holding will be a village with a population between 400 and 1,000 residents. That is a substantial settlement for a faux-medieval world but nothing compared to a major, chartered city at the region hex level.
It could be a significant temple, seminary, cloister, reliquary, or site of a notable event or miracle. The importance of this specific site is flexible. Certainly, it shouldn’t be as important as a landmark religious location, which might include a real-world analogy like Vatican City. But, this would still be a major religious site like a cathedral that marks the principal church of a diocese and its bishop. The location would be well-known in the region and subject to plenty of pilgrimages and official religious business.
Like a holding, this religious site is important enough to generate a surrounding village with a resident population of 400-1000.
An important roadside inn, established camping grounds, or caravanserai that offers a place for travelers to rest safely. They may also be able to pick up news, resupply, and trade with other travelers. At the moment, this is a solitary building or small complex, but if it proves to be at a lucrative crossroads, it could grow into a flourishing market town in some years.
In places like the deep wilderness, an established inn may not make sense. Consider other types of travel havens like hunting lodges, unoccupied private cabins, and mountain huts/survival shelters that provide refuge for travelers. If you have ever wondered what fantasy “Rangers” are doing, caretaking a network of mountain huts and supply caches provides a pretty good chore list in addition to serving as border watch.
Another common wilderness example is a high-traffic campsite. A few common denominators determine a good campsite, and it’s likely for people in the area to know and use such campsites. I personally like it because there’s an opportunity for them to be occupied when an adventuring party stumbles across them.
For camps, I offer a 20% chance it’s occupied and roll 1d8 to determine who’s in camp and pick the most exciting result.
- Artisans/Noble(s) & Retinue/Performers
- Religious Official(s) & Retinue
- Rangers/Itinerant Caravan/Vagrants
Then it’s up to you and your players to suss out if the people are trustworthy enough to sleep around.
A place where people can cross over some bit of impassable terrain. At its simplest, a crossing generally represents a bridge, ferry, or ford across a waterway. It can also represent a mountain pass, a suspended bridge over a gorge, or a mountainside tunnel.
But, like everything on this table, don’t be afraid to abstract it a little more. Maybe it represents a boardwalk through a swamp, a place to hire a guide to navigate a place without landmarks (desert, plain), a portage point for moving boats between waterways, or hewn stairs or rope climb up a sheer cliff face.
And that’s only considering humanoid transport. It could be a log flume, an aqueduct, a treacherous cliffside goat path, or a quarry block roller path.
What’s most important with a crossing when mapping is ensuring the location offers something of interest. Sometimes that’s easy like water isn’t reaching the city. Go check if there’s an issue with the nearby aqueduct. Often, just charging a toll for passage is good enough.
Think of it as the mythic first meeting of Robin Hood and Little John, where the latter charges a toll to cross the river. Sometimes tolls are charged by the owner, sometimes by bandits or trolls. Having the PCs determine whether they think the toll is legitimate can be interesting, and also to decide, as mighty people in the area, if they will pay a toll to scrubs. Maybe they make a bad call and cut down the bridge guardians only to later find out they were legitimate, and now people are on the lookout for murders.
I use the same 1d6 roll for POI occurrence to determine if a crossing is manned/tolled based on its location. And an inverse of that roll to determine if the crossing is significantly dangerous or in disrepair. What, you expect the suspended rope bridge over a raging river, deep in the wilderness, to not have at least one board snap while the PCs cross it?
“Wait…” I hear you think, why are monster lairs in the first 12 results? Why are they more likely to show up in the heartlands than the marches or wilds? Well, there’re two reasons for this appointment. First, most of the traditional D&D adventure locations happen in the back part of the table (ruins, conflict areas, treasure rumors, etc.). Which means heartlands can be pretty dull for adventurers without a few lairs sprinkled throughout.
Second, a monster, in this sense, is highly generic. Open up the Monster Manual, and you will notice plenty of humanoid adversaries and monsters, like demons, shapeshifters, and undead, that flourish within civilization. A werewolf is much more of a threat in a densely populated area than running through some solitary forest landscape.
Since we’re working at the Region hex level, a monster lair represents a Tier III D&D adventure challenge, a CR 13-21 Solo monster. This monster/lair is not a minor, unknown problem. It represents a well-known and well-feared threat that terrorizes the area. To put that in perspective: Count Strahd Von Zarovich, adult dragons, top-tier drow, and many named fiends all fall into this category.
They represent the sort of challenge that threatens a kingdom or other nation-state. Don’t forget that a monster of this caliber may run its own state or hold a nearby state to submission. What’s perhaps best about these monster lairs is that as you drill down into more levels of detail, additional results of monster lairs can naturally include lieutenants and groups serving their BBEG.
Like it says on the tin, a meetingplace is a location where people come together. It could be a crossroads market, a holiday fairground, or commons/greens (land available for all to use). The place could be a sanctuary, a place where wanted criminals receive refuge outside the jurisdiction of local law.
A meetingplace can also be an area denoted as neutral ground for diplomacy between local lords, hillfolk, and/or monster factions. It could be a traditional tribal council/moot where clans come together to determine leadership, host discourse (political/theological), or witness legal proceedings and punishments.
It can be handy to help players dig into a setting by taking these in-setting issues and moving them from behind the doors of a lord’s audience chamber and dropping them out in the open for PCs to witness and even participate.
Finally, we’re not just talking about “civilized” people here. You should include itinerant caravans, barbarian tribes, hillfolk, and monster groups. There’s a big difference between a fairground with nobles trying to one-up each other hosting local fair spectacles, a tense meeting between a barbarian tribe and orc warband to create an alliance, and a coven of witches at their ritual site in the deep of night to conduct a black sabbath.
But they’re all still meeting places.
Another entry on the table that, at first glance, seems better suited to the back half of the list. In this context, an isolated homestead is simply a person/family that’s not living with a larger group of people, like a village. It’s not just for representing hermits.
Then what does this represent? They could be exiles or outcasts, former adventurers, and, yes, hermits. Maybe the person was cast out for a crime or religious beliefs. A person could be an outcast due to the circumstances of their birth or affliction.
The residents could be squatters, outlaws, or hillfolk. They could also be misunderstood magical sages, seers, or neutral-temperament monsters. When using this result, don’t let it put your imagination in a box. An isolated homestead can be equally a leper colony, seer’s house, cult compound, mage tower, awakened opossum’s home, or plain old “stay off my property” misanthrope’s hut.
I can easily say that in developing these hex stocking procedures over the years, nothing gave me as many fits as signs. It took a long time and many revisions before I felt comfortable incorporating the concept into my stocking table.
My struggle stemmed from the variety of signs to include and how to divide them on the stocking table’s entries. Eventually, I landed on directional signs and informative signs. First, we’re discussing directional signs. These in-world signs inform people where they are, where they’re headed, and what is around the current location.
This category includes everything from legitimate arrow signs at crossroads to wayfinding signs like marks cut into trees and stone cairns marking paths. Additional types of directional signs include boundary stones, landmarks mentioned on maps and itineraries, border checkpoints, signal stations, and beacons like lighthouses.
If you’ve ever played a survival crafting video game like Minecraft, creating a highly visible landmark is one of the first things you want to do before you go off exploring and can’t find your way back to your base. Directional signage can also be informative.
Consider a watchtower or a manned checkpoint. Besides helping to tell you where you are and where people are while exploring the world, they can tell you about the local surroundings. Soldiers/guards in the area tell you that danger is about and to be on the lookout. It may also mean you’re approaching the border of the local region or some other area of importance/danger.
These locations and POIs are an excellent way for adventuring parties to learn local information. Maybe the local guards are paying good coin for goblin ears, or they can tell the PCs about a nearby POI/adventure location they missed.
Why Directional Signs Are So Important
One interesting thing about pre-modern travel is that maps were costly, lacked detail, and were of dubious quality. If you look at old maps, you can quickly see the problems that arise for using them actually to get from Point A to Point B.
First, the landforms and coastlines aren’t exactly perfect. Second, if you’re lucky, the map notes major waterways. Third, maps often only show cities. Fourth, and certainly most importantly for the average traveler, these maps very rarely note any roadways. At best, a map can tell you the general direction of where to go but not HOW to get there.
Instead, ye olde travel directions follow the same form we use today, the itinerary. An itinerary tells you where to go with words. The level of detail will depend on the person giving the directions. For instance, someone giving you directions from London to Edinburgh wouldn’t be able to give you road names before standardization. But, assuming you’re asking them because they’ve made the trip before, they can either make a copy of their old itinerary or tell you the critical pit stops along the way.
The director should be able to give you solid directions from London to Cambridge, but beyond that, only the essential stops: Peterborough, Grimsby, Kingston upon Hull, Scarborough, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Newcastle upon Tyne, and along the coastal road to Edinburgh. It would be up to the traveler to figure out directions in Peterborough for how to reach Grimsby, and so on and so forth.
Considering all that, it becomes easy to see why directional signs play such an essential part in traveling to take the right roads, turn appropriately, and avoid getting turned around and lost, even when following established roads and footpaths.
This category covers all signs and landmarks that don’t necessarily fall into the previous signage category. Menhirs, fountains, stela, and other forms of monuments are common. They are signs created to show off authority, power, and prosperity by rulers.
Another POI to include here is a posted notice or law stone. The former may be a criminal bounty broadsheet, community news bulletin, or other informative notice about important goings-on in the area. Even something as mundane as an upcoming festival, wedding, or minor noble’s birthday celebration.
Other examples include grave markers, superstitious omens, displayed criminals, and effigies. Imagine in your travels coming across a scarecrow representing the duchess hanged from a roadside tree by a noose. That one little encounter can tell your players a lot about the significant goings-on in the area. Or, coming across an NPC hanging in a care/gibbet like Madmartigan from the movie Willow.
At some point in their travels, it’s inevitable for an adventuring party to stumble across a natural resource site. When it comes to natural resource Points of Interest, you need to determine two things. First, what is the resource? It could be something as every day as potable water springs and clay pits, or as luxurious as silkworms and cinnamon trees.
The second thing to determine is the natural resource’s level of cultivation. It could be unworked, even undiscovered. Your natural resource may be home to spontaneous “as needed” cultivation, like a gathering spot for knowledgeable locals. Maybe there’s a semi-permanent work camp, like logging. And at the highest level is a permanent operation. These include mines and quarries, large plantations, and man-made dams.
As you would expect, the further you move away from the heartlands, the less-formal cultivation of a natural resource site is likely to be. But you never know; it would be cool to create a pearl diving operation in the middle of nowhere using undead labor that doesn’t need to breathe.
It’s also important to remember this is a region hex, major natural resource. It represents a significant POI in the world. It could be the source for some of the best-tasting grapes/wine in the world, and a previously undiscovered source of gold in the Wilds by the PCs could unintentionally instigate a gold rush.
Construction, Roll 1d10
Construction represents the final entry in our Heartlands 1d12 table, and for a good reason. D&D and other TTRPGs are really great about filling a world full of old places and ruins of forgotten antiquity. But, traditionally, they are not very good about showing people changing the world around them, showing progress in the world.
I think it’s imperative to showcase building in a world first, so it feels alive and a place that dynamically changes. Second, in the real world, this is when we make startling discoveries. In building new things, we discover ancient graves, forgotten structures buried in time, cities swallowed by the sea, or volcanic fire.
You will notice that Natural Resources are omitted. Primarily that’s because natural resources have a very organic growth timeline: Undiscovered, Gathering Spot, Work Camp, Permanent Installation. That’s a bit different than the binary of there is or is not a bridge.
So on a result of a construction, we roll 1d10 to determine what is being built. The area can be experiencing an economic boom, and a tiny village is quickly sprawling into a city, growing beyond its administrative, defensive, and infrastructure capabilities. A place where money flows easily and embers of lawlessness are growing at its fringe.
Without the assistance of magic and modern machinery, castles take a long time to build. Is it a brand-new construction, or is it being built from the bones of an old ruin? From a bridge to a roadside caravanserai, or a new monster lair, construction shows players that the world is not a static sandbox. It’s a setting that’s always in transition, flux, between growth and decay.
D&D Region Hex Stocking Descriptions 13-20
Everything before this point has leaned on locations and POIs that are more likely to happen in the heartlands. But, as we transition further from civilization’s heart, these remaining table entries will be more equally weighted in their appearance.
Ruin, Roll 1d12
Ruins represent the Yin to Construction’s Yang: growth and decay are both present in the world. I assume most of the blog’s readers are somewhat experienced Dungeon Masters. I don’t think I probably need to explain what a ruin is or how to use it in a D&D game.
That being said, there are a few questions we need to answer about our ruins. One, what is the ruin’s age/condition? Our scene can be very different if this is the smoking remains of a farmhouse attacked the night before or a centuries-old hobgoblin fortress. Longtime readers know I use a sliding scale for the number of traps and hazards in a dungeon based on its condition.
The traps in a centuries-old fortress have long ago been tripped or fallen into disrepair. However, that age also makes the structure unstable and the remaining traps dangerous and unpredictable, like an unexploded bomb.
Other big questions include, why are these ruins? Was it destroyed by a horde of enemies or rampant disease, or does it appear abandoned? And the follow-up, why hasn’t someone taken this as their own and repaired it?
I say to answer these questions because they are the questions your players are most likely to ask about the location. The area could be haunted or cursed. Maybe it’s full of goblins and a balrog like the Mines of Moria. Maybe the property is tied up in legal proceedings about who now owns it, and looting the location would be an actual crime.
This entry includes all the telltale signs of armed conflict in an area. A conflict area POI can include a war camp, a mass grave, a battleground, earthworks, and field fortifications. Like the previous entry, asking questions about the location will help you determine the specifics.
- What’s the timeframe? (pre-battle, ongoing battle, post-battle, old conflict)
- Who’s fighting?
- What are/were they fighting over?
- Are there looters, undead, and salvage present?
The battlefield in White Orchard (Witcher III) is a nice example of this, along with Fort Grymmdjarr and the camps of the Scoia’tael, Free Temeria, and Nilfgaardians from the same game.
No Trespassing Area
These are places in the world where most people should not wander. It could be a neutral monster’s territory, whether that’s an insular goblin tribe or a dangerous animal like a remorhaz. Other examples include sacred and desecrated areas. Maybe some sort of desecrated evil temple, not like we have any of those in D&D 😛.
You could also interpret this area as one where another plane bleeds into the material plane and represents the demesne of an outside like Fey or Fiendish creatures.
It can also be mundane, like a noble’s private woods, a wildlife preserve, or hillfolk tribal lands. And, now that the term has come up a few times, we should probably define what I mean by hillfolk.
Including Hillfolk in Your Game World
Hillfolk represent the people who live outside the area’s general structure of civilization and government. Sometimes they are nomads, rovers, or people who had to leave their old homes for a new way of life at the fringe of civilization. Most of the time, they are not outlaws but people (often indigenous) driven out by invaders or put into self-exile because they do not want to be ruled by those in power.
We call these people hillfolk because, traditionally, they retreat to mountainous foothills, dense jungles, and other rugged landscapes where they can self-govern in peace. They tend to have defined, insular cultures built around familial, tribal, and clan relations with a high distrust of outsiders.
Unfortunately, this includes a long history of violence, from blood feuds to ethnic cleansing, and a fear of these differences has inspired stories like Deliverance, Heart of Darkness, and The Hills Have Eyes. Using hillfolk can be a sensitive line to walk in your game. At least in my experience, if you follow the same guidelines of “orcs are born evil,” you’ll be fine. Determining and showcasing motivation for why sentient creatures act the way they do is paramount.
What adventure would be complete without the rumor of buried treasure? Well, other than pirates didn’t bury treasure, they unsurprisingly acted like lottery winners spending cash as fast as they could. Regardless, it’s an adventure staple and something worth including in your game.
First, determine what kind of location is the source of a rumor. Is it a deserted island, an ancient crypt, a sunken ship, a lost vault, or a treasure train that never reached its destination? After determining that, I use a simple 1d6 table to randomize the rumor:
- Fake (Ambush?)
- Easy Pickings
Sometimes a treasure rumor just isn’t true, like Al Capone’s vault. It might be a red herring to hide the true location, a fanciful story, or something to lure naive treasure seekers into a robbery. On other occasions, the treasure has already been looted, like many burial tombs worldwide. Living descendants or unliving servitors may also guard the treasure. Curses, wards, and mechanical traps may protect it.
Occasionally, the secret to the treasure hunt is finding and accessing it, like a sunken treasure galleon at the bottom of the sea or a glittering temple of gold deep in an unexplored jungle.
And yes, every once in a while, a rumored treasure is easy pickings if you put in the effort to look. Now, if it were that simple, someone would have looted it already. I like to interpret this as something is off with the legend of the treasure or something about the clues being wrong or unclear. Essentially, everyone has simply been looking for it in the wrong place. If the adventurers figure out where the treasure is, it’s easy pickings.
Treasure rumors serve as great side quests or backup adventures when one of your players can’t make the game. The players that make the game can spend the session talking with locals and investigating leads on the rumored treasure so they can narrow down its location and get some insight into the challenges to its recovery. This gameplay can be especially enjoyable if the PCs sniff out that it’s a fake rumor luring them into an ambush.
As noted in some of our other table entries, I think it’s essential to give players the illusion that their characters’ sandbox is highly dynamic and constantly changing. Wandering Monsters help to continue this illusion.
Now, this entry is not a replacement for a general traveling/exploration random encounter table. Its purpose is to help monsters in your world bridge the space between happenstance-traveling encounters with monsters and them having an established base.
Primarily we want to focus on the why. Ask yourself, “what is this creature/group doing in this area? They don’t live here, so why are they here?” Maybe the monster is scouting for threats/targets in the area. Maybe it’s looking for supplies; this could mean raiding, hunting, foraging, stealing, etc.
Your monster could be searching for a place to create a lair. If that’s the case, you may want to know what happened to the place they used to live. They could be a splinter group from a clan of gnolls, for instance. Or, a maturing dragon setting out on its own.
Don’t overthink it too much. Sometimes the best answers are the simple ones like they’re lost. Assuming the PCs can get turned around while traveling your world, it makes just as much sense for monsters to get lost too. Monsters don’t always need to be hostile, and you could even have an out-of-the-ordinary interaction where a raiding party of Drow flag down the party to ask for directions to their town seeking.
Like settlements, holdings, monster lairs, and ruins, wonders are miniaturized versions of the Atlas hex world wonders and phenomena we discussed in the landmark locations article. These wonders are still major landmarks and recognizable POIs at the region hex level; they just aren’t quite as grand and world-known as world wonder status.
The biggest question we want to know about a wonder (other than what it is) is if it’s occupied. These wonders are sites to behold, but they may also be dangerous. People living here may be plying tourist traps, or they may have decided it is a place of significant influence and performing cult worship of the location. Monasteries may be built to house strange foreign objects to protect people from their influence.
Again, I use a simple 1d6 roll here, like the hex stocking occurrence roll. In the heartlands, ⅚ times it will be occupied, ½ in the marches, and ⅙ the time in the wilds.
As for what the wonder is, we will talk more about that once we’re finished with our table entries!
Like many entries on this table, remains are often used to provide a clue or seed to further adventure for your players’ characters. Many of the best open-world RPG video games use remains as a type of passive inciting incident for a quest. It’s one of the things noted in my revised Adventure Skeleton used to help me and other GMs plan adventures. I recommend checking it out, especially if you want to run something other than a basic dungeon delve but don’t know where to start.
Anyways, back to the task at hand: remains. Adventurers can run across all sorts of remains while they’re traveling and exploring the lands. Dead animals, monsters, or people. Maybe they find broken some broken items or an abandoned vehicle. Maybe they find nothing more than footprints leading away from the path into the dark woods.
You can also use structural remains. If there isn’t enough structure left to be considered a ruin, you could consider it under remains. For example, imagine the remains of what you think was a cottage, but all that’s left are some foundational elements, a hard-packed earthen floor, and scattered debris. What do you think happened? Did you just stumble across where a farmhouse resided before being whisked away to Oz?
Other things to consider when it comes to adding remains on your map are the age/condition of the remains when your players inevitably try to determine how long ago whatever happened there, well… happened. Also, consider the number of remains and what loot/salvage is available for the player characters.
You will want to consider who is responsible for leaving the remains and why. For example, a wagon with a broken axle might be abandoned by a traveler unable to repair it. You could find a goblin camp with half a dozen rotting corpses who died in bed due to disease. Those footprints leading into the woods, does it look like there was an altercation and one party chased the other from the road?
Maybe you come across a body and equipment mildly preserved by mummification after getting stuck in a bog. You could find a pair of mind flayers lying in a tunnel, their bloodshot eyes and blue coloring telling you they were asphyxiated, and the tunnel beyond is full of suffocating gas.
Or perhaps a mysterious circumstance your players need to deduce. Imagine a badlands scene with a sword driving straight into the hard rock of the ground. Equidistant, all around the blade are pristine remains of man, beast, and monster, almost like at the hour stations of a clock face.
Remains are one of my favorite results on the table because it sparks so many questions you and your players need to answer about what happened. Especially the opportunity to temper the tone of your game to more mundane or weird. For instance, the sword may be imbued with a permanent Thunderwave spell. But maybe those footprints leading into the forest are hundreds of years old, a cursed illusion that lures unsuspecting prey into the hunting field of a gruesome vampire.
Number 20 on our stocking table is the humble hazard. A staple of exploration-focused gameplay, hazards often stand in the way of reaching your destination or mechanically function for DMs as environment-based, unofficial traps.
In my mind, there are four basic types of hazards: Air/Atmosphere, Fauna, Flora, and Terrain. As noted in the Remains section above, poison gas is an excellent example of an air/atmosphere. Fauna hazards would include things like a predator’s hunting grounds, getting stuck in a tiger pit or bear trap, or being accosted by a pack of territorial wild hogs.
Flora hazards are probably the most common hazards in the various editions of D&D. Molds, poisonous fungi spores, hallucinogenic pollen, and plant contact causing rashes or worse. Depending on your thoughts on the subject, you might seem fit to include things like plant-based monsters, oozes, and slimes in this grouping.
The second most common hazards in D&D are terrain hazards. Avalanches, rockslides, flooding rivers, violent storms, sheer cliffs, and many other D&D hazard staples fall into this category.
You will notice that most of the examples provided here are natural in origin, but that’s not always the case. Tiger pits and bear traps are artificial hazards. Oozes, slimes, and plenty of extraplanar predators are far from natural creatures. This helps lead into the third and final step in our region hex stocking journey: origins, sources, and flavor.
Region Hex Stocking Step 3: POI Origins, Sources, and Flavor
Step number three is where we put the fantasy into the hex stocking. It’s the dial that lets Dungeon Masters tune in the amount of fantastical weirdness we want in the game world. If you stock hexes using the above two steps you will mostly come away with a familiar, almost low-fantasy feel. That’s by design.
As noted previously, I wanted pretty generic hex stocking results that make sense coming up again and again. That’s the system’s foundation, with the order of hex telling us how often those results should populate.
Why do this at all? Because the more mundane things that happen in a game, the more strange and weird the fantastical elements will be. It’s the same concept as when everything is special, nothing is special. Sometimes a village is just a village, and a monster lair is just a cave bear den. The mundanity helps ground the game. This step helps us inject the fantastical as a contrast to create a complementary mixture of mundane and weird across the play world.
How to Determine Origin, Source, or Flavor
It’s a simple process of rolling a 1d6 weighted table based on the hex order where the POI is located, just like we used for determining the appearance of POIs in our region hexes.
As you can see, artificial flavor is most prevalent in the heartlands and decreases as hexes transition to the wilds. It makes sense, most artificial or “civilized” elements are going to concentrate in the areas where there are more people.
And we can see the inverse of that concentration of natural elements for the same reason. Weird elements are distributed equally among the hex types because weird things happen everywhere. We have urban myths, cryptids, and the imagined horrors of the deep wilderness unseen by civilized people.
So imagine you have a region hex, for illustrative purposes, let’s say it’s a Frontier Swamp hex with a Treasure Rumor (Tier III) POI. We roll 1d6 for our origin/source/flavor and get a four, that’s natural. I suspect a nice, Rare quality, magic item would pique the interests of a Tier III party.
Because I ended up rolling a Natural result, I think just finding the magic item may suffice enough for the challenge. With the region hex comprising more than 3,660 square miles of stagnant watery terrain, it’s reasonable that no one’s recovered the item yet. However, that’s just one example of how to interpret the results.
Flexibility in interpretation is vital to continued success and reducing the number of duplicate situations you create. I could just as easily interpret Natural to mean an alligator swallowed the item. The party can find this guardian by tracking something noteworthy the magic item does, like the clock ticking that emanates from Peter Pan’s Tick-Tock.
Natural might have something to do with the treasure itself. Perhaps it’s a regenerative tree sap that can be applied topically to regrow body parts. Of course, this was a pretty easy-to-create example. And, you may find that the more hexes you flesh out, the drier your natural well of ideas may run. The additional sub-table can add specificity to get your creative juices flowing again.
Artificial POI Origin, Source, Flavor
Things that fall into the artificial category are civilized people (Giant, Humanoid) and people-derived (Undead) or people-created (Construct, Ooze), AKA Artificial. As noted, these results are more likely to occur with more people around. As people thin out to the Wilds, so do the occurrences of artificial origin/source/flavor POIs.
If I rolled up a wandering monster with the origin of artificial: construct, I could drop in a straightforward berserk war machine. But, I could just as quickly determine it was a mad artificer chasing after their out-of-control automated wheat thresher. Which is not too dissimilar from the street-sweeper-sized Sojimaru (Roomba) boss fight from Yakuza Like a Dragon!
Other examples that jump to mind include a lost party of modrons bickering with each other about directions and a nomadic statue park of living statues that are inert during the day but roam to a new location every night.
The point is to give some restrictions to push yourself to take a beat and go beyond the most fundamental result you might typically use to fill the hex—the idea of wandering monsters typically pushing my brain toward something like a war party. The problem is that drow, orc, and gnoll raiding party encounters get stale quickly. But I can say I’ve never run or played an encounter with sentient farm equipment.
Natural POI Origin, Source, Flavor
These are things that flourish predominately in the spaces farthest from areas of civilization. We are familiar with instances of how nature can be challenging, dangerous, and scary, but also nourishing and compassionate.
The natural category is straightforward in most instances but for monstrosities. And really, the issue with monstrosities is the D&D 5e monster classification system. The miscellaneous monster category catches everything that doesn’t fit into another category. It includes owlbears, which wizards canonically created, and mythical creatures ranging from beasts to sentient beings and those created by gods.
However, the more pressing question is how do we use it to prep? Let’s say I roll a meetingplace, natural: monstrosity. I’m thinking it’s a sphinx compound, maybe an Oracle at Delphi setup. People pilgrimage to the sphinx to test themselves against its games of mental fortitude for fame or to ask counsel of the wise beast. These pilgrims bring offerings to the sphinx for good fortune and ask the creature to glimpse their future and fate before making a significant decision.
Or, it could be a pack of owlbear lab animals that broke free and are rampaging through an arcane college. You could give different owlbears specific quirks, abilities, and mutations to reflect their use as lab animals for arcana experimentation. And, don’t forget, the natural aspect doesn’t necessarily need to be the creature… it can be the location itself.
Maybe the meeting place is on a drifting island, which is actually the floating corpse of a massive kraken nature is reclaiming. Or, it’s a druid grove surrounded by an awakened hedge maze that constantly shifts through a handful of different labyrinthine orientations. It’s crucial to remember that natural doesn’t necessarily mean simple, boring, or mundane.
Weird POI Origin, Source, Flavor
Our third and final category of inspiration to spice up our hex stocking locations. Weird in D&D 5e pretty much covers anything that’s not natural to the material plane. That includes everything from demons and sylvan fey to angels and Lovecraftian nightmares.
But, like with monstrosities, this does lead to some interesting crossovers. Especially with additional Spelljammer resources in the discussion for 5e, we can see humanoids like gith and constructs like autognomes be included in the weird category. However, they could as easily be included in artificial.
Speaking of double-dipping, you may have noticed that oozes appear in the artificial and weird columns on the roll table. Two reasons: first, they have two canonical entries into the D&D lore being created by wizards (like owlbears) and by Juiblex, a demon lord. Second, there are 14 monster types in 5e and that means I needed to repeat at least one to make the tables even across each type. Also, it’s easily the smallest category of monster, even plants have three times the amount of monster entries than oozes. And they’re one of the easiest monsters to homebrew. Simply, we just need more oozes, slimes, and puddings in D&D.
So let’s consider how we can flavor our results a little weird. Example, I rolled an isolated homestead with weird: aberration. We could turn it into a mind flayer den for sure. We could also make it a little more horror-esque using something like a star spawn larva mage whose worms crawl out of the ceiling, floor, and walls and tries to burrow into the party while they rest. When the jig is up, they reform into the mage.
Going a different direction, maybe it’s an aberrant-soul sorcerer that lives in the isolated homestead and the building itself an HR-Giger-inspired bio-mechanical tumor growth. That’s definitely a more bizarre setup for an encounter, adventure, or potential ally. With that in mind, it’s pretty easy to see why I ended up calling this the weird section.
And that’s the 3-step region hex stocking process I use. Before we close out here, let’s check back on our three hex example to see what would be in store for our adventurers as they travel and explore the area.
Region Three Hex Stocking Example Results
So, I’ve taken our hex stocking entries and keyed the region hexes where Points of Interest exist. Below is the keyed list with our basic notes to seed that location for further development.
That really can’t be overstated when stocking hexes for your game; keep the notes basic and vague as long as you can. We want to spend our prep time as DMs as closely aligned to what will come up in the next session as possible. That means providing a level of detail about a POI that corresponds with your players’ interest in exploring it, plus where you want to drive the plot of your current adventure.
This idea is similar to how video games optimize draw distance and polygon meshing. The farther away and more out of focus something is in a video game world, the fewer polygons the engine uses to render it. We want to save our effort to detail what’s in front of the PCs in the game.
Sure, you may have a location that will need a dungeon. Just don’t spend your time creating or picking a pre-made dungeon for that location if your players haven’t expressed any interest in investigating the POI in the next session.
Remember, the scale matters. Even though POIs may look adjacent to each other on the hex map. Adjacent POIs are roughly 30-35 nmi from each other, that’s multiple days of overland travel to reach a new location, and that’s if they don’t have to spend time finding it. That should provide your plenty of wiggle room to roadblock your players with a couple of random encounters to help you delay to the end of the session so you can prep the location before they reach it next time.
Essentially, the level of detail below is more than adequate to give you a foundation for the location to build on in the future and prepare it for future sessions. The critical point is always to try and end your play session with a definitive course of action from your players, so you know where they’re headed and what to prep for the next session.
Heartlands Region Hex Stocking Key
- Construction: Settlement (Artificial, Giant)
- Meetingplace (Artificial, Ooze)
- Religious Site (Weird, Fey)
- Informative/Warning Sign (Natural, Elemental)
- Holding (Artificial, Humanoid)
- Monster Lair (Artificial, Construct)
- Settlement (Artificial, Undead)
- Religious Site (Natural, Beast)
- Hazard (Weird, Fey)
- Holding (Weird, Fiend)
- Isolated Homestead (Natural, Monstrosity)
- Construction: Monster Lair (Artificial, Construct)
- Settlement (Artificial, Ooze)
- Wandering Monster (Natural, Dragon)
- Construction: Settlement (Natural, Monstrosity)
- Settlement (Artificial, Ooze)
- Construction: Isolated Homestead (Artificial, Ooze)
- Natural Resources (Artificial, Undead)
- Travel Haven (Artificial, Giant)
- Ruin: Natural Resource (Natural, Beast)
- Settlement (Natural, Dragon)
- Isolated Homestead (Weird, Fiend)
- Ruined Directional Sign (Weird, Ooze)
- Settlement (Artificial, Undead)
- Isolated Homestead (Weird, Aberration)
Marches Region Hex Stocking Key
- Hazard (Artificial, Ooze)
- Travel Haven (Weird, Fey)
- Informative/Warning Sign (Weird, Celestial)
- Wandering Monster (Artificial, Humanoid)
- Wandering Monster (Artificial, Undead)
- Wonder (Weird, Fiend)
- Religious Site (Weird, Fey)
- Settlement (Artificial, Construct)
- Directional Sign (Weird, Fey)
- Monster Lair (Natural, Elemental)
- Remains (Artificial, Ooze)
- Settlement (Natural, Elemental)
- Directional Sign (Natural, Beast)
- Construction: Crossing (Artificial, Construct)
Wilds Region Hex Stocking Key
- Directional Sign (Weird, Aberration)
- Conflict Area (Natural, Beast)
- Construction: Holding (Weird, Ooze)
- Directional Sign (Weird, Celestial)
- Religious Site (Weird, Ooze)
- Hazard (Artificial, Undead)
- Remains (Natural, Beast)
- Ruin: Crossing (Artificial, Giant)
- Hazard (Weird, Fey)
D&D Region Hex Stocking/Mapping Wrap-Up
If you’ve made it this far, you passed your Constitution save! This was undoubtedly a long one, more than 10,000 words. Due to the volume of what’s covered, I wanted to break it up into separate articles, but everything works much better as one cohesive piece. I didn’t want to create a situation where you needed to flip between a post covering the stocking table and another covering the descriptions of the POIs on said table.
And, if you think it was a long read, it was a much longer write. It’s been a slog, not because I wasn’t motivated, but by the sheer amount of what I felt needed to be laid out and explained so new Dungeon Masters could find it as applicable as veteran DMs.
That said, I need a breather before diving back into a deep topic like this. I have a light palate cleanser idea for next month, but I may have to skip the next update. I may push it with the extended time it took to finish this entry and maneuvering around the holidays and end of the year.
For now, I hope you got at least a few kernels of inspiration and ideas to help you upgrade your world building, mapmaking, and hex crawl endeavors. Thanks to everyone who shares the content and donates. Your support helps keep me motivated to continue honing my own GM craft and sharing my ideas and challenges with you!