Wednesday, 1 April 2015

How to Hexcrawl: A Practical Guide to Wilderness Adventures - Review

Author: Joe Johnston (Taskboy Games)
Price: Pay what you want
Format: PDF
Page count: 27
System: Labyrinth Lord (or any OSR/Old School FRP). 
Year: 2015

The context of this supplement assumes the reader will be using a Labyrinth Lord or Dungeons & Dragons B/X rule-set for their gaming (Basic & Expert), referencing both within this work. 

The Good
Very clear presentation. It was easy to read, only taking me about five minutes or so to get through it. For the complete newcomer to this style of gaming (the hexcrawl) it inevitably provides some very solid advice, and in many ways is a how-to in a step-by-step format. This aspect of it was very useful. Additionally it provided a few options for cases where rules may be slightly ambiguous or open to interpretation. All manner of considerations are covered in this short albeit substantial tome - wilderness travel, weather, mounts and equipment, fatigue, getting lost, resting, rates of travel, hunting, and foraging. The end section of this manual provides a page of resources for those interested in finding additional hexcrawl material online. It is a particularly practical supplement, and accompanied with a very simple FRPG rule-set, one could almost run a complete game with this. I have always found the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide to be far too dense in its explanation of wilderness travel, and this supplement really distilled the whole concept/style into a digestible format. 

The Bad
In terms of content an impressive brevity of words has been achieved, minimising superfluous description. This is the real merit of this work in my opinion. Its content I cannot critique. Layout is generally presentable, however I would like to see a revised edition at some stage with commissioned artwork and layout. It felt very 'home job' to me (which it no doubt was). It was almost exclusively public domain artwork which isn't an issue, but I would have preferred some self-drawn maps (matching the hex map at the bottom of each page), along with some illustrations that mirrored that style. This would have provided a more consistent vibe and aesthetic overall. As I've said before, when something is free you can't really complain, but I guess I am a little!

Final Thoughts
This work undoubtedly clarified some of my own ambiguities surrounding the hexcrawl-style game. I tend to run things fairly differently than the way Johnston presents, preferring to 'fast forward' certain bits, resulting in a less hexy game overall. It did inspire me somewhat to run an entirely hex-based campaign, with various points of interest though, and I can see why this style of gaming is favoured by some. As a free download it's certainly worth checking out at least, and I'm certain you'll glean something useful from it, whether you are a master-hexer or a complete novice. The only real let-down, in my opinion, was the artwork.