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GM Tips: Running Hex-Crawls in 5E

Hexcrawling is a style of play where the party travels through the wilderness, revealing map hexes as they go. While this is an old school style of D&D, it can employed to maximum effect (and fun) for your gaming group today! After you check out this article, I also recommend reading our other two related posts on Random Encounters and 5E Survival Play that will make your Hexcrawling exploration game one that your group will talk about for years to come.

Three Hexes Per Day - The PHB states that the party can travel 24 miles in a day without risking exhaustion. With this in mind, I recommend making your hexes 8 miles wide so that the party travels through 3 per day. Each hex should include a random encounter of some sort, preferably using the tips from our Random Encounters post above. That will ensure that the party makes enough progress per day to keep the map growing and the game moving along without overstraining their abilities. If you do want to strain the party, night attacks and severe weather can be a great way to make the wilderness feel dangerous.

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Keep the Mystery Alive - The best part of hexcrawls is that they inherently capture that sense of awe and discovery that I love about the Exploration pillar in a way that is challenging to capture in any other style of play. In doing your GM game prep, think about strange and interesting things you can add in the form of random encounters such as strange NPCs who are hiding a secret, the ruins of a forgotten keep long reclaimed by nature, or a challenging terrain feature the party finds that will require some creative problem solving and several skill checks to overcome.

Show Progress - As a visual learner myself, having some sort of visual aid to show the hexes and the party's progress makes hexcrawls so much more engaging. Inkarnate is an excellent program that you can use to make maps. The free version includes a fair amount of content and flexibility. If you play online, you can upload a map and then cover up hexes the party hasn't seen, revealing them as they travel. You can also use our Hexplorer map tiles, either the digital ones to upload to your favorite Virtual Tabletop or the magnetic set so that you can make custom hex maps on a white board right at your game table.

Cut the Spells - One of the things that works against you in 5e is how powerful the PCs become and how quickly they do it. Hexcrawl adventures/campaigns work best for lower level parties, and even then, you may want to consider axing or modifying some player options from the game. For example, if just one player has the Outlander background, the Wanderer feature would basically negate all survival elements from your game unless your wilderness is harsh and food and dresh water are difficult to find. Additionally, you may want to cut some spells such as Goodberry and Create Food and Water which likewise remove tension from survival games.

What's your best tip for running an epic hex crawl? Let me know in the comments below!

~Shane Collins

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