I've been fooling around with different ideas on how to run the wilderness parts of my campaign. I have a pretty big sandbox map (23x28 3-mile hexes) and wanted to add interesting things into each of them, as a 3x3 mile hex is approximately the size of my hometown! I don’t think I was really wrapping my head around the size of my map until I google mapped an area that is commensurate in size. Instead of being the size of North Orange County, for instance, one side of the map to the other is the same distance as my workplace to San Diego! That’s two hours hauling ass in the car! Then I realized that one hex is approximately the size of my hometown and, as there are at least a couple interesting things in that place, each of my hexes should have at least one cool thing in it.
So, characteristically, I dove right into filling my hexes with rad things, without taking into account that there are…
…644 hexes on that da** map.
So I pondered this in my tiny brain for a moment, and came up with a plan. I decided to create a whole bunch of cool things like tribes of intelligent, vampiric rabbits and triceratops birthing grounds and keep them on a list until the PCs find ‘em. In theory, there’s still 644 awesome things spread out on the map, but I don’t have to come up with them now, nor do I need to write them out. The characters, after all, are usually burning horseshoes around the map, trying to get to some location ASAP. So they’re not likely to run straight into the cool thing on a 3-mile hex. On the other hand, if they want to slow down, they’ll be more likely to find the interesting caves or ancient alien hot-air balloons.
The trick for me will be probability tables used to determine what the characters find as they travel. I determined three “layers” of discovery: general terrain, special features of the land, and landmarks. Passing through a 3-mile wide area, you’re bound to get an idea of the general terrain—whether its forest, desert, swamp, or other. You may also notice some special features—an oddly shaped hill or deep crevasse. Finally, if you’re lucky (or unlucky), you’ll discover the special feature of the area—the aforementioned bunny encampment, for instance. Note that this is supposing the hex is not obviously filled with a massive castle or some other easily apparent monstrosity that blind people could see on a foggy night.
I’ve yet to playtest this, but I think it’s going to do the trick for me. Am I reinventing the wheel, though? I know I’m not that well read in newer rule books and honestly don’t remember even being in the wilderness much as a player in my youth. Perhaps tables like this exist already. I’d like to see how others do it, too. How do you handle it?