Last week we finally used the hex map for real.  I’m quite pleased with it. Here’s a nice bit of play it generated:

In a previous session the players had a random wilderness encounter with some hill giants.  After the battle they decided to track the giants back to where they came from (nice use of the Ranger’s tracking skill there).  On the fly I created a larger in-lair giant encounter, complete with pet grizzly bear and small circle of giant huts.  The players managed to kill the giants and their pet, and now use the huts as their safe house while delving a nearby dungeon.  As part of the in-lair random treasure, I ended up with treasure map.  I proceeded to roll randomly for x and y coordinates on the map to decide where the map pointed to.  It landed on a hex just on the edge of the “Gloom Wood”, a part of the elven forest that the elves abandoned after losses in an ancient war, and now has a generally spooky tone.  Suddenly I have the nugget for a whole new dungeon — an ancient abandoned (and likely haunted) elven outpost.  Sweet!

Sandbox style continues to keep me very engaged in this game, which is really the draw of it for me.  In the past my campaigns have always petered out after the players dealt with the major plot lines or explored everything I had pre-planned.  This campaign has been going on for over two years now, and I continue to be excited to see what new stuff will show up in the setting.

Here’s another example, though it has little to do with the hex map:

In the dungeon the players were delving near the giant huts, they encountered a high level spell-caster turned vampire.  Actually, this whole dungeon is a one-page dungeon contest winner I dropped into place on a whim when the players asked a sage to research locations of “magical items of power”.  My favorite thing about this dungeon is not only did it fit the need (lair of a long dead wizard is sure to have lots of crazy magic stuff in it), but the encounters and treasures are all pretty vaguely described, and I made a conscious choice not to fill them in until at the table as we were playing.  Yeah, that’s right, the vampire was an improvisation made on the spot.

Anyway, the players were in over their heads, encountering her when they were already low on resources and unprepared for just how nasty she was.  What’s more, after they finally beat her down into turning gaseous they only retreated a couple rooms where they stopped and rested.  Well, guess who regenerated all her lost wounds and decided to make a reappearance?  Again she pounded them soundly, and although they managed to get her down to gaseous again, only three of the original 7 were still standing.  The henchman was dead (actually he died before they even met the vampire), one party member was charmed and then held by his own party, two more were held by the vampire, and finally the halfling thief got polymorphed into a piglet.  Amazingly the party managed to get out of there with all characters in tow, and even brought back their favorite henchman with their one and only raise dead scroll.

After a few days recuperating at the ex-giant village, the party hex-crawled back to town (taking their frustrations out on a random goblin village they encountered along the way).  Now they are there researching ways to kill a vampire, and contemplating exploring the location of their treasure map to maybe gain a level or two before going back for the vampire.

In the meantime, I’m sitting here trying to decide what a vampire that was almost killed twice and then left alone for several weeks does in that time.  Honestly, I can’t wait for the party to go after her again.  It’s going to be good!

For now though, I’d better get to drawing up a map for an abandoned elven outpost.