For now, this page is a straight dump from a draft blog post. I just need a place to put it.
Bloodgate and The Uncanny Marches Hex Crawl
The frontier town of Bloodgate is the last bastion of the Empire of Usk, a small walled settlement that sits at the mouth of Harrow Pass. Through the pass lay the Uncanny Marches, a misbegotten collection of border kingdoms, petty fiefdoms, and bandit domains largely ignored by mighty Usk.
Uskan priests sometimes venture into the marches to convert their heathen peoples, and once a year a heavily guarded caravan is met at the far side of the pass by delegates from each marcher domain to receive payment of the crown’s tax. As long as the tax is paid and the marchers stay on the far side of the Deadspire Peaks, the Uncanny Marches are a cesspit the Uskan Empire — fat, decadent, powerful, and consumed by petty wars with its western neighbors — is content to pretend that they don’t exist.
The average Uskan citizen thinks the marches are full of snarks and demons, and is glad the Deadspires keep them at a safe distance — when they think on them at all, that is. And that view isn’t entirely wrong: The Uncanny Marches sit atop the bones of ancient empires that rose and fell long before Usk was founded, and are home to a wide and weird range of peoples. In the marches, borders are rarely constant, self-styled kings leave power as quickly as they came into it, range wars and skirmishes are always afoot, and fortunes are made and lost by the wicked, the wise, and the foolish alike.
For those seeking to gamble their lives in exchange for a shot at power, glory, and untold riches, the Uncanny Marches hold irresistable allure. There’s no better place in all of Khairngal to get rich or die trying…
- Pick six monster books.
- Roll 1d6 to select a book, then 1d100 to select a monster from that book.
- Do this 10 times.
- Those, plus humans and dwarves, are the most prevalent intelligent races in the Uncanny Marches.
- Extrapolate how that would work, making intelligent those monsters that aren’t by default.
- Grab a random handful of dice: d4s, d6s, d8s, d10s, d12s, and a couple of d20s.
- Roll them on a piece of paper.
- Each represents a domain of some sort.
- The number shown is how many hexes in each direction it occupies.
- If there are gaps between domains, those are unclaimed territory.
- If two dice have overlapping borders, split the difference. They’re at war.
- Where the die sits is a domain’s principal settlement, the larger the number the bigger it is.
- Sketch in major geographical features (mountains and rivers, mainly) so that all of that makes sense.
- Name the domains and their major settlements.
- Bloodgate sits at the western edge of the map. Line it up so that two domains are near it.
- Start a new map with Bloodgate on the left.
- Put Death Frost Doom, Tower of the Stargazer, The Grinding Gear, Monolith, Barrowmaze, Tomb of the Iron God, the manor one, ASE, and whatever else sounds fun within five days’ ride of Bloodgate. No more than 10.
- Immediately write a true, a mostly true, and an untrue rumor about each module added. 30 rumors total, maximum.
- Those rumors are all available in Bloodgate, and every PC knows one of them.
- Each module brings its own locale: ASE means Denethix is a domain in the marches, DFD comes with a mountain, Tower sits on a lonely moor 15 miles from anywhere, etc.
- Create 1d3+1 factions for the two domains that border Bloodgate.
- Add a home base for every faction within five days of Bloodgate.
- Add 1d8+4 interesting resources within five days of Bloodgate.
- Add 1d4+2 major hazards within five days of Bloodgate.
- Fill in anything that’s still blank, or just leave it blank. Whatever feels best.
- Look at the domains-bordering-Bloodgate map.
- Consider what each blank hex is near.
- A settlement? Fill it with something related.
- A hazard? Ditto.
- A dungeon? Something weird.
- Nothing? Something weird.
- Write a sentence or two at most.
- Grab a couple of monster books.
- Pick a cool low, middle, and high HD monster from each.
- The two domains bordering Bloodgate are infamous for those monsters, three apiece.
- Anchor two tables around them, one per region (ignore terrain).
- If there are monsters noted in the region from earlier, add them.
- Add spooky fey and ghosts and shit to one.
- Add weird jellies and shit to the other.
- Add one predominant race from earlier to each.
- Make up the rest. Total of 18 encounters, most common in the middle range.
All PCs are unwelcome in Usk. Players decide why. Anyone going deeper into Usk than Bloodgate will be killed on sight by Uskan legions or some other faction. The sandbox extends to the east of Bloodgate.
Every PC, current or new, knows one rumor from the Bloodgate table. It can be the reason they came the the marches, or just some random thing they know.
If the party ends a session still in a dungeon, roll on Jeff Rients’ Table of Despair to find out what happens. Tell the players in advance this is what will happen. http://jrients.blogspot.com/2008/11/dungeons-dawn-patrol.html
The world is the world. The world is also pretty weird.
Roll for weather every day. http://untimately.blogspot.com/2012/11/spectrum-systems.html
When in doubt, and by default, the Uncanny Marches look like 12th Century England plus whatever weirdness a specific area might introduce into that image. There are villages, people are afraid of the woods, few travel beyond their village, and life is nasty, brutish, and short.
New PCs can come from the ranks of hirelings, or they appear as soon as possible in the current adventure: tied up in a box, in jail, whatever. Bloodgate is a magnet for scoundrels and would-be adventurers.
Use the Oriental Adventures random event charts. Keep a calendar.
Use Meatsheilds for hireling creation. http://www.barrowmaze.com/meatshields/
Random encounter checks
Random encounters use 2d6 to determine time of day and whether there’s an encounter, with two danger levels. Normal = 2d6, any roll of doubles means an encounter at the indicated time (1 dawn, 2 morning, 3 midday, 4 afternoon, 5 dusk, 6 night). If the party is making a lot of noise or in a dangerous area, make two independent 2d6 rolls; both rolls work the same way.
Roll alongside 2d6 in another color so there’s no knock-on roll needed, plus another set of 2d6 in the danger zone. If there’s an encounter, the second (or third) set of dice determines what it is. 2d6 is a pyramidal distribution with 11 results, dominated by the middle five (66%). That’s five monsters the players will come to associate with the domain plus a couple big baddies and a couple surprises — a manageable number that should lead to “We always meet flumphs here…”
If that feels limiting, do 2d10 instead (18 results, middle 7 account for 58%).
Black Mark Fanatics: They ask “Do you have the Black Mark?” If not, they kill you. Travelers from Usk sometimes fake the Black Mark — an elaborate and painful forearm tattoo — and sometimes simply decide to get the tattoo in order to avoid these encounters.
Urnak Dwarves: The Urnak are roaming traders and craftfolk, the glue of marcher society. They’re a welcome sight in almost any community, and enjoy quasi-immunity from persecution in most domains.