Tuesday, March 30, 2021

BH2 and Lost Secrets of the Old Hexmappers

Having read the Boot Hill rules, I decided to pick up a couple of the old modules too, because hey, you can get the whole line for less than a single expensive system.  I read BH5: Range War first and it was fine (sadly it did not have the "how much does having a farm or ranch earn you, the owner?" questions I had from the core rules), but BH2: Lost Conquistador Mine (by no less a pair than Cook and Moldvay) has some interesting stuff going on.

In particular, there's a hex map of a region of wilderness and they do some things with it that I've never seen on a hex map for an RPG before. 

The two biggest and most obviously novel things are that some hex-sides are marked as impassable, and the visibility distances of some features are marked on the map itself.

Impassable hex-sides occur along ridge-lines through high mountains.  On reflection this seems like sort of an obvious thing to do, coming from the wargaming tradition - there are impassable hex-sides on the OGRE map, if I recollect rightly.  But I've never seen it on an RPG wilderness map before!  The best you ever get is that rivers are sometimes impassable except at certain points.  But making hex-sides impassable for other reasons is an interesting tool for the Wilderness as Dungeon toolbox - sometimes the rooms really do have hard walls!  And it gives Climb Sheer Surfaces a use in wilderness play too.  This might be an interesting way to represent the fact that many mountains can only be summited by a few routes (four trails up Fuji, fewer up Everest and Rainier if I recollect rightly).

Mountain peaks are also marked with a pair of numbers, the first representing the number of hexes away from which they can be seen with the naked eye, and the second representing the distance at which they can be seen with a telescope.  I don't know how they determined these numbers; it seems like taking prominence above surrounding terrain into account could be tricky.  But they look mostly pretty reasonable, if you're willing to accept the abstraction that they're visible at the same distance in all directions.  Anyway, I'm just thrilled to see spotting distance for mountain peaks on a hex-map at all.  The Old Masters were worrying about the same things that Trilemma and I do.  Maybe we're on the right track.

Visible from 2 5-mile hexes with the naked eye, or 6 hexes with a telescope

On a similar "on the right track" note, the module comes with a hex-map for the players to fill in as they explore, with just a small section around the starting town filled in.  Cook and Moldvay knew: Never show them the map!

And the treasure map that is given to players is a stained, torn, creased, hand-drawn mess, and the text on it is in German (back in a pre-smartphone pre-machine translation age).  German is a great choice really, since it's sort of close to English, enough that you can probably draw some conclusions in combination with the drawings, but not high-confidence ones.  Some of the landmarks on it are also no longer accurate within the game-world, or not quite as unique as the map's author thought.  It's a wonderful "give them some hints but don't just tell them where it is" treasure map.

A curiosity that I hadn't seen on a hex map before is that there's a dry riverbed, which can only be entered and exited in certain directions in certain hexes.  Naturally, it can also flash-flood.  Sort of a variation on blocked hex-sides.

One other odd property of this map is its sparseness.  I haven't done a precise count of its rows and columns, but I reckon it about 20 hexes tall and 50 or 60 wide.  In those thousand hexes, there are about 15 named and described features (which have visibility numbers in the map's key) only a couple of which have people, plus about ten mountain peaks.  It's very sparse.  And only about ten wilderness encounters are described (one of which can only take place in a particular region).  So I'm not sure what to make of this.  I'm a big believer that putting something in every hex is an unreasonable amount of work, but having one feature per 40 hexes (counting the peaks) is lower than even I would expect.  It's an interesting reference point I suppose.  Maybe this is partly because it was intended as a tournament module and only needed to fill a single-digit number of hours; there was no need to fill a hex map to the same degree that you would if you were to run a sustained campaign on it?

In any case, a very interesting hex-map.

No comments:

Post a Comment